Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Art, Food, Friends & Farming

My husband, Rich, and I came to Rensing Center to reflect on our studio work and make new connections with other artists.  What we received was this and so much more. We thought 15 days should be long enough for residency, but now, we both wish we had 3 months.  I was thrilled to find out that we were living/working in the Rensing Center building.  There are more private live/work spaces on the grounds but this building is the central hub and a perfect meeting place for all residents and extended crew of the organization.  I love hanging out in the Library with the double side doors open, Bob the cat snoozing on top of his chair, a comfortable flow of visitors getting a guided tour by Ellen and resident artist, Jude, stopping in to do laundry or check emails.  The Library hosts the perfect opportunity for impromptu conversations about the business of art, our individual goals and aspirations or just random thoughts on life.

Jude in studio with some new
works in progress

The work exchange at Rensing is a vital part of the program.  Certainly, it serves to develop the Center but it gives the residents opportunity to interact and bond.  The work is varied and Ellen focuses on finding jobs that utilize the skill sets of the residents.   I often get bored in my day job doing repetitive graphic design work so it was refreshing to be able to help the Rensing Center thrive in the future by applying my skills today to create new fundraising materials. 
Each day at the Center offers enriching experiences and unexpected happenings.  A few days ago, I was fortunate to have a great conversation on Evelyn’s porch while enjoying a glass of wine with her, Ellen and Jude.  Then, Chad and Jon brought by 4 chickens to add to the livestock on the Rensing Center grounds.  We had great fun watching the chickens get introduced to their new surroundings while the goats munched on lunch.  We have gone on several tours of local organic farms, shared many   pot luck dinners with new friends,  and tomorrow I look forward to attending a gallery opening at nearby Ashville.  
Dick gives us a tour of his organic farm.
Chad the animal whisperer
Ellen preparing another gourmet meal
for us in her kitchen

Overlook from Caesar's Head

After I finish this blog post, I will go to work on 3 new artworks in the studio and with the garage door wide open, I look forward to the next visitors that will likely stop by to donate items or engage in good conversation.

- Michele Fritz,

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Art and Ecology: Understory

Two of the Rensing Center’s missions are Ecology and Creativity. In my residency this May, I pursued a project at an intersection of these two issues.
Ryan Finnerty, Blackjack Oak with Climbing Hydrangea, 12"x8", oil on paper
I began making small paintings of trees at the Rensing Center. Initially, my concerns were aesthetic: Explorations of green, a color I rarely work with. I was attracted by the variety that occurred as light interacted with the translucent leaves, creating dozens of blues, greens, yellows, and violets. I wanted to track the shifts in color across the structure of the trees, abstracted against an empty background. I was excited by the complex light environment created by the architecture of the different trees, and how that architecture defined patterns of color. I focused on small, understory trees which allowed me to comprehend the entire tree in a single image.
Hickory (leaning), 12"x8", oil on paper
Ryan Finnerty, Hickory (leaning), 12"x8", oil on paper
As the paintings progressed, the trees required more intimacy and understanding. They were shaped by their species and by their context. Some understory trees may live only a few years in the herbal layer, and languish on the dim forest floor. Larger trees either occupy the understory permanently- living in the half-light, or as adolescents reaching for light on their way to the canopy. The trees record reaching up, reaching over, reaching down, for patches of sunlight. Some lean hard or change direction as the canopy changes.IMG_20140507_152028
While the genetics of each tree species determine its form and patterns of growth, many trees in the understory bear the patterns of damage and recovery. As the canopy changes and neighboring trees fall, many of the understory trees are limbed, bowed, and split by the falling timber- recovering into strange forms.
White Oak, 12"x8", oil on paper
Ryan Finnerty, White Oak, 12"x8", oil on paper
While these paintings are far from scientific, they are based in a process that underpins both art and science: direct observation of nature. Careful, focused observation is a primary principle of art and of ecology. After a few hours of earnest attention, patterns reveal themselves, new information surfaces, questions arise. These paintings are a documentation of those hours, and several weeks earnestly listening to the understory.
Ryan Finnerty, Re-Maple, 12"x8", oil on paper

-Ryan Finnerty

Friday, May 23, 2014

Show and Tell: Create What You Care About

When I decided to take a leave of absence from my teaching position to attend two separate artist residencies, I was met with confusion by many who had never heard of such a thing, associating "residencies" with the medical profession , some mandated professional development or a grown up "art camp" of sorts. Thousands of these programs exist throughout the world offering artists from every discipline, including writers, performers, painters, sculptors and so forth, dedicated space, time and solace to focus on their own work, develop new skills or simply retreat and reflect from the familiar. The reasons for attending residential programs, which range from a single weekend to an entire year, are as varied as the artists themselves. The residency programs are extremely diverse as well, having their own missions and expectations for the artists. Some are simply to offer them respite to work and think without distraction.

I am currently 2 weeks shy of completing my residency at the Rensing Center. The spacious studios, private living arrangements and breathtaking landscape are features that make this program an obvious draw. Above all else, it is the quality of the artistic community and the generosity and accessibility of the director, Ellen Kochansky, that make the Rensing Center exceptional. Ellen is a renowned textile artist, educator, art advocate and workshop facilitator offering more than 30 years of professional expertise to her residents to whom she has literally welcomes into her home. She resides on the property and one quickly becomes aware of the deep seated connection and regard that she has for the environment and community, including and beyond the center itself. It is not unusual to be invited to Ellen's private residence for an impromptu dinner and conversation. This is truly a family affair and residents are quickly embraced as extended members.

