The Artists on the Frontiers | Bullseye Glass Co. | Bullseye Glass Co

The Artists on the Frontiers

Last summer at North Lands Creative Glass I had the good fortune to be in the Scottish Highlands while artists Steve Klein (left) and Richard Parrish (right) were leading a group residency there.

I blogged about the experience – only barely skimming the surface – here, here, here, and here.

I wasn’t able to visit their Pilchuck residencies that are the focus of the upcoming Museum of Northwest Art show and about which I’ve been blogging over the last eight weeks, but I came away from the Scottish experience with some pretty strong convictions as to what makes for a potentially life-changing residency.

PLANNING

A great residency doesn’t just fall together, although I’m sure there are scattered exceptions to the rule. The residency that I watched up close in Scotland – as the Pilchuck one that I saw less immediately through Facebook posts and photos – depends above all on the selection of a dynamic mix of residents.

I know that for both projects, Klein and Parrish spent a lot of time considering not only the talents, but also the personalities of potential invitees. What might each artist bring to the group? Was  s/he likely to share openly? To contribute  a unique skill set and perspective? To “fit” without being “cookie cutter”?

Because the Scottish residency involved international travel for many and placement within local B&B’s – unlike the Pilchuck camp-like arrangements – it required additional months of advance communication and preparation by the residency leaders.

Insuring that appropriate materials were available on site added another layer of organization. Because Bullseye supported both residencies with glass, the leaders needed to consolidate the material requests from each participant and present us with a manageable request for supplies.

Those three aspects are just the tip of the organizational iceberg that underpins a successful group residency.

FLEXIBILITY

A residency is not a workshop, however. After all the planning necessary to insure a stable structure, it needs to be loose enough to allow each artist to participate and develop in very personal ways.

Again, I watched this pattern evolve at North Lands. In the later Pilchuck residency I likewise glimpsed the evolution through the pictures that came out regularly, posted to the group’s Facebook page.

Periods of obvious solitude, interspersed with regular gatherings, critiques, and discussion.

The range of directions and variety of work that emerged subsequent to both residencies are a testament to the impact of the time spent for each of the residents.

In speaking with a couple of the Pilchuck residents, it appears that, as freely shared as technical information was, it wasn’t the prime driver in the breakthroughs that many made.

“Honest evaluations…a diversity of consideration…the challenge to long-held perspectives and assumptions” are some of what came back to me as the strengths that Klein and Parrish brought to the group.

TECHNOLOGY & THE WILDERNESS

To me, one of the most remarkable aspects of both the North Lands and Pilchuck residencies was the fusion of modern technology with a rough and relatively isolated – I’m tempted to call it “frontier” – environment. At the end of most days at North Lands, the residents gathered for individual presentations or group reviews that were only possible thanks to tools that have just recently become integral to many artists’ working methods.

Digital cameras, laptops, programs like Photoshop and PowerPoint make it possible to capture and reconsider visual ideas in ways not possible only a short time ago. Watching Klein and Parrish use these new tools for the benefit of the group was inspirational. (Watching cellphone jokes on the Facebook page made it clear that this technology wasn’t without humor)

COMMUNITY-BUILDING

Beyond all the other elements contributing to a successful group residency, from compatible personalities to useful technologies to inspirational space, I have to come back to The Drivers, the two artists whose passion not solely for teaching, but for community-building gave form to both these remarkable projects.

At the risk of what may look like pseudo-psychologizing, I can’t help but turn to the work of each artist for a shorthand visual of why they’ve been so effective in both these projects. Klein’s embracing abstractions based on Scottish drystone sheepfolds point at a nurturing instinct that is a fine complement to Parrish’s broader, almost topographic perspective.

But part of the reason that I’m drawing these clumsy character deductions from Klein’s and Parrish’s art is frankly because I wasn’t at Pilchuck. I’m hoping that some of you who were there can shed some light on what these guys did that made the Pilchuck residencies so effective.

