Sunday, October 3, 2021


 Alexis Ivy

July 2021

I am a poet from the Boston-area and work in outreach and advocacy for the homeless. This residency gave me culture shock in such a beautiful, profound way. The culture of place lives livelier down there.  At Rensing, it’s about being a part of a community in a moments time.  I lived a whole new life for three weeks, realizing my fears, judgements, loves and responses to the utterly new world I had been accepted into.    I didn’t realize I would be so much a part of a community of landscapers, mechanics, historians, transplants, locals, farmers, black smithers, soap makers, quilters, banjo pickers. What I loved was I didn’t just meet artists, but a whole community of Upcountry.  Everyone willing to show me their world and so interested in getting to know mine.  Amazing how welcome I was, how welcomed I felt, how self-realized I can become.  

I never thought of myself as a nature poet.  More in search of the nature of people. The ecology of humans is what I try to articulate. But here I felt the way nature heals—I found out I should be a goat rather than a sheep.  I used a pitchfork and hay and watched fresh carrot tops turn back into the earth. Here, I came to realize that my nature mirrors nature itself.  I loved how my poet plans were upended.  My purpose and intention were ever-shifting—I had the freedom to consider why I came.  And I spent my whole residency trying to answer what this place means and what this place means to me as a poet, collector, outreach worker.  And here I am now still searching for an answer.  That is what’ll make these poems break-my-heart poems—not the knowledge, but the wonderment

Other Stories

 Jenny Siegfried

July 2021

There's something deeply beautiful and profound that happens when the natural narratives in the world start to intervene and converse with our own human and historical stories; as an artist, I've always been drawn to exploring this symbiotic relationship, exploring abandoned and historical buildings, homes, and settlements, searching for keys to past ways of life or unexpected tales and moments in nature and time. The Rensing Center was the perfect place to continue digging through the past, and in the dirt! The pastoral landscape of Pickens is a lush green landscape that provides a peaceful contrast to the frenetic energy found in its decaying homes and buildings.

The Pickens County Museum and Hagood Mill Historic Site were both an excellent start into the architectural history of Pickens, but our weekly potluck not only brought excellent conversation and food... but also a surprise path into the deep local history! After a wonderful discussion about the value and importance of visually documenting abandoned or decaying architecture, I was given a beautiful hand drawn map from Jon Fritz, showing a number of homes less than two miles away from the Rensing Center that were in such a state of decay that it seemed as if nature was solidly reclaiming its turf. After a morning of climbing through thorny bushes and wading through waist-high weeds, I had taken dozens and dozens of photographs of a selection of homes, all built in the 30s and 40s and sitting unoccupied for decades now... and all magically deep in the grasp of the local plants and foliage taking ownership of these buildings and human stories. Root structures overturned porch supports, ivy and weeds latticed entire walls unrecognizable, and through the broken, now glass-less second story windows, arms of branches and leaves reached out through, grasping towards the sunshine. 

Completely inspired, these photos became the basis for a series of paintings I completed that very same day; gradated washes of watercolor form skyscapes and mountain ridges in the distance (calling back to visits that same week to Sassafras Mountain, Table Rock State Park, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park), while ghostly white linear paintings of roof fragments and window panes sit stoic and slowly dissolving in the foreground. Our human narratives feel so strong and deeply important, but when carefully stepping on the crumbling concrete footpath leading to a home that's being razed solely through natural means and materials, it's evident that ours is not the only relevant narrative to tell.


 Rachel Watson

New Orleans
July - August 2021

Time. Time is one of the most important things someone can give me as an artist. Time to think of new ideas. Time to flesh out old ideas. Time to experiment. Time to create. It’s not often that I have undivided time to do any of those things. Normally, tasks for everyday life consume my days. However, at Rensing, I was awarded this time. I was able to relax. To create. To go on walks. To make new friends. I was able to focus on the thing I love the most. Art. And for that, I am forever grateful. 

I can’t thank the people there enough for their encouragement, kindness, and openness. To Jessi, my new friend, my first roommate in years, my cohort, and my horror movie watching buddy. Thank you for the walks, the breaks, and all the enjoyable banter. To Ron, thank you for your kind words, the invitations to local events, and your stories. To Ellen, thank you for your hospitality, your softness, your drive, your inviting nature, and your creativity. Thank you for creating such a lovely space for artists to come to. For providing us with that time that we all need. 

While at Rensing I focused on a couple of things I’ve wanted to do for a while. I developed film in Caffenol, went through film from years ago, fleshed out future ideas, and built my first pinhole camera. Now, I am a camera nerd. I own around 60 film still and video cameras. However, I’ve never made one myself. It was a natural progression for me, and I finally did it! I found a gorgeous wood and leather hat box at the local flea market, figured out the pinhole size, made the box lighttight, and loaded it with 4x5” film. After a few days of tinkering…it worked! I spent a few days taking photographs with this camera around Rensing and Pickens and I was able to get some lovely photographs from it. Making this camera will send me on a path of making cameras out of found objects wherever I travel. So again, thank you Rensing. Without this residency I wouldn’t be beginning my next body of work. The camera and the photograph, in this case, will both be art.  

