Monday, December 14, 2015

Journal

I arrived at the Rensing Center unsure of exactly what I would find but with the knowledge that I was going to spend the next 6 weeks of my life walking in the woods and climbing hills and documenting it in an illustrated journal.

Below are a few excerpts from my stay.

Journal, Day 1.

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Every day started with a nude self portrait taken from each of four angles. The purpose of these self portraits is to document what, if any, visible physical changes my body undergoes during my stay in the woods.
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Following the self portraits in an exploration into the woods.

The following are a few samples of large format portraits of waterfalls in upstate South Carolina.

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Lucia Rollow

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Getting Lost

My photographic work is, among other factors, reliant on the weather conditions. Upon my arrival to Rensing, I was greeted with a very warm welcome and a record setting amount of rain. Often inspired directly by the quality of light, the weather threw me for a bit of a loop. I was anxious to get out and explore my new Southern surroundings, but the extremely wet weather insisted that I slow down and take a different approach. My first few days were filled with thrift stores visits, reading in libraries, and researching the nearby area to get my bearings.


I began some collage work and in between the drizzle and all-out downpours, I decided the thing to do (if I wanted to photograph) was to embrace the gray skies. I donned my waterproof gear and ventured out – each day wandering in a new direction. The nearby mountains were an irresistible draw, particularly with the remarkable abundance of creeks, streams, and waterfalls tucked within them. Almost everyday, I hiked with orange, yellow, and red leaves drifting down around me. On several occasions, I stood alone among the trees, the rain announcing itself with slight crackling as it hit the leaves on the ground. In those moments of stillness, it sounded as if the earth was coming alive and tiny creatures would soon emerge. It was magical.


I often begin to understand a place by looking for photographs to make within it. At Rensing, I particularly valued the time I spent outside roaming the nearby towns, state parks, and forests. I made some photographs on my hikes, but maybe more importantly, had the time to be alone with my thoughts, and not feel limited by my all too normal “what do I need to check of the list?” mentality. Each day spent examining the landscape was an important time for reflection. It was quite a privilege to, on any given day, be able to hike for hours, rarely encounter other people on the trails, and unplug from screens. Some days I ‘found” many photographs among the natural and manmade landscapes, while others I was still looking as the daylight departed. I set a personal goal to be able to relax more into the ups and downs of my practice.


During my residency, I was compelled to wander based on a town’s unusual name, a feature of the regional landscape, and/or sometimes the light in the distance just seemed worth chasing. I brought along a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost and thought a lot about how feeling lost relates to how I make work. The book was the perfect companion as I reflected on how I engage with, and creatively respond to new places. Between google maps, my rental car’s “never lost” GPS, and trails maps, physically, I was (or could be) relatively located at any given moment. Each time I go in search of an image, I don’t know what I am looking for until it’s upon me – and even then, more often than not, it eludes me. In this way, as the days passed, I could feel utterly lost, unable to “find” a compelling image. Of course, this then made it all the more exciting when I “found” one. I noticed that my feelings about the unknown fluctuated between excitement, disappointment, wonder, and fear – and that often I experienced these all of these within moments of each other (or simultaneously). My favorite days were the ones that where I was a little bit lost and found, both physically and mentally. I now look forward to revisiting these experiences, as I edit my new collection of photographs.


Beyond my photography, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to engage in more tactile art making at Rensing. I explored my interest in mixed media and collage. I also had the opportunity to play with natural inks and make collages with the various paper ephemera (postcards, books, etc.) that I collected along my nearby adventures in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. I very much enjoyed making “maps” of natural materials collected in the woods. (Thank you Ellen for sharing a wonderful technique that was new for me and also nostalgic to the wax paper leaf collages I made as a child.) In the final days of my residency, I took several hikes, looking more closely at the details of the natural landscape than I had previously. I frequently found myself on my hands and knees scanning the leaves, dirt, rocks, for items to collect for my nature collages. Sometimes a particular leaf would catch my interest, the lichen curled around a branch, or the gleaming mica. I selected items that resonated with me and later reexamined them as I archived them within layers of silk and natural glue. I plan to experiment more with this process of recording place through collage both at home and with future travels.

