Notes from the Rensing Center, part I: Solitude and Little Houses

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, and it reflects my initial experiences here at the Rensing Center in Pickens, South Carolina, where I've been an artist in residence since early February. Despite the delay (and the fact that the lovely ice has melted now), I think I'll go ahead and share what I've been thinking about, seeing, and making while I've been here. 

I'm sitting in the Guest House at the Rensing Center, a tiny house perched at the top of a wooded slope, overlooking a small lake across the road. The wind is blowing through the trees, shaking loose the ice that coated the branches after the storm. The light is beautiful, and makes the ice glisten. I've got food cooking on the stove and art in progress on the table. It's peaceful, and I'm making art I've been wanting to make, working on projects I drew in my sketchbook months ago and hadn't been able to actually create until now. 

But first there's the little house and the solitude that makes this all possible. To make art, I need peace and solitude. Deep down, I know that I know that, but I tend to forget and need to be reminded from time to time. Since leaving my job a little over a year ago, I've spent a lot of time in fairly communal living environments. I've learned a lot and done a lot, but have largely been without the physical and emotional space I need to create effectively. And I found that here: in this little house and in the nature that surrounds it. 

And so, as I began to work, I found that I was thinking about the meaning of solitude and about little houses, about how peaceful and right they felt. I was also thinking about bookbinding... and so I made book that was a small house (see below). I wasn't sure if it was possible when I started to make a book the shape of a house... and yet it works. It's sewn on both sides and does not open; it thus uses the bookbinding techniques sculpturally, rather than functionally. I think of it as a treehouse, and know that it will serve as a reminder of the peace that's found here, in this little house among the trees. 

I also found that I wanted to make enclosures for some other recent images -- very minimal photographs of lines in nature in winter that I made just before arriving here. I thus made two clamshell boxes which hold the image like unbound books (or like a home for a pile of previously loose prints). 

I had, after the first week, been feeling like I had not made a lot (I've spent a lot of time walking around in the woods instead of making things), but when I stacked up what I'd completed so far I was happy -- with the individual objects... and also, curiously, with how they looked stacked vertically. So here's the first batch of works from the Rensing Center, all in a pile:

And then details of the individual pieces, below:

This is one of the clamshell boxes, closed, followed by images of both of them open, with the prints inside. I like the that book cloth is color coordinated with the prints themselves (toned or not toned). Lucky me for bringing the supplies I didn't know I needed until I was here... sometimes these things just work out. 

But back to the ice storm I mentioned earlier: I didn't think when I decided to come to the South in winter that I would encounter, well, real winter. But I have. Fortunately for me, I really like winter. I've been living places that don't get weather, exactly, and the ice and snow I've experienced here have reminded me of how much I've missed the changing seasons, missed the way they remind us that we're tied into a cycle of life that's much larger and more enduring than we are. I believe this awareness matters, believe it helps keep my own life in perspective. I think this is important as an artist, as well as someone who wants to understand and express more of what it means to be human in the world.

And winter is just beautiful. Tiny icicles everywhere. I love how fragile yet protected everything looked when encased in ice. 

And so I sat at the kitchen table in the Guest House, making small things in a warm space, while thinking about my relationship to the big spaces of the world outside, while the snow fell softly through the trees.