A Gift from Larry

Caitlin Thornbrugh

Kansas City & Boston
July 2021

A Gift from Larry
On Wednesday mornings in Pickens County there is a mile long flea market. I didn’t measure, but it feels like the tables of cowboy hats and peaches and shampoos and cabbages and antacids and guns laid out in a line, would reach back to Kansas where I’m from or Boston where I’m going after Rensing. I walked the Pickens Flea like a new duckling, following Ellen, our intrepid leader and residency director, who takes us straight to her shrimp guy. He drives them in fresh from the coast. My fellow perusers were an artist, Rachel, searching for objects to transform into cameras, and Jessi, who was not a huge fan of crowds, but lended a gentle eye and presence. 
I found myself in Pickens based on a recommendation from a fellow writer, an Irish poet named Lawrence O’Dwyer, who I call Larry. While at Rensing, he lived and wrote in the same Guest House I was now living in and encouraged me to apply. You can read his post on this same blog from October 2018 on butterflies and the beauty of the Guest House’s porthole window. There is a comfort and beauty to sitting where Larry sat in 2018, looking out the same window, and I think of all the other writers who have also created here. In Larry’s post, he wrote, “Windows and studios are just structures – it’s who makes them and opens them up to this kind of work that’s important.” I am quoting this here, because it’s Ellen and the welcoming village she has helped to build that make Rensing a place that fosters creativity and community. When I first stepped out of the car to meet Ellen, my glasses fogged up from moving out of the air-conditioning into the hot, humidity of a southern summer. She smiled and said, “Yes, you’re a gift from Lawrence.” 

I was at the residency to return to a book I started more than two years ago. A book about water, about rivers, about the body, about love. A lot of the writing work that needed to happen was opening, organizing, reordering, culling, filing. The work of a puzzle, but one that often feels like it is made of liquid. Elusive and waiting to be poured. Rensing makes this puzzle work possible. I looked through the porthole window and began typing. 


Marianne Lettieri, M.F.A.

June 2021

Simulacrum: “a copy from which no original exists, unsatisfactory imitation or substitute, essentially the copy of a copy.” Simulacra are not reflections or deceptions of reality. They simply obscure the fact that reality is irrelevant to a current understanding of our lives. We use our memories, photographs, writings, and artifacts to construct a perceived reality. 
Simulacrum is exactly what I had come to the Carolinas to investigate. And I had never heard the word until I received the one word text, “simulacrum,” from poet and fellow Rensing resident, Alexis Ivy.  I should interject here that I don’t especially play well with others when it comes to artistic collaboration. As an established visual artist, I am accustomed to long hours alone in the studio working through ideas and problems on my own. Of course I am inspired and influenced by many artists, and constructive feedback is always appreciated. But art making for me is primarily a solo gig. At Rensing, I was hanging with Alexis who is the same age as my child. We realized right off that our artistic explorations during the residency had tangential themes. Collaboration just happened. Over the next three weeks, we exchanged ideas and images. We also visited together repositories of local history and culture, such as Central Heritage Museum, Hagood Mill, Upcountry History Museum, Pickens County Museum of Art and History, Soapstone Baptist Church, and Twin Falls. Our collaboration was subtle, rich, and an unexpected bonus for me. I create mixed media constructions that explore shifts in individual values and cultural practices through the stuff we leave behind. I am interested in the interconnectedness of people and communities through time and the shared human desire to remember. Memory, however, is complex and ambiguous. People die or move away, landscape is altered, industries vanish, ways of thinking and doing change. The past persists into the present but altered in a way that boosts our personal identities and beliefs. My father’s people are from this “neck of the woods”— Upcountry to Blue Ridge Mountains —and I spent summers here as a child. The residency offered a unique opportunity for me to examine the deep history of this place through the lens of my constructed memories and respond with art making. Rensing’s location allowed me to also reconnect with family I had not seen in person for many years, sharing photos and stories over home cooked meals. It will all become art. On July 13, I celebrated my birthday with Alexis and my husband, who accompanied me to Pickens. We borrowed Ellen’s binoculars and sat outside in the dark, talking and finding star constellations. We even enjoyed a flyover of the International Space Station. Just before we called it a night, I saw a fabulous streaking meteor – a real fireball! Like a shooting star, the Rensing Artist Residency gave me a fabulous start on a new series of art works, for which I am excited and grateful.

The Houses of the Four Directions

Lynn Webster

June - August 2021

The Houses of the Four Directions

I sit and look through the ocular window at dawn light, kissed by a soft wind and expanding through leaves .  I could hear this first house on the Rensing property calling me to apply for a residency.  I wanted to experience the presence of that particular space.  The idea of home has permeated my work for a long time.  HOME carries so many meanings.  I have a deep concern that as humans we often forget to notice the homes of creatures that were there before us.  When I saw pictures of this little house tucked into the deep woods of South Carolina, I saw a place created to be a sanctuary for humans while honoring the lives of the creatures that have long lived in these ancient forests.   