Rensing provided quite the contrast to my typical California experience of fall. With the season changing, for as much as I got out to explore, it was the ideal time go inward with my practice. Actively make, yes, but an equally important time to reflect. I loved being able to observing the subtle changes of the landscape day-to-day, leaves changing, and the days growing shorter. With slowing down, I paid more attention to visual world around me and also the sounds - the drifting chimes of the goats’ bells, cows mooing, the roar of waterfalls, raindrops falling on the roof, and (on the dry days) the crunching of leaves under my feet. It was such a pleasure to get to hike (in rain and some shine) nearly everyday, be alone with my thoughts for hours on end, and redefine “what feels productive?” I appreciate all the time I had to photograph, read, play with materials, listen to podcasts, practice yoga, hike, and for all the conversations has over a glass of wine or while sharing meal in such a special place. I am especially grateful to Ellen, Evelyn, Katie, and the rest of the crew, who generously shared their love of land, creative space, and the community they have cultivated at Rensing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Into My Own

I was dropped off at Rensing Center like it was summer camp. My parents drove me into the woods, helped me put my stuff in my cabin, and made sure I had everything I needed before they left. I wouldn’t have a car for the next four weeks. I knew I could hitch a ride into town for the essentials, but I would spend the larger part of the coming weeks in solitude.

Unlike camp, though, I poured myself a glass of Suntory Hakushu 12-year, sat on the back porch of the Guest House, and started writing. The first line I wrote was “I am now begun.” That line has yet to be used for anything I’ve written thus far, but it was the grease in the gears that evening. I wrote a long time without editing, without reading anything. I was not concerned if it was a poem; I knew there would be seeds left along the way, and that I could sow them later. I was indeed begun.

The next morning I awoke early, made a pot of strong coffee, and pulled out all of the books I brought with me. There are situations when environment selects your reading for you. In America, one could not, or should not, be on a boat without Herman Melville or Mark Twain. One in Japan would not go on a nature walk without Basho. In this case, the cool autumn morning and the changing leaves picked the poems of Robert Frost. It must be said that one should never go into the woods without him. The first poem I read was a hopeful foreshadowing, as well as a nod to the first line I had written the night before. “Into My Own” is the first poem in Frost’s first collection A Boy’s Will. It is from the perspective of a young boy (it can be assumed to be Frost himself) who strikes out on his own and considers what those that love him would find different about him the next time they saw him. The closing couplet reads:

                        They would not find me changed from him they knew—
                        Only more sure of all I thought was true.

It is not a mistake to think that a journey into the woods, mostly alone, for four weeks would change a person. In fact, I know that there are certain parts of me that have been changed—or more precisely, put to rot—during my time here, but the focus should not be on the transformation. The most encouraging part of my time at the Rensing Center has not been the body of work I’ve produced—which is encouraging in itself and a large part of it—but the reinforcement that I was doing something right before. The weeks have galvanized this, and therein lies the change.


People may notice their own changes in me, but it’s the constant that excites me. I am happy to have put certain things behind me and to have dug into new ground, but I am pleased that those who know me best, myself included, can look at me after my time here and say, in so many words, that I am still “him they knew” just more certain of  “all I thought was true.”

Seth Amos

Saturday, September 26, 2015




Feeling Abundance: Gathering, Observing, 

Reflecting, Creating 

*to see this post in it's original format (with uncropped images) click on the title above. 

