Friday, July 17, 2015

The Treasure Hunt Project: Part I of II

Amelia Blair Langford
Richmond, Virginia
July 2015

The Treasure Hunt Project: Part I of II   

My name is Amelia Blair Langford, 24, from Richmond, VA, US. I am an illustrator with a concentration in ink and graphite studies as well as the creator of "The Treasure Hunt Project" series. I have honorably been an Artist-in-Residence at The Rensing Center for  two of the four weeks I will be here. I have grown to find this place to be a book filled with deep stories, remarkable heritage and passionate history.

May the treasure hunt begin.

Day 1: The Rensing Center is an oasis for reflection, meditation and absolute inspiration. When I arrived, I knew that the Rensing Center was going to be a treasure worth seeking, a shooting star worth watching, and a story waiting to be told.

Day 1: Our first evening together was filled with a delicious potluck with recipes created the farm's gardens and artists in residence evening, social gatherings. And of course, I had to include The Rensing Center's intern, Katie's beautifully, homemade chocolate moose with whipped cream and blueberries.

Day 2: The Rensing Center's pasture is a treasure within itself. It is occupied with goats and cows that are both very social and photogenic. There were new 5-week old babies upon my arrival and it has been a wonderful experience seeing them grow over the past few weeks.

Day 5: We went on a four hour hike and got a nature tour by Jon. The trails, vegetation, wildlife, waterfalls, and of course the views were absolutely breathtaking. We arrived at Glass Mountain in the mid morning and the breeze from atop of the mountain (shown above) was perfect. The treasures that I was looking for, were starting to be discovered.

Day 5: We arrived at Twin Falls mid afternoon. The breeze and cooling mist from the waterfalls were quite a treat. 

Day 7: The luscious sunset cradled the 150 old tree that stands next to the Rensing Center's pasture.

Day 7: We had an evening bonfire with star gazing and storytelling. The stars at The Rensing Center are remarkable and some nights you could even see Venus with the naked eye.

Day 6: My studio and bedroom space is located in the Rensing Center next to the library and I have enjoyed the presence of the animals here, especially Bob the Cat. He was great company while I worked on inking my first "Treasure Hunt Project" piece. 

Day 9 : A part of our contribution in being an Artist in Residence is that we participate in outreach. We got the opportunity to help out on the farm and laid some sod as a team. 

Day 13: I was honorably interviewed and photographed with the work I was completing at the Rensing Center by an Anderson, SC Newspaper. 

I will continue to share my experience with the Rensing Center in Part II in a few weeks where I will share my finalized work I've created for "The Treasure Hunt Project" illustration series. More adventures are to be had and more treasures are to be found.

So far it has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Written by Amelia Blair Langford

Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Time at the Rensing Center by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz
Columbia, SC
June- July 2015

My Time at the Rensing Center by Susan Lenz

 (Above:  Working the Land. 5" x 16" x 11". Found, rusted pitchfork and fiber vessel.  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

My name is Susan Lenz.  I'm a fiber and installation artist from Columbia, South Carolina which is only about a two hour drive from the Rensing Center.  I've been fortunate enough to have been accepted to several other residency programs but the Rensing Center was at the top of my list of places to go.  Why? Well, I've known Ellen Kochansky's name for years and years.  Her work is stellar and enjoys respect everywhere.  When I learned that she was embarking on this new program, I wanted to be a part of it.  Plus, what "city girl" couldn't use a couple of weeks to learn more about sustainable practices and good stewardship of the land?  I was very happy when I was scheduled for June 14th through tomorrow, July 3rd!

As a blogger since 2006, I was thrilled to learn that contributing to the Rensing Center blog counted as an hour toward the very reasonable eight hours of weekly work which is done in exchange for the experience.  (One can forgo the work contribution for a small, additional fee.)  Then, I looked at the blog.  Ugh-oh!  Each post seemed to be written so eloquently in poetic words of professional writers giving well phrased testimonials.  I was scared!  I'm not that sort of blogger!  Also, there is no need to "get out of" other work! At the Rensing Center work is actually FUN, social, and leaves one with a strong sense of satisfaction.  Some hours were spent pulling wisteria from the upper garden.  At the end of two hours, three of us got to know Ellen ... as she was pulling wisteria too ... and we had visible results of our labors.  Besides, wisteria is an amazing plant with incredible roots.  One area was particularly overgrown.  I found a rusty pitchfork in the foliage.  Since I found it, Ellen said, "It's yours!"  Happily, I made the most complex fiber vessel to date using a ball of green cording made at the Anderson Center art residency in May.  I'm very pleased with this work.