Rensing Center itself is a place of sanctuary for creativity.  Rensing offers resident artists the openness of allowing a planned residency to transform under the influence of the place.   After a few days here, I began to think about this particular home with four walls and a roof—like many of our houses, essentially a box, and I also began to wonder how the house sees herself. What does she see when she looks out? 

I also recalled my various visits to Navajo country and how the hogan is a mirror for the cosmology of the Dineh.  That cosmology, like the cosmologies of many native peoples, centers the importance of the four directions.  For the Dineh and the Pueblo people, the four sacred mountains define their homeland.  The hogan, their home, is a microcosm of their homeland.  A hogan's door faces east to offer the prayers of dawn, for inspiration.  The south opens to the day and work.  To the west are offered evening prayers for family and friends and a place to rest.  To the north, the mystery of night and prayers of protection and healing.

This Rensing home's ocular window dominates the east wall and provides a magical eye of inspiration—ever changing light and color.  To the south, beautiful trees  and grasses support the work of many creatures.  To the west, through the screened porch, a density of trees.  And to the north, at night, the silhouette shapes of trees accompany sleep. 

I came here with the idea of doing an installation and thinking of prayer strips hanging from a tree.  This idea was transformed by the house. The four small rag-board houses that I have created reflect what the house might see as her connection to the four directions and to nature.  These four houses will hang from the Tulip tree close to the Forge building near the entrance to the Rensing Center property.  They will arrive in summer and spend the four seasons in weather and wind.  I may gather their remnants next spring to begin an archeology of my own work. I offer them as a gift to the spirit of  Rensing Center and I hope these houses, blooming in the Tulip tree, will engage the community.  I hope when we consider building homes that we consider the creatures and plants around us and not displace them, but rather let them embrace us.   I am grateful to the Center for this opportunity and for the good work they continue in the arts community as a whole and in Pickens County.  

Thursday, August 5, 2021

A Gift of Listening

Jessi Harvey

August 2021

Rensing was my first residency, and I came to finally begin a passion piece that I’ve been thinking on for two years. The work is based on a walk I took through the heart of the Rocky Mountains and the sounds I encountered. I wanted to get back to that experience of listening to those sounds and so I was searching for a residency where I could simply sit and listen and remember that state of eternity where every noise starts as a whisper but ends as a roar. Rensing appeared.

And thus, at Rensing I listened. The rustling the leaves as the wind whispers through the trees, the chirp of the cicadas, the buzz of the bees. The sound of a pitchfork going into earth, the occasional whoosh of the cars driving by, the frogs at night. The endless variations of those sounds. I think best when walking so I’d pace up and down the driveway, to the cows, occasionally all the way to the waterfall, and listened, and thought, and remembered.


For two weeks I’ve had a gift that I’ve not had before, time and space to do nothing but create. To not have to force the music to come and when I hit a snag, it was back to walking and listening. As I walked and listened the snarls would untangle and then it was back to my chair outside, rocking back and forth and continuing to compose. When do the horns come in and how do I create a Ponderosa Pine out of sound? Oh, Ok…. Back at it. 


This is my thank you for this lovely gift, wrapped in kindness, of space and time and listening. Thank you to my fabulous cohort, Rachel, who was the best neighbor across the hall one could ask for! Thank you, to Ron, Will, and Ben, and everyone I met for the conversation.  Thank you to Kiely for taking me swimming in a river, one of the only times I’ve done so since leaving Montana. And for the very largest of thank you’s to the most hospitable and kind of directors, Ellen. You have truly sewn together a extraordinary quilt of people, battened by a scenery you could listen to forever, to weave a remarkable residency I hope to return to in the future. 

Jessi Harvey

Friday, July 30, 2021

Last Dawn at Rensing

  Keith Andrews


Last Dawn at Rensing

The car is packed ready to leave

I stand and listen 

Mourning doves harmonize 

It should be morning doves

Squirrels jabbering. 

Squirrley squirrels. 



Woodpecker - or flicker?

A soundless faraway jet

Half a dozen bird calls I can’t identify (find website for birdcalls of upstate So Carolina)

A passing pickup

Bob the cat climbs the tree for no apparent purpose

Sounds of the still decimated, biologically empaupered hillsides – but certainly better today than 80 years ago when their assignment was to erode in exchange for some cotton and corn 


The soundless sounds of the fog clearing 

The last dew drops dropping 

Another far-off pickup going to pick something up

Inner sounds of I wanna stay, but I am off to the next adventure. 

My cold neck and feet, and sweaty torso

My poor old, nearly defeated back and well-worn teeth, and my young inner spirit 

I swear I will never work on a large concrete sculpture again

The dead autumn leaves that just won’t drop 

under them the spring flowers

My own steps and my breathing 

I breathe out my own fog, and it’s gone too


The neighbor’s car starts, and her young boys call out. 

Now a rooster, a domesticated bird celebrates his captive comforts

And dogs, each with its own voice. 

Why can’t I distinguish among individual birds like I can dogs? 

Ducks, Geese, a distant siren…truncated

Another jet

No Duke Energy helicopters yet (or are they really DOD?) 


The poem must be concrete. Mary, have I shown rather than said? 


