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LTR: Issue One

Dear Friend,

Sorry it’s been a while since we’ve talked. Things have been a bit crazy; we’ve been taking the time to think about how to do more with what we have. 

As a collective, Sassafras evolved from a shared desire to build something long-term together, to commit to people, food, land, and art. We developed this publication to further research and articulate our collective practice. Here you will find a collection of stories from artists that explore their experience with long-term relationships (LTR) in different ways...whether the relationships lasted, or didn’t.

In our review of submissions, four themes emerged:  growing, eating, the in-between, and decomposing,  which we’ve used to organize this first issue. The submissions explore some of the physical, emotional, financial challenges and opportunities of collaboration and partnership, of love and loss, and much more. LTR is just the beginning of thinking through this, of making our process of collaboration transparent. It’s what we can do now. 

In the long-term, we hope to build a place where we can all work together. But in the meantime, the most radical thing we can do is be accountable to each other and to continue reimagining our practice in the context of [resisting] art markets and capitalism. LTR is a way for us to share our approach and grow together.


Sassafras (Christopher Kennedy, Katie Shlon, Mitchell Oliver, and Valerie Wiseman)

PS Do you have any land we can buy, rent, use for free or barter? Email us at  



Bridget Frances Quinn, Landfill, 2016



Lyric Morris-Lathchaw, Liturgy, 2016


How to grow a pineapple

How to grow a pineapple
Step 1: Buy a pineapple
Step 2: Twist off the crown, cut up the pineapple, shave down the crown
Step 3: Dry the crown outside on the wall 
Step 4: Put the crown in water
Step 5: Wait
Step 6: Change the water
Step 7: Wait
Step 8: Change the water
Step 9: Wait
Step 10: Change the water
Step 11: Wait
Step 12: Nothing has happened for two weeks, you cut too much off of the roots, maybe? Compost the pineapple crown
Step 13: Buy a pineapple
Step 14: Wait too long to cut up the pineapple so it is kinda moldy and over-ripe
Step 15: Twist off the crown, compost rest of pineapple, shave down crown, but less this time
Step 16: Dry the pineapple outside
Step 17: Put the pineapple in water 
Step 18: Wait
Step 19: Change the water
Step 20: Wait
Step 21: Change the water
Step 22: Wait
Step 23: Wash off mold, change water
Step 24: Wait
Step 25: Change water
Step 26: Wait
Step 27: Wash off mold, change water
Step 28: Wait
Step 29: Pineapple is moldy, maybe you didn’t shave off enough this time or didn’t let it dry out enough or it was over before it started? Compost the pineapple crown
Step 30: Buy a pineapple
Step 31: Don’t wait so long to cut it this time
Step 32: Twist off crown, cut up pineapple, shave around pineapple crown, put on the window sill to dry
Step 33: Put the pineapple in water
Step 34: Wait
Step 35: Change water
Step 36: Wait
Step 37: Change water
Step 38: Wait
Step 39: Change water
Step 40: Wait
Step 41: Wash off mold, change water
Step 42: Wait
Step 43: Change water
Step 44: Wait
Step 45: Wash off mold, change water; Maybe roots are growing
Step 46: Wait
Step 47: The pineapple is still moldy, change water
Step 48: Wait
Step 49: Pineapple is moldy, this is it; Compost pineapple
Step 50: Buy a pineapple 


Valerie Wiseman, Pineapple, 2016


99 cent Dream

Iman Bannout, 99 cent Dream, 2016


We’re Selling the House

Alethea Busch, We’re Selling the House, 2016


love is just a bunch of journal entries a poem 

by Ava Lonergan

01.30.13 – upon meeting we were like a rollercoaster, friends one minute and arguing the next

04.15.13 – he’s very hard to break into. he’s incredibly good at breaking into other people

04.16.13 – i felt like he was staring at me for most of the time i was trying to eat