A panoramic view of the western side of my live/work space at Rensing Center. 
A PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE WESTERN SIDE OF MY LIVE/WORK SPACE AT RENSING CENTER. 
It's been a time rich in observation, reflection, and transformation 
these past weeks at the Rensing Center. So much has unfolded I 
can't possibly describe it all. Here are some highlights...
The frog pond behind the Pottery (the live/work studio space in which I'm residing while at Rensing).
THE FROG POND BEHIND THE POTTERY (THE LIVE/WORK STUDIO SPACE IN WHICH I'M RESIDING 
WHILE AT RENSING).
I've been gathering inspiration by observing nature, having important 
and stimulating (and often humorous!) conversations with fellow 
artists, and just sitting, literally, to observe moments unfolding and 
noticing the abundance and order of lifeThis contemplation and 
noticing is such an important element in my studio practice, the work 
that comes from it, and my life. I watch the spiders, centipedes, and 
butterflies do their work, then I go to work.  
A night's work for this thorny looking little guy. 
A NIGHT'S WORK FOR THIS THORNY LOOKING LITTLE GUY. 
Butterflies visit the Lantana plants daily in the Pottery garden. 
BUTTERFLIES VISIT THE LANTANA PLANTS DAILY IN THE POTTERY GARDEN. 
 I've been journaling about my own studio practice, methods, 
materials, etc. I've been experimenting with it all and indulging 
every artistic whim as it comes without too much concern for 
the outcome at this point. This place is overflowing with materials,
 both natural and man-made, ripe with potential. I've been trying to 
utilize as much as I can- like the giant ball of thread scraps I 
discovered in a cabinet, likely left by a former resident. With it I 
created the piece below.
Untitled, 2015, 18x24 in. acrylic, conté crayon, pastel on paper. ©2015 kristenmwatson
UNTITLED, 2015, 18X24 IN. ACRYLIC, CONTÉ CRAYON, PASTEL ON PAPER. ©2015 KRISTENMWATSON
Untitled, 24x36 in. found thread scraps, centipede and snail remains, acrylic and pastel on paper. ©2015 kristen m. watson
UNTITLED, 24X36 IN. FOUND THREAD SCRAPS, CENTIPEDE AND SNAIL REMAINS, ACRYLIC AND PASTEL 
ON PAPER. ©2015 KRISTEN M. WATSON
I unearthed a pile of metal heating grates that were repurposed as 
stencils. I've been experimenting with spray enamel on canvas 
and paper. 
Untitled work in progress, 24x24 in. acrylic and enamel on canvas. ©2015 kristen m. watson.
UNTITLED WORK IN PROGRESS, 24X24 IN. ACRYLIC AND ENAMEL ON CANVAS. ©2015 KRISTEN M. WATSON.
Work in progress, spray enamel in altered book, 9x6 in. ©2015 kristen m. watson
WORK IN PROGRESS, SPRAY ENAMEL IN ALTERED BOOK, 9X6 IN. ©2015 KRISTEN M. WATSON
I've also spent some time on the weekends touring the area and meeting 
a great diversity of upstate residents. From a silent hike led by Jane, a 
wonderful meditation instructor, to the Drinking Liberals social group 
(quite a few Bernie fans here) at nearby Clemson University, to the 
Civil War re-enactors, the virtuosic fiddlerswho carry on the 
Scotch-Irish and Appalachian music tradition, the colorful characters 
at the weekly flea market, and the members of Soapstone Church 
(a black church founded by freed slaves and stewarded currently 
by their descendants), I can say that I've experienced a cross-section 
of the complex place that is upstate South Carolina.  I've posted photo 
albums on Facebook so check it out. 
The abundance (an word/idea I've been working with since my
 arrival) of insight and ideas I'll bring home with me is daily 
revealing itself, and for that I'm unspeakably grateful. 
The ubiquitous, generic glass vase (I think every house has at least one), a typical flea market find, and unusual (to me) pine cones I gathered are making for an interesting assemblage. Untitled, acrylic paint and medium, glass, found objects. ©2015 kristen m. watson.
THE UBIQUITOUS, GENERIC GLASS VASE (I THINK EVERY HOUSE HAS AT LEAST ONE), A TYPICAL FLEA MARKET 
FIND, AND UNUSUAL (TO ME) PINE CONES I GATHERED ARE MAKING FOR AN INTERESTING ASSEMBLAGE. 
UNTITLED, ACRYLIC PAINT AND MEDIUM, GLASS, FOUND OBJECTS. ©2015 KRISTEN M. WATSON.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Writing Residency at Rensing Center in Pickens, South Carolina

