Thursday, August 5, 2021

A Gift of Listening

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

Friday, July 30, 2021

Last Dawn at Rensing

  Kieth Andrews


Last Dawn at Rensing

The car is packed ready to leave

I stand and listen 

Mourning doves harmonize 

It should be morning doves

Squirrels jabbering. 

Squirrley squirrels. 



Woodpecker - or flicker?

A soundless faraway jet

Half a dozen bird calls I can’t identify (find website for birdcalls of upstate So Carolina)

A passing pickup

Bob the cat climbs the tree for no apparent purpose

Sounds of the still decimated, biologically empaupered hillsides – but certainly better today than 80 years ago when their assignment was to erode in exchange for some cotton and corn 


The soundless sounds of the fog clearing 

The last dew drops dropping 

Another far-off pickup going to pick something up

Inner sounds of I wanna stay, but I am off to the next adventure. 

My cold neck and feet, and sweaty torso

My poor old, nearly defeated back and well-worn teeth, and my young inner spirit 

I swear I will never work on a large concrete sculpture again

The dead autumn leaves that just won’t drop 

under them the spring flowers

My own steps and my breathing 

I breathe out my own fog, and it’s gone too


The neighbor’s car starts, and her young boys call out. 

Now a rooster, a domesticated bird celebrates his captive comforts

And dogs, each with its own voice. 

Why can’t I distinguish among individual birds like I can dogs? 

Ducks, Geese, a distant siren…truncated

Another jet

No Duke Energy helicopters yet (or are they really DOD?) 


The poem must be concrete. Mary, have I shown rather than said? 


7 am

Doves launch their squeaking flight. 

My sneeze stops the woodpecker, but not the doves. 

Fog still clearing, and far off 18 wheelers

Soon we will pass by the Three Percenter and Confederate battle flags for the last time

I’m going to miss the potlucks with my eco-oriented gay friends. 


Growth and death

Recovery and degradation, ceaseless combat

Wild and tamed

Melancholy and anticipation

Empathy and idiocy


Violence, ignorance, irresponsibility…. 

Rebirth, goodness and hope

Monday, July 5, 2021

Happy Rensing Memories

 David Wohl

Fort Collins, Colorado
June-July 2021

Happy Rensing Memories

The Rensing Center has been a wonderful experience in every way, and it more than fulfilled my expectations: It’s welcoming, generous, and extremely friendly— Thank you, Ellen, for everything you did for all of us, including giving me your smoked paprika for my hummus! The natural beauty of the area and its tranquility have given me the spiritual space, rest, and inspiration to make significant progress on four new piano works, orchestrations on a wind symphony piece, and songs for a new musical that will have a reading in NYC, shortly. Other highlights include joining (on keyboard) jam sessions with the local talent at the Ale House, the Wednesday Flea Market, verdant hikes, and hanging out with my talented and friendly colleagues. Oh, and the sumptuous weekly Sunday evening potluck, filled with jokes, shop talk, friendly gossip, and ghost stories!

How is the Writing Going?

Kayla Rutledge

Chapel Hill, North Carolina
June-July 2021

How is the Writing Going?

There is only one thing about Rensing I don’t like. I’m here for a few days before it happens, but when it starts, it doesn’t stop. It’s not a thing, really. It’s a question. 


Someone looks up and asks, “How is the writing going?”


“Good,” I say, trying not to flinch. “Good.” 


In my regular life, this is enough. “Good,” and then a change of subject. Usually, the friend or family member asking looks relieved, obliged to ask but reluctant at the prospect of an entire conversation about the artistic process (a topic that always manages to feel both intriguing and unnatural, like live TV musicals). It turns out that at Rensing, when people ask you, “How is the writing going?” they actually want to know. They are not satisfied with, “Good.”


