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!