Archive

Little Details

Time, space and the quiet to create

Aug. 12, 2010

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

Some of the best kept secrets are worth sharing. I believe Vermont Week at the Vermont Studio Center is one such secret. Founded in 1984, VSC hosts the largest international artist and writer residency program in the United States. Creative types from all over the world descend upon Johnson, a small college town, to ply their craft amid the tranquility of the Green Mountains.

During Vermont Week, VSC opens its residences and studios to approximately 50 Vermonters. For seven glorious spring days, local artists and writers are invited to forget their day job and simply create with pen, pencil, paintbrush, camera, chisel or keyboard. Each resident is provided room and board and a key to his or her very own studio. The cost of attendance is largely underwritten by anonymous donors. I share notes from my experience, offering encouragement to aspiring artists and writers to investigate the program.

That monastic feeling

The writing studios are concentrated in the Maverick Building — an appropriate name given folks’ efforts to distinguish themselves as writers. Each tidy room offered a desk, chair, bookcase, comfy chair, reading lamp and a view of the Gihon River.

We were obliged to work quietly — no cell phones, minimal conversation and careful opening and closing of doors. True to my introverted nature, I relished the peacefulness and the enormous gift of time to simply read, think and write. It reminded me of previous stays in convents and monasteries while travelling in Europe. VSC aptly acknowledged the sanctity of the creative process.

My studio offered a second story view of the wending river. A plaque on the door indicated the space was named in honor of poet Maxine Kumin. She graduated from Radcliffe (B.A. 1946, M.A. 1948) — before women were allowed to attend Harvard. She was a friend of my favorite poet, Anne Sexton. Kumin lives in a farmhouse in New Hampshire where she produces verse often compared to Robert Frost’s writings.

The plaque further identified Kate Chappell, painter and co-founder of Tom’s of Maine personal hygiene products, as the donor. I informally christened the space “the studio that toothpaste built.” It’s amazing the things I learned conducting research to avoid staring at a blank computer screen.

Among fictional characters

As a nonfiction writer, I found myself a distinct minority among the 13 writers present. As folks wrestled demons of plot development or poetic verse, I aspired to tell true stories … with finesse. I planned to prepare a book proposal, but my muse had other ideas.

Swirling in a sea of MFAs — several residents possessed advanced degrees in the arts — I felt a little unsure. What was I doing there? I felt a bit like an imposter. Was I a “real” writer or simply faking it?

I spent Day 1 in a desk chair leaning precariously forward. As I was adjusting its height — to minimize indentations forming from the desk above my knees — the seat slid downward suddenly, angling itself like a dump truck preparing to unload its wares — ME. I eventually figured it out, but not until Day 2.

Artful eating

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided in a former mill overlooking a gushing waterfall. Artisan breads, colorful salads and artfully presented entrees of wild rice and hearty vegetables register in culinary memory. We were there to create, not cook. We were well fed and well cared for.

Artist colonies are not about cliques. I opted to sit with different people at each meal to spice up the experience. Since there were far more visual artists present, I typically broke bread with painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers and textile artists.

It was at these tables that I learned I was not an imposter. Many shared my excitement of, “Am I really here?” and “Did I really get picked?”

Most of my fellow residents juggled their creative pursuits with “day jobs” — as teachers, massage therapists, IT specialists, engineers and administrators. They too recognized the enormity of the gift we received.

Putting on my interviewer’s hat, I did what I most enjoy: I asked people about themselves. “Tell me about your art.” “When did you first start writing?” “Which artist do you most admire?” “Who encouraged you?” Stories spilled forth. I ate it up.

Tom, a well-known architect, was there to paint. Relegated to bed with an extended illness as a child, his mother bought him a set of watercolors and he learned to paint. Gary was handed a camera along with his uniform when drafted for Vietnam as teenager from rural Vermont. He earns his living in commercial photography; he pursues his passion photographing nature’s awesome beauty. Holly, a former congressional aid, conjured poetic descriptions of flowers, trees and sunlight. Jim, an inventor and engineer, created sculptures of stone and steel evoking his family’s Greek heritage. I met people who weren’t simply multi-taskers, they were multi-talents.

The writing process

I brought a bag full of books, a laptop and my journal. I read poetry, essays and history, moving from desk to cushy chair in my small studio space. I took walks and tanked up on coffee only to return to my writing nook.

I felt a particular affinity with the nonfiction writers. We shared our personal stories as well as our words.  Peter wrote whimsically of the long-abandoned home in Tuscany he and his wife are restoring. Ted’s story of his childhood experience in Nazi Germany left me wondering about the American GI who handed him a peppermint patty near war’s end.

Spending eight to 10 hours each day reading and writing was a gift, a luxury. I committed words to paper and found an unexpected surprise pointing me toward a larger writing project.

Vermont Week is a gift to passionate artists and writers seeking the time, space and quiet to simply create. If this opportunity speaks to you, check it out.

For more information on Vermont Week at the Vermont Studio Center, visit www.vermontstudiocenter.org.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at Editor@willistonobserver.com or LittleDetailsCol@yahoo.com.

