Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thunder and Peaches and Birds

Betsy Andrews here. I'm a poet from Brooklyn, and I've been here at Rensing Center for three weeks, working on my new book-length poem, Crowded. It's the third in what will be a quartet of books based on the elements. New Jersey was the earth book, an anti-war meditation on the New Jersey Turnpike. The Bottom, an elegy for the ocean, was the water book. And this one, Crowded, is the air book because, well, it's crowded up there: drones and planes and particulate matter crowding out birds and bees and butterflies.

It's been gorgeous writing here on Pickens County, with its thunder and peaches and birds. Here's a visual diary of my time here, a hint at the beauty of Rensing Center, the community Ellen has built around it, and the deep, deep green of Upstate South Carolina.

I write about food for a living, and one of the journalistic tasks nagging at me when I got here was a big knife skills package I had to deliver to an editor in the midst of poetry-izing (luckily, I had done so much legwork ahead of time, it was just a matter of polish to get it out the door), so Ellen's beautiful knife here impressed me. I believe she picked it up at the Pickens Flea Market, a sprawling phenomenological happening on Wednesday mornings on the road into town.



There's an exemplary bratwurst to be had at that flea market, by the by, deeply flavorful. Who cares if bratwurst isn't exactly Southern? Get it with the works.


Even more impressive are the enormous head-on shrimp that get driven five hours from the coast in the wee light of dawn. Here's what I did with them. It was only days later, when Ellen rummaged in her greenhouse, that we found a little kettle grill, so for these guys, I got a bucket and a grate and grilled and ate them shell, head, and all.

But I was not here to eat. I was here to write, and write I did, in this sublime spot, in the middle of the weather, me and a zillion fascinating flying bugs. I kept a tupperware and a magazine to catch any that leaked in and show them back outside where I figure they're happier.

Hiking brings me material, since what I'm writing is ecopoetic, steeped in our relationship to the natural environment, and witnessing to its genius and our troubled dealings with it. So I hiked a lot. Here's a water hole I dipped into at Keowee-Toxaway State Park on a lovely, muggy day.


Once a month, they grind grains on the water-powered historic Hagood Mill. There's bluegrass and crafts, and this beautiful collection of old millstones in the millstone graveyard.


We went right from the mill to the Soapstone Baptist Church, which was holding its monthly fish fry, a fundraiser for the upkeep of the historic freed black cemetery and the future restoration of South Carolina's first African-American schoolhouse, right next to the church. Church deacon Mabel Owens Clarke has used her prodigious culinary talents in a mission to preserve the history and culture of her ancestral Little Liberia, a freed black community established here after the Civil War.

Evening comes to Rensing Center in munching cows, mockingbirds, and pigment-colored skies.


Gifts from the garden appeared on my porch: potatoes and onions here, along with a big juicy melon and a pile of peaches of flavorful profundity from the Pickens Flea Market.


It is hard to over-estimate the impact of peaches to Pickens in summer. Ellen and neighbor Ron got wind of a low-cost 100-pound haul they could pick up from Clemson University's experimental orchards, and they were processing peaches (yes, a gift of peach slices ended up on my porch, too) for days.


One of the natural marvels nearby: Twin Falls. If you're not a real hiker, it's an easy walk in, and there's a massive water hole right before the cascades. You'll find the parking area on Google Maps.


My 55th year came around on July 24th while I was here at Rensing, so I did what I always do on my birthday: I cooked for friends. A Greek feast this year, with grilled lamb (Ron used pine cones for fire starter), hortopita, tzatziki, taramasalata, Greek salad, thyme-roasted potatoes, dolmades.


Shopping for that birthday meal, I stopped in at a place that Ellen had told me about: The Pita House, in Greenville. It's an excellent Lebanese shop and restaurant, take it from someone who writes about these things for a living. Also great: Swamp Rabbit, on the way into Greenville from Pickens. Best natural, organic, biodynamic wine selection in these parts, for sure, and great local farm produce. Not cheap, but worth it.