 (Above:  Detail of Working the Land.)

So, instead of blogging for the Rensing Center during my time, I blogged at Art in Stitches, my blog, and decided to write a recap of my time on this blog during my last few days.  I also decided that I'd write especially for other artists who are considering the program!  In a nutshell, I highly recommend the Rensing Center and here's why:

 (Above:  My bedroom in the Main building ... complete with a cat!)

All the bedrooms are basic but have exactly what an artist needs ... a comfortable, clean bed; plenty of drawers and shelves; windows to the world; lots of quietness; a reading lamp; and enough space for all the "stuff" that doesn't go into the studio area.  Shortly after I arrived, an air-conditioner was put into the room as the summer heat was unseasonably high.  It is SO NICE that Ellen and the staff are honestly concerned about their residents being comfortable and able to make their art!

 (Above:  Bob the Cat.)

They were even worried that I might not want Bob the Cat in my room.  Hilarious!  Bob is wonderful and can sleep at the foot of my bed any time!  What a lover!  I wrote a much more detailed blog post called "A Walk Around the Rensing Center" with many images.  Take a look!

 (Above:  Entrance to the Alder Creek trail.)

The blog post also includes photos taken along the Alder Creek trail, a lovely walk in the woods without ever leaving the Rensing Center's property.

Rhododendron were still in bloom ...

... and the waterfall is beautiful.

 (Above:  View to the "wood shop" studio ... which, in my case, became a fiber art space!)

Now ... for the really important stuff!  Here's one side of my studio!  Again, I had more space than I actually needed.  Often I raised the garage door for the feeling of working outside!  This space was only a few steps from my bedroom, the kitchen, and the bathroom.  A few more steps takes one into the well stocked and organized library where there's also a television with Netflix (though I didn't watch anything!).  The entire building is a WiFi zone too.

This is the other side of the studio and by the second week another air-conditioning unit was installed (which supplemented the most powerful fan ever!)  Again, the consideration to making a space comfortable for art was very kind, especially since I really had everything I needed to begin with!

 (Above:  One of three blue fiber vessels created at the Rensing Center.)

Although my original proposal called for a focus on these fiber vessels, my actual work was more varied.  This diversion was embraced in the spirit of creativity.  Plus, I spent a couple days just doing "the business of art" ... and that was also okay.  The mission of the Rensing Center is three-fold:  creativity, ecology, and economy.  Thus, working on the entrepreneurial/business side of an art career is another way to spend residency time.  During my stay Ellen was instrumental in sharing her own career in art.  Past contracts, mock ups for corporate clients, and ways in which she organized community based projects were not only shared but readily available in the library.  There is much to learn. 

 (Above:  Fourteen works in progress.)

I didn't think I would get around to another idea but somehow I found time to develop a new series for my Atlanta gallery.  The gallerist had given me great critical feedback.  Her words were insightful and let me look at my In Box Series and Stained Glass series in a new way.  At the Rensing Center I had the hours needed to explore a new approach.  For me, working larger and more minimalistic was a challenge but these pieces are all on their way to being successful!  I'm very happy about that!  (I wrote a blog post on this work HERE!)

 (Above:  My Babylock Tiara sewing machine and one of four large art quilts, a work in progress.)

Most of my time, however, was spent free motion machine embroidering four large, whole cloth art quilts.  Again, I'm developing an entire new series and this residency was "the gift of time".  Countless hours went into thread painting while thinking about the concepts behind this new work.

 (Above:  The interior of the Hagood Mill.)

Now, every day wasn't entirely spent in my studio!  There were several great field trips.  One Saturday we went to the nearby Hagood Mill to listen to a singer and songwriter performance. We explored all the operational structures.  Docents were weaving, quilting, churning butter, and grinding grains.  There were demonstrations in the blacksmith's forge and moonshine still.  Plus, the music was wonderful!   I wrote another blog post with additional images of the Hagood Mill and the Pickens Flea market among other things.  Check it out HERE.