7 am

Doves launch their squeaking flight. 

My sneeze stops the woodpecker, but not the doves. 

Fog still clearing, and far off 18 wheelers

Soon we will pass by the Three Percenter and Confederate battle flags for the last time

I’m going to miss the potlucks with my eco-oriented gay friends. 


Growth and death

Recovery and degradation, ceaseless combat

Wild and tamed

Melancholy and anticipation

Empathy and idiocy


Violence, ignorance, irresponsibility…. 

Rebirth, goodness and hope

Monday, July 5, 2021

Happy Rensing Memories

 David Wohl

Fort Collins, Colorado
June-July 2021

Happy Rensing Memories

The Rensing Center has been a wonderful experience in every way, and it more than fulfilled my expectations: It’s welcoming, generous, and extremely friendly— Thank you, Ellen, for everything you did for all of us, including giving me your smoked paprika for my hummus! The natural beauty of the area and its tranquility have given me the spiritual space, rest, and inspiration to make significant progress on four new piano works, orchestrations on a wind symphony piece, and songs for a new musical that will have a reading in NYC, shortly. Other highlights include joining (on keyboard) jam sessions with the local talent at the Ale House, the Wednesday Flea Market, verdant hikes, and hanging out with my talented and friendly colleagues. Oh, and the sumptuous weekly Sunday evening potluck, filled with jokes, shop talk, friendly gossip, and ghost stories!

How is the Writing Going?

Kayla Rutledge

Chapel Hill, North Carolina
June-July 2021

How is the Writing Going?

There is only one thing about Rensing I don’t like. I’m here for a few days before it happens, but when it starts, it doesn’t stop. It’s not a thing, really. It’s a question. 


Someone looks up and asks, “How is the writing going?”


“Good,” I say, trying not to flinch. “Good.” 


In my regular life, this is enough. “Good,” and then a change of subject. Usually, the friend or family member asking looks relieved, obliged to ask but reluctant at the prospect of an entire conversation about the artistic process (a topic that always manages to feel both intriguing and unnatural, like live TV musicals). It turns out that at Rensing, when people ask you, “How is the writing going?” they actually want to know. They are not satisfied with, “Good.”


Read other blogs if you want to know every beautiful thing about this place: that the South isn’t what you think it is, that it teems with waterfalls and copper-backed cows and people who keep their deathbed promises. The South is a silver trout wrapped in tinfoil, the smell of basil under your fingernails, beauty made with elbow grease, a row of wet white dishes on the sideboard. The one bar in Pickens County sings happy birthday to a year-old baby girl. At the flea market, I trade one of my lungs for a harmonica and a peach too soft to be cut with a knife. Did you know that fireflies come up, like worms, after rain? 


For three weeks, this place and its people deliver this kind of beauty to me in abundance. In return, they ask one question: “How is the writing going?” 


And for most of my time here, I don’t know how to answer.


At first, I try something vague and intellectual, like: I’m trying not to see writing as a linear process, Really, I think the idea of incremental productivity is inherently capitalistic. I’m working toward a mindset where I see every time I sit down at the desk as an integral step of the artistic journey, regardless of the output I produce for that day. (I can almost hear the asker thinking, Oh, brother.)


It’s only now, as I leave, that I realize I’ve misunderstood the question.


I remembered, recently, this quote, from the author C Pam Zhang: “When I say, I hope the writing is going well, I am saying, I hope you are able to access the truest part of yourself; I am saying, I hope you feel thrillingly alive to possibility; I am saying, I hope you feel human.”

See, I thought that “How is the writing going?” was one of those questions people ask to make sure that the world is running efficiently: What did you learn at school today? How is the weather looking? Did you finish your chores?


I still don’t know how to answer that kind of question. Mostly because I don’t like to lie, and any answer I could give would be a lie. The person I am when I’m talking to people and cooking for potlucks and hiking doesn’t write anything. Writing Me lives somewhere else, in an adjacent apartment in my brain. She does things like drive and drift off to sleep and start the kettle on the stove. She will not be dragged out by one heel to be asked if she has finished her chores.


At Rensing, I learn that there is the possibility of another, gentler kind of question, the kind we ask that mean, How are you? Questions like: Did you sleep alright? Are you feeling better? How’s your garden doing?


How is the writing going? Or, as C Pam Zhang says, “Were you able to access the truest part of yourself today?”


In my religious tradition, before we leave the sanctuary for the end of the service, the pastor offers what is called a benediction. A benediction is a blessing, a wish for protection, a bridge to join the sacred with the often scary, confusing world in which we live. Perhaps, I realize, when people ask me, “How is the writing going?” they are trying to offer a benediction. How can I fault them for that?


(When you receive a benediction, you do as I have done these past three weeks. You open your fists; you hold out your hands.)


A Benediction, for Rensings:


While you are here, and after:

May you give what you can to the work of your hands —

Your time, your worry, your tears, your friendship (which is really to say, your love.) 

Refuse the first and shallow answer: “Good.”

In my tradition, they say: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return —

Which means, All living feels a little bit like dying

And don’t get too big of a head.