Medicinal plant workshop at Rensing Center, with genius herbalist healer Amanda Dilday. "What's the pain telling you?" she asks. "The plant might have an effect on the way you move through the world, so if you're not ready to heal in your whole life, maybe don't take it." Good, holistic advice, but I feel ready to heal in my whole life!


Another super-duper easy place to walk (and bike, if you have a bike) is the Doodle Trail, an 8-mile path along the former railroad route between Pickens and Easley. The route bisects all sorts of different landscapes, from creekbeds to suburbs to farms and modern-day ruins, as shown. A young red-tailed hawk swooped low, screaming at me, nearby.


One bonus of the Doodle Trail: About a mile in from the Pickens parking lot is Aunty's Anne's a meat-and-three with superb fried chicken: steamy, tender inside and crunchy, salty out. Same goes for the fried okra. 


A more-serious hike: Eastatoe Gorge Trail. It's 6 miles round trip from the parking area inside Jim Timmerman Natural Resources Area at Jocassee Gorges, down a little-traveled, but expertly designed trail (mild grade, stairs at curves of switchbacks) to the creek, where I dunked in this luscious water hole.


Music night at the Appalachian Ale House! Kind of floored at the talent in these parts. People are plant experts or artists or amazing cooks or musicians. A whole bunch of guest players jumped in, including that guy with the bald head in front of me! He plays a mean upright bass. 


But my favorite was this gal, the one woman, and youngest player, of the night. 


The evening was a tribute to Mr. Robert Perry, longtime local moonshiner (he ran the still at Hagood Mill), bucket bass player, and host of a weekly pickin' and grinnin' at his Perryville, a town he built on his property for the purpose. I was lucky to meet him and his insanely cute dog just before he left this world at 78 on July 26.


Can't come to South Carolina and not eat BBQ. Happened to be a Wednesday, and choices of smokehouses are limited mid-week. Most joints are Thursday to Saturday. But I found the smoked babybacks delicious at The Pompous Pig in Anderson, and the sides were tasty too. Best cornbread I've had here, for sure.


It may seem like I didn't write a lot here, but I did. I just don't take selfies. So there's no shot of me crinkling my brow and composing some ferocious lines. I will leave you, though, with this poetic image of the Blue Ridge fading into the bumpy, blue distance, as seen from the top of Sassafras Mountain. 


Saturday, July 7, 2018

It Was a Busy Sabbatical

From Ellen Kochansky, Executive Director

(Above:  Ellen Kochansky with her artwork at Clemson University's Lee Gallery.  This invitational exhibition was called Upstate 8: SC Fellowship Women and was part of the South Carolina Arts Commission's 50th anniversary.)

After five years of non-stop Rensing Center residency administration work, I was anointed by the board with a sabbatical.  Countless others have found their serene place here at Rensing, reframing their outlook and their work by watching the goats and the waterfall. I did too.  Since September 2017, the critical priorities have presented and arranged themselves into a new and clearer form, with my mother's needs, the opportunity to make new art, and some traveling to visit my friends and family taking center stage. Perspective, the reason we chose to look at life from the small village of Borseda in Italy, has appeared in Pickens. As those priorities became clearer, I remembered how artwork falls into place when we squint.  I call this VALUE JUDGMENT, and I've given this lecture often.  Here was my chance, in the nine month gestation period, to give the note to self!  


At a Penland funeral for the icon Paulus Berenson, old friends came through with just what I needed.  Bobby Kadis asked me, "How's that Rensing thing going?"  I said, "After five years and 84 residents from nine countries, I'm exhausted. I need a week at the beach!"  He said, "I can do that for you."  Nol Putnam, my mother, and I had a glorious rest.

 

The undercurrent is that Rensing's best and most compatible alumni and friends stayed in touch, and my choice to anoint a group of Rensing Fellows turned out to have been a good one.  These fellows were given first dibs on the single, summer session for 2018, and they all said "Yes!"

