The area surrounding Johnson and the VSC consists of forested hillsides which are lovely to walk in. One day at lunch, my new friend Rosa mentioned a beautiful “golden” tree she had seen on a walk. We thought she was talking about foliage, but she said no, it had bark that truly looked like gold. I didn’t believe this was possible, and I wanted to see it for myself. So four of us went out to see the golden tree, and I can now say that it really does exist. So cool! (It’s actually a Yellow Birch.)
Vermont Studio Center is located in the town of Johnson – population 3446 as of the 2010 U.S. Census – one of many small towns that dot Route 15. There are only a couple of restaurants/bars – The Hub, for pizza, pool, and karaoke on Saturday nights, and Wicked Wings, with a somewhat more extensive menu of bar-type food, plus Wok’n House, which I never did make it to. There’s a brand-new grocery store, quite nice, and two laundromats. Most of the houses are older, and the VSC owns several of these for housing the residents. I stayed in Mason House, which is one of the nicer ones, or so I’m told.
Besides the time and space to work in a creative atmosphere among other artists, Vermont Studio Center offers a number of additional opportunities. My favorite of these was open studios night, which took place twice while I was there. Most of the time, people work behind closed doors and are rather private about what’s going on in their respective sanctuaries, or lairs. But after dinner on these special nights, those who wish to do so open their studio doors and then everyone walks among the various studio buildings to see what their compatriots have been up to. It is quite the festive affair, and a good time is had by all. I was extremely impressed by the amount of talent and creativity gathered in one place and quite honored to be counted among them.
Another sharing opportunity came in the form of “slide nights” for the visual artists, or “resident readings” for the writers. These were spread out over the weeks so that a particular session lasted about an hour. Each artist who chose to participate had 5 minutes to show digital images and talk about themselves and their work. Writers had 10 minutes to read whatever they chose. Most read something they were working on while at the residency.
My work during this time consisted of some new paintings and experimental work as well as a continuation of my Excavations series. I’ve been collecting various types of “found” papers like bills and financial reports, books in foreign languages, sheet music, maps, bingo score sheets, and many other things. The first weekend I was here, there was a fantastic church rummage sale where I picked up a dictionary, a church hymnal, and a collection of patriotic document reproductions. These, along with the wrappers from some chocolate bars I ate while here and some outer wrappers from the toilet tissue here all provided great material for these pieces.
As I work on these, I’ve started to picture them from the point of view of a sort of archaeologist from the future, perhaps from a faraway planet, who comes to Earth after we’ve destroyed our society and tries to make sense of all the many and varied materials we left behind, perhaps in an attempt to learn what happened to us. I’m thinking about the incredible amount of knowledge and information available in the world, but at the same time how it is not available to everyone. Access to information is carefully controlled and messages are manipulated for the benefit of some and to the detriment of others. How do we sort out what’s really important?
And now for your enjoyment, more photos of ridiculously photogenic Vermont.
Have you ever had the luxury of being able to do pretty much whatever you want, all day and every day, with no demands or interruptions whatsoever? Well, I myself have not, but for an artist, this is about as close as it gets. A huge studio, 3 great meals a day prepared by other people, and the ability to come and go as you please without worrying about the time of day all combine to make this an incredible environment for creativity and productivity.
One of the VSC co-founders, Jon Gregg, stood up during dinner the first night to welcome all the new residents and had some advice for us. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but he basically said, “All you people (artists and writers) have come here and have put all kinds of pressure on yourself about what you’re going to do while you’re here. Well, there are 7 billion people in the world, many of them just struggling to survive, and when you think about that, you realize that no one cares.” Way to put things in perspective! We were thus freed from the self-imposed responsibility to do great things.
Why then, did it take me so long to get into the groove? Having brought a great variety of materials and supplies, I was at first in a quandary as to what to make. I guess it’s that idea again that constraints and limits are, paradoxically, rather freeing. Also, the working environment here took some getting used to for me. There are lots of people in this particular studio building, and the walls are thin. So we all have to be really quiet. Everyone goes into their studio and closes the door, and we’re all very hush-hush. You can hear people walking around because the floors creak, and sometimes there are tiny scratching sounds when people are drawing or painting. The rest of the sounds are intermittent, as people go in and out, drag their chairs across the floor, hammer on things, or use hair dryers, etc. I need to have something to listen to in order to engage my left brain while I’m working on art, but I hate in-the-ear headphones, and that’s all I have. So I’m still getting used to that.
And most importantly, I’ve never been to New England before, much less in the fall, so I had to spend some time just taking in the glorious scenery.