General Interest

Extinctions and Other Sad Environmental News

Here’s a well-written lament from The Atlantic about the ongoing extinctions of a huge number of native Hawaiian snail species.

Zooming out from just Hawaii, here’s a map of how many species are being pushed to the brink globally.

This is a sad photographic illustration of how littering - even when the litter is biodegradable - negatively impacts wildlife.

BROTA and Buenos Aires Journal 2

On my third day, I spent some time working in the studio. I brought some very new-to-me, experimental papers that I wanted to try to work with, so I started off with the methylcellulose paper. It dissolves in water, but if you print atop it with toner (using a laser printer) the ink is supposed to remain, floating, in the water. I wanted to see if that meant I could collage with it and if it would be a visually distinctive method. It turns out the ink doesn’t hold together super well - maybe because I didn’t just print straight black on it - but if you move quickly you can still catch the image though it breaks and twists in uncontrollable ways. I’ve always liked collaborating semi-chaotically with water, so this suits me well. That evening Patricia took me to an opening she was participating in: Art & Swap 19. Artists display their work, and viewers place Post-Its near any work they want to offer a “swap” for - I saw web design services, therapy sessions, artwork trades, and more - and contact info and if the artist is interested, they will negotiate a swap. The opening was a real event, with free food from food trucks (french fries, filled croissants, and mini waffles as well as coffee and beer)!

The next morning, Saturday, I woke up with a sore throat and a cold. I was grumpy about it because it is not my ideal way to spend residency time, but it’s understandable when flying, coming into contact with tons of new people, and visiting an area where you have no local immunity. I rested for a day, but then tried to get on with seeing Buenos Aires. I visited the Feria de San Telmo, which is a big open air Sunday market similar to El Rastro in Madrid. Unfortunately for me, El Rastro is more to my taste; the goods at the Feria de San Telmo were mostly leathers/furs, Mafalda cartoons, pipes, piedra rosada (a pink stone that is the national stone of Argentina, but I’m not into that shade of pink), and yerba mate mugs. None of those really appealed to me either for myself or as gifts, which is of course not the market’s fault. The prices were also relatively high, which I had been warned about. I did eat lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near the start of the feria, and that was nice, as was getting to see the feria and that part of the San Telmo neighborhood! On my way back, I stopped by the Feria de Recoleta, which was quite similar in content but smaller and in the midst of a park.

The following afternoon Patricia took me out on a search for several of the items I’d requested - starting with artisanal papers and spray fixative. Unfortunately neither of us realized what a chore finding artisanal papers would be… due to the ongoing financial crisis in Argentina, some of the stores we went to visit had shut, others had downsized their selections, and eventually we ran out of options for the day but Patricia had one last lead we’d look into later. We then went to her neighborhood to find me a mortar and pestle that I had decided I needed for a second type of experimental artwork along with isopropyl alcohol, and tried to hunt down a shop that would sell me prints-per-page on my own paper on a laser printer, in case I wanted to print more on the methylcellulose paper. Patricia also invited me to dinner, so when we were all done shopping for studio supplies she made Milanesas de soja with salad. Milanesas are a sort of patty, and can be made out of many things but these were soy because she likes them and I’m vegetarian. It was a good, long day.

The next day Patricia met me in the botanical garden to take a couple photos of me for her Instagram announcement post about my residency. I needed to go to the garden anyway to collect leaves for the second type of paper I wanted to work with - a filter paper that would allow me to practice chromatography. Using a mortar and pestle, I can grind up leaves and/or flowers with alcohol, and then the filter paper will soak up the solution and separate out each pigment layer - chlorophyll A, chlorophyll B, xanothophyll, and carotenes. Each plant will presumably have a different chromatography, so the paper rounds will function as abstract portraits.

The following afternoon Patricia and I journeyed to the final lead for artisanal papers: Ato Menegazzo Papeles. The owner is a very nice man who makes his own artwork, does letterpress and printmaking, and had a few handmade papers as well as a lot of decorative and stamped papers. I bought several sheets. Then Patricia had taken notice that I like tiles, so she suggested we go to a tile store. I was excited, as it would never have occurred to me to ask, but I do like tiles! We stopped by one with antique tiles and one that had some modern options. Unfortunately I had to limit how many I could buy as they are surprisingly heavy and there are luggage weight limits. I’ve also heard terrible things about the mail service in Argentina - unlike in other residencies, I’ve been advised not to mail anything back as it likely won’t ever arrive.