04.19.13 – checking to see if he’s responded and checking to see if he’s online

04.22.13 – that convo was an hour or two long

04.27.13 – as long as there is a make-out or some kind of affirmation that he’s interested

04.30.13 – we were still texting on and off till 4am

05.07.13 – i took a sip of water and turned to him, and the kiss just happened naturally

05.10.13 – i asked him what he worries about and he said being alone

05.14.13 – last night we stayed up till 2 watching a movie on the Lifetime Movie Network

06.05.13 – even though we didn’t hook up and i was pissed he slept in till 3:30pm

06.09.13 – i tried to sit down and write him a letter in an attempt to get him out of my system

06.11.13 – he has let me down and i have not managed to meet any other option

01.04.14 – whatever is between us is not over yet

01.07.14 – and I said yes, he’s in my head. he’s in Qatar, studying abroad this semester

01.12.14 – i spend so much time daydreaming, coming up with the things i want to say to him

01.25.14 – as friends or as two people who have an undeniable connection and are willing to try

02.16.14 – playing this game with him, with no end in sight

03.10.14 – maybe i’ll have to actively meditate him out of my mind

08.09.14 – on Thursday night he got really drunk and told me he loves me

09.24.14 – he and E are totally different people, and i say that mostly in a good way

09.03.15 – another dream was that i was hanging out with him the entire time

12.28.15 – thinking about writing him another letter that i swear i won’t send

12.31.15 – maybe in 2016 i can break my bad habits: chewing my fingers, thinking about him

01.03.16 – E and i had sex after the movie and i kept thinking about him the entire time

01.04.16 – seems to have a clear message but coming from him could mean any # of things

01.05.16 – it’s kind of helpful to know he’s still weird about communicating

01.06.16 – i was starting to feel fine until he sent me that stupid stupid song

01.07.16 – i am still currently hating him

01.09.16 – this is why i feel like my life is in retrograde (who gives a fuck about mercury)

01.10.16 – i said “i hate you.” and he stared at me, not sure how to respond

01.12.16 – i would love to be with him this summer, to let it play out and see what happens

01.14.16 – feeling regretful in the same way i did when i hung out with him

01.15.16 – i’m still feeling conflicted about him

01.16.16 – there’s not really much to talk about... just rehashed details and thoughts

01.17.16 – haven’t been able to find a song that says what i want it to say perfectly

01.18.16 – the intimacy of these dreams is what gets to me

01.29.16 – hopefully tonight we can get past the staring contest and on to the actual talking

01.30.16 – i kind of hoped he would come back and sleep on the couch w/ me

01.31.16 – i think whatever that tension is that keeps bringing us together will continue to do so

03.05.16 – why do i have to be so hard on him, especially from 60 miles away?

07.03.16 – i imagine he’s out of it because his girlfriend leaves for Vietnam soon

07.14.16 – had sex w/ him for the first time

07.23.16 – he was handing it over to me and rested his hand on my knee—briefly, but noticeably

10.23.16 – he obviously didn’t care about me or respect me

10.30.16 – annoyed at him but what else is new

11.04.16 – realizing i never got pizza i never told him i love him and i’ll be hungry again soon

11.08.16 – i want to say i love you i love you i might never not love you

11.28.16 – at which point i realize the futility of the situation 


Pinoy Pinoy

Stephanie Williams, Pinoy Ploy, 5:36 minutes (Vimeo)

Pinoy Ploy is inspired by the migratory patterns of an ever-changing American food landscape, as a story-telling device about “American-ness.” This stop-motion puppet animation features a Balut (a Filipino delicacy, a half-formed fermented duck egg) as the main protagonist. In recent years, American foodie culture has shifted to fully appropriate Filipino cuisine, the food that had never seemed to adapt well to American tastes. Have we, as Filipinos finally found a way to communicate with a more accepting audience or is this an “exotic” sell of an overlooked culture? How have other “untruths” of perceived and constructed cultural contexts informed the story of American food landscapes?


