The Grass IS Greener: A Life Changing Artist Experience

Happy New Year to you, Art Bite Blog fans! I thought I would start the new year with an inspiring story that will hopefully move you in a good direction for 2018. If you are stuck or need prodding like I did when the events in this story took place, it might help nudge you out of your rut. I have shared this story in bits in pieces, but never in full. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did in recalling and writing it.

In 2014 I was awarded my first month long residency at Jentel Artist Residency in Banner Wyoming. I applied for this residency in 2013 out of utter desperation. I had been grieving the sudden loss of someone very special to me and as a result, I hadn’t been in the studio or made any work for over two years. When I did receive an invitation to this residency, it was manna from heaven. I drove from my home in Philadelphia to Wyoming-a first for me to travel that far on my own. Although I had been out west many times, I had never traveled at ground level, witnessed the marked changes in terrain, the changes in the light from blue to green to gold or watched the sunset for three hours as I drove due west. As I made my way further away from my home, I felt the mountains of guilt, grief and depression fall away from my shoulders and as each mile passed, I felt lighter and more free.
The residency is located on a thousand acre working cattle ranch with trees, foothills, desert flowers, a lovely creek, rattlesnakes, deer and porcupines. I was in love at first sight with the raw beauty of the land and the huge sky that I could see for forever. Behind the house was the tallest mountain on the property and for some reason, I got it into my head that before the end of the month I would climb that mountain. This was a ludicrous thought because for one, I’m afraid of heights and two, I had never climbed anything resembling a mountain. However, these pesky logistics didn’t matter to me. Come hell or high water, I was going to climb that mountain and I was also going to break my two year slump and make some work during this residency.
During the month, I hiked those thousand acres, exploring each foothill, memorizing the curves, drawing the contour of the land against the sky with grasses I collected and dipped in ink, hearing nothing but the wind and my own breathing as I walked and worked. This strange, brown and barren land was healing me step by step as I hiked, line by line as I drew, breath by breath as I listened to the wind. I kept an eye on my mountain nemesis behind the house, everyday assessing the height, the verticality, the rocks. It loomed and taunted me, just as the challenge to let go of my depression and get out of bed everyday seemed to loom and taunt me.
It didn’t happen for me right away but by almost 3 weeks into my month long residency I finally had a breakthrough in my work and it all started to flow. I made about four paintings, a ream of drawings and about 1000 digital drawings by the last week. I was definitely on fire, determined and inspired. The residency had done for my studio work all I had hoped for and more.
But. I. Still. Hadn’t. Climbed. That. Mountain.
Ok, so I never told anyone I was going to do it. I never made any promises to anyone, except myself, of course. It certainly wasn’t a requirement of the residency program that I climb it. Who would know if I didn’t do it? Well..I would know..and I would feel like a total failure even with all of the studio success I had achieved.
So…On the second to last day before I was to leave, it was now or never. It was a lovely day for a hike and just as I had done most days, I woke up, put on my backpack and hiking shoes. But instead of heading out to the thousand acres, I went behind the house and started up the mountain. It was much steeper than I thought and at some points, it was almost vertical with nothing but scree in most places. I had no climbing equipment and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing from a mountain climbing standpoint. I just started, one foot in front of the other… grabbed, slid, sweated and breathed my way up, paying close attention not to look down. To pull myself up the sheer verticals and to stop myself from falling when I slipped, I held on to the the tall grasses, they were my lifeline-just as they had been in the studio when I made those first drawings in ink.
At one point I did look down and immediately panicked.
I had climbed so far, there was only a short distance left, but what lie ahead of me was nothing but rock and a sheer vertical, I had no idea what to do. My heart started to pound and I couldn’t breathe, I had to sit down. As I sat there on the rock, crying, paralyzed with panic, contemplating the embarrassment of butt sliding back down in defeat…or worse, having to be rescued, I heard something breathing behind me…it was a deer! She was pretty close and seemed a bit skittish, but more confused at what I was doing all the way up there on her turf. She quietly turned around and went over the top of the mountain. I kept an eye on her path and followed it..hand over hand, step over step, gripping anything I could, even digging my fingers into the dirt to pull myself up and finally I made it to the top. I turned around to look at the ranch below me and snapped a picture ( shown at the top of this article) so I would never forget that moment. I still remember how victorious I felt and it was then that I knew everything would be okay. I was strong and I could get through my grief and depression and move forward. I would never be the same as I was before, I would never make the work I was making before, but everything was going to be okay. I was going to be okay.
As I turned to continue down the other side of the mountain, I was relieved to see a green meadow with flowers, a clear path and an easy, gradual descent down into the valley.

