Layers in Time

Many of the artists and poets, inspired by looking at the layers of the earth, call our attention to dynamic geologic processes. Heat from the interior of the earth drives the slow movement of tectonic plates as well as promoting relatively rapid though infrequent eruptions of volcanoes. [1] The movement of water, like the pounding of waves on ocean beaches, mobilizes and produces sand. [2] This coastal sand with heat and pressure from inside the earth becomes sandstone. [3] Similarly, the erosive force of rivers travelling from land to sea [4] provide consistent weathering forces that can break down rocks prior to depositing them as sedimentary rock layers. In some cases, rocks spared from change by metamorphic heating or breakdown by weathering, can provide records from the dawn of the history of life on earth, and even before that! Travelling across country, artists and poets contemplate our place in time as they view petrified forests and the layers of rock in road cuts, uplifted landscapes, eroded land forms, deep canyons, and distant vistas. For scientists, the spectacular sequence of geologic layers also provides informative long term records of past climate, providing a foundation for our understanding of recent climate change.

Soils often form in layers on top of rocks, because they are produced as rocks weather and become colonized by life. Thus soils can capture the most recent history of climate, vegetation, and human uses of the land. [5]


1 Lava Land (Gayle Lauradunn)
2 Coastal Sand (Cynthia Pratt), and Memory of Coal (Lorna Mulligan)
3 Book of Sandstone (Suze Woolf)
4 The Wet Season (Cynthia Pratt)
5 At the Gingko Interpretive Center (Michael Magee); Open Range, Mountain Passage (Alex Borgen); Rock Texture Book (Suze Woolf); and Grit (Kim Malinowski)

Lava Land - Gayle Lauradunn

On Puna Penninsula, at the ocean's edge
I stand on an immense slab of earth
only twenty years old. Newly spewed
by Mauna Loa. Solid black mass where
not even a single weed dares grow.
Behind me, away from the water,
tall trees jungle-thick form the landscape.
This morning further inland, everything
on my breakfast plate grew outside
the guest house window: pineapple,
papaya, banana, spinach, onions, and
the egg-laying chickens pecking the black
soil for worms. The sun warms and ash
from Mauna Loa colors the air. I wonder
now if my great-grandchildren one-hundred
times removed will know this bit of Puna
as soil that produces their breakfast.


The Memory of Coal - Lorna Mulligan

Single sheet book; hand-painted and lettered; Rives BFK paper; handground pigment, gouache and sumi; 8 pages; 11 (when opened) x 7.5 x .25 inches; one of a kind.

The Memory of Coal is about cretaceous era fossils found in cliffs along the Nova Scotia shoreline. It refers to history leaving marks and traces in the earth. The simple sheet of paper is folded into a book, rich black carbon is ground into paint and applied in an ephemeral way with water and brush. The notion of time is thus integrated into the subject, the materials and the execution of this book. Materials include handground carbon black pigment, gouache and sumi, applied with ruling pen, handmade pen and chinese brush. The text by Lorna Mulligan reads: the memory of coal/pulled from the shoreline/patterns of ancient growth/lost forests of time/still black with age. 

Coastal Sand - Cynthia Pratt

Like mist that creeps over mudflats,
these thin wisps of moisture,
touch the tracks of a raccoon.
Its imprints run across sand and up the bluff.
The acrid smell mingles with salt on my tongue:
Now strong, then gone, then hints of wet plants,
imagined sea creatures.  Fleeting.

Sediment deposits oscillated by waves
break onto and recede from the beach.
Littoral drift: this long-shore transport of
coastal sediment and the movement of
sand by waves along the foreshore.

I holler out the first word I think of:  Pompeii,
claiming my new word against
the morning turning rust.
Not quite archaeology, this present moment,
rather what the tide offers up at my feet,
this new word I call ancient.

Pompeii: for the ghosts of this beach,
the guttural essence I can only take back with me.

Book of Sandstone - Suze Woolf

Card fold with pop-up; digital prints of original paintings; Hahnemuhle fine art cotton rag inkjet paper; non-woven viscose, acrylic paints and matte medium, garnet sandpaper, mat board; 2 pages; 4.625 x 4.625 x 0.5 inches; one of a kind.

Dirt can be "rock that was" or "rock that will be." The many forms and textures of eroded sandstone in Zion National Park inspired a series of my paintings. The self-similar series extended naturally into a book form. Sandpaper is a logical book cloth for covers. Because each sandstone tile is so particular to its erosion history, I chose to combine two images such that viewed from one angle, one "tile" is perceived, and a different one viewed from another angle.

The Wet Season - Cynthia Pratt

Rains drills down into the skin of the streambank
oozing the sediment into the water,
weakening the shoulders of earth until it slopes
into an angle too stressed to hold.
Chunks pry away into a slurry of grit.
Trees lean and sag, fall into the churning high water.