To Be Titled

Chris Bleuher, To Be Titled, 2016


And Away We Grow 

by Kelly Jones

I love food. Be it sweet or savory, a plate of veggies, a pile of barbeque, or some confection made up of dense cream and loads of sugar mixed with synthetic (but edible) dye. A veteran of the service industry, I have served, prepared, boxed up, and tossed out more food than I could consume in a lifetime. I have worked at all sorts of establishments: 24-hour diners, neighborhood bars, specialty bake shops. From fine-dining to farm-to-table to mom & pop restaurants, cinema grills, and even an experimental supper club. I’ve cut innumerable birthday cakes. Sung happy birthday to so many strangers. Popped champagne for wedding parties. Sipped said champagne when the chance presented. I’ve seen relationships start. I’ve poured cups of coffee all night long for artists. For the homeless. For long-haul truckers. I’ve seen relationships fall apart. I’ve sobered up prom-goers. I’ve helped get tourists inebriated. I’ve allowed a punk band to pour from the bottle of Grey Goose they stumbled off the streetcar with, as long as they did so under the table and tipped like they were ordering off menu. I’ve followed customers out when they didn’t leave enough to cover their bill and demanded payment. I’ve broken up fights and mopped up blood. I’ve been groped by grown men. By grown women. I’ve come back from a smoke break to a dining room emptied, except for the cops with their guns drawn. I’ve been stiffed on tips and handed twenties just for smiling. I’ve been yelled at by irate customers and hugged by the happy ones. I’ve stood before a man on a horse and explained that unless he left the animal outside he would have to order to-go. What all these experiences combined have taught me is that people are beautiful and strange and complex creatures.

Our relationships with food are also complex and strange, and occasionally beautiful. Much like diners prefer not to think much about the individuals who serve them, people seem to prefer not to consider the story behind the food before them. Most of us don’t produce food, or live near production centers. As our appetites increase and our palates become more refined and adventurous, we crave different foods but aren’t very concerned with the means of their production. Remember the stories on almond milk that surfaced a couple years ago? Or the brief popularity of kale on menus, and the rebranding of cheap leafy greens in general that turned them from an affordable staple for some into a tasty new treat for others? Farming is perhaps trendier now than it has ever been. More people may be visiting small farms, shopping at local markets, and frequenting restaurants that partner with local producers, but the number of farmers making a living off of farming is still in decline.

This is a problem, and one without a simple solution. What we eat, where and when we eat it, and how much we are willing to pay for it is a convoluted web of desire, power, preference, privilege, and availability. If I am anything like other Americans, I eat more than I need to in order to survive. I consume more than I should. And I toss out a disgusting amount of food. Though I try not to.

Some studies have found that on average, America wastes forty percent of its available food. Which means that somewhere out there, other people are getting by on less. I am aware that the food decisions I make every day mean something, and that these decisions are the result of an unhealthy relationship with food. I am not sure how to be more mindful of this as I go about my life, or how to make changes that will have a positive long-term impact on how I interact with food.

I grew up hungry. Though never entirely without, an almost empty fridge and sparsely stocked cabinets were not unusual. In middle school I would make boxed mac and cheese and eat it night after night, because it was all there was in the apartment. I babysat and did yard work for neighbors in order to have money to buy lunch with at school. If I didn’t have the money, I’d sip on a can of soda and eat my friend’s rejected pizza crusts, pretending like they were my favorite thing and I just couldn’t let them go to waste. I began working in restaurants when I was fifteen, partially because I needed money and restaurants are one of the most efficient ways to make a decent amount of it, but also because it meant that food was accessible. I kept working in restaurants throughout my twenties, paying for college with the tips customers left me.

My food choices these days are based more on immediate needs than on anything else. I don’t plan enough time in the morning for breakfast, so I get a cup of coffee and a bagel a few hours after I get to the office. Or I stay out too late and wind up making grilled cheese after midnight. I stockpile food like I’m afraid of starving, and yet items will remain untouched in cabinets for months on end. Even though I struggle financially, I still find myself making weekly trips to the grocery store and buying things I could do without. Because not doing so sparks a bit of panic in me. I have tried over the years to let that hang-up go, but it remains.

