There seems to be some confusion as to the nature of an artist residency—what it is; what it is not. Many people assumed I was enrolled in art lessons. Not so. For those of you who asked, “Exactly what do you do at an artist residency?” here is the definitive answer posted by Julia Douglas on her Instagram account. In it she quotes abstract artist Elspeth Pratt, “From my own personal experience and my many years of teaching, I have learned that giving advice is not a good idea. The truly important task is to provide the stimulus and opportunities for people to develop and follow their own line of inquiry.” That’s exactly what Julia and her husband, Colin Usher, provide at Studio Faire. There was an expectation that I would work on my project, but no pressure and no suggestions as to how to go about it.
While the intent of every artist residency program is similar, I’m sure that each one has its own unique atmosphere. Studio Faire’s is intimate, hosting three “creatives” at any one time—three people from diverse countries, following diverse creative paths.
Naomi Washer, a beautiful young poet/essayist from Chicago, and I arrived on the same day. Colin picked us up at the Agen train station and whisked us to Studio Faire where we met Julia and Johanna Naukkarinen, a lovely, young photographer from Finland. A somewhat older me was there to illustrate my alphabet book for children.
Johanna left us after one week. Tears all around. And, then, Thérèse Rafter arrived, another young photographer—this time from Ireland. Different ages, different backgrounds, different mediums but, despite the differences, friendships took root, bonds were forged. From two to four weeks, we lived in an alternate universe, together, where our primary goal was to follow our muse without the day-to-day diversions of our regular lives. Each one of us stepped seamlessly into life at Studio Faire. Slipping out again was bittersweet. Someone else filled the spot we vacated, just as it should be, and yet…
As we bade good-bye to Johanna, I announced that I wasn‘t much of a crier and was not likely to cry when my departure time arrived. How wrong I was. On the day of my departure, I cried. In fact, I cried at the drop of a hat for the next twenty-four hours.
An alternate universe was my reality for three weeks. I met people who became friends and whom I will likely never meet again. Still, life is full of surprises. Never say never. I am put in mind of the famous poem, Friends for a Reason, A Season, A Lifetime. The friends I made in Nérac may be friends who came into my life—briefly—for a reason, but I will remember each and every one for a lifetime. Merci beaucoup, Studio Faire!
Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig
After a hair-raising trip home (no details here). I am safely back in what I would formerly have described as my “real” world. However, I now realize that every life experience is real while we are in it. So, new description—I am back in my California world.
Nérac, with its surrounding villages and scenery, is beautiful. In fact, “It’s so beautiful,” became my mantra every time I took in a new vista, Now that I’ve returned, I realize that Sonoma County is beautiful, too, in its own way. While it does not have castles and chateaus, it does have redwood trees, the Pacific Ocean and vineyards.
I am back in my own home, my little kingdom, where I can create savory dishes in the kitchen with ingredients not available in France. I planned ahead and returned to a clean house with fresh sheets on my bed. So welcoming! My plants are blooming. I have the luxury of my own space. I live alone and I’ve always said I like it that way. Nevertheless, it feels a little emptier here than it did before.
The new school year is about to begin. And for those of you who keep saying, “I thought you retired,” I have not. I’m ready to take on a new bunch of little guys with special needs. Instead of writing the great American novel (an early dream ), I’ve been working for over thirty years. with kids that fall outside the educational norm. It’s been a privilege and I’m not done, not yet.
Life goes on. I continue to work on my book, to support the Cloverdale Gallery, to paint, to teach, to spend times with my friends and family. And, oh, yes, I am researching artist residencies for summer 2020.