I've been home almost a month from my four weeks in Vermont, and I thought I'd try to give some kind of report of my time there... but wow, it's been a readjustment, so forgive the delay.
Thanks to the generous support of 43 donors (!) to my GoFundMe campaign this winter, I spent from early May to early June at VSC, up in the tiny town of Johnson, VT, in the amazing company of 50+ other artists and writers. VSC has acquired many of the downtown's buildings, preserving the look and feel of the town while providing vital workspace for visiting artists every month. Each artist and writer is provided with a private room in a shared residence, plus a private studio appropriate to the type of work being done: painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics and clay, installation and performance art, writers' quarters, etc.
I had a huge, bright, my-god-i-miss-it-now space, on the ground floor of a building overlooking a grassy lawn called Mason Green. There, the red Adirondack chairs beckoned the weary (or undermotivated) to flop out and ponder the rushing Gihon River whenever possible. My sleeping quarters were in an old house across the street, two doors from the Red Mill where meals and social activities happened... so I was as close to everything as I could have asked. No chance of inadvertently walking off all the bacon and eggs, in other words. The food at VSC was outstanding -- healthy but not overbearingly so, delicious and plentiful, and served in a communal dining room that strategically only holds about the number of residents at the Center at any given time. (In other words, no hiding out at the furthest table by yourself... you mix in with the cohort, and it makes all the difference in getting to know people.)
On various nights there were readings by resident or visiting writers, and slide talks by resident/visiting artists, which provided a chance for everyone to see and hear each other in action. The supportive discussions that often sprung from these short presentations were really helpful, and combined with two Center-wide open-studios nights, we all got acquainted a lot easier than I would've expected in such a short time.
The rest of the time at VSC was unstructured, self-directed and exactly what I needed. A typical day went like this:
6-7AM: Wake, look out at the mountains and the river literally outside my window. Pinch self.
7:30-8:30...9...9:30... : Eat either oatmeal and toast (meh) or bacon and eggs (yessss) for breakfast, depending on what day it is. (Brunch on Sunday mornings: well worth dragging out of bed for.) Get pulled into intense, wide-ranging, nourishing conversations with lingering tablemates until the dining-room crew flashes the lights to get everyone the hell out of their way for cleanup. Off to studio.
9ish to noonish: Studio Part I: Get centered, small experiments, finish up remaining minor moves from day before; lay out some bigger goals or moves for today; try to avoid the lure of lolling on Mason Green. What, lunchtime already?
12-1PM: Lunch. Quicker than breakfast, delicious; no bacon, but with a salad bar.
1-6PM: Studio Part II: Hit it hard, tear it down, push it til it breaks, put it back together. Ask questions you don't have time or space to ask back home. Think in action. This is why you're here, make it count. Bluetooth earbuds, Spotify, get way off the planet and explore. Bring back shiny space-rocks to study later. Try to ignore green grass and flashing water outside. Okay, maybe a ten-minute break. Back to work. What if I, what could this, how did it, where can it, how about, yeah why not. Dinnertime already?
6PM: Dinner. Everyone buzzing with creative energy or depleted from same. Dinner is always good. If I had someone to chop and peel and slice veg for me, I'd have a salad bar at every meal. Studio work makes you unexpectedly hungry. Clinking glasses signal a round of community announcements from around the room. Bus your dishes; time for cocktail-hour on the porch at a friend's house. (Cocktails = starts out with whiskey, by the end of the month it devolves to cheap beer from the Mobil station. Cost-effective, with zero negative effect on good cheer. Didn't know Genesee was still in business.) Head up the street to the evening's reading/presentation along with most of the other residents. Marvel at what weird, vital, cool things everyone is up to. Pinch self again.
9-??PM: Studio Part III (happened exactly twice for me; I'm not what you'd call a nighthawk), or Cocktails Part II, or communal bonfire, or karaoke at the local pizzeria/bar, or Game of Thrones group viewing, Open Studios or whatever else might be going on. Yours Truly opted for a quick drink and an earlyish bedtime more often than not; but it was nice to have options.
The first week went by before I realized it; just learning names and faces and locations and etc. was its own project. Week Two saw a settling-into routines and the finishing of the first wave of small paintings, while doing some exploratory swiping at larger pieces I hadn't really expected to move on. Week Three was peak time for me; clicked-in, talking and thinking about painting every day, pushing on some ideas I'd been having for ages and some technical things I'd wanted to try, and having a great time doing it. I spoke to a few visiting artists and had studio visits which were, if not revolutionary, at least useful for confirming some things I'd hoped my work was putting across. I finished a couple of big pieces and seven or eight small ones, plus some work on paper -- and while I knew I'd need time to really be able to digest and "see" the work, it was pointing the way toward something. Or out of something. Not sure; still digesting. Week Four had a graduation-week feeling; will we see each other out there somewhere? Will this experience change things? Should I get the MFA I never got? Will all this stuff fit in my car/luggage/shuttle-bus? Will there be bacon back home?
It went that quickly and seemed that telegraphic; a blur of faces and artwork and ideas and more belly-laughs than I'd thought possible while surrounded by people who were very likely to self-identify as introverts. I'd arrived kind of tired and washed-out from a long year of making work and chasing shows, and found VSC to be a mellow, supportive, restorative place that I missed almost immediately after getting home. Would I go again? Yes... with an asterisk... that being that I'd probably stay two weeks next time, and go in with a specific project to finish or a show to paint for. In this particular chapter of my life, having a month there was a blessing, and gave me time to "recreate" as well as create, both of which were of equal importance. Next time, I think I'd be able to get down to business more quickly and focus more specifically, now that I know my way around. But don't quote me on that... if I had to stay another month, I'm sure I'd find a way to manage. :)
Thanks for reading; and thanks again to everyone who helped make this residency possible, whether financially or by covering for me back home. Could literally not have done it without you. And to the May 2016 VSC alums who might stumble across this: you, each and all, made my month. Cheers and keep in touch! --A.