Thursday I spent gathering more plant samples from the botanical garden and Patricia and I stopped in at two exhibition openings in galleries on the same block that evening. Both were very small, but one had ceramic wall pieces that I liked. That brings us to Friday, which I spent in the studio again!

BROTA and Buenos Aires Journal 1

My flight to Buenos Aires was a red-eye, and that seems to be the norm as all the flights I looked at were approximately at the same time. Though KCI is purportedly an international airport, I’ve never had a direct international flight out of it (the current expansion should help in the future, though!), and this was no exception - I flew through Atlanta and then on to Buenos Aires. My flights all went very smoothly and I also had very good luck on both and got to sit in empty rows each time! On the long leg, I was in a two-person row so there still wasn’t enough room to lay down… but I really appreciated the extra foot room and seat storage. I have a very difficult time sleeping on planes, and this was no exception. Instead, I watched a few movies (Deadpool II, Annihilation (which was rather different than the book which I’d already read), Aquaman, and Arctic).

I arrived in Buenos Aires at around 9:30am, and by the time the arranged taxi had delivered me to the house I’m staying in, it was around 11am. Patricia was waiting for me with a bouquet of flowers, which was so kind! I was quite tired, since I didn’t sleep on the plane, and thought I might take a short nap… but Patricia said if I wanted she’d be available to show me the ropes so I decided that’d be a better use of my (and her) time. I took a tour of the house (it’s great!) and then we made a list of what I needed to do next. One of those tasks was to pay the rest of the residency fee as I’d only placed a deposit ahead of time.

I had assumed, unfortunately erroneously, that I knew the best way for me to navigate exchanging money here, since I know how to do so in Europe. All I do in Europe is bring my debit card (in addition to having a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card), and with the debit card I can withdraw up to 500 euros at a time for a $10 fee from a bank. It’s pretty convenient and the banks tend to have fair exchange rates. However, due to the ever-rising inflation which is rapidly outpacing the withdrawal limits here in Argentina, the most you can appear to withdraw at one time is approximately $110, and you will still pay a $10 fee for that service. Well, I’ll know to research it per country in the future! Hopefully I can use my credit card for most transactions so that I can keep my cash withdrawals relatively infrequent.

The current exchange rate is approximately 45 pesos to the dollar, which for mental math I round up to 50. The numbers get really high really fast, and I keep being scared I’m paying a lot only to do the math and realize it’s not so bad.

After withdrawing some cash from a bank, we walked to the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden (which is called the Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays in Spanish, but I think it is clearer for English audiences to use the English version of the name). Patricia introduced me to two of the workers at the garden, and one named Carolina said that if I came back the following day they could in the interim get me permission to collect some leaf samples, access to the greenhouses, and other similar access levels. Patricia and I then walked all around the garden spaces, which was actually bigger than I had thought it would be - that’s always a good thing, in my mind, as I can have extremely high expectations of botanical gardens!

By this time we were both hungry, so we had a late lunch in Quotidiano Bar de Pastas Palermo. I shared a pitcher of mint ginger lemonade with Patricia because she said it was her favorite. I didn’t dislike it, but it was weird! I don’t know if I will intentionally order it again, but perhaps. Then we walked to the Carrefour supermarket so I could buy some groceries. I was advised to buy drinking water since the locals avoid the tap water here, so I decided to get two giant containers of water and not really limit myself much on groceries either and then have them deliver it all for a $3 delivery fee. Despite being enormous, the Carrefour didn’t have as many items as I would expect, though - it’s frozen food selection was paltry, and it also had fewer fruits than I’d have liked. There are produce stores around, though, so I’ll probably try to stop in those when I can.

When we got back, I think it was around 5pm and we’d spent much of the preceding six hours on our feet walking! Patricia then took some time showing me maps of the area and helping me plan out the next few days. By 6pm, the grocery store delivery arrived and since she was still here, she helped me unpack it. Then she said goodbye, and I had a strong urge to sleep but put it off. Instead, I took a shower (and there was hot water! for the whole shower! this is unusual for traveling! but wonderful!) and then read a book for a couple hours, had a granola bar and some chips (I could not summon the energy to cook), and then went to bed right around 8:45pm. I slept until about 10:30am the next day!

