“We withdraw not to disappear, but to find another ground from which to see; a solid ground from which to step, and from which to speak again, in a different way, a clear, rested, embodied voice we begin to remember again as our own”
We find ourselves in Maine, where once upon a long time ago, many many lifetimes ago actually, we came as newly fledged adults to begin finding our way in the world. Much like recently hatched ducklings, we imprinted on this land then and have returned year after year in pilgrimage to this place which so shaped us in those early days. The smells, sounds, color and light here are different from all else and they speak in a soul-full tongue indeed. We are grateful to be here.
As it is a “workaday” sort of day for many of us here, I crept away to a local point to give my paint brushes a little spin, they having collected a bit of dust during my time down other, more musical pathways recently.
I found a perfect spot under a shade tree, at the end of a lane one can find only by foot. There were welcoming spots in the form of benches and water accessible paths. I opted for a space at a picnic table and set about to sketch a bit. It was clear that other artful efforts had occurred in this very space as there was evidence.
So I began with the watercolors, of course.
Eventually moving over to oils…..
…..which are not without their frustrations, but I mixed and painted and observed and corrected and painted some more. And got the bones of a painting down which I can perhaps work with later in the week once we are settled at camp.
All in all, it was lovely exercise on this, my first day back here in Maine where we are settled in for awhile, nestled by the sea.
Laundry hangs on the line, drying best it can in this humidity before we hit the road again. On my desk are half written lists of to-do and to-remember along with the fragments of last week’s fun in various states of unpacking, unfurling into readying and re-packing. My mind and heart are full to brimming with a collection of new tunes I can carry with me into the next journey which is to Maine. A yearly homecoming of sorts, much like many of my trips tend to be.
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke
Last week we leapt into the mists of yet another magical “Celtic Week” at the Swannanoa Gathering in beautiful North Carolina. Much like the story of Brigadoon, we picked up right where we had left off the year before greeting old friends as family, getting to know new friends as well, as if nary a day has passed, let alone an entire calendar year. Irish music does not follow the rules of linear time. The only line it truly follows is that of tradition. The river of music flows along over top of that tradition, above and below it, side-stepping occasionally into other musical paths, (this IS a living tradition after all.) Eventually though, it always comes home once again to the thing itself. We came to the week with no agenda except to improve our playing a bit by spending time with masters of the craft.
“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” ~Socrates
Somehow I have carved my way into classes and sessions loosely labeled “advanced”, and yet I come to this week with my mind fully open to learn new things, to be -always – the beginner. There is no place at Swannanoa for ego or agenda.
Our musical “rock stars” who tour the world with their gifts come to camp not only to ply their musical wares….
…..but to have a laugh and a tune as well, to bask in the amazing community that is the Swannanoa Gathering. It is so readily apparent how hard they work all week, but it is also clear that this week is as special to them as it is to us.
As the space which holds this special time, Warren Wilson College does not disappoint. It is nestled in the mountains near Asheville North Carolina, with views and vistas at every turn and even in some of the classroom spaces which remind us of what is possible if we but relax into it all.
The week was one of metaphor and depth. We talked of honoring those who have come before us in this music by looking back often to older playing which may have gone out of vogue for a time. We must never forget those who have come before us.
Sometimes we wandered through cathedrals of bamboo and dove into the depths of the river Swannanoa for a bit of wild swimming. This returned many things back to center, especially our core temperatures. It was a warm and steamy time.
There were concerts and a bit of dancing. There were classes filled with new tunes, but not too many. Just enough. There were moments of goosebumps up our arms and spines as we felt things bump against the root of all things. Music and art making are conduits to this great source.
A few of us have been attending this week of music for many years and we opt for dinner and a bevvie or two out in town one evening each year. I was thrilled to see a bit of our musical shenanigans have made their way into that other world….. viva la flutilla!!!!
Soon, we had crested mid-week into late-week, then late-week into last night. The mists of time descended upon us that final night as if to tell us it’s time to go back…..
Many years, this thrust back into what some might call “the real world” is painful and we find ourselves pining and weepy. This year was different. This is not to say that I don’t miss my flute family. I really do. Instead, I think it is clearer than ever that the real world, at least for those of us willing to live in it on a daily basis, is that of art making and the sharing of a tune or a story. The real world is that quintessential Irish humor and side-eyed self deprecation which puts everyone at ease and the belly laughs that come along with this “craic”. We live in difficult, trying and combative times. Perhaps we can learn from the Irish tradition and its history that even in the most dire of times and conditions, there is always room for a tune.
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann Hesse
Thanks again to the staff and everyone who makes this gathering possible. til next year!!!
if you are new to the reading of this blog, I have other posts about other years. Just type Swannanoa into the search bar.