Read other blogs if you want to know every beautiful thing about this place: that the South isn’t what you think it is, that it teems with waterfalls and copper-backed cows and people who keep their deathbed promises. The South is a silver trout wrapped in tinfoil, the smell of basil under your fingernails, beauty made with elbow grease, a row of wet white dishes on the sideboard. The one bar in Pickens County sings happy birthday to a year-old baby girl. At the flea market, I trade one of my lungs for a harmonica and a peach too soft to be cut with a knife. Did you know that fireflies come up, like worms, after rain? 


For three weeks, this place and its people deliver this kind of beauty to me in abundance. In return, they ask one question: “How is the writing going?” 


And for most of my time here, I don’t know how to answer.


At first, I try something vague and intellectual, like: I’m trying not to see writing as a linear process, Really, I think the idea of incremental productivity is inherently capitalistic. I’m working toward a mindset where I see every time I sit down at the desk as an integral step of the artistic journey, regardless of the output I produce for that day. (I can almost hear the asker thinking, Oh, brother.)


It’s only now, as I leave, that I realize I’ve misunderstood the question.


I remembered, recently, this quote, from the author C Pam Zhang: “When I say, I hope the writing is going well, I am saying, I hope you are able to access the truest part of yourself; I am saying, I hope you feel thrillingly alive to possibility; I am saying, I hope you feel human.”

See, I thought that “How is the writing going?” was one of those questions people ask to make sure that the world is running efficiently: What did you learn at school today? How is the weather looking? Did you finish your chores?


I still don’t know how to answer that kind of question. Mostly because I don’t like to lie, and any answer I could give would be a lie. The person I am when I’m talking to people and cooking for potlucks and hiking doesn’t write anything. Writing Me lives somewhere else, in an adjacent apartment in my brain. She does things like drive and drift off to sleep and start the kettle on the stove. She will not be dragged out by one heel to be asked if she has finished her chores.


At Rensing, I learn that there is the possibility of another, gentler kind of question, the kind we ask that mean, How are you? Questions like: Did you sleep alright? Are you feeling better? How’s your garden doing?


How is the writing going? Or, as C Pam Zhang says, “Were you able to access the truest part of yourself today?”


In my religious tradition, before we leave the sanctuary for the end of the service, the pastor offers what is called a benediction. A benediction is a blessing, a wish for protection, a bridge to join the sacred with the often scary, confusing world in which we live. Perhaps, I realize, when people ask me, “How is the writing going?” they are trying to offer a benediction. How can I fault them for that?


(When you receive a benediction, you do as I have done these past three weeks. You open your fists; you hold out your hands.)


A Benediction, for Rensings:


While you are here, and after:

May you give what you can to the work of your hands —

Your time, your worry, your tears, your friendship (which is really to say, your love.) 

Refuse the first and shallow answer: “Good.”

In my tradition, they say: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return —

Which means, All living feels a little bit like dying

And don’t get too big of a head.

Which means, everything ends, but that’s not the same as nothing matters —

And it is not weakness to need a reminder, every so often, of the order of things.

Remember the part of you that creates is a friend, and not a mad woman in the attic,

The bridge between the sacred and ordinary

Stretches between Ellen and Evelyn’s porches. It sounds like: I care about you.

Above all, may you have “courage, and gaiety, and the quiet mind.”

Go in peace, and when you return, ask one another:

How is the sculpting, the quilting, the drawing, the music, the photography, the writing, going?

Renew and Reset

Heather Deyling

Atlanta, Georgia
June-July 2021

Renew and Reset

I had been looking forward to a residency at the Rensing Center for many months (my residency was deferred due to COVID). The return to normalcy (at least in the US) was in sight in May as I wrapped up a challenging year of teaching art virtually. A change of pace and scenery was exactly what I needed.


When I arrived at Rensing, I immediately noticed the stillness and fresh air. Soon, I met Ellen, who was extremely welcoming. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the residency, but that evening’s potluck set the tone for the next three weeks. It was a lovely evening filled with friendly people, lively conversation and great food. That night I met fellow residents Hilary and Kayla, as well as Rensing associates Ashley, Jon, Will and Kiley. Within a few days, I met Evelyn, Ron, Benny and Wanrudee, another resident. Everyone was approachable, kind, interesting and curious.