This morning I woke to a voice in my head: 

"They were the best and the brightest, you might say, and I looked up to them. They were seniors and I was only a sophomore but a couple of us were in the Youth NAACP together at Sterling. One day in March--this was in 1960--when we were having burgers at the Huddle across the street from school, Ben Downs told how he'd gone to Greenville Senior High to take the college entrance exam. He was a brain for sure, and later we'd learn that he had scored in the top 10% of the exam. All he could talk about that day was how he couldn't believe the difference between the library at the white high school and our little colored hole-in-the-wall library on McBee Avenue, which had mostly donated books and only a few reference books.  I could tell it was a harsh awakening for him."

If I had been at home, it wouldn't have been my character Priscilla (Pretty) Stone's voice I would have awakened to. It would have been my own internal monologue, running through the things I had to do that day, then my husband's voice, the voices on the radio or TV in the kitchen telling me the (bad) news in the world, then my dog telling me he needed to go for a walk  . . .
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Rensing Guest House
But here at Rensing this morning it was perfectly quiet except for a few bird calls out in the pasture or woods. I lay in bed in the one-room Guest House and looked at how the early light came through the white curtains across the sliding glass doors that front the cottage. I listened to Pretty begin to tell her me part of my novel.  I got up and began to write.

It meant everything that I had nothing to do all day, no one to see, nowhere to go, until our weekly potluck dinner this evening. Pretty was telling me how her friends, Ben, Dorothy, Hattie . . . had gone to the all-white Greenville Public Library later that March, been turned away, how they returned and were arrested, how the library board voted to close all the libraries, and how, under threat of federal action, reopened them in September on a non-discriminatory basis. Facts I had researched and interviewed participants about, and which I was now trying to bring to life in a novel via Pretty.

I spread out in the Guest House
I spread out in the Guest House
I drove to Rensing from Minneapolis two weeks ago for a three-week stay here. I had been amazed to find a place in Pickens County, South Carolina that provided residencies for writers, artists, musicians, photographers, and environmentalists . . .  I had grown up in Greenville, 30 miles away. The novel I'm writing begins at the Pickens jail in 1947 when a mob of white taxi drivers from Greenville took a young black man, Willie Earle, from the jail where he was being held on suspicion of killing one of their own,  tortured a confession out of him, stabbed and beat him, and finished him off with a shotgun blast. The trial that took place in Greenville resulted in the acquittal of all 28 defendants by a white jury. 

I began writing about the impact the lynching and trial had on four fictional characters. At some point it seemed to me the logical extension of the Willie Earle story  was to take the novel up to 1963, when the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Peterson v. City of Greenville that segregation in public facilities--like lunch counters--was unconstitutional.

You might say that Rensing was calling my name. Not only is my novel set in Pickens County and Greenville, I have deep roots in this area. When I catch glimpses of blue mountains when I drive these country roads, I feel I've come home.

Rensing screen porch
Rensing screen porch
To me this is Rensing:  quiet and solitude; the Guest House with its screen porch; a palpable sense from Ellen and her mother Evelyn, who own and run the place, of nurturing the residents, promoting creativity, and fostering connection out into the wider world; the four Herefords and eight white Saanen goats whom I visit every evening in the pasture; the trail through the woods and along the creek overgrown with mountain laurel, the same kind of creek trail I knew at Table Rock Mountain where we had a cabin when I was growing up; three precious, rare weeks to immerse myself deeply in my novel in a way I can't do at home. I'm so grateful!

Rensing is not for everyone. If you're a party animal, don't come here. If you're freaked out by deep country, go elsewhere. If you need good restaurants, or even a pretty good one, Pickens won't do. If you want luxury accommodations, check into a hotel. If you need Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, they aren't here (and never will be).

But if you crave buckets of time; quiet like you've never heard before; compatible people both local and in residence who are interesting and enjoyable to be with;  a director who has spent her life as an artist and who has a vision of how to create a vibrant, creative, engaged community; four Herefords and a bunch of white goats--then Rensing is for you.