Recently, while in Colorado visiting one of the (not-so)Smalls, I got a text message from one of this year’s Taos sketch-workshop participants:
“I’m deeply grateful for the opportunities you’ve facilitated through your workshop. Amy, when you fling open the Juniper House doors and stir the creative pot of Mabel’s legacy, Magic happens. Unleashed into a space pulsing with anticipation, your energy swirls and settles around us in a joyful and gentle comfort. We’re home and we’re safe to explore, to express and to grow. My sketchbook is no longer a project. It’s now my friend. Thank you for leading this horse to water and showing me how to drink. I’ll never be thirsty again.”
~ Donna A.
I’ll admit I got a little teary-eyed. Here I was, back in the mountains and receiving this incredible gift of not just positive feedback, but real soul-bearing words about the experience of someone who’s been a recipient of my work in this world. It is my hope that anyone working in the world today might get the same gift. Thank you Donna!!!!
Normally, this time of year, I wouldn’t be even thinking of Taos much. Forging on ahead with the rest of my summer which is filled with the beauty of family time and musical nerdiness (where I get to be the student!!!). But this year, Taos has lingered. I find myself back there in my mind’s eye a little more often, making paintings, touching base with loved ones there, and looking ahead to next year……
The above little marketing video was made for 2014, but it’s still very valid and gives one a sense of what I’m up to in my workshops. The tone and feel of the thing, if you will…..
Today I got a message from a musical friend who’s partner has been dabbling in the paints a bit and he thinks perhaps she might like to come to Taos next year. And what are the dates? And is there space? So I figured I would quick post the answers to those questions in a little blog post.
Next year, 2020, marks 10 years teaching in Taos, New Mexico at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. The dates for the 2020 workshop are June 7-13. You can find more information here. (Prices, exact dates and what you can expect, etc)
If you are interested in going, here’s how it happens. September 1, 2019, I will send an email out to past participants who in this last year have expressed interest in next year’s trip. They have about a week to decide if they want to send in a deposit. September 6, I will announce open registration for any slots left.
As I take payment by check in the mail for deposits, I simply use the date of the email or message you send me to hold your slot verbally until your check arrives and we keep a wee list (the Hub calls it a spreadsheet) of the order of incoming requests for space in the class. As of this writing, I am holding the class in Taos to 16, but that could wiggle a bit depending upon interest. But I do like to keep it manageable and make sure everyone gets the one:one instruction in their books as needed.
Every new year is a bit special and certainly different from the years past. As I learn and grow, I bring that to the classroom in Taos. We try new ideas, we share what the world has brought to us in the year since we last met. It truly is – MAGIC – for lack of any better word. I have learned to trust it.
So. If you are interested in the class next summer, mark your calendars. Get on my “subscribe” list here on the website. That is the best way to get the announcements in a timely fashion. If the dates for Taos don’t suit your calendar, you can consider my trip to Antigua, Guatemala in late Feburary/early March of 2020. There are still 3 slots left in each week so far and those are likely to fill soon.
Thank you for your interest in exploring Taos, New Mexico with me, whether it’s been in past trips, or if you are only just considering coming along. There is truly no place like it.
I am between traveling. Home from a brief visit to Aspen, Colorado, where our son Jack is part of the Aspen Music Festival, living his musical dreams to the fullest. It is truly something to witness, one following their truest path. He is at home in music.
While he worked and practiced and performed, we took in the natural splendor of Aspen and surrounds, grateful to Jack’s wonderful hosts who took us in and treated us like family.
It occurred to me while sitting at the base of the Maroon Bells that the best people in our lives, many of the most important connections moving us ever forward and truer in our own lives, have come from a few simple things – art, music, and the pursuit of what makes our souls sing most heartily.
I think about the time years ago, sitting at the base of those same iconic mountains, when I made the decision to pursue a proper art degree upon returning home from a metalworking class I’d taken at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass near Aspen. What is it about the clear mountain air and the presence of a stately, ancient mountain which affords us such lofty notions? I do not know. But I’m beginning to pick up on the fact that if I have something to think about, I should find myself at the foot of Taos Mountain, Volcan de Agua, or perhaps those lovely iron-laden Maroon Bells to find my answers.
Aspen felt like a proper vacation after the rich and deep work done in New Mexico. While the Hub and I did sketch quite a lot in some gorgeous locations, there were often times I personally just sat and took it all in. Jackie Morris of The Lost Words fame recently stated on an episode of Folk On Footthat one of the most difficult things for her to learn as an artist was that the sitting and thinking and looking and thinking some more, are as important to her job of Artist as the pencil and paint to paper practicalities of her craft – perhaps even more so. Having not come from a background and family of practicing artists, she’s found this notion difficult in past, and has only recently begun to truly take it on board. I feel much the same.