Rensing provided so much more than change of pace and scenery. Here, I was able to slow down and find time and space to let my mind wander. I was productive but never felt that I had to be working. The opportunity to slow down, relax and reflect allowed me to work intuitively and indulge creative tangents without the self-critical voice in my head questioning every move I made. I found awe in the mountains, fireflies and stars and peace in the sounds of cicadas and waterfalls. The COVID fog lifted and the stress of the academic year dissipated quickly. 


Working in the studio was balanced by outings and activities. Highlights include dinners at Ellen’s place, Tuesday evenings at the Ale House for “Pickin’ in Pickens”, Wednesday mornings at the flea market, a fish fry and Juneteenth service at the Soapstone Baptist Church, a music festival at Hagood Mill, hiking, Art Share, an evening at Jon’s place and a trip to Greenville. I loved hearing Hilary play her banjo at the Ale House and at the music festival, listening to Kayla read an excerpt from her novel and seeing Wanrudee’s photos at Art Share. Eventually, another musician, David, joined us. It was a treat to hear him play keyboard at the Ale House.


The generosity of the people at Rensing is striking. Ellen is an incredibly gracious host and has built something very special here. She has talent for drawing wonderful people to her and subsequently the Rensing Center. Kiley and Will took us hiking. Jon shared his knowledge of native plants and gave a tour property and beautiful gardens. Ron shared many tasty dishes and Evelyn shared stories. I am thankful for them and my fellow residents, who shared their work and passion.


Leaving will be bittersweet. I will miss these people and this place. But I also leave with a renewed sense of purpose and beautiful memories. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Divergence of Birds

Carolyn Monastra

Brooklyn, New York
May-June 2021

Divergence of Birds


My two-weeks at the Rensing Center passed so quickly that my time there almost feels like a dream I might have had while napping in my New York City apartment. Rensing is indeed a dreamy place: meandering trails, cascading waterfalls, twisted mountain laurels, flitting bluebirds, chatty mockingbirds, a picturesque pasture with cows, and pieces of artwork that punctuate the landscape. These pieces of eye-candy greeted me as I wandered the Center’s grounds during the day, location-scouting for spots to photograph when the light was “just right.” At night, flashing fireflies, cooing whip-poor-wills, chirping crickets, dramatic displays of heat lightning and summer thunderstorms also made my time there seem other-worldly. 


Although the natural environment was the main attraction for me when applying to Rensing, the people I met there and the social activities I engaged in, will remain a  significant part of my memories. After nearly fifteen months of near isolation during the pandemic, the first few gatherings almost felt transgressive. But mingling with nearly a dozen strangers at the first Sunday potluck was also exhilarating and the perfect way to re-enter the world.  Ending that night with a bonfire under the stars and listening to the more musically-talented among us sing while strumming banjo and guitar, I knew that the next two weeks would be idyllic. And they were. 


I came to Rensing to continue work on “Divergence of Birds” – my conceptual photography project about climate impacts on birds. Inspired by the National Audubon Society’s “Climate Report” and the futuristic dystopian story, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” for this project, I am photographing paper cutouts of climate-threatened birds to allude to the fact that, in a future warming world, facsimiles of our favorite species might be all we might have left to enjoy. 


Rensing and neighboring locations, provided the perfect backdrops in which to set up and photograph paper cutouts of the birds that are typically found in this region: Brown Thrashers, Worm-eating Warblers, American Goldfinches, Eastern Meadowlarks, Ovenbirds, Tree Swallows and many others, whose range of habitat is changing due to climate impacts such as increasing temperatures, early Springs, and heavy storms. 


Ellen did a wonderful job of setting the stage for me to immerse myself in my work by selecting a book from the impressive Rensing library for me: “Home Place” by J. Drew Lanham, an ornithologist and professor at nearby Clemson University. Although Lanham grew up in Edgefield (about two hours southeast as the crow flies), his memoir, which relates his early love of birds and nature, was the perfect literary companion for my residency.