It is high-flow season: a time for the stream or river
to let go, become gorged with rootwads and debris,
the water roiling along the channels, until finally
it finds the assailable bank, puncturing the wet, matted earth
that will become its now new canal:  an ancient floodplain
that has waited to be repossessed, an old spurned
lover who turns up in places you least expect.


To remove plants, rocks, soil from here
is larceny, the sign says.
No ripping off of nature permitted
as the Gingko Center interprets it to us.

A visitor asks if any trees can still be seen
while our guide points out two in front of us,
no leaves or branches on one side;
they grow against a wall of stone.

Looking at the Columbia Gorge, we see
layers of strata stripped away, sediment  
stripes in red and brown, not these trees
with fragile fan-like leaves.

These are the petrified forests, once
rooted in soil, only a few stumps left
to sit on.   As a fossil, I wonder
how well will I survive?

The Rock Texture Book - Suze Woolf

Accordion folded digital prints and non-woven viscose; digital prints of original paintings; Hahnemuhle fine art cotton rag inkjet paper; non-woven viscose, acrylic paints and matte medium, veneer brick, lacquer, copper powder; 8 pages; 2.5 x 7.5 x 1.5 inches; one of a kind.

Dirt can be "rock that was" or "rock that will be." The many forms and textures of eroded sandstone in Zion National Park inspired a series of my paintings. The self-similar series extended naturally into a book form. Veneer brick was a consistent and related material for covers.

The Japanese repair high-fire valuable ceramics with lacquer and gold powder in a process named "kintsugi;" I echo this practice by filling in voids in the low-fire, low-value brick covers.

Open Range, Mountain Passage - Alex Borgen


Accordion fold, sculptural; drawing, painting, and transfer; handmade Abaca paper; dirt and gold pearlescent pigment, graphite, ink; 18 pages; 56 x 12.5 x 1 inches; one of a kind.

The body that moves with intention through its landscape is “an extension of the terrain that sustains it,” as Andre Lepecki suggests. It is a form of mapping with the body, which Rebecca Solnit argues is a way to become immersed in a landscape, thereby promoting conservation of that known environment. I discovered my body as an extension of the landscape during 2 months of mountain biking along 2000 miles of the Continental Divide Route from Montana to New Mexico. Made with handmade paper pigmented with soil and gold pearlescence, I created a sculptural book that resembles the mountain terrain I passed on my journey. The book has been aged by crumpling and rubbing the handmade paper and is a performative metaphor of my body’s experience during the trek. The accordion fold intentionally mimics old maps of parchment, and is a way I could present a non-linear story of the experience using words, locations, and points of topography as texture marked on the handmade paper.  

Dirt - Cynthia Pratt

Skin of the earth, living fabric,
roots of trees intertwine
beneath forest litter.
Twist with fungi.
Cake onto bare feet.

Spaces between lithosphere
Contract and expand,
trap water flowing to aquifers.
Membrane between geology and biology,
where would we stand without it?

Contained in ancient scripture.  Adama:  Earth;
Hava: living; Even authors of the Bible
Knew we recycle ourselves.
Latin for living soil; humus feeding organisms.
Skin of ourselves embedded beneath us.

We stand on detritus of the past.
Dig pathways through the beginning of time.
Run on particles of extinct animals and plants.
Make footprints on our ancestors’ shoulders.
My offspring will plant a seed on my body.

Late Snow, Spring Dresses - Dennis Potter

Folio, box book of handmade papers; handmade Abaca; New Zealand flax, mulberry; inclusions; fabric scrap, net, lace, ribbon, fibers, hairs, paper scrap; 4 pages; 11 x 13 x 1.5 inches; one of a kind.

The earth begins to come alive in late spring, under a Late Snow, revealing scraps and memories of human passing adding to the layers of leaf mold and humus like memories. There is little enough of the earth we have not touched, dirtied, filled with flotsam and jetsum of our habitation, ubiquitous. Anthropomorphizing the very soil.

In these crusted sheets of heavy handmade paper I tried to fill the surface to the max it would sustain, yet still bind. I used fabric scraps from recycled fabric constructions I make, threads, fibers of horse and sisal and human hair. Bits of net and screen and basket, and remnants of my paper constructions themselves. I was surprised and delighted to find a bit of the earth itself, not an illusion (tho no actual dirt was used) but a box full of dirt, in the ancient form of handmade paper sheets. Concupiscent curds, from Wallace Stevens “the Emperor of Ice Cream”.


Grit - Kim Malinowski

Caked mud.
Parched cracks
ash and bone
silt and loam
a lull of sand.

Amidst layers of stardust
stratigraphy is mapped,
the dust of excavation
cannot be washed out of the mouth.
The chalky taste lingers,
ash seeps into my pores.
I am painted now,
sepia and coal,
now one of Earth’s layers. 

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