The following morning I made myself breakfast and unpacked my suitcases. Patricia and I caught a bus to the botanical garden to start to acquaint me with the local bus system (el collectivo) which is altogether less organized than in other major cities in that there are no timing schedules and no signage. Patricia urged me to consider taking Ubers instead at least until I’ve taken the bus with her several times. Fortunately, an Uber to the garden is only around $1-$1.50, so that’s pretty reasonable especially since entrance to the garden is free for everyone (I assumed it would be free for me since I’m working there, but it’s unusual for such a big garden to be free for all). To walk from the house to the garden is - according to Google Maps - 33 minutes one way, so while I won’t mind doing that occasionally, I will probably not want to do that every time and unfortunately the house isn’t near a metro station.

At the garden this time I met by myself with both of the workers from the day before, but also with three new-to-me workers as well. I was provided with a vest that proclaims me to be a garden volunteer, so as to deflect annoyance at my gathering of some leaves, and also had the opportunity to be shown quickly through the tropical greenhouse. I spent a couple hours there, taking photos and a few leaves, and then left for a very late lunch. I looked up restaurants nearby on my phone, and found a vegetarian one not too far away so I headed there! It turned out to be in a mall food court which I only found out upon arriving, which is not the best for ambiance nor food quality, but it was pretty decent fare nonetheless. Then I considered catching an Uber back but figured it would probably be good to walk back to learn the lay of the land a little more. I also found a series of vegan graffiti - there was probably more in the vicinity - which I found really interesting. Argentina is known for meat and barbecue, but there is a growing worldwide interest in healthier lifestyles - both for the consumer as well as for the planet. After all the walking the day before and this day, too, my feet were quite sore! I spent the evening prepping in the studio and making dinner.

Human-Led Environmental Devastation in the News Again

I’m not sure if it was possible to not hear about the horrific recent United Nations assessment on wildlife decline and extinction as it made front page news all over - but if you missed it, here’s one of the many stories covering its findings.

Relatedly, here’s an article discussing how meat consumption plays a huge role in climate change and needs to decrease by 90%. Of course, that’s only one of a multitude of corporate and cultural changes we would have to make…

Another Invasive Plant Whose Name You Might Not Know, But Soon Will...

Have you heard about knotweed? It’s considered such a menace in the UK that all deeds of sale must disclose its presence on the land, it’s begun to take over New England, and it’s devastating for local ecosystems. This well-written article for Slate explores this invasive plant’s roots... or in this case, rhizomes.

Also linked in the above article is a great reflection in the Smithsonian Magazine on kudzu, the invasive vine that is more notorious than is justified by its spread.

Endings and New Beginnings

Graduation was this weekend, grades are turned in, my office is almost fully packed up… and I only have a few more tasks left to do at the University of Saint Mary before I turn in my keys and equipment. It’s all moving so quickly that it feels a little surreal. I’m not the only one leaving, though; my Department Chair of five years, amazing mentor, and fantastic professional role model Dr. William Krusemark is retiring this year after 41 years of service to USM. That’s right - 41 years!

I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate what a good human being Bill is. I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to work with and learn from him, and so I wanted to give him a really nice retirement gift. I ended up deciding on a very risky option: I would paint him a portrait of his daughter Abby. This was high risk for a couple reasons - the main one being that I’ve never met Abby and so I’d only be working off of a few small photos I got Bill’s wife Susan to email me. It was also the first human portrait I’ve ever painted (I am much more interested in wildlife and mediated nature, professionally).

I’m happy with how it turned out, and I hope that the time and effort I put into it are evident.

I hope Bill has a wonderful retirement. His tireless work and devotion has built an enduring legacy in the many lives he’s touched, and it’s time for him to start his own new chapter - beginning with a cruise to Alaska!

Time for a New Adventure!

I am very excited to announce that I have accepted a new position starting in the fall at Morningside College in Sioux City, IA, as Art Department Head, Director of the Helen Levitt Art Gallery, and Associate Professor of Art. Morningside is a great liberal arts college with a vibrant art community, and I am enthusiastically looking forward to this new adventure and the career progression it offers me!

Nevertheless, I have been honored to have served the University of Saint Mary as Art Program Director and Assistant Professor of Art for six years, and to have earned tenure and promotion in rank to Associate Professor just as I am departing. I will miss the many amazing faculty members, staff, students, and SCL, as well as the beautiful campus, that make USM unique. I learned a lot in my time at USM and will be leaving with a multitude of treasured memories and strong friendships.