8 Responses to The Artists on the Frontiers

  1. A truly great orchestra always needs a good conductor. I realize I was NOT at this great get together and sharing of the minds, but I do know that it had to be well organized from start to finish, or the experience would not have been so special. And by all the accounts of everyone, it sounded amazing. Just like in the orchestra itself, all the musicians have to have a good handle on their instruments, and be able to share , just like the knowledge base of the group has to be a great mix of techniques and personalities that all work together , to create a special visual treat. So well done Steve and Richard for helping everyone to step out of their comfort zone and venture into unchartered territory.
    I look forward to hearing some of the special things that made this residency so effective too.
    Leslie

  2. I’ve only attended two residencies in my short glass career but have been fortunate that they were both the Pilchuck residencies led by Steve and Richard.

    What Richard and Steve provided—beyond the obvious supplies, location and structure—was a container for all of us lucky participants to pour our creativity, our thoughts, our concerns, our questions, even our fears and anxiety—into, and allow it all to churn about with daily roundtable discussions, one-on-one conversations, input and sharing with our peers; oh, I could go on and on!

    But what I came home with is a much clearer vision of what I want to do with my glass art and a renewed passion to continue to challenge myself, whether I’m working alone at home or side by side with all those amazing artists.

    Oh yeah, and I have five pieces in the upcoming show! The most special thing about these pieces is that they’re completely different than anything I’ve ever done and they’ve brought me full circle to what I’ve always loved about creating.

    I’m grateful that I was included!

  3. Sarah A. Nelson says:

    As you can imagine each of the artists who participated in the residency at Pilchuck came with differing experiences, personal and professional.
    No matter at what level you are in your career, you are human and you experience insecurities that take hold during your time at Pilchuck which is intense… not to mention the voices in your head regarding the myriad of “life” awaiting your arrival home.
    The residency experience is one that is exciting and stressful mixed with an energy buzz of promise.
    Steve and Richard made a statement early on to set the tone at ease… it went something like this… “You’re here… you’re good… now use this time to push yourself… You are in a safe environment to explore and create… oh and the museum curator is on her way…” it was with this unending generosity, humor, and softly applied pressures that created a sense of clarity and focus in an environment conducive to change.
    Mix that with artists who want to share and support each other while learning as much as they can before they return home to daily responsibilities. Set aside all the prep work, mediation skills, and good sense for direction and you’ll also find Steve and Richard, two artists who still had energy to create their own work during everything taking place administrative.
    Truly Impressive & Inspiring–Grateful to be a participant and a witness!
    The only down side is that the experience is so profound and precious that when you return home you feel as if you are suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome.

  4. Kim Brill says:

    I want to say something about that “softly applied pressure” that Sarah mentioned. Richard and Steve encouraged us to take risks, and they did that in part by removing any expectations and judgment of the outcome. The experience of reaching beyond the usual was the only object of the game. So for me, that gentle pressure was about re-thinking my thinking.
    At the end of the residency, we set out the results of the week’s work: there were many, many experiments, and some had failed gloriously. So it was hard to tell by looking at the work what was going to come out of it. But the quality of the work in this show is proof that Steve and Richard did an extraordinary job in reaching in and extracting the best from us.

  5. Lani says:

    Leslie, Valerie, Sarah, Kim, thank you all for adding to this conversation.

    I especially like Kim’s nod to “failing gloriously”…

    A community in which that is encouraged is an artwork in itself.

  6. I would like to speak to the “community building” aspect of the residency at Pilchuck – As a solo studio artist in a rural location I have a disciplined approach to my work and I do it in isolation. The planning and gathering together of the residents combined a diversity of talent it would have taken me a lifetime to find on my own – if ever. The opportunity to work, challenge oneself and experiment with glass while sharing and learning from the results of others was like graduate school in hyper-speed. I truly have been enriched.

  7. Such important points. Thanks, Gloria.

  8. Pingback: OPENING: Kilnformed work will take over the Museum of Northwest Art starting Saturday | The GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet

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