The Rensing Center most recently welcomed artist couple, Michelle and Richard Fritz of Kansas City, MO . I think the opportunity  to connect with creative individuals, like minded in their devotion to their craft, is perhaps one of the most enriching aspects of the residential experience. Working in isolation is natural and important to every artist but connection and collaboration with other creatives from diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds is an invaluable learning opportunity. On Tuesday evening, prior to the departure of resident painter, Ryan Finnerty of Seattle, WA, Michelle and Richard hosted a gathering complete with pot luck dinner and a visual show and tell by all of the artists. This dynamic duo , in addition to their artistic accomplishments, brought to the center their evident flair for inviting connection and throwing a bash combining work and play.

This collaborative effort was an opportunity to relax, celebrate and share ideas. Ellen Kochansky wowed us with a succinct 7 image slide show that packed a punch aesthetically, conceptually and "spiritually," demonstrating 30 years of professional and personal evolution. Her concluding message invokes every artist to seriously consider what she herself contemplates in her work and life, "What do you most care about?" That is what will inevitably direct your work and life decisions. With other valued guests from the community and the exquisite Ms. Evelyn, artist and mother to Ellen, in attendance, we shared our work and personal stories. Thanks to all for a memorable gathering and to the Fritz's for organizing the event which is certain to become a Rensing ritual.
Hostess for the evening/resident artist Michelle Fritz preparing dinner.

The elegant and eloquent Ms. Evelyn, Pratt Graduate, NYC, mother of director Ellen Kochansky.
She is sharp and lovely at a youthful 94 years of age!

Resident artist and friends....dinner and show and tell.

Shared studio of Michelle and Richard Fritz! They transformed this into
an incredible working space.

The beautiful works of Michelle Fritz!

Richard Fritz , artist, builder, innovator extraordinaire in his reorganized studio space.

Jude Harzer~ resident artist

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Rensing Center: Gateway to Culture, Community and Creative Connections

The Rensing Center is situated on 26 acres of the most majestic rural landscape in Pickens County, South Carolina. Well appointed accommodations and spacious studios  allow resident artists to work in comfort, while the expansive property, complete with pasture, gardens, nature trails and waterfall, encourage connection with the environment. Solace and solitude abound if that is what one seeks in order to create and/or to collaborate with resident colleagues. As a first time visitor ,wowed by the beauty of this community, situated at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I was pleasantly surprised to also realize the accessibility of the center not only to environmental wonders but to nearby, educational, art and cultural resources. To date, I have had the opportunity to experience just a few.

Bob the cat, official and loveable  Rensing resident

First stop...Greenville.

Pickens is a hop, skip and a jump to Greenville, SC, a stunning metropolitan area just 28 miles from the Rensing Center. On Sunday, May 11th, fellow resident Ryan Finnerty and myself were treated to a walking tour of Greenville by Rensing director Ellen Kochansky. One of the country's top ten art shows, Artisphere (Arts, Culture, Life) was in full swing and celebrating its 10th anniversary on this final day of the festival. 125 top notch artists were showcased in this juried event along with educational exhibits, musical performances on four stages, excellent cuisine ,street performers and much more. The town itself, home to Furman University, features an exquisite and revitalized downtown area, centered around a waterfall. The successful urban  Main Street, Falls Park and Liberty Bridge are just some of the spectacular highlights of this culturally rich community that we were able to enjoy.

Second stop....Clemson.

Just yesterday on May 17th, I was intent on visiting the town of Clemson, home to Clemson University, a 20 minute drive from the Rensing Center. While attending the Clemson Festival of the Arts on College Avenue ,accompanied by a friend from Atlanta, I made certain to visit the main campus of this prestigious liberal arts university. The impressive architecture department and ceramic studios distracted us from seeing much else although we wandered for a significant time about the expansive and well designed green space of the campus. In the downtown area, abundant with a variety of eateries and shops, we ate at a local pub, Loose Change before making the easy drive back to Rensing.
Clemson University

Architecture Department, Clemson University

Sculpture Department, Clemson University

My list of desired destinations  is rapidly growing ! Asheville, NC just 70 miles north of Pickens and Atlanta ,143 miles southeast are booming with museums, galleries, theatres, restaurants and more!  During the remaining few weeks, excursions to area parks and waterfalls are on the list as well. I will be sure to share!

For more information about Pickens check out their community website at
Jude Harzer
Rensing resident

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Santa Breaks Bad

Jodi Barnes is one of our favorite people.  A friend since forever, a Rensing Center board member more recently.  We wish she were closer.  We applaud her successes.  This book is clearly one of them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's A Girl!

The rolling green pastures are but one of the many beautiful features of the Rensing Center landscape. These verdant hills are made more inviting by the farm animals that graze them including the five docile Saanen dairy goats, owned by local farmer and "animal whisperer", Chad Galloway. Throughout the past few weeks, there has been excitement about the much anticipated arrival of a new kid in town by mama goat, Claire. On Monday evening, May 12th, the proud mother gave birth to a precious baby girl, yet to be named. Rensing artists in residence and director ,Ellen Kochansky were very fortunate to witness this momentous occasion. Here are a few images of our new addition!
Patient and ready to assist, Chad Galloway and Ellen Kochansky observe
mama goat, Claire from a distance during her labor.

Mother and daughter.

Claire cleansing her kid!.

Day 1: This milky white beauty is upright and alert!

~ Jude Harzer