A while ago I sent an e-mail telling you that I had been accepted for an artistic residency at The Ragdale Foundation, an artists' retreat located on the grounds of Arts and Crafts architect Howard Van Doren Shaw's 1897 summer home in Lake Forest, Illinois. For the last 30 years, the Foundation has been giving residencies in most art forms by providing “space and time” for artists to pursue their work. I am about half way through my residency and wanted to share just a little of my experience with you. At the end of this e-mail is a link to My Gallery where you can see for yourself!
Gregory is doing well and enjoying “being away from me” as much as I am enjoying my privacy and time and space to work on my writing.
My room, located in the Barn House (which was the original barn and servants quarters,) is called “The Playroom.” How appropriate. I have even been into downtown Lake Forest to the toy store to buy myself some toys. In one corner of the room is a little door that leads up a narrow stairway (wall papered with very old travel posters) to the Barn House’s cupola. The view is great. There is a little table, chair, and lamp up there. When I arrived here, I turned on the lamp and have left it on 24/7 to symbolize, “I’m at home!”
My room is very comfortable, the meals gourmet. Most every need is taken care of. Dinner is a community affair every night except Saturday and the kitchen is well stocked with anything you might feel like eating or snacking on. Leftovers from dinner are in the refrigerator, fresh fruit and vegetables abound, you can cook for yourself as well. If you desire something in particular, just mention it to Linda (the chef) and she will buy some for you by the next day. The office and administrative staff are amazingly supportive.
Besides having dinner with everyone, conversations continue long into the night around the table. Whenever you run into a fellow resident on the stairs, at breakfast, relaxing in the living room; experiences, opportunities, backgrounds, techniques, philosophies, etc are shared. Every time you engage in one of these conversations you find out that you know someone they know, have had similar experiences, exchange the same “war stories” and similar “celebrations,” and always learn something new! Each resident is someone with whom you can be comfortable, open your artistic fears, and have your “self” and your “work” be fairly and honestly treated.
Most everyone has acknowledged their “internal critic” who would like you to think you are worthless and that your work is meaningless! Everyone has been working at converting this negative entity into the positive “internal editor” who gently evaluates the work you are doing, helps you move ahead if you just can’t seem to get it right, and offers constructive suggestions for growth. Nice contrast!
If you want to hide out in your room and work, no one bothers you. If you don’t want to join dinner, let Linda know and she will prepare a “plate” for you and leave it in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat. The building, the rooms, the walls seem to pulse with the energy and creativity of all those residents who have spent time here all the way back to 1897. Even during the time of the original owner Howard Van Doren Shaw, renowned Arts and Crafts architect, his family and friends spent time here designing, painting, writing, sculpting, etc.
I have been working on an average of 4 to 6 hours a day going through, editing, and proof reading all the writing I have done over the last five or six years. Some of it from over the last ten! Ideas and concepts that have been lingering in the back of my mind have been joining hands and presenting themselves as wonderfully complete ideas. My internal editor tells me, “You knew that but just didn’t see it in that way.” My internal critic is quiet.
My work is taking shape as an extension of Michael’s Museum in that I am assembling a COLLECTION of life observations, poetry, essays, dreams, as well as quotations I have been gathering all these years. The book will be arranged in EXHIBITS that will SPIRAL (like at the Guggenheim in New York) through the GALLERIES (instead of Chapters) so you will revisit the various types of writing and topics as you progress through the MUSEUM OF MICHEL’S MIND. The only order will be chronological. When you have finished the book maybe you will be able to see some larger picture, maybe some of the pieces will have spoken to you and your needs, fantasies, joys, sorrows. I am not going to decide what that larger picture will be for you, you’ll have to find it for yourself - if it exists.
Now that I have been accepted for my residency at Ragdale, I am considered an alum. I can come back and spend time and space again. I can attend all the meetings, events, parties, celebrations etc of Ragdale. I can take advantage of the connections and talent who are responsible for running the foundation and in turn I will be asked to contribute in time and energy (not necessarily money) to help foster its continuation.
The original house will soon be closed (meaning five fewer resident places) for two years for a full renovation. Electric, plumbing, water, walls, foundation, everything! When the architects and construction teams leave, it will look like they were never here. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to spend some time with the spirits of the past and the energy that is the original house and hope it and they will return when the house is finished.
When I return home, Gregory and I will have a week in Evanston and then are traveling to visit my family in Fort Worth and then on to Puerto Vallarta where we will hook up with some of Gregory’s family for a few days. Will be back March 1. See you then.
The pictures in the Gallery can be reached from this link: MobileMe Gallery - My Gallery