February 27, 2019
Today Helen and I went to visit the Salzburg artist-in-residence, Merike van Zanten, in her studio in Building T6, a legacy from the airbase on which FAU was built, which houses the Jaffe’s paper-making studio. I wanted to see how Merike was making out in her quest for local flora that would work for her, and she has indeed found specimens, some on the campus and even some in John’s Lake Worth garden. She’s had to learn familiarize herself of course: picture the “fishtail palm,” and learn as Merike did, that the essence of a red hibiscus blossom prints as blue.
T6 seems the perfect location for the work she is doing, spacious and light-filled, with room for the tables she uses in her eco-printing workshops (one coming up on March 24th) and for her various equipment.
On one of the long tables there were three or four silk scarves that had been printed using various techniques – some had been layered with a sheet containing iron as a mordant, and others with sheets imbued with color from natural dyes. Some of the images were sharp and detailed; others intentionally ethereal. Merike explained her technique which involves choosing silk, paper, or leather for her base, then arranging the specimens in an attractive pattern, and laying on a sheet that will determine the final aspect. Then she wraps the whole tightly around a thick dowel and ties the bundle with strips of old sheeting to make it as secure as possible without tell-tale marks from the binding.
At her desk we looked at samples of leather she was testing. She had a piece she had printed in Turkey in which the images were so sharp and clear that they printed dimensionally, incised into the leather. The pieces she has obtained here are a delicate sky blue color from the chloride used in tanning, but she was concerned that the images she had achieved so far were not printing with the same clarity or depth of color. She took us out onto the patio where she was trying a different technique, and we watched as she retrieved wrapped cylinders from the bath in which they had been boiling for an hour. She was so eager to see the results that she kept burning her fingers. It was a gift for us and a wonderful relief for her to be able to see the success she had achieved.
When Arthur and the artist Helen Salzburg conceived of having a residency program, they must have known (as I did not) how hard artists work. Like several of the others whom I have known here, Merike never stops. She is constantly experimenting and inventing, making adjustments to her original ideas to use the materials at hand to the best advantage. Her inventiveness combines with her knowledge: chemistry, mathematics, botany, physics, pedagogy, poetry, and above all, art.