To Tell A Story
Leveraging the power of words and artistic mediums as a means of recording and sharing history; and shedding light on community and global challenges.
What is a story? Dependent upon who you ask it can be a lot of things––a work of fiction, the memory an event, a shared lineage, but whatever the topic there is a common thread of retelling, communicating, sharing information–– making sure that a person or happening is not lost to time.
Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Arts & Agriculture’s (PMRCAA) October 2023 Artist in Residence cohort included three story-tellers on their own individual missions. Unsurprisingly, the common thread between them was their passion for and fascination with how many artistic mediums a person can use to communicate various aspects of ‘the human experience.’
Meet visual artist Sandra Honda, writer Nancy Matsumoto, and documentary filmmaker Collin Bell; and join them as they give us a peek into the chapter of their lives that brought them to Sisters, Oregon.
Helping Hands | Sandra Honda
“These last two years…have had a dramatic impact on my practice, thematically,” says returning artist in residence Sandra Honda. A full-time artist who lives up to her statement that, “[Art is all about] excavating and rebuilding yourself,” Honda was a speechwriter and scientist before she undertook her new career, and she continues to dig deep within and rebuild herself as an artist through testing out new mediums to communicate her messages.
Humble when discussing her talents and accomplishments, Honda is quick to note that she is not a trained sculptor, although one would never guess as they appreciate the intricacy of her work––in this instance, a growing collection of hand casts––that is to say, casting the hands of everyday people and turning them into sculptures. Her rendition of telling the story of ‘connectedness’ has evolved from the common threads of Asians in America––particularly, multigenerational Japanese-Americans with roots stemming back to the World War II internment camps––to social justice and preventing the erasure of history, to the unexpected stories and relationships we share. This last point is what she’s currently exploring.
Inspired by PMRCAA’s interest in environmental regenerative agriculture, Honda began to explore the pathways that lead to difficult and unusual partnerships––which, when we think about it, are not only a cornerstone of how communities are built, but of how the world at large functions––the interdependence of coexisting, a thing which occurs both in the animal kingdom and the concrete jungle.
“You can’t run away from your past––it always comes back in useful ways. I’ve done a lot of things in my life and I’ve found that no matter what it is, it seems to have come together [at this time of retirement when] I have time to actually take them all up and integrate them––stitch them all together.”
Every day, we coexist and we live history in ways great and small; Honda’s work captures this point beautifully. Though she is a custodian of stories and the hands that tell them, she is adamant that this works belongs to those who have helped her create it.
“The project belongs to the community. […] Essentially, the theme has remained the same––to elevate voices of those less heard, whether it’s [the voices of] my people, or these rural voices. […] Almost equally important is the conversations I’m having with people. And no pun intended, but they go hand in hand.”
A Taste for Storytelling | Nancy Matsumoto
“…this residency has really been a perfect fit for my current work.” says editor, freelance writer, and James Beard award-winning author Nancy Matsumoto. In addition to being such an accomplished wordsmith, she’s also a fierce champion of regenerative agriculture and agroecology. Noting that she is, “…interested in food systems,” Matsumoto can eloquently discuss the production process of an item, such as how sake goes from agricultural ingredient to finished product, and makes us appreciate how much time and effort goes into crafting the culinary delights we enjoy––with Nature playing one of the most important roles in sustainable production.
Matsumoto spent her time at PMR working on her newest book, and graciously gave a sneak peek of the work in progress.
“The working titles is ‘Reaping What She Sows: The Women Who Are Fixing Our Broken Food System,’ and each chapter is about at different aspect of the food system, whether it is grains or regenerative meat and poultry––there’s a chapter on fisheries. So, it’s really looking at the entire food system,” she says.
A connoisseur of fine food and drink, Matsumoto is the perfect ambassador and author to discuss the logistics of food systems. Having spent her entire career in words, she has the art of curating the perfect story down to a science. The way she skillfully discusses the origin of ingredients and their uses brings a new level of importance to the concept of sustainable farming––reminding us of the fact that the products we cherish do not in fact come from the local store or farmer’s market, but from the Earth. The minute the food supply chain is disrupted is the minute it’s not so easy to pick-up dinner or prepare one’s favorite comfort food.
Because Matsumoto has a knack for being able to take the reader all the way back to the root of a food or beverage, she can literally go so far as to take a baked good down to a grain source…in fact, she did just that during her residency.
Hosting an impromptu taste test of grains, she walks through the story of how she recently spent time in Minnesota and Canada, where she was doing reporting and working on a chapter about local grain sheds; throughout this time, she had the opportunity to learn more about Kernza––a native perennial grain heralded for being a highly-sustainable cereal. Using PMRCAA’s flour mill, wheat, and squash, Matsumoto baked up goodies such as squash muffins and pancakes with fresh wheat, Midwest Kernza, and conventional flour. It wasn’t lost on any of her participants that this was an approachable (and delicious) way of taking the concept of local and/or sustainable eating from ‘abstract’ to ‘reality’.
Like every resident, she was touched by the landscape, but would find additional meaning within the ranch itself.
“I hope that work that has been started here, to try to gradually transition the farm from conventional to regenerative […] continues.” Says Matsumoto, noting PMR’s efforts to be a full-scale regenerative ranch. She feels privileged to have had an opportunity to glimpse a chapter in the ranch’s story, and wonders what legacy PMRCAA, Residents, and townspeople will leave behind. Thankfully, there are creatives such as herself, Honda, and Collin Bell who are always keen to capture the story of our lives.
“It’s really wonderful to be able to leave something behind that will speak to future generations. And it’s a piece of yourself.”
Tales that Go With The Flow | Collin Bell
“I had met a previous artist named Slinko and she was lovely, but going into my own artist and residency––I really had no idea what to expect,” says documentary filmmaker and photographer, Collin Bell. Fresh from defending his Master’s thesis, Bell’s story is one of transition––both for himself as well as the people he spoke with for his residency’s project.
Bell has a knack for telling difficult stories, and this time, he chose to focus on water rights; appropriate enough considering how much they impact farming families––the very people who stock the food supply chain.
“It was a project on drought in central Oregon and specifically about one region called the North Unit, Irrigation District, [which] has the second most junior water rights.” Bell goes on to explain that several districts in Central Oregon operate under first claimed water rights, which established how much water would be received in perpetuity and has not changed since the area was settled in the late 