I hope you enjoyed that story. If you have a similarly inspiring story you would like to share, please leave it in the comments section below. If you are interested in applying for a residency, but are unsure about which one, this post may be helpful. I will be writing more about my residency and the transition from my older work to the work I do now, so stay tuned for those articles in the coming months.

As promised, I will be posting to this blog twice a month and my next post outlines my New Year’s Studio Resolutions. Since 2015 when I started making these resolutions, I have shared them with a few people who have found them very helpful and useful for their own studio practice. If you haven’t made your resolutions yet, please make sure you follow this blog so you don’t miss my next post!

Author: lorraineglessner

I'm a mixed media artist, workshop instructor and former assistant professor at tyler school of art in Philadelphia, PA.

20 thoughts on “The Grass IS Greener: A Life Changing Artist Experience”

  1. You must know this was a fascinating read for me! I had no idea you were going thru this while attending the Wyoming residency! The workshop in Park City was tight after that wasn’t it? I loved the photos you took in Wyoming and felt you were finally seeing, upclose what I see daily!
    I too am struggling with getting back in the studio…….don’t know what it will take!
    You, however, are on a roll. Happy 2018

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the PC workshop was right after the Wyoming residency. You have a great memory! If you’re having trouble getting into the studio I can help. I’m offering mentoring services now…check it out on my web site…lorraineglessner.net. You’ll get 10% off for having taken a workshop with me. Would love to talk with you.

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  2. Honey you are on a roll. The blog posts are interesting, intimate, relatable and warm. LOVE them. Interesting that this one came today. Lots of residency application deadlines are this week (and already missed a bunch). Couldn’t rally myself to do them, was getting very anxious (and not just about the whole application process) AND realized deep down I didn’t want to be away from here for a month. So thinking about looking into shorter ones. The thing is…I’ve heard from a number of people, and it was verified in your post…that very often..it is only at the tail end of a 4 week residency that things start to click and move and change. So here I am again back on the fence. I remember you going on this residency. And I remember how deep you were in grief and pain. But I had no idea it was the first time you’d driven so far (at the time I was so impressed and it seemed that it was something you did….pack up and go great distances!). And knew nothing about the mountain (though I remember your telling us re the rattlesnakes and advice to drink a beer and sit down to wait for help)…and I look at my piece of petrified rock here every day on my kitchen counter. And I knew you were a strong and determined woman. But didn’t realize how, and in so many ways, this marked a life change for you on so many personal and artistic levels. Thank you so much for sharing! OXXO

    Christine

    http://www.TheMemoryProject.space

    christine.s.aaron@gmail.com http://www.christineaaron.com https://www.instagram.com/christineaaronart/

    914.462.2454

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    1. Thank you, Christine. Your rattlesnake comment made me laugh, that’s what they told us to do! I actually just recalled the mountain story not too long ago and thought about how profound the experience was for me at the time, but it’s taken this long for it to sink in. And yes, that was the first time I drove that far, I was sooo nervous! After I did it, I thought it was such a piece of cake. As for the residency thing, the amount of time needed is different for everyone. Remember, it took me so long to get it together because I hadn’t been working at ALL. You have been working steadily so maybe you won’t need that much time.

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  3. Lorraine, I love your art and I love reading your posts. Both resonate with my way of life. And this article is specially interesting to me, since I started to climb the mountains (with a rope) at the age of 69. What you did was scrambling, which is what I am addicted to for the last 20 years. I admire that you started the hard way right away. I started slowly and now I am conquering harder and harder mountains, most of them over 1000m elevation gain. Living in the Canadian Rockies is certainly a big help. Every day when I wake up I am grateful, that I can still do it – I am 73 now. Congratulation!

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    1. Oh, wow, thank you for this inspiration! I had no idea what I did had a name. You’re amazing for still climbing mountains and I love that you started at age 69. As I was writing this all out, I questioned if I could still do what I did then. I hope when I’m confronted by a mountain, I could still climb it. Thank you so much for reading my blog and for your inspirational comment.

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  4. So inspiring Lorraine- its truly awesome to me how epiphanies occur in so many different ways– nudges to keep going, make that “out of left field” turn– in life as well as in almost every work of art….Thank you!

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  5. What a wonderful story. Lorraine. So many people suffer huge losses and the inertia it brings is stifling at the same time as it is protective. One just has to be ready to fly again. Depression is a horrible disease that turns our thoughts dark and unclear. It makes clarity so unreachable; like a broom without the reeds. It’s frightening when the colors of happiness returns until we’re reaclimated, just like you carrying out the goal of climbing, but being petrified at the same time.. The wisdom of putting one foot in front of the other while one lets our will blindly navigate is sometimes the only choice.

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