Which means, everything ends, but that’s not the same as nothing matters —

And it is not weakness to need a reminder, every so often, of the order of things.

Remember the part of you that creates is a friend, and not a mad woman in the attic,

The bridge between the sacred and ordinary

Stretches between Ellen and Evelyn’s porches. It sounds like: I care about you.

Above all, may you have “courage, and gaiety, and the quiet mind.”

Go in peace, and when you return, ask one another:

How is the sculpting, the quilting, the drawing, the music, the photography, the writing, going?

Renew and Reset

Heather Deyling

Atlanta, Georgia
June-July 2021

Renew and Reset

I had been looking forward to a residency at the Rensing Center for many months (my residency was deferred due to COVID). The return to normalcy (at least in the US) was in sight in May as I wrapped up a challenging year of teaching art virtually. A change of pace and scenery was exactly what I needed.


When I arrived at Rensing, I immediately noticed the stillness and fresh air. Soon, I met Ellen, who was extremely welcoming. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the residency, but that evening’s potluck set the tone for the next three weeks. It was a lovely evening filled with friendly people, lively conversation and great food. That night I met fellow residents Hilary and Kayla, as well as Rensing associates Ashley, Jon, Will and Kiley. Within a few days, I met Evelyn, Ron, Benny and Wanrudee, another resident. Everyone was approachable, kind, interesting and curious.


Rensing provided so much more than change of pace and scenery. Here, I was able to slow down and find time and space to let my mind wander. I was productive but never felt that I had to be working. The opportunity to slow down, relax and reflect allowed me to work intuitively and indulge creative tangents without the self-critical voice in my head questioning every move I made. I found awe in the mountains, fireflies and stars and peace in the sounds of cicadas and waterfalls. The COVID fog lifted and the stress of the academic year dissipated quickly. 


Working in the studio was balanced by outings and activities. Highlights include dinners at Ellen’s place, Tuesday evenings at the Ale House for “Pickin’ in Pickens”, Wednesday mornings at the flea market, a fish fry and Juneteenth service at the Soapstone Baptist Church, a music festival at Hagood Mill, hiking, Art Share, an evening at Jon’s place and a trip to Greenville. I loved hearing Hilary play her banjo at the Ale House and at the music festival, listening to Kayla read an excerpt from her novel and seeing Wanrudee’s photos at Art Share. Eventually, another musician, David, joined us. It was a treat to hear him play keyboard at the Ale House.


The generosity of the people at Rensing is striking. Ellen is an incredibly gracious host and has built something very special here. She has talent for drawing wonderful people to her and subsequently the Rensing Center. Kiley and Will took us hiking. Jon shared his knowledge of native plants and gave a tour property and beautiful gardens. Ron shared many tasty dishes and Evelyn shared stories. I am thankful for them and my fellow residents, who shared their work and passion.


Leaving will be bittersweet. I will miss these people and this place. But I also leave with a renewed sense of purpose and beautiful memories. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Divergence of Birds

Carolyn Monastra

Brooklyn, New York
May-June 2021

Divergence of Birds


My two-weeks at the Rensing Center passed so quickly that my time there almost feels like a dream I might have had while napping in my New York City apartment. Rensing is indeed a dreamy place: meandering trails, cascading waterfalls, twisted mountain laurels, flitting bluebirds, chatty mockingbirds, a picturesque pasture with cows, and pieces of artwork that punctuate the landscape. These pieces of eye-candy greeted me as I wandered the Center’s grounds during the day, location-scouting for spots to photograph when the light was “just right.” At night, flashing fireflies, cooing whip-poor-wills, chirping crickets, dramatic displays of heat lightning and summer thunderstorms also made my time there seem other-worldly. 


Although the natural environment was the main attraction for me when applying to Rensing, the people I met there and the social activities I engaged in, will remain a  significant part of my memories. After nearly fifteen months of near isolation during the pandemic, the first few gatherings almost felt transgressive. But mingling with nearly a dozen strangers at the first Sunday potluck was also exhilarating and the perfect way to re-enter the world.  Ending that night with a bonfire under the stars and listening to the more musically-talented among us sing while strumming banjo and guitar, I knew that the next two weeks would be idyllic. And they were. 


I came to Rensing to continue work on “Divergence of Birds” – my conceptual photography project about climate impacts on birds. Inspired by the National Audubon Society’s “Climate Report” and the futuristic dystopian story, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” for this project, I am photographing paper cutouts of climate-threatened birds to allude to the fact that, in a future warming world, facsimiles of our favorite species might be all we might have left to enjoy. 


Rensing and neighboring locations, provided the perfect backdrops in which to set up and photograph paper cutouts of the birds that are typically found in this region: Brown Thrashers, Worm-eating Warblers, American Goldfinches, Eastern Meadowlarks, Ovenbirds, Tree Swallows and many others, whose range of habitat is changing due to climate impacts such as increasing temperatures, early Springs, and heavy storms. 


Ellen did a wonderful job of setting the stage for me to immerse myself in my work by selecting a book from the impressive Rensing library for me: “Home Place” by J. Drew Lanham, an ornithologist and professor at nearby Clemson University. Although Lanham grew up in Edgefield (about two hours southeast as the crow flies), his memoir, which relates his early love of birds and nature, was the perfect literary companion for my residency.