Paulette Alden

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Adjustment & Discovery: Week one at the Rensing Center
I arrived at the Rensing Center from my home in northwest Vermont last Sunday evening. I ended up having a choice of where to stay so I took the more secluded (no Internet) cottage nestled in the woods on the edge of the property. It's called the Pottery, because it was and still can be used in that manner, but also works well for other disciplines. It took a couple of days to get moved in and settled in my studio/living space. 
My living/working space: The Pottery, with tiered vegetable, flower, and outdoor sculpture gardens to the north. 
MY LIVING/WORKING SPACE: THE POTTERY, WITH TIERED VEGETABLE, FLOWER, AND OUTDOOR SCULPTURE GARDENS TO THE NORTH. 
It's been quite an adjustment, in a good way. So many differences, both external (weather, flora and fauna, local customs, radio stations!) and internal (a completely open schedule- which means lots of time to think, observe, write, contemplate, and make). I've been experimenting with materials and thinking about several projects that I think will begin to take form in the coming weeks. 
I've noticed that a residency of this length doesn't have the urgency to 'do' that shorter ones have, so it requires some structure or I'd while away the days just enjoying the other-worldly garden behind my cottage. So I've tried to apply a flexible schedule to stay open to inspiration but still setting some daily/weekly goals for myself. I was able to complete this first painting this week. I'm posting pics of works in progress on Instagram and Facebook, so if you're interested you can follow me there. To visit my website click on the image below or my name in the caption.
Untitled, 24 x 24", acrylic and mixed media on canvas. ©2015 kristen m. watson
UNTITLED, 24 X 24", ACRYLIC AND MIXED MEDIA ON CANVAS. ©2015 KRISTEN M. WATSON
Mostly I'm just super grateful to have the time to let my mind slow down. I can feel it happening. It's crazy to think how fast-paced my life is in VT, and I'm reminded of the value of practicing Presence. So that's what this week has mostly been about. Of course I've also had some nice talks and shared meals with the other resident, writer Paulette Alden, as well as the Rensing staff and farmhands. Ellen, the founder and director of the Center, is a talented and recognized craft artist with a long and successful career before the Rensing endeavor began. She's also an accomplished gardener, community activist, and the voice of green living in Pickens. 
the back patio at the Pottery, Rensing Center, S.C.
THE BACK PATIO AT THE POTTERY, RENSING CENTER, S.C.
Important learning this week: to walk outside in SC you must have a spider web stick to swing to and fro, up and down in front of you, unless you like a face full of webs. The spiders here are vast, varied, stunningly beautiful (I have a load of photos) and prolific and artistic web-builders. I keep a stick at each door to grab on my way out. :) 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Tree Creatures at the Rensing Center



The Rensing Center artist residency was a great opportunity for me to explore the nature and culture of Western South Carolina. Or more precisely, to make a connection between the two. My goal was to create a series of tree paintings that explored the idea of “A spirit of the place”. I began the three week residency in July 2015 by having discussions with quite a few people in the community. I asked them to tell me about stories or legends they know about or from the area, different historical events, their personal views of the people of Pickens County where we were, and how the area had changed and their relationship to the land. Different moments that felt meaningful at the residency included:

  1. The loudness of the creatures of the night, crickets, cicadas, bull forge and who knows what else, and their blending of sounds.
  2. The darkness, and the clarity of the night sky. I am pretty sure i saw our galaxy.
  3. Being at the top of a mountain with John F, with him explaining the geology of the area.
  4. Being at Haygood Mill and seeing the machinery of the stream driven mill, seeing a bow maker, chair caning, bobbin pin work and a moonshine still.
  5. Sitting around the bonfire listening to stories with residents and staff.
  6. Seeing the history of the area at the Pickens museum
  7. The drive through the mountains to the Cherokee reservation
  8. Talking with Chad at the Feed store and listening to some of the local people stop by and talk
  9. In a sense, having my outdoor time determined by the weather, i.e, mornings or early evenings for working.
  10. swimming in the lakes
  11. The wonder of the library, which I only barely had time to delve into.
  12. Great discussions with Ellen about sustainability and art, and the challenges and successes now.