When I worked in restaurants, I rarely went to the grocery store because one of the perks of restaurant work is that food is always available. Either the restaurant does a family pre-shift meal, or part of whatever staff order gets comped, or something gets messed up and workers get to scarf the mistake down. During that time of my life I also rarely went to restaurants as a customer, partially because I’ve always been uncomfortably being waited on and partially because I’m know about the ridiculous mark-up that restaurants get away with and the exploitative nature of the service industry. A few years out of my long run in the service industry, I still only go to restaurants occasionally, as it strikes me as strange to pay people to feed me - which is something I am fully capable of doing on my own. I prefer to have people over, or to go to potlucks. My favorite meals are made up of small bites of tons of side dishes and desserts, which is hard to order off a menu.

Every few weeks I visit my friends’ farm, which is conveniently just ten or so miles outside of the city I currently call home. I bring a cheap bottle of wine and a homemade pie. We carry our wineglasses with us as we visit the piglets and walk through rows of organic produce. My friends don’t leave the farm often, it consumes their lives, but it is a beautiful sort of consumption. Quite and hand-built, with a history that can’t be bought off a shelf. When I return to the city I return with bags of fresh greens and imperfect radishes and rutabagas. I enjoy figuring out ways to use these things before they spoil, and feel guilty when I fail to do so.


On Working and Not Working 

by Suzy Kopf

I recently finished up my MFA and I’m trying to find a work life balance. So far I have not been particularly successful. I’m alive and I work all the time, so does that count? Is that enough?

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has been quoted as having said the secret to a life well lived is “Work worth doing”. My problem is that I have trouble prioritizing which work is worth doing RIGHT NOW— the work that feeds me creatively or the work that feeds me literally. 

I am not alone with this problem. Beloved author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.” Don’t try to do everything, the visionaries tell us. Try to do one or two things well and you will have achieved life’s purpose.

The concept of that is so pure that perhaps it reveals itself as completely unrealistic immediately. As nice as it would be to be devoted only to one thing, that is basically impossible as a modern day creative. Part of the reason I work constantly is that I have at least five jobs at any given time. This is by design and by necessity. Artists tend to take whatever jobs come our way and as many as possible. To do otherwise would not only seem unwise, it would feel downright fiscally reckless. 

I was raised to believe that there is honor in working hard. In art school I was taught to say yes. Over and over again. And that is generally what I do when presented with employment opportunities. I say yes. 

In the life of the average creative person in 2016, I believe there is no particular moment where you realize “I have made it and everything will be (financially) easier now.” Certainly, having one path and staying on it might help. I have friends who want to teach and have a singular goal of getting tenure. I know others that want to work in galleries or museums and are able to move slowly up a faithful chain of command to higher and higher income brackets. But for those of us who want to ideally be making every day and are not offended by the idea of selling that work, there are no shortcuts to stability, no obvious order or sequence. 

As a result, I feel at times like I am taking one step forward and several others backward. Like succeeding at my other jobs is somehow a betrayal of my artistic life. Especially on afternoons like this one where I am sitting in my studio, afternoon painstakingly cleared of all other work and mind utterly blocked.

After climbing what seemed like a mountain of other work Monday through Thursday, I can find myself in my studio on Friday morning, light pouring through my Southern exposure, and the work or making art is suddenly impossible. When this happens, the despair I feel is unparalleled. I can hear the blood rushing in my ears, the minutes ticking by. I feel like a fake, like everything I tell people about myself isn’t true because creative and important and relevant work isn’t pouring out of me the minute I sit down. I feel an urgent need to organize my supplies, to research a more comfortable chair to sit on, to eat my lunch at 10AM.