Here’s to embracing change, opportunity, and growth!

The Huge, yet Often Unspoken, Problem with Outdoor Cats

I’ve known about the extreme problem that outdoor cats pose to our ecosystem, particularly for bird and rodent populations, for years, and firmly believe that cats should be indoor only. Whenever my belief on this comes up in conversation with cat owners who let their cats outside, though, they indicate no real awareness of the scope of the problem (though there’s probably some willful ignorance mixed in, too), so I’m glad to have an updated reference for them in the form of this Smithsonian Magazine article, “The Moral Cost of Cats.”

I Finally Joined Instagram!

I embraced social media early on (albeit with some healthy boundaries). I’ve had a personal website since high school that I built myself and hosted on my own domain. I also had a Xanga account in high school and early college, was an extremely early adopter of Facebook (my college was one of the first that Facebook expanded to), and obviously now keep a consistently updated blog which also feeds into my Twitter account. I am a member of several different online communities, and share my work in online galleries and publications as well as in print.

But I’ve resisted Instagram for one multifaceted reason - I’m a laptop person. I grew up right as computers and the internet came into force and had early and consistent access to them. However, mobile phones are a different story. While I had a friend or two in high school who had a cell phone, I never did. In fact, I didn’t have one through the first two years of college either. I finally got one in junior year, and then stuck with a basic cell phone through graduate school and into my early professional career even as smart phones became fairly common. I finally got a smart phone, too, and now am on my second one, but to this day I’ve never felt as comfortable with a phone as I do with a laptop.

Now you have to understand: Instagram doesn’t just discourage laptop usage in favor of mobile access; the company intentionally breaks the extensions that users write to sidestep the mobile requirement. I don’t know if it’s a target audience decision, or if there’s something in the coding, updating, and presentation that so strongly relies on mobile formatting that they want to force it, but there it is. I’ve downloaded a couple extensions in the past to try to trick the site into letting me use my laptop without success.

The problem is not only my general preference for laptops over phones. It’s also that I take all my professional photos with my digital camera, which is far better in quality than my smart phone’s camera. I also crop and color adjust my images in Photoshop, which is a computer-based software, so all of my imagery is pretty firmly linked to my laptop. It’s a hassle to have to repeatedly port over all of the photos I want to post to my phone. It’s not that I can’t do it, but with only so much time in the day, at some point you’ve got to prioritize some tasks over others. I figured I was doing enough on social media with the platforms I was using - my website and blog, Facebook, Twitter, online internet community participation, and various digital publications - so I decided to skip Instagram and hope that it was just a fad that would blow over.

But I reached a tipping point this week. My wonderful colleague Susan Nelson has recently joined Instagram and fallen in love, and I’m feeling left out of viewing her posts. My fantastic friend and chemistry collaborator Dr. John Pojman has asked me to join repeatedly and the guilt in not acceding to his wishes has gotten to me. Many other great friends, particularly internationally, have asked me to join as well. And finally, I have to grudgingly admit that Instagram is not a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. It is sticking around. As an artist who wants to engage with as broad an audience as possible, and who also likes to stay technologically current, I can’t resist any longer. Instagram, here I come!

If you’re already on Instagram (and let’s face it, I’m a very late adopter here, so I expect you probably are) you can find me @shelbyprindaville. The profile is rather barren right now because I want to parcel out my artwork in new posts every couple of days until the backlog is cleared instead of vomiting it all up at once, but I intend to develop it and keep it up to date just as I do with the rest of my social media.

Here’s to progress!

Missouri River Flooding

The flooding in the Midwest has been truly devastating in some areas. Fortunately for me, Leavenworth in comparison hasn’t been hit that hard… but we did nevertheless reach the standard of “major flooding” of the Missouri River on March 23rd. I went downtown to Leavenworth’s 2nd Street to take a look, and it was simultaneously shockingly high but also still staying near the boundary of the buildings… the river is set back from businesses on 2nd Street a fair ways by a railroad crossing as well as a park and river walk, so even though all of that got flooded out and it did reach some of the buildings on the river’s side of 2nd Street, it could’ve been much worse. I took a few photos, though if you’re not familiar with the area they might not be very impactful. I’ll have to see if I can remember to take some comparison photos at a future, more normal water level and update this post at some point.

