Sunday, October 3, 2021


 Alexis Ivy

July 2021

I am a poet from the Boston-area and work in outreach and advocacy for the homeless. This residency gave me culture shock in such a beautiful, profound way. The culture of place lives livelier down there.  At Rensing, it’s about being a part of a community in a moments time.  I lived a whole new life for three weeks, realizing my fears, judgements, loves and responses to the utterly new world I had been accepted into.    I didn’t realize I would be so much a part of a community of landscapers, mechanics, historians, transplants, locals, farmers, black smithers, soap makers, quilters, banjo pickers. What I loved was I didn’t just meet artists, but a whole community of Upcountry.  Everyone willing to show me their world and so interested in getting to know mine.  Amazing how welcome I was, how welcomed I felt, how self-realized I can become.  

I never thought of myself as a nature poet.  More in search of the nature of people. The ecology of humans is what I try to articulate. But here I felt the way nature heals—I found out I should be a goat rather than a sheep.  I used a pitchfork and hay and watched fresh carrot tops turn back into the earth. Here, I came to realize that my nature mirrors nature itself.  I loved how my poet plans were upended.  My purpose and intention were ever-shifting—I had the freedom to consider why I came.  And I spent my whole residency trying to answer what this place means and what this place means to me as a poet, collector, outreach worker.  And here I am now still searching for an answer.  That is what’ll make these poems break-my-heart poems—not the knowledge, but the wonderment

Other Stories

 Jenny Siegfried

July 2021

There's something deeply beautiful and profound that happens when the natural narratives in the world start to intervene and converse with our own human and historical stories; as an artist, I've always been drawn to exploring this symbiotic relationship, exploring abandoned and historical buildings, homes, and settlements, searching for keys to past ways of life or unexpected tales and moments in nature and time. The Rensing Center was the perfect place to continue digging through the past, and in the dirt! The pastoral landscape of Pickens is a lush green landscape that provides a peaceful contrast to the frenetic energy found in its decaying homes and buildings.

The Pickens County Museum and Hagood Mill Historic Site were both an excellent start into the architectural history of Pickens, but our weekly potluck not only brought excellent conversation and food... but also a surprise path into the deep local history! After a wonderful discussion about the value and importance of visually documenting abandoned or decaying architecture, I was given a beautiful hand drawn map from Jon Fritz, showing a number of homes less than two miles away from the Rensing Center that were in such a state of decay that it seemed as if nature was solidly reclaiming its turf. After a morning of climbing through thorny bushes and wading through waist-high weeds, I had taken dozens and dozens of photographs of a selection of homes, all built in the 30s and 40s and sitting unoccupied for decades now... and all magically deep in the grasp of the local plants and foliage taking ownership of these buildings and human stories. Root structures overturned porch supports, ivy and weeds latticed entire walls unrecognizable, and through the broken, now glass-less second story windows, arms of branches and leaves reached out through, grasping towards the sunshine. 

Completely inspired, these photos became the basis for a series of paintings I completed that very same day; gradated washes of watercolor form skyscapes and mountain ridges in the distance (calling back to visits that same week to Sassafras Mountain, Table Rock State Park, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park), while ghostly white linear paintings of roof fragments and window panes sit stoic and slowly dissolving in the foreground. Our human narratives feel so strong and deeply important, but when carefully stepping on the crumbling concrete footpath leading to a home that's being razed solely through natural means and materials, it's evident that ours is not the only relevant narrative to tell.


 Rachel Watson

New Orleans
July - August 2021

Time. Time is one of the most important things someone can give me as an artist. Time to think of new ideas. Time to flesh out old ideas. Time to experiment. Time to create. It’s not often that I have undivided time to do any of those things. Normally, tasks for everyday life consume my days. However, at Rensing, I was awarded this time. I was able to relax. To create. To go on walks. To make new friends. I was able to focus on the thing I love the most. Art. And for that, I am forever grateful. 

I can’t thank the people there enough for their encouragement, kindness, and openness. To Jessi, my new friend, my first roommate in years, my cohort, and my horror movie watching buddy. Thank you for the walks, the breaks, and all the enjoyable banter. To Ron, thank you for your kind words, the invitations to local events, and your stories. To Ellen, thank you for your hospitality, your softness, your drive, your inviting nature, and your creativity. Thank you for creating such a lovely space for artists to come to. For providing us with that time that we all need. 