Ellen also aided my work by connecting me with Imtiaz, another Clemson professor who is also an avid birder and wildlife photographer. We had tea with Imtiaz and his wife Mary and discussed birds, photography, and how to try to effectively engage people with art and the environment. 


Engagement is a key word here. Ellen, Ashley and Rensing’s cohort of board members, volunteers and friends, are very engaged with the local community and want us temporary visitors to enjoy the region as much as they do. Thus, besides the Sunday Potluck dinners, this included a tour of the carnivorous plants at the South Carolina Botanical Garden with naturalist Dr. David Bradshaw, the weekly Bluegrass jam at the Alehouse, John’s tour of his gorgeous permaculture garden, fresh produce and goods from the Clemson Area Food Exchange, a late afternoon glass of wine and conversation with the elegant Evelyn, and a send-off breakfast on my day of departure. I also visited the flea market, Hagood Mill and did some solo birding on the Doodle Trail where I saw a Brown Thrasher literally thrashing about in some kudzu.


Field research is an important part of my artwork. Since I still consider myself a beginning birder, before leaving Brooklyn, I reached out to local birders to see if there were any upcoming trips I could attend. David, the president of the Greenville County Bird Club (GCBC) invited me to join a club trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway during my first week in South Carolina.


For years, I considered myself a night owl but working on “Divergence of Birds” has reluctantly turned me into an early bird – rising before the sun to see and learn about the real birds whose existence are threatened. Despite early gloomy skies and forgetting my binoculars (thankfully Denise, a club member, loaned me a pair!) the day turned out to be beautiful, educational and fun. We saw a total of sixty-six bird species – several of which were firsts for me including four Flycatchers, a Red Crossbill, Blue Grosbeak and the diminutive and charming Canada Warbler. A few days later, I met several of the GCBC members again at an Advocacy Day sponsored by the SC Audubon Chapter at Lake Conestee. The workshop focused ways to reach out to legislatures to engage them in protecting the environment for our benefit as well as that of the birds.  


My time in Rensing flew by, but, was so packed with engaging conversations (with the locals as well as the artists-in-residence Hilary and Doreen), the sweet sounds of birds and banjos, walks in the woods, food and lots of photographing, that I know the connections I made and the memories of my time there will stay with me for months and years to come. I am so grateful to Ellen, Evelyn, Ashley, Ron, John, and everyone else I met for making this re-entry into a post-pandemic world so stress-free. 


As a parting gift, Ellen gave me a jar of compost from the Rensing garden. I plan to re-pot some culinary herbs with it. Then, when I cook with them, I can think back on my dreamy time at Rensing and the nurturing spirit of this special home-away-from-home place.  

To learn more about "Divergence of Birds" go to my website and/or follow me on Instagram to see the work I will soon be posting from my residency.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Elastic Experiences

Hilary Hawke

Brooklyn, New York
May-June 2021

Elastic Experiences

“The world is not what I thought, it is different and more, and I have seen it with my own eyes” - Mary Oliver, after watching a spider in a web for many days. 

There’s a knot in my stomach as I’m about to board the plane heading back to LaGuardia airport, NYC after being at Rensing Center for 3 weeks.  I am aware this post is public so I need to state a disclaimer that I’m writing this from the heart.  Honesty is messy, and that’s what happens if you let yourself be honest. So here it is, knowing without a doubt that we will have different experiences depending on our mindset and how elastic we allow ourselves to be. 

Today, Ellen drove me to the airport, which she proclaims is one of her favorite moments with the “Rensings” because we really get to talk.  She’s right, it’s a good time.  The Prius pulled us out of town, but not before she started telling me about a podcast she heard about how the brain becomes more flexible and elastic with the more discussion, interaction, and stimulation it has. I began to wonder if this also meant that the more you get used to stimulating your brain, the more enjoyment you will obtain out of life. 

The thing is, I am really comfortable residing in my creative mind. I love being there, and after a year of having the music world shut down, and only surviving creatively on livestreams, I was ready to be alone and isolated at the Rensing Center to solely work on my music and writing.  Being alone and isolated is not what happened the whole time though, and while at the Rensing Center I felt my mind pull and stretch as I adjusted.   I won’t keep you in suspense, so I’ll tell you right away. The support I felt at the Rensing Center was unlike anything I had received in my artistic career.  There were aware and positive people in the community and on-site, all devoted to making the Rensing Center successful as well as celebrate my time there. 

The day I arrived, everything was feeling perfect as I met the talented residents (Doreen and Carolyn, and then Kayla and Heather) and saw my peaceful space in the Forge.  I had an amazing communal dinner that night with the brilliant John Fritz, Ashley Felder, Ron and Benny, and (eventually met dear Evelyn and many other volunteers and friends at these dinners).  

