Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Echoes of This Place

Maggie Gourlay

Rockville, MD
August 2019

The Echoes of this Place

During my three weeks at The Rensing Center I was transplanted into a new world, quiet with the chirp of birds in the morning, the quiet heat rising at midday in August, and the cool nights punctuated by thunderstorms that raged quickly and evaporated. I was transported into this little pocket of Appalachia, with the mountain trails, waterfalls, and wild turkeys, the Tuesday nights at the Ale House with the camaraderie of townsfolk coming together with their fiddles, guitars, harmonicas, mandolins and banjos, singing and playing together for hours. The Wednesday morning flea markets, the Bee Well Farm Festival, the Liberia Fish Fry, the Hagood Mill, all a rich backdrop to the residency itself. I had been transplanted into a new world of my porch studio, my little apartment, the Forge, near the library with books from floor to ceiling (where I encountered Wendell Berry who had me hooked after three pages).

This is a gift of space, of time freed from other obligations, free to focus or ruminate, a different vantage point, to do, make, test, try, fail, succeed, and then repeat.  Ellen’s gentle encouragement (as an artist she knows), her Sunday potluck dinners, her introductions to the folk of Pickens, the trips to places and corners that make this place special, and her practice devoted to ecology, and creative thinking to create community permeates the ethos of the Center. It was a pleasure and an education to sit with the indomitable Evelyn, who brought perspective and a strength of intellect to our conversations. The wonderful story of Evelyn’s shredded WW II letters stuck with me, and in my paper making experiments, I took the notes I had written in long-hand, tore them up and used them as pulp or compost in the paper that I was making that referenced the kudzu that is a more recent immigrant to the local landscape. Unearthed from under the Forge, I used the ancient rusted tools to cast paper. I love having the echoes of this place infused in the work.  I return home, a bit sadly for having to say good-bye to The Rensing Center, Pickens, and summer, but refreshed and more grounded in my practice than before.

Maggie Gourlay,

Natural Beauty

John Rowell
Baltimore, Maryland
July-August 2019

Natural Beauty

I felt very fortunate to spend two lovely weeks in late July and early August at The Rensing Center. At the Guest House, I felt enveloped by the natural beauty of the woods and the trees outside my beautiful back porch, where I spent much of my time writing, reading and reflecting. I worked almost exclusively on a new play, the subject of which involves a great deal of research into the world of the New York theater in the mid-1950s, and on my porch (far from the streets of Times Square about which I was reading!) I read, studied, took copious notes, drank a lot of coffee and iced tea, and the occasional gin and tonic, and gazed out at my little corner of Rensing for many long and pleasurable hours.

Ellen generously opened up her home for wonderful, memorable meals on Sunday evenings, and this was one of the most enjoyable aspects of my time there. Ellen's friends in Pickens and nearby towns are wonderful, interesting, creative people doing good work in that corner of the world. Everyone there, including the amazing Evelyn, is a wonderful storyteller and full of tales and lore about Pickens and the area. I loved listening to everyone talk!  

I also spent a great evening at the home and gardens of Jon Fritz, a gifted locale landscape gardener who is also associated with the center. It was amazing to see what Jon had growing and blooming, and to take his expertly guided tour of his property.

Later in the week, two new residents arrived, Eric and  Maggie, and Ellen's marvelous friend Ron Few took the three of us out for an evening in the hidden gem town of Greenville. We walked through the park, alongside the falls and downtown areas, exploring the main street and its terrific bookstore, Judson's, and having a lovely dinner in one of the many cool restaurants that proliferate on the street. 

The next day, the last of my residency, meant having to say goodbye to Rensing, but I hope that proves to be only a temporary goodbye. What a wonderful time I had there, I shall never forget the beauty of the landscape, and the genuine goodness and creativity of the people who inhabit it. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Finding Comfort

Eric Sasson

Brooklyn, New York
July 2019

Finding Comfort

I wasn’t at the Rensing Center for very long—my residency was interrupted by a death
in the family—but my time there was quite special.

For the first week, I got to live and work in the Guest House, which was spacious and
comfortable, with a terrific porthole bubble window, a large screened-in porch, and
fantastic, southern-style air conditioning. I was getting so much done that I was set to
finish the work on my novel early and would have time for another project.

That first Sunday night dinner at Ellen’s house really set the tone. Everyone was so
friendly. I discovered that Evelyn, Ellen’s 99 year old mother and a force of nature, grew
up just minutes from where I live in Brooklyn. Ron made excellent pimento cheese. We
chatted for hours, and I had the unusual and quite pleasant experience of not being the
only gay man at a residency- apparently Rensing attracts many local LGBT folk as well
as residents.

The next Saturday Ellen graciously took me to the Mill where there was a banjo festival
going on. Both the mill and the festival were so charming, Later that afternoon we went
to Mabel’s Fish Fry at the baptist church, home to one of Appalachia’s oldest African
American communities. While there, Roosevelt Aiken gave us a tour of the old cemetery. All of it was eye opening and such a treat – I was particularly excited to learn about the area's history.
And that southern hospitality and food- it can’t be beat.

I didn’t know that I would be coming back at all after my residency was interrupted, but
I decided that since I would be driving north from Miami anyway that I might as well go
back. I felt so comfortable there, and was eager to see everyone again. This time, I
stayed in the Forge—another great space behind the library.

The next six days flew by. We had another excellent Sunday night dinner. I found a
gorgeous copperhead snake (dead- I’m not crazy) on the road, and the next day I found a
box turtle at almost the same spot, who I took back to the apartment and tried to feed.
Once I realized he was having none of it, I released him back into the woods.

On the night before I left, Ron took us all to Greenville. Ellen insisted we go, and I was
glad she did. So charming! The waterfall and bridge are picture-perfect, the town is
adorable and green, and they have a great bookstore and many restaurants.

Rensing is terrific. I love it when I get to go t a residency where I can not only be
productive but also immerse myself in the local culture. And to have such a charming,
warm and caring host as Ellen is just the cream on top of the (peach) pie!