 (Above:  The Pickens Flea Market.)

A weekly outing is to the Pickens Flea Market ... which is incredibly large and has an amazing variety of vendors.  One can find a wide variety of produce, vintage records, potted plants, antiques, live chickens, furniture, books, a mobile key shop, and just about everything else ...

... including this really nice man who hauls up extra large shrimp from Edisto!  The Rensing Center bought a couple pound for my 56th birthday on June 24th!  Yes, there's a weekly potluck dinner at Ellen's house!  It is great!  The food, the drink and especially the conversation make this evening special.  To have a birthday at the Rensing Center is a real celebration!

 (Above:  Ellen Kochansky and intern Katie Nocella at the Pickens County dump!)

Another field trip is actually considered an hour toward the weekly work detail.  I went every time just for the fun of it!  It's the Pickens County dump!  Everything gets sorted and the staff is knowledgeable and nice!  It is a great recycling place!  Almost everything can be recycled!

 (Above:  The start of an installation.)

The most exciting "work detail", however, was the opportunity to create an installation needed for an upcoming August wedding.  The upper garden will be the site for the nuptials but it is right beside a steep slope currently being cleared of old pine trees that are now dying and falling down on power lines.  Ellen wanted something to detract from the view of the logging, something organic, something with roots like the wisteria.  She asked me to brainstorm.  I borrowed one of my own ideas, from an installation called I Do / I Don't which is on view at the Bilston Craft Gallery in England ... tying the knot!  Serendipitously, Ellen had miles and miles of ribbon and lace.  We had three different "movie nights", all the residents and staff together ... sitting in the library, watching the screen, tying knots, and earning hours toward our weekly work contribution.  Nothing could have been better than Ellen's thoughtful way of using my talents and skills best.  I would have been happy to "tie the knots" even without it being considered "work".  The photo above was just our start.  By the end of my time, the number of hanging elements easily doubled.

These beautiful streamers of fabric came with stories from the past and many shared memories.  When installed, they will not hang straight down.  The various lengths will be intertwined from one to another, making an ethereal web that will resemble the wisteria roots.  The bride stopped by and really liked it too.

During the three weeks, I got to know Ellen, personally and professionally.  I also got to know the painter and the writer and the intern.  They got to know me.  Everyone worked hard at their own art but we also worked together in the spirit of community.  Every day held a bit of nature too. Whether it was facts and figures on climate change due to the extreme heat during the first two weeks or whether it was about the local soil due to a drain field being dug during my final days or whether it was about the types of goats that thrive in the pasture, every day was in tune with the world around us and how we ought to conduct ourselves in order to live in harmony with nature.

(Above:  Soil quilt block after it was buried for two weeks.)

Such conversations started almost immediately upon my arrival.  I'm happy that I had something to contribute! What?  Well, I brought a 13" square piece of canvas from Hilltop Community Farm in La Valle, Wisconsin.  Erin Schneider, a soil scientist, is spearheading a project called "The Soil Quilt".  She'd been asking farmers to bury a provided piece of canvas in their ground for two to three weeks, allowing the decomposition and soil to mark the fabric.  Each piece is sent back and will become part of a larger quilt.  After all, 2015 is the U.N. International Year of Soil.  I asked if the Rensing Center and me could participate.  The answer was YES. So, Ellen selected a spot in the logging area where I buried our piece of canvas in the red clay ground.  Earlier today, I dug it up  and My final blog post from this residency is about the Soil Quilt.

(Above:  The Rensing Center's contribution to the Soil Quilt.)

This is the result.  For me, it is a perfect way to end this blog post.  It symbolizes the three part mission of the Rensing Center:  Ecology, economic, creativity.

The Rensing Center nourishes creative capability. It fosters individual renewal, community connection, and interdisciplinary interaction among people in artistic, environmental, and entrepreneurial fields.

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber art work ... and with the hopes that other talented fiber artists submit applications to this fabulous, rural setting in South Carolina to commune with nature, share with an esteemed artist who life has been spent working in our medium, and cherish the "gift of time"!