While at Rensing I focused on a couple of things I’ve wanted to do for a while. I developed film in Caffenol, went through film from years ago, fleshed out future ideas, and built my first pinhole camera. Now, I am a camera nerd. I own around 60 film still and video cameras. However, I’ve never made one myself. It was a natural progression for me, and I finally did it! I found a gorgeous wood and leather hat box at the local flea market, figured out the pinhole size, made the box lighttight, and loaded it with 4x5” film. After a few days of tinkering…it worked! I spent a few days taking photographs with this camera around Rensing and Pickens and I was able to get some lovely photographs from it. Making this camera will send me on a path of making cameras out of found objects wherever I travel. So again, thank you Rensing. Without this residency I wouldn’t be beginning my next body of work. The camera and the photograph, in this case, will both be art.  

A Gift from Larry

Caitlin Thornbrugh

Kansas City & Boston
July 2021

A Gift from Larry
On Wednesday mornings in Pickens County there is a mile long flea market. I didn’t measure, but it feels like the tables of cowboy hats and peaches and shampoos and cabbages and antacids and guns laid out in a line, would reach back to Kansas where I’m from or Boston where I’m going after Rensing. I walked the Pickens Flea like a new duckling, following Ellen, our intrepid leader and residency director, who takes us straight to her shrimp guy. He drives them in fresh from the coast. My fellow perusers were an artist, Rachel, searching for objects to transform into cameras, and Jessi, who was not a huge fan of crowds, but lended a gentle eye and presence. 
I found myself in Pickens based on a recommendation from a fellow writer, an Irish poet named Lawrence O’Dwyer, who I call Larry. While at Rensing, he lived and wrote in the same Guest House I was now living in and encouraged me to apply. You can read his post on this same blog from October 2018 on butterflies and the beauty of the Guest House’s porthole window. There is a comfort and beauty to sitting where Larry sat in 2018, looking out the same window, and I think of all the other writers who have also created here. In Larry’s post, he wrote, “Windows and studios are just structures – it’s who makes them and opens them up to this kind of work that’s important.” I am quoting this here, because it’s Ellen and the welcoming village she has helped to build that make Rensing a place that fosters creativity and community. When I first stepped out of the car to meet Ellen, my glasses fogged up from moving out of the air-conditioning into the hot, humidity of a southern summer. She smiled and said, “Yes, you’re a gift from Lawrence.” 

I was at the residency to return to a book I started more than two years ago. A book about water, about rivers, about the body, about love. A lot of the writing work that needed to happen was opening, organizing, reordering, culling, filing. The work of a puzzle, but one that often feels like it is made of liquid. Elusive and waiting to be poured. Rensing makes this puzzle work possible. I looked through the porthole window and began typing. 


Marianne Lettieri, M.F.A.

June 2021

Simulacrum: “a copy from which no original exists, unsatisfactory imitation or substitute, essentially the copy of a copy.” Simulacra are not reflections or deceptions of reality. They simply obscure the fact that reality is irrelevant to a current understanding of our lives. We use our memories, photographs, writings, and artifacts to construct a perceived reality. 
Simulacrum is exactly what I had come to the Carolinas to investigate. And I had never heard the word until I received the one word text, “simulacrum,” from poet and fellow Rensing resident, Alexis Ivy.  I should interject here that I don’t especially play well with others when it comes to artistic collaboration. As an established visual artist, I am accustomed to long hours alone in the studio working through ideas and problems on my own. Of course I am inspired and influenced by many artists, and constructive feedback is always appreciated. But art making for me is primarily a solo gig. At Rensing, I was hanging with Alexis who is the same age as my child. We realized right off that our artistic explorations during the residency had tangential themes. Collaboration just happened. Over the next three weeks, we exchanged ideas and images. We also visited together repositories of local history and culture, such as Central Heritage Museum, Hagood Mill, Upcountry History Museum, Pickens County Museum of Art and History, Soapstone Baptist Church, and Twin Falls. Our collaboration was subtle, rich, and an unexpected bonus for me. I create mixed media constructions that explore shifts in individual values and cultural practices through the stuff we leave behind. I am interested in the interconnectedness of people and communities through time and the shared human desire to remember. Memory, however, is complex and ambiguous. People die or move away, landscape is altered, industries vanish, ways of thinking and doing change. The past persists into the present but altered in a way that boosts our personal identities and beliefs. My father’s people are from this “neck of the woods”— Upcountry to Blue Ridge Mountains —and I spent summers here as a child. The residency offered a unique opportunity for me to examine the deep history of this place through the lens of my constructed memories and respond with art making. Rensing’s location allowed me to also reconnect with family I had not seen in person for many years, sharing photos and stories over home cooked meals. It will all become art. On July 13, I celebrated my birthday with Alexis and my husband, who accompanied me to Pickens. We borrowed Ellen’s binoculars and sat outside in the dark, talking and finding star constellations. We even enjoyed a flyover of the International Space Station. Just before we called it a night, I saw a fabulous streaking meteor – a real fireball! Like a shooting star, the Rensing Artist Residency gave me a fabulous start on a new series of art works, for which I am excited and grateful.