Ellen also aided my work by connecting me with Imtiaz, another Clemson professor who is also an avid birder and wildlife photographer. We had tea with Imtiaz and his wife Mary and discussed birds, photography, and how to try to effectively engage people with art and the environment. 


Engagement is a key word here. Ellen, Ashley and Rensing’s cohort of board members, volunteers and friends, are very engaged with the local community and want us temporary visitors to enjoy the region as much as they do. Thus, besides the Sunday Potluck dinners, this included a tour of the carnivorous plants at the South Carolina Botanical Garden with naturalist Dr. David Bradshaw, the weekly Bluegrass jam at the Alehouse, John’s tour of his gorgeous permaculture garden, fresh produce and goods from the Clemson Area Food Exchange, a late afternoon glass of wine and conversation with the elegant Evelyn, and a send-off breakfast on my day of departure. I also visited the flea market, Hagood Mill and did some solo birding on the Doodle Trail where I saw a Brown Thrasher literally thrashing about in some kudzu.


Field research is an important part of my artwork. Since I still consider myself a beginning birder, before leaving Brooklyn, I reached out to local birders to see if there were any upcoming trips I could attend. David, the president of the Greenville County Bird Club (GCBC) invited me to join a club trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway during my first week in South Carolina.


For years, I considered myself a night owl but working on “Divergence of Birds” has reluctantly turned me into an early bird – rising before the sun to see and learn about the real birds whose existence are threatened. Despite early gloomy skies and forgetting my binoculars (thankfully Denise, a club member, loaned me a pair!) the day turned out to be beautiful, educational and fun. We saw a total of sixty-six bird species – several of which were firsts for me including four Flycatchers, a Red Crossbill, Blue Grosbeak and the diminutive and charming Canada Warbler. A few days later, I met several of the GCBC members again at an Advocacy Day sponsored by the SC Audubon Chapter at Lake Conestee. The workshop focused ways to reach out to legislatures to engage them in protecting the environment for our benefit as well as that of the birds.  


My time in Rensing flew by, but, was so packed with engaging conversations (with the locals as well as the artists-in-residence Hilary and Doreen), the sweet sounds of birds and banjos, walks in the woods, food and lots of photographing, that I know the connections I made and the memories of my time there will stay with me for months and years to come. I am so grateful to Ellen, Evelyn, Ashley, Ron, John, and everyone else I met for making this re-entry into a post-pandemic world so stress-free. 


As a parting gift, Ellen gave me a jar of compost from the Rensing garden. I plan to re-pot some culinary herbs with it. Then, when I cook with them, I can think back on my dreamy time at Rensing and the nurturing spirit of this special home-away-from-home place.  

To learn more about "Divergence of Birds" go to my website and/or follow me on Instagram to see the work I will soon be posting from my residency.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Elastic Experiences

Hilary Hawke

Brooklyn, New York
May-June 2021

Elastic Experiences

“The world is not what I thought, it is different and more, and I have seen it with my own eyes” - Mary Oliver, after watching a spider in a web for many days. 

There’s a knot in my stomach as I’m about to board the plane heading back to LaGuardia airport, NYC after being at Rensing Center for 3 weeks.  I am aware this post is public so I need to state a disclaimer that I’m writing this from the heart.  Honesty is messy, and that’s what happens if you let yourself be honest. So here it is, knowing without a doubt that we will have different experiences depending on our mindset and how elastic we allow ourselves to be. 

Today, Ellen drove me to the airport, which she proclaims is one of her favorite moments with the “Rensings” because we really get to talk.  She’s right, it’s a good time.  The Prius pulled us out of town, but not before she started telling me about a podcast she heard about how the brain becomes more flexible and elastic with the more discussion, interaction, and stimulation it has. I began to wonder if this also meant that the more you get used to stimulating your brain, the more enjoyment you will obtain out of life. 