8/12/10

Little details

Time, space and the quiet to create

Aug. 12, 2010

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

Some of the best kept secrets are worth sharing. I believe Vermont Week at the Vermont Studio Center is one such secret. Founded in 1984, VSC hosts the largest international artist and writer residency program in the United States. Creative types from all over the world descend upon Johnson, a small college town, to ply their craft amid the tranquility of the Green Mountains.

During Vermont Week, VSC opens its residences and studios to approximately 50 Vermonters. For seven glorious spring days, local artists and writers are invited to forget their day job and simply create with pen, pencil, paintbrush, camera, chisel or keyboard. Each resident is provided room and board and a key to his or her very own studio. The cost of attendance is largely underwritten by anonymous donors. I share notes from my experience, offering encouragement to aspiring artists and writers to investigate the program.

That monastic feeling

The writing studios are concentrated in the Maverick Building — an appropriate name given folks’ efforts to distinguish themselves as writers. Each tidy room offered a desk, chair, bookcase, comfy chair, reading lamp and a view of the Gihon River.

We were obliged to work quietly — no cell phones, minimal conversation and careful opening and closing of doors. True to my introverted nature, I relished the peacefulness and the enormous gift of time to simply read, think and write. It reminded me of previous stays in convents and monasteries while travelling in Europe. VSC aptly acknowledged the sanctity of the creative process.

My studio offered a second story view of the wending river. A plaque on the door indicated the space was named in honor of poet Maxine Kumin. She graduated from Radcliffe (B.A. 1946, M.A. 1948) — before women were allowed to attend Harvard. She was a friend of my favorite poet, Anne Sexton. Kumin lives in a farmhouse in New Hampshire where she produces verse often compared to Robert Frost’s writings.

The plaque further identified Kate Chappell, painter and co-founder of Tom’s of Maine personal hygiene products, as the donor. I informally christened the space “the studio that toothpaste built.” It’s amazing the things I learned conducting research to avoid staring at a blank computer screen.

Among fictional characters

As a nonfiction writer, I found myself a distinct minority among the 13 writers present. As folks wrestled demons of plot development or poetic verse, I aspired to tell true stories … with finesse. I planned to prepare a book proposal, but my muse had other ideas.

Swirling in a sea of MFAs — several residents possessed advanced degrees in the arts — I felt a little unsure. What was I doing there? I felt a bit like an imposter. Was I a “real” writer or simply faking it?

I spent Day 1 in a desk chair leaning precariously forward. As I was adjusting its height — to minimize indentations forming from the desk above my knees — the seat slid downward suddenly, angling itself like a dump truck preparing to unload its wares — ME. I eventually figured it out, but not until Day 2.

Artful eating

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided in a former mill overlooking a gushing waterfall. Artisan breads, colorful salads and artfully presented entrees of wild rice and hearty vegetables register in culinary memory. We were there to create, not cook. We were well fed and well cared for.

Artist colonies are not about cliques. I opted to sit with different people at each meal to spice up the experience. Since there were far more visual artists present, I typically broke bread with painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers and textile artists.

It was at these tables that I learned I was not an imposter. Many shared my excitement of, “Am I really here?” and “Did I really get picked?”

Most of my fellow residents juggled their creative pursuits with “day jobs” — as teachers, massage therapists, IT specialists, engineers and administrators. They too recognized the enormity of the gift we received.

Putting on my interviewer’s hat, I did what I most enjoy: I asked people about themselves. “Tell me about your art.” “When did you first start writing?” “Which artist do you most admire?” “Who encouraged you?” Stories spilled forth. I ate it up.

Tom, a well-known architect, was there to paint. Relegated to bed with an extended illness as a child, his mother bought him a set of watercolors and he learned to paint. Gary was handed a camera along with his uniform when drafted for Vietnam as teenager from rural Vermont. He earns his living in commercial photography; he pursues his passion photographing nature’s awesome beauty. Holly, a former congressional aid, conjured poetic descriptions of flowers, trees and sunlight. Jim, an inventor and engineer, created sculptures of stone and steel evoking his family’s Greek heritage. I met people who weren’t simply multi-taskers, they were multi-talents.

The writing process

I brought a bag full of books, a laptop and my journal. I read poetry, essays and history, moving from desk to cushy chair in my small studio space. I took walks and tanked up on coffee only to return to my writing nook.

I felt a particular affinity with the nonfiction writers. We shared our personal stories as well as our words.  Peter wrote whimsically of the long-abandoned home in Tuscany he and his wife are restoring. Ted’s story of his childhood experience in Nazi Germany left me wondering about the American GI who handed him a peppermint patty near war’s end.

Spending eight to 10 hours each day reading and writing was a gift, a luxury. I committed words to paper and found an unexpected surprise pointing me toward a larger writing project.

Vermont Week is a gift to passionate artists and writers seeking the time, space and quiet to simply create. If this opportunity speaks to you, check it out.

For more information on Vermont Week at the Vermont Studio Center, visit www.vermontstudiocenter.org.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at Editor@willistonobserver.com or LittleDetailsCol@yahoo.com.