The Houses of the Four Directions

Lynn Webster

June - August 2021

The Houses of the Four Directions

I sit and look through the ocular window at dawn light, kissed by a soft wind and expanding through leaves .  I could hear this first house on the Rensing property calling me to apply for a residency.  I wanted to experience the presence of that particular space.  The idea of home has permeated my work for a long time.  HOME carries so many meanings.  I have a deep concern that as humans we often forget to notice the homes of creatures that were there before us.  When I saw pictures of this little house tucked into the deep woods of South Carolina, I saw a place created to be a sanctuary for humans while honoring the lives of the creatures that have long lived in these ancient forests.   

Rensing Center itself is a place of sanctuary for creativity.  Rensing offers resident artists the openness of allowing a planned residency to transform under the influence of the place.   After a few days here, I began to think about this particular home with four walls and a roof—like many of our houses, essentially a box, and I also began to wonder how the house sees herself. What does she see when she looks out? 

I also recalled my various visits to Navajo country and how the hogan is a mirror for the cosmology of the Dineh.  That cosmology, like the cosmologies of many native peoples, centers the importance of the four directions.  For the Dineh and the Pueblo people, the four sacred mountains define their homeland.  The hogan, their home, is a microcosm of their homeland.  A hogan's door faces east to offer the prayers of dawn, for inspiration.  The south opens to the day and work.  To the west are offered evening prayers for family and friends and a place to rest.  To the north, the mystery of night and prayers of protection and healing.

This Rensing home's ocular window dominates the east wall and provides a magical eye of inspiration—ever changing light and color.  To the south, beautiful trees  and grasses support the work of many creatures.  To the west, through the screened porch, a density of trees.  And to the north, at night, the silhouette shapes of trees accompany sleep. 

I came here with the idea of doing an installation and thinking of prayer strips hanging from a tree.  This idea was transformed by the house. The four small rag-board houses that I have created reflect what the house might see as her connection to the four directions and to nature.  These four houses will hang from the Tulip tree close to the Forge building near the entrance to the Rensing Center property.  They will arrive in summer and spend the four seasons in weather and wind.  I may gather their remnants next spring to begin an archeology of my own work. I offer them as a gift to the spirit of  Rensing Center and I hope these houses, blooming in the Tulip tree, will engage the community.  I hope when we consider building homes that we consider the creatures and plants around us and not displace them, but rather let them embrace us.   I am grateful to the Center for this opportunity and for the good work they continue in the arts community as a whole and in Pickens County.  

Thursday, August 5, 2021

A Gift of Listening

Jessi Harvey

August 2021

Rensing was my first residency, and I came to finally begin a passion piece that I’ve been thinking on for two years. The work is based on a walk I took through the heart of the Rocky Mountains and the sounds I encountered. I wanted to get back to that experience of listening to those sounds and so I was searching for a residency where I could simply sit and listen and remember that state of eternity where every noise starts as a whisper but ends as a roar. Rensing appeared.

And thus, at Rensing I listened. The rustling the leaves as the wind whispers through the trees, the chirp of the cicadas, the buzz of the bees. The sound of a pitchfork going into earth, the occasional whoosh of the cars driving by, the frogs at night. The endless variations of those sounds. I think best when walking so I’d pace up and down the driveway, to the cows, occasionally all the way to the waterfall, and listened, and thought, and remembered.


For two weeks I’ve had a gift that I’ve not had before, time and space to do nothing but create. To not have to force the music to come and when I hit a snag, it was back to walking and listening. As I walked and listened the snarls would untangle and then it was back to my chair outside, rocking back and forth and continuing to compose. When do the horns come in and how do I create a Ponderosa Pine out of sound? Oh, Ok…. Back at it. 


This is my thank you for this lovely gift, wrapped in kindness, of space and time and listening. Thank you to my fabulous cohort, Rachel, who was the best neighbor across the hall one could ask for! Thank you, to Ron, Will, and Ben, and everyone I met for the conversation.  Thank you to Kiely for taking me swimming in a river, one of the only times I’ve done so since leaving Montana. And for the very largest of thank you’s to the most hospitable and kind of directors, Ellen. You have truly sewn together a extraordinary quilt of people, battened by a scenery you could listen to forever, to weave a remarkable residency I hope to return to in the future. 

Jessi Harvey