I started doing some research about the Cherokee in Philadelphia, looking at some of their beliefs, art work,  history, and stories. While in Pickens, I learned a little about the lives of African Americans through online slave stories, and other web sites focused on life in the early part of the 20th century. I studied the basic history of white people in the area, viewing the great exhibits in the Pickens history museum, focusing on their involvement with native americans, early colonization and slavery, some mid 20th century reading, and discussions about attitudes today.


The works
It was, at times, a bit of struggle to paint for four hours in the heat, with swarms of mosquitos and bees flying around. But a good natural insect repellent was mostly successful in keeping them at bay, and I usually found my joy after about an hour. The Alder Trail is an excellent wooded area and great home for these works as they slowly age away. I kind of jumped around a bit, using images and ideas from all the cultures that have lived in this area. I think I was somewhat successful in creating images inspired by all these stories and histories, and in that sense, taking cumulatively, as a group, this forest installation can represent a sense, or spirit of
this part of Pickens County, SC.


The multi ethnic man was my initial and perhaps somewhat literal attempt to represent all the cultures, White people of European ancestry, African-Americans, and Native Americans, as represented by skin color, that have been here. So red, pink and brown stripes on a simple running figure.

Wild Hog is a representation of wild hogs that live and roam in the area. Brought in for hunting, they escaped and run free, mucking up farmers patches now and then. I liked the image of a kind of trickster figure.

Isaqueena is the Cherokee legend of the tribeswoman who galloped across the county to warn her English lover, naming all the streams and paths. But the image shows her later in life, jumping into a waterfall,and landing on a ledge, to escape pursuers. I love her bravery and connection to the land.

The Healer is a presentation of a character closest to nature in three different cultures: the Green Man from English history, the shaman from Native American society, and the shaman of African tribal life. One can see the leaves of the Green man, the white face paint of the African tribesman, and the feathers and headband of the Native American. These figures are both documents of my studies, and also an attempt to make an intercultural connection about the possibility of man becoming closer to nature.

Man and Beast is based on an Assyrian sculpture of around 500 BC. I related it to Chad, the farmer who has cows and goats here, so he is dressed like Chad, with blue jeans and a ball cap. I like the idea of interdependence between man and beast, as one way to look at our relationship with animals.
Chad even had a picture of himself with a sheep around his neck (different symbolism) which he forwarded to me. When I was looking for the right tree to paint on ( it needed to be smoother like a Beech), the cows were sitting on the other side of the fence,which allowed me to work the cows head and legs from life. They were great models and we talked a bit.

John and the mountains is a straight forward attempt at creating a meshing of images between John Fritz, a landscape designer who helps out a lot here, and gave us the mountain tour, and an image of the Blue Ridge mountains. It is an attempt to create a figure who is filled with the mountain.


Pan, god of the forests is a depiction of the Greek god of nature, which covers a lot. He is an earlier Pagan religious figure. He is sitting playing his Pan-pipes, on a tree stump in the woods. Lately, I have been thinking of the idea of re-mythologizing or re-enchanting the forest. The woods could be seen as a place of magical beings, a place of mystery and unseen manifestations. of stories and history, and a place with so much spirit that no one would think of tearing it down. A way to connect the environmental necessity of preserving the forests with the human desire for meaning.
The goats on the farm here are always calling out and somewhat inspired this figure as well. I had taken pictures of the goats to study their legs for this image.

The Bow Weevil is a stylized monstrous depiction of the insect that destroyed much of the cotton industry in Pickens in the early part of the 20th century. According to Chad, strict safeguards are now in place to prevent this insect from taking over again, but the amount of cotton produced here is much less, as most farmers switched their fields to grazing cows, goats, sheep and chickens, as well as harvesting timber every 20 years.






Richard Metz