The next morning, weary from a night of bizarre dreams from all the travel,  I went to the waterfall and walked all the way to the end.  I walked straight there quickly, only stopping to read the clay markers that named some of the highlighted plants and trees on the path. I  made a goal to memorize all those markers so I would know some of the plant life in this part of South Carolina. Feeling very acute, determined, and much too disciplined I walked all the way to the end of the trail and found my fellow resident there enjoying a sit on the lawn chairs that marked the end. I briefly said “Hi”, and then went on my way, sure that I would find more trail to continue on.  There wasn’t a visible path anymore, but I still crossed the stream and walked through tall weeds and wiped away wispy spider webs until I slipped down the embankment landing on my rear, and letting out a loud “whoop!”  Feeling embarrassed, I was hoping that my resident friend didn’t hear me. So I sat there on the green spongy ground, and realized, my mind wasn’t really there.  I started thinking something was wrong with me.  Why wasn’t I more comfortable being social, and being around people? I wondered.  I hiked quickly back home to the peaceful solitude of the forge and settled into my space.  That night, and the next morning I wrote and wrote like there was a geyser of thoughts spurting out of my mind dissolving and transforming onto the paper.   It was like I was all bottled up until I got to Rensing Center, and now, like the waterfall, it was pouring out of me.   When I needed a break I returned to the waterfall, again and again. Everyday I went and wandered through the stream, right into the water with my shoes off. I walked on the stones as the stream bended and curved deeply through the woods.  I stared up at the sun splitting it’s light through the branches that hung like giant umbrellas over the stream. I took pictures of the tendrils and vines, and of the bent tree and mossy logs and put their images into my writing. I was completely, hooked and utterly spellbound.  I was surprised it didn’t hit me the first day, and it occurred to me what a state of mind I must have been in to miss this moment.  

How many other moments do I miss when I’m in that state of mind?  Am I utterly starving for this connection to nature?  So, this is why I included the Mary Oliver quote at the beginning. To me, it’s about perspective, and the state of mind that we allow ourselves to be in.  If we go to a new place, and only see the world through what we need to accomplish there is only a small part of our surroundings to see.  If we decide to allow some of the surroundings to effect our state of mind, we see further and deeper into what is really around us.  So, it begs me to ask, what is the reason I craved a residency?  What is the reason you want a residency?, as you sit here, possibly reading this far into my blog post.  

Ellen reads a Robert Louis Stevenson poem before our communal dinners every Sunday. Call it a toast, or a prayer, it is a wonderful perspective to keep in mind.  The line that calls out forth, loudly to me is, “Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind”. When she would finish reading this, I always would say in my mind, and sometimes out-loud, “Quiet mind, quiet mind, a quiet mind!”.  It’s worth cheering!  It is what I found at the Rensing Center!  It’s what I was craving from a residency. 

As I conclude my post, I would just like to add a note about the music from the community and the wonderful nature opportunities in the surrounding areas.  Do go see it, experience it!   Gaze into the different spider webs you’ll see on a trail and think a million thoughts!  Get lost in the brilliants sounds of a fiddle as it plays an old Appalachian tune.  Allow yourself to stretch and be pulled into these moments because they are your moments to enjoy!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Windows and Wombs: The Rensing Experience

Doreen Dodgen-Magee
Tualatin, OR
May-June 2021

Windows and Wombs: The Rensing Experience

I sit, with the Guest House’s round, bubbled window offering me a portal into the small of the wider world. A tiny, dried up spider corpse remains plastered to its external surface while ants, some the length of a quarter, scurry across its smooth protruding surface. Busy, busy, busy… they are always so busy. 

I can relate to their rush, the sense of responsibility to the wider community, the need to be part of the colony, pulling my weight. 

I have come to this place to try a different way. To worry less about the clock. To think less about productivity. To try something other than the grind of playing my part in the never ending ant parade. To create. What I didn’t know when I planned to come (packed my bag full of books and writing tools, added in a package of dried split peas in case there was no food to be found, stuffed dehydrated coffee flakes into baggies, and tucked in a bit of makeup…just in case), was that everything I needed was already here.

 On my second evening at Rensing, I ventured up the path toward the Pottery, clueless as to what I would find. Ellen, on her way down from Evelyn’s, encouraged me to hike down to the waterfall. “Look for the ‘chain link’ guide marker then follow the trail to find Shelby’s colored karate belts. Go along the pasture. Don’t stop until you get to the platform. It should only take about 10 minutes.” 

I am, I should note, a city person and am used to the world of maps and guidebooks and phones with GPS and the ability to call someone if lost. I hadn’t planned on departing the gravel path so was wearing sandals and didn’t have a phone or watch with me.

 I walked, timidly, for what felt like 20 minutes and saw no pasture, no karate belts, and no waterfall. I was a bit on edge. The sun was setting and I felt uneasy, uncertain as to where I was and where I was going. I turned back, wondering if anyone would notice if I had never returned.

 The next day, with plenty of light, better shoes, and a fully charged phone, I went back. I was one more day in to my decompression, my entrance in to a way of being that could roll more easily with the punches, that wasn’t on the clock, that was about discovery rather than productivity. I breathed deeply, I looked up and around, I spotted the karate belts and the pasture (which had been there all along), and found the deck. I stayed for hours. I timed the walk back…it only took me ten minutes.