Many other wonderful things have happened including the return of Catherine Cross Tsintzos.  During Catherine's May 2017 residency, she planted indigo on the Rensing farm.  She returned for a harvest and dyeing celebration on Saturday, October 28th, teaching a sold-out workshop on growing South Carolina indigo, bundling, folding, clamping and exploring the vats of blue dye.There was an exhibit of examples, reading/study materials in the Rensing Library and a festive spread in the gallery space with celebratory snacks and glorious florals by board member Ron Few.





Participants worked hard all afternoon creating fabulous fabric!




Catherine returned to the Rensing Center on January 28th and 29th to teach "The Art of the Page", another wonderful workshop where so much creativity was unleashed.





Participants for these two workshops came from all over the country.  They contributed to the life and mission of the Rensing Center but also made their economic impression on the local community.  Many hope to return and bring friends, spouses, and other artistic types.  These were the most profitable workshops held at the Rensing Center and promised a new potential for us.



As the new summer session began in May, the Rensing Center partnered with EMRYS, a Greenville literary society, to host the winner of their chapbook award for the second year in a row.  Dr. Mary Moore, Professor Emerita in the English Department of Marshall University, was this year's winner.


On Monday, June 4th the Rensing Center unveiled Timshel/Thou Mayest, a new sculpture by Rensing Fellow Dr. Keith L. Andrews.




Dr. Keith L. Andrews says of his sculpture, "Human have always been uncertain of the relationship between our free will and the great forces that impinge on us.  In Genesis 4:5, Cain was told that he must meet sin (or was it disobedience or ignorance?) Depending on the translation of the Hebrew word timsel, Cain was either being commanded to overcome the challenge or was being reassured that he would confront it successfully.  In East of Eden by John Steinbeck, the translation from Hebrew is "Thou Mayest".





www.keithlandrews.com 

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Cocoon by Rensing Fellow art resident Susan Lenz

(Above:  One completed section of my fiber installation, The Cocoon, with my Bernina sewing machine in the foreground.  Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

My name is Susan Lenz.  I'm a fiber and installation artist from Columbia, South Carolina and very happy to be back at the Rensing Center for a five-week art residency.  I was here for just three weeks during the summer of 2015.  At that time, I worked on several projects but this time is quite different!

(Above:  The Cocoon in progress inside the Rensing Center "Pottery", one of the accommodations here at the Rensing Center that functions as both studio and apartment.)

I sent a proposal asking for time and space in which to create a two-sided, fiber enclosure from an enormous stash of vintage household linens, antique garments, buttons, lace, and other collected textiles. I'm quite grateful by the acceptance of this proposal. 

 

I'm calling the installation The Cocoon.  It is being made on a specialized pipe assemblage system that is ordinarily used to create individual booths on a convention center floor.  The South Carolina Arts Commission awarded me a quarterly artist project grant to assist with the cost of this structure.  I got enough pipes to create up to a 20' x 20' cube.  The system is quite flexible though and various other, smaller dimensions will be possible as needed to future opportunities.

  

I envision this installation as a 21st century quilting bee without the strict demands of stitched perfection, pattern, or function for bedding.  The enclosure will become a fun, comfortable way to share common threads between people of all ages, races, and cultural backgrounds. 


From the beginning, I've wanted this fiber installation to do several things.  I wanted to have a place where a mother and child could thread a needle, fasten a button onto a piece of cloth or learn a basic running stitch. I wanted people of all ages to share stories of family members who quilted, stitched, made all the garments for their family or crocheted doilies for the house.  I also wanted to inspire others to DO SOMETHING with their treasured textiles.

I am most pleased that the Rensing Center will be hosting the first public viewing for The Cocoon in the Rensing Library on Thursday, July 12 from 6 - 8.  If in the area, please consider this your invitation!


As a regular blogger, I've been documenting this installation and am already receiving positive feedback from readers.  My posts to date include:

ARRIVAL at the Rensing Center

The First Week

A YoYo Couple of Days

Two Weeks Completed

Check back as I will put up at least one other post before the July 12th reception!