How do we press on these mornings? It is so essential that we do.

There is the unrelenting cliché of the carefree artist, sleeping in, to rise late and day drink, then sloshing about the studio coated in material while hard working folk slave away at nine-to-fives. When I tell people at parties what I do, they often say, “Oh, I used to paint too, I loved it”, like it’s something they outgrew or got bored of. But I know the truth— it was too hard for them to visualize making this a life. They chose stability and I chose this.

Right now, I teach at a university, I work at a commercial gallery, I write for an arts magazine, I make and sell my own work (primarily watercolor, oil paintings and collages), and because none of those things really pays enough to cover my expenses in the affordable mid-sized city where I live, I walk dogs and design databases. In another city, at another time, I also bartended, waited tables, was a personal assistant, a studio assistant, an archivist— the list goes on. I have fetched coffee and swept the floor but I’ve also sold $50,000 pieces, taken business trips and won international grants and residencies. 

Dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote, “Creativity is an act of defiance,” and on afternoons like this one, I try to remember that, and to enjoy the sunlight and breathe.  


A Text on How to Feel Comfortable

Justin Nalley, A Text on How to Feel Comfortable, 2016


First List and Photo

Ellis Anderson and Emily Ensminger

Above: First List, 2010; First Photo, 2007

The list was made in preparation for our move from Chicago to NC. Reviewing our practical plans and dreams, its funny to see what we said and wanted then, what, six years later, is still relevant and what has yet to be accomplished. Time warps when you’ve been together as long as we have with no end in sight. The LTR simultaneously dribbles on at the speed of sap and also flashes past. When friends look to me for relationship advice I always suggest that LTR’s aren’t linear - they should be handled like new relationships every 6 months. We never know what’s around the corner because the relationship regularly renews itself and we find new reasons to be with each other.

Photo taken by Marjorie Bailey on a Chicago bus en route to an experimental performance above the Friendship Chinese Restaurant - research indicates it may have been Elastic Arts. The venues interior was painted orange with a small stage. It neighbored a Polish grocery that sold spiral poppyseed cakes and a dentist office with a giant toothy marquee. Unknowingly, I was in the presence of one LTR ending and another beginning.



Charlotte Mumm, Untitled, 2016



Samantha Metzner, Coco, 2016

This piece is a hand colored cyanotype of Coco, an artist I collaborated with while we were both participating in the Art Camp residency in South China, Maine during some 4 weeks of August and September . Through our collaborations and those with the other artists also participating, we were able to communally explore our art practices through the co-creation of intentional community. 



 by Lydia Moyer


I remember the sound of generators running

The faucet dry

The blackest night

sweat-tangled sheets

camping on pillow ground

I read with a headlamp on.


I remember the sound of the wind climbing the hollow

before the trees began to sway


I packed for one day and stayed for five

Living off borrowed energy

I remember your summer kitchen

(a toaster in the hallway)

The trap-trapping of the air conditioner

How it drowned out the birds

I remember you coming back with a bike

That couldn’t hold its gear


And I remember going home

jumping into the pond still dressed

riding damp in the back of a pickup

the fireflies like tiny beacons

And the hum of the refrigerator

when the electricity came back on.




by Lydia Moyer


I remember wild persimmons

Along the valley road

The day they found Hannah’s bones

I ate the wrinkled fruit on the tree

And you ate the soft fruit on the ground

We walked in farmers’ fields

Followed the tracks of machines over sparkling soil

Past walnuts piled like cannon balls


There was talk of roads

Of building

And making way.


You saw through the second story

Not large, you said,


The clear-cuts dark with winter architecture in the cold sun


how different your life would have been to live here

I said



all that debt you said


and I did not reply.



Courtney Cross, Beach, 2017


Microbrial Dynamics

Niina Cochran, Microbrial Dynamics, 2017


That Moon This Place Which Way

Mary Rothlisberger and Nicole Lavelle, That Moon This Place Which Way, 2016