 I had been so off kilter the night before, the fear of the unknown warping my ability to tell time or notice details. On this third day, however, I was finally settling in. My Rensing dwelling was becoming like a womb, nurturing new parts of me to be birthed while here. Slower parts, solitary parts, the internal eye that’s finding it ok to be more concerned with my own noticing whether I’ve returned home than with others taking note.

 Like this widow that reaches out into the wild, I have found myself venturing further and further into the unknown parts of myself in these three weeks at Rensing. Being here has turned my attention from the minutes that pass and the number of words that I write to the exploration of that which has been “out there,” just beyond the self imposed boundaries that make up the me that I present to the world. Just as this bubble brings the sensations and sights of wind and rain, flora and fauna, insect and squirrel inside, I have discovered, here, a window into my own self in a powerful new way. I now see/feel the markers on the path to my own being…just like a series of chain link, karate belts, and, pathways lead to the waterfall, I am becoming aware and attuned to the journey inside. I’m getting more comfortable with it, more available to the process.

 I have found loves here…Ellen, Evelyn, Ashley, Ron, John, Will and so many others. I have been inspired by them and by the residents that I have been honored to share space with. More than anything, however, I have begun a journey toward loving my self, honoring my need for solitude and silence, and finding a new voice in my writing…the reason that I am here. 

May every one who graces this space be filled with its peace, inspired by the creativity in every breath and blink of those they encounter here, and be cocooned, as I was, in such a way that they are able to give birth to new ways of being. 

May it be so.

 (Thank you to Ellen, and her team, for selecting me for this experience. I am leaving a part of my heart here to return to in time. I will never be able to say thank you enough.) 

Writing on Humidity and Humility

Margaret Foster

Chapel Hill, NC
May 2021

Writing on Humidity and Humility

Carmen Maria Machado, the writer whose work I came to Rensing to emulate, writes that setting is made alive by perspective.  Places are not neutral, any more than their inhabitants.   

Nothing about Rensing is neutral.  Everything has a story, a history: the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf full of books by Rensing residents; the blue double-doors exiting the library that no one uses, designed by one of Ellen’s non-biological children; the art on every wall and surface; the antique furniture; the garden.  Here, everything feels precious: the moments I spend brushing my teeth, normally empty, become a geography lesson as I contemplate the maps that paper the bathroom wall.  Every afternoon invites a new hike, new live music, a new sky over the cows’ enclosure. 

Each day, I switch through writing-places like the rooms in a Roman bathhouse: first in the tepid Forge while my coffee brews, then in the atrium off the library, which I think of as an especially hot sunroom, then the cool interior of the library, then the Forge again to boil more water for more coffee.  In the late afternoons, when the sun is low enough that I can avoid sticky sunscreen, I sit in the chairs outside the library, reading or typing away.  It’s in these quiet moments that I find myself wishing for more time here, yet feel so grateful to leave my own footprints in a place so full of life and memories. 

I’m not a professional storyteller; I’m more like a curator, describing and archiving people and things, arranging them just so in an attempt to make meaning.  Being in a place that has been marked by so many footsteps and handprints is impactful, to say the least; I’m not sure I have the words or the language to express what it feels like to be here, except that it seems to be the loveliest of dreams.  It’s humbling, too: going to the Wednesday flea market, Ingles, and Bee Well is all a reminder of how much I am an outsider, a temporary visitor.  This is marked most acutely by my mask, which I still wear in public even outside.  But it’s marked in other, subtler ways, too: I don’t quite know how to engage in this kind of small town small talk, but I let the folks around me take the lead and try to let myself get swept up in it. 

At least on the latter point, I’ve been successful: two weeks’ time is not enough here!  I can’t wait to visit again, see Jon’s garden in a different season, spoil Charlie the cat some more, and enjoy more of Ellen’s cooking and conversation. 

The recipe for gluten-free peanut butter cookies:
Ingredients: 2 cups coconut sugar (or 1.5 cups brown sugar); 2 eggs (preferred fresh from Jen and Mike’s farm); ½ teaspoon vanilla extract; ¼ teaspoon salt; 16-oz jar of peanut butter (or your nut or seed butter of choice—about 1.25 cups); chocolate chips to taste; sea salt garnish to taste. 

Whisk the sugar and eggs together in a bowl.  Add in the vanilla and salt and mix until smooth.  Mix in the peanut butter until texture is smooth (make sure you get the bottom of the bowl).  Add chocolate chips to your heart’s desire.  Then cool in the fridge for at least half an hour (don’t skip this step!). 

When your half hour is up, preheat the oven to 350F.  Then roll into cookies and put in the oven.  Depending on how big your cookies are, this could be 5-10 minutes.  I usually make tiny cookies, start at 4-5 minutes, and check on them every minute after that.  They’re done when the top looks a little crinkly and has some small holes.  Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. 

Link to original recipe: 

This is the recipe I used for the homemade caramel (I usually make the brownies, too, but I didn’t have baker’s chocolate):
And for the brownies that I stirred the caramel into (no baker’s chocolate required):