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, www.maggiegourlay.com