My New Pet: Ashlar, or Ash for Short

When my crested gecko Lex passed away this winter, I was immediately surprised by how much lonelier my house felt. It was genuinely surprising how much companionship I felt from Lex’s presence. I didn’t want to replace her, exactly, but I wanted another pet. I like a wide range of pets including cats and dogs, but I feel my current household situation is best suited for a low maintenance and quiet pet that won’t be heartbroken when I travel for artist residencies.

In the intervening years since I got Lex, I had gradually become interested in a similar species of gecko called a gargoyle gecko that’s native to the same island as crested geckos (New Calendonia). The two species are similar in a lot of ways - size, diet, temperature needs, space needs, etc. - but differ in a few key ways. Gargoyle geckos will regrow their tails if they autotomize (meaning intentionally sever their tails) whereas crested geckos won’t. The two species also have different coloration and head shape and detailing. Gargoyles are so named because they have little bumps that develop on their heads and have sharp teeth.

I decided to get a gargoyle gecko for my next pet. They are more difficult to find than crested geckos, but fortunately for me there were a few for sale from a home breeder in nearby Lawrence, KS, on Craigslist. I consulted with the seller and then arranged to pick up my new pet a few days later.

I picked up the new little one and learned that it had hatched on July 28th. You can’t determine the sex (unless you’re really skilled and have a magnification device called a loupe) until the gecko is a lot older, so I’m currently changing the pronouns back and forth at random. After I’d had him for a few days, I decided the name Ashlar was suitable - ashlar is the most finely dressed masonry, but as a name also can be shortened to Ash which also represents the tree and cinder; all three are very apropos of various color states of my new gecko. I bought Ash a new cage just in case Lex’s had a parasite or fungal infestation (though I doubt that it does, and also heavily sanitized and temperature-treated the old cage through freezing just to be totally sure) and new cage decor and plants as well.

All that being said, please meet Ash! While I know it might be hard to believe, all of the photos in the below slideshow are of just one adorable gecko who is very variable in color depending on mood, surroundings, and time of day.

My Final Lex Post

For those of you who have been frequent blog visitors or Twitter followers, you’ll know that I occasionally post about my pet crested gecko Lex. Sadly, she passed away this winter. She was only six years old, which is quite young for a crested gecko to die. The species often lives for fifteen to twenty years in captivity and sometimes even longer. In hindsight, I believe she probably got impacted, though at the time I thought she was just going through a bad shed cycle. Impaction is always a small risk when you’re keeping the animal in a planted vivarium and feeding live insects. These choices nevertheless enrich an animal’s life, too, and Lex got clear enjoyment out of the plants and insect feeders. In the end I think it was unfortunately just her time.

Lex was a great gecko and I was really sorry to lose her. Here are some photos I hadn’t yet posted that I’d like to share in celebration of her life with me.

Mistaking Animal Noises for Machinery

You should read this funny, interesting article in The Atlantic about misunderstandings that have arisen because people believe animal sounds they’re hearing must be more nefarious machinery. Here’s another story in Atlas Obscura about one town’s briefly apocalyptic experience with bullfrogs, and here’s an even more in-depth look at the cultural fallout from the New England Historical Society.

We're Getting New Public Domain Artwork

I’m a big proponent of not violating copyright - and it’s easier than ever before to catch someone who does with automated reverse image searching technology nowadays. If you use public domain works, though, then you’re in the clear! This year, we’ll be adding everything published in 1923 into the public domain!

An Interesting (and Horrifying) Cautionary Art Materials Handling Tale

This story in Toronto Life, “My Beautiful Death,” is quite interesting and appalling. Art materials are often toxic and require safe handling practices, but this tale not only deals with those practices but also with reflected fallout from our environmental mismanagement as well.

The Meaning of a Whole Ecosystem

This well-written and devastating feature in The New York Times Magazine, “The Insect Apocalypse is Here,” is worth reading. You might cry, though.

In conversation, sometimes, a student will wish mosquitoes away. I tell them that mosquitoes are an important part of the food chain for a number of species, and that while I, too, would like to be mosquito-free, we must understand that we are one small part of a whole. We may soon manage to become the whole, though, through chipping and choking everything else out. This article is about the decline of all insects and the overall functional extinction of many species - and our often unnoticed acclimation to it all.