The thing is, I am really comfortable residing in my creative mind. I love being there, and after a year of having the music world shut down, and only surviving creatively on livestreams, I was ready to be alone and isolated at the Rensing Center to solely work on my music and writing.  Being alone and isolated is not what happened the whole time though, and while at the Rensing Center I felt my mind pull and stretch as I adjusted.   I won’t keep you in suspense, so I’ll tell you right away. The support I felt at the Rensing Center was unlike anything I had received in my artistic career.  There were aware and positive people in the community and on-site, all devoted to making the Rensing Center successful as well as celebrate my time there. 

The day I arrived, everything was feeling perfect as I met the talented residents (Doreen and Carolyn, and then Kayla and Heather) and saw my peaceful space in the Forge.  I had an amazing communal dinner that night with the brilliant John Fritz, Ashley Felder, Ron and Benny, and (eventually met dear Evelyn and many other volunteers and friends at these dinners).  

The next morning, weary from a night of bizarre dreams from all the travel,  I went to the waterfall and walked all the way to the end.  I walked straight there quickly, only stopping to read the clay markers that named some of the highlighted plants and trees on the path. I  made a goal to memorize all those markers so I would know some of the plant life in this part of South Carolina. Feeling very acute, determined, and much too disciplined I walked all the way to the end of the trail and found my fellow resident there enjoying a sit on the lawn chairs that marked the end. I briefly said “Hi”, and then went on my way, sure that I would find more trail to continue on.  There wasn’t a visible path anymore, but I still crossed the stream and walked through tall weeds and wiped away wispy spider webs until I slipped down the embankment landing on my rear, and letting out a loud “whoop!”  Feeling embarrassed, I was hoping that my resident friend didn’t hear me. So I sat there on the green spongy ground, and realized, my mind wasn’t really there.  I started thinking something was wrong with me.  Why wasn’t I more comfortable being social, and being around people? I wondered.  I hiked quickly back home to the peaceful solitude of the forge and settled into my space.  That night, and the next morning I wrote and wrote like there was a geyser of thoughts spurting out of my mind dissolving and transforming onto the paper.   It was like I was all bottled up until I got to Rensing Center, and now, like the waterfall, it was pouring out of me.   When I needed a break I returned to the waterfall, again and again. Everyday I went and wandered through the stream, right into the water with my shoes off. I walked on the stones as the stream bended and curved deeply through the woods.  I stared up at the sun splitting it’s light through the branches that hung like giant umbrellas over the stream. I took pictures of the tendrils and vines, and of the bent tree and mossy logs and put their images into my writing. I was completely, hooked and utterly spellbound.  I was surprised it didn’t hit me the first day, and it occurred to me what a state of mind I must have been in to miss this moment.  

How many other moments do I miss when I’m in that state of mind?  Am I utterly starving for this connection to nature?  So, this is why I included the Mary Oliver quote at the beginning. To me, it’s about perspective, and the state of mind that we allow ourselves to be in.  If we go to a new place, and only see the world through what we need to accomplish there is only a small part of our surroundings to see.  If we decide to allow some of the surroundings to effect our state of mind, we see further and deeper into what is really around us.  So, it begs me to ask, what is the reason I craved a residency?  What is the reason you want a residency?, as you sit here, possibly reading this far into my blog post.  

Ellen reads a Robert Louis Stevenson poem before our communal dinners every Sunday. Call it a toast, or a prayer, it is a wonderful perspective to keep in mind.  The line that calls out forth, loudly to me is, “Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind”. When she would finish reading this, I always would say in my mind, and sometimes out-loud, “Quiet mind, quiet mind, a quiet mind!”.  It’s worth cheering!  It is what I found at the Rensing Center!  It’s what I was craving from a residency. 

As I conclude my post, I would just like to add a note about the music from the community and the wonderful nature opportunities in the surrounding areas.  Do go see it, experience it!   Gaze into the different spider webs you’ll see on a trail and think a million thoughts!  Get lost in the brilliants sounds of a fiddle as it plays an old Appalachian tune.  Allow yourself to stretch and be pulled into these moments because they are your moments to enjoy!