Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Spring at Rensing

Karen Ferguson
March 2019

Spring at Rensing

In my time here at Rensing, I have been totally immersed in a serene landscape of marvelous variety and subtle detail.

I have never so closely observed the magical and captivating arrival of spring. This is partly because I haven’t taken time to notice, and partly because I live in an area of Australia where the seasonal changes are less clear. If I didn’t paint and draw my response to this delicate transition I would be forced to write bad poetry about it! Seeing the bare branches sprouting tiny leaf clusters, blossoms arrive and depart, bumble bees and other insect life has been deeply inspiring.

A tree which has captivated me is the American Beech, with its pale, dry, winter leaves trembling in the spring breezes. In my work, I have explored the elegant structure of its veins through pattern and geometric design. Similarly, the five petals of the pear blossom have lead to pentagonal designs. I have received invaluable advice from Ellen about colour value, and taken direct inspiration from the quilting heritage of the Carolinas, and of Rensing itself. Close attention to contrasts in shape and tone, as well as using repetition to create movement and unity, have been my formal focus for the past month.

My sincere thanks to everyone at Rensing for their support and generous spirits. To Evelyn, for intelligent conversation and a glass of wine at sundown; to Ron for peach cobbler and magical waterfall visits; to John for expert plant knowledge; and to Hubert for making us feel so welcome here. And lastly, of course, to Ellen, for so many things – but mostly for keeping the wonderful Rensing show on the road!

Below are ink and watercolour studies of American Beech leaves and blossoms inspired by the plants I have seen at Rensing.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

An Ellen Encomium

Michael Winkler
Brunswick, Australia
March 2019

An Ellen Encomium

This Rensing blog is so varied, so rich, with so many strong and valuable voices: if you have not taken half an hour to read through it, do not delay. Scroll down!

It is difficult to find an angle on Rensing that has not already been beautifully blogged, but there is one topic that has not received enough attention: Executive Director Ellen Kochansky.

Ellen was a quilt maker par excellence. She says that she has not made quilts in recent years – and this is, strictly speaking true. But what is a quilt? It is a source of warmth. Of comfort. Shelter and safety. Quilt design combines disparate elements in effective, perhaps surprising, elegant and pleasing ways.

Ellen continues to quilt every day through her leadership of Rensing Center. It is mesmerising to watch someone with such dexterity in bringing together contrasting and complementary individuals, teaming them in such a way that something harmonious and beautiful is created. She has shaped Rensing as a sanctuary, a place of psychic safety, where individual differences are respected and commonalities are celebrated.

Quilting takes hours of labour. Ellen is a leader who cleans toilets, who scours the flea market for items that will make resident accommodation more comfortable, who links with international sustainability thinkers and separates recyclables at the Pickens dump. My hunch is that one of her gifts as a quilter was openness to new materials and their potential; similarly she greets each new Rensing arrival or enquiry with excitement for what it might bring to the mix.

I loved many things about Rensing, all of which you can find described in the posts of previous bloggers. The walk to the waterfall. Living in the guest house amongst tall trees, with squirrels leaping from branch to branch like circus stars, and birds carolling at dawn and dusk. The incomparable scope and scale of the offerings at the Flea Market. The lofty shelves of the library, a bibliophile’s dream. Driving around the back roads with Board Member and local encyclopaedia Ron Few.

I think my favourite thing, however (and again it has been blogged about with great verve) was the pot luck dinners. These Sunday night events (and yes, sometimes Sunday was a Tuesday or a Thursday) are Ellen at her apotheosis. I think it is significant that these events take place not in a common area but at Ellen’s house. Sitting around her table, local luminaries and visitors from other climes, we are swatches of fine fabric sewn into a new Ellen quilt, just for one night. Warm, safe, beautiful.

(Ellen told me that she thinks she has completely exhausted the possibilities of quilting as metaphor. That’s okay; it’s new to me!)

While I was at Rensing she urged me to read a book, Wild Card Quilt by Janisse Ray. It includes this passage:

Wholeness doesn’t have a beginning or an end, but is a process, a long service to honor our humanity, our own and each other’s. It’s like making a quilt. We start with pieces of a good, well-functioning life, and all our lives long we try to put them together until we finally have something beautiful that functions, that is whole, that makes us happy. Even then it will need mending, but that is the work of humanity.

That sounds about right. Thank you Ellen, and thank you to the wider Rensing Center community. It is a precious place, and I was honoured to be allowed to spend time in its embrace.