That said, the watercolors and pencils do beckon in beautiful places, and I did make a few drawings.
Aspen is steeped in the arts, with ties to the taste and aesthetic of the Bauhaus tradition in its design and of course in the music festival itself held there each summer. Everything is better with the arts involved.
Today, just now, I write to you here fairly giddy with relief, gratitude and a sense of overwhelming possibility. I have *finally* (after literally years of frustration and hemming and hawing) upgraded my tech tools here in the studio.
I’ve invested in a more travel worthy laptop machine for writing and photo-manipulation on the road, and even opted for a large home-base monitor when I am at my desk in the studio. Sometime today (*hopefully*) a little scanner will arrive and I’ll get that set up as well. All of this is in keeping with the plan to get more work made and into the world. Let’s be fair, I work. I work a lot. In some ways I am never NOT working. But so much of my energy was going into technical glitches and the waiting and slowness of manipulating photos on outdated technology. If I was to engage in a blog post, I needed a solid day to get it made. And so, I found myself putting off writing. I have so much work to share, but with an old scanner, my work never translated well to digital, and so it took a lot to get it tech-ready for sharing online or presenting for publication or applying for grants and residencies. With some encouragement from Vanessa at NessyPress and moral support from the Hub, I took the plunge and threw the necessary gold coins into the abyss to get the tools I needed.
It took some doing, and a few trips to the computer store and calls to the tech folks at apple, but we managed to get it sorted. And here I am, knocking out an update here in a more prompt and succinct manner. This feels sustainable. It was time for this investment.
But tech tools aren’t the only important thing, of course, merely being the vehicles by which the work is dispersed in this world. I also took a bit of time to make a traveling oil paint set up.
Watercolor is generally my go to travel companion. I have the set up I love, a little traveling “van” in which to cart it all, and it really works. Even so, I pine for the oils when I find myself in beautiful places. Our family trip to Maine, coming up later this summer, is a perfect combination of loads to do combined with plenty of “down time” to just play. That play might be on the water, catching up on books we’ve been meaning to read, or perhaps trying new recipes with one’s best friend in tiny kitchen at camp. But there is always more time, and that is when I start feeling restless, wishing I’d brought some oil paints to play with.
So I put together a handmade pochade box of sorts, crafted from an old wooden cigar box, plus a little carrier for any wet panels I may want to bring home.
The pochade box is pretty sturdy, and the wet panel carrier will do until I decide if this is something I may do again and again. All in all I spent about $20. A worthwhile investment on vacation satisfaction I do believe.
Upon returning from Aspen, I felt overwhelmed with home chores and the work needing caught up on at the shop and in my own studio. And so for the first day or so, I just painted and played music.
This practice set my head on straight and I was then able to sink into the tasks at hand. I am deeply grateful for all of it. I often think that in this day and age, it is difficult to remember to take a few minutes to breathe. To play a tune, paint a picture. There are Big Things we must tackle (did you hear Amy McGrath is taking on Mitch McConnell??), situations we must face, as heartbreaking as they are (there has to be a better, kinder, more humane way forward at the border, don’t you think?). Life is complex, and tormented at times, but it is also beautiful and simple in many ways as well. It always has been.
Next week I am off once again for my own musical adventure at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina. On the one hand, this week is truly a get-away-from-it-all Brigadoon of sorts where we forget the world outside, focus on learning tunes and improving our craft and catch up with dear friends who have become musical family over the years. But on the other hand, it is so much more.
This week at music camp, and for that matter, my week of teaching in Taos each year, are a form of deep magic. Magic which in some way counteracts all of the darkness we see through our screens in this modern age. The very human physicality of coming together to play tunes, sing songs, laugh and cry together over the year’s happenings, somehow counteracts the “badness” in the news. It’s not a cure all to be sure. But it is the way many of us take respite from it all, if only for a moment, in order to get back out into the world and do the work.
Artists confront the difficult in this world. Just look online at the work of artists during WW1 who were interpreting the previously unimaginable through their paintings. I personally have taken to avoiding the echo chambers of social media for my own outrage over the state of things nowadays. But I have my ear to the ground. I support candidates who are doing good things in the world. I take to the streets as needed. I volunteer with and support the vulnerable. But I also seek joy. And beauty amidst the outrage. For if I, or any of my artist friends begin to lose perspective (and isn’t it so easy to do?) then we amount to nothing.
It is my hope to be a source of light in the darkness in this modern age. A reminder there is a place by the hearth-fire for anyone who needs a break between difficulties. We cannot do it all, let alone singlehandedly. Art and Joy, Music and Friendship, Beauty and Solitude are worthy pursuits, even in this fast paced, crowded, often seemingly ugly world. Let us make art and music.