A Place Apart: Retreats for Women Writers and Artists
What does Mary Oliver, the author of eight volumes of poetry and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, have to do with artist retreats? The graceful prose of Oliver’s Blue Pastures addresses the nature of writing – and the need for respite.
“Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in; with no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart.” Oliver has long been an inspiration for my own creative longings as I struggle to find my place as a musician in the world.
Retreat is a broad word in the sense of what constitutes a place of rest and rebirth. It’s impossible to state categorically what makes a retreat. While some seek solitude in their escape from the everyday, companionship, connection and community with other artists can also be integral to the retreat experience.
“No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not,” writes Mary Oliver in the first chapter of Blue Pastures. Retreats are as different as the souls who undertake them.
Stays range from two weeks to two months in exquisitely crafted cottages. Out of a field of several hundred applicants, approximately 40 writers are selected for residency each year by a diverse committee comprised of writers, educators, agents and editors. There is no residency fee; room and board are provided. In the evening, residents gather for dinner and conversation in the historic farmhouse.
Since they began in 1999, residencies have become the centerpiece of The Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation. Sharing accommodations in bay-view cottages in serene Oysterville, a quiet rural village located on the northern tip of Long Beach Peninsula, the foundation provides retreat for four writers at a time. Residents also receive a weekly stipend for food. Residencies are available for the months of February, June and October from the first through the end of the month.
And recently, says the foundation’s Anne de Marcken, Espy has expanded its residency program to include the visual and performing arts. “Our writers in residence are poets, fiction writers, memoirists, essayists and biographers. Espy is more committed than ever to providing artists of all disciplines with the invaluable gifts of time and space, and the opportunity for meaningful, creative exchanges.”
If an urban setting is more to your liking, look no further than Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. Residencies for published authors only are for a minimum of nine months with office space and a monthly stipend awarded. Housing is not provided and artists in residence must teach a class, develop a public program and hold public office hours.
The Artist Within
“Pilchuck is kind of a retreat – but not at all relaxing,” says renowned glass artist Cappy Thompson. “It’s very intense to be with about 100 artists for 18 days making work and making friends. I always appreciate the very interesting artists in residence on the campus at any given session – usually mid-career artists with a national reputation. You have the opportunity for an in-depth look at their work and working methods, and it is wonderful to see how a person outside the glass scene comes to the material with a fresh eye.”
Founded in 1971, Pilchuck Glass School has been a primary force in the evolution of glass as a means of artistic expression. The 54-acre wooded campus 50 miles north of Seattle is set in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The grounds feature two hot-glass shops, a studio building, kiln shop, coldworking studio, flat shop for neon and flameworking, wood and metal shops, and a glass-plate printmaking studio.
They offer five residency programs including Artist in Residence, Emerging Artist in Residence, the John H. Hauberg Fellowship, a Professional Artist in Residence and Visiting Artist program, as well as an extensive education program each summer. Pilchuck’s 2005 Emerging Artists in Residence will once again be all women. For two years in a row, six female artists have scored highest in competing for this program.
“Quite interesting for an artistic medium many consider to be male-dominated,” says Erin Moore, Pilchuck’s grants writer and public relations coordinator.
Monarch Contemporary Art Center in Olympia focuses on the creation and presentation of sculpture by emerging and professional sculptors from around the world. Residencies of two to four months to create large-scale sculpture for grounds are available and include room, board, tools, studio, materials and honorariums. The 80-acre public sculpture park and center for the visual arts also hosts classes, workshops and international sculpting and ceramic symposia. When funds are available, scholarships and residency grants are offered.
Visual artist Anna Rhodes offers a series of intensive art retreats open to all skill levels, from beginners to advanced professionals. She has a schedule of retreats in Seattle and abroad, as well as at Sooke Harbour House and The Hawthorn Farm, both located on Vancouver Island.
Rhodes, who has studied, taught and created art throughout the world, currently resides in Seattle. Her work has been represented internationally in galleries and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. Daily classes experiment with a myriad of artists’ media and materials. The settings chosen for courses and retreats are, according to Rhodes, “peaceful, inspirational, and have a special light or magic to them.”
Something for Everyone
Centrum is open to anyone involved in creative endeavors: Musicians, poets, dancers, etc. A residency may involve either the solitary creative work of an individual or the interactive work of a group; it can focus on a single genre or be multidisciplinary. Simply put, Centrum provides the studio space, house and time, and you provide your own transportation, meals, material and inspiration. Modest two- or three-bedroom cabins and apartments, some with small studios and upright pianos, are available. They run a non-toxic print studio and provide performance space, as well as recording studio time at Fort Worden’s Synergy Sound studio.
For more than 32 years, Centrum’s annual writer’s conference in July has devoted ten days to the art of writing and the writer’s life. Plus, talented high school writers have residency programs of their own, as do chamber musicians, ceramicists, jazz musicians, actors, fiddlers and other artists.
For those with a passion for words and a love for the San Juans, there’s Songandword, a 6-1/2 acre secluded retreat on sparsely populated Shaw Island offering writing and music/songwriting workshops. Workshops run Friday night to Sunday afternoon with a two-day retreat option available after the weekend concludes.
Located in Seattle’s University District, Jack Straw Productions Artist Support Program is open to local artists of any discipline working creatively with sound; up to eight artists are awarded 20 hours of studio recording and production time. Their Gallery Residency Program offers up to three artists or artist teams, commissions to create new works that include sound as a major component. Artists are encouraged to experiment and expand the artistic scope of their work by working with new technologies and artists from other disciplines. The Writers Program selects up to 14 local authors annually to participate in a workshop that encourages the creation of new literary work for public presentation. The program includes training in vocal presentation and microphone use, and participation in three public readings, half-hour radio programs, a chapbook and other public events.
The North Cascades Institute fits in the “make your own retreat” category: it’s about creating outdoor experiences that reflect a group or individual’s interest and schedule. Home to a year-round learning community, the campus features trails, meditation and learning shelters, classrooms, an amphitheater and a library. Facilities and local trails are ADA accessible. Guests stay in spacious lodges with shared bathrooms. The institute blends naturalist adventures led by educators with activities you choose to lead. Scholarships are available.
Each year, the institute offers a nature writing retreat. In addition, academic credit is available for most seminars. Also, if you’ve never taken a course with them, you’re eligible for a 20 percent discount on a seminar.
There can never be enough time or solitude to create. These few places that provide artists with a haven to pursue their passions are a gift to us all. Last summer, I took two months off from my intense full-time job. In the quiet light of a Montana afternoon, I found myself writing a new song. I became aware of the presence of wings. Two owls circled above my head as I changed chords and scribbled words. They settled on a branch in a nearby blue spruce and stayed for nearly an hour. My concert for the owls will always be one of the most treasured memories of my artist life.
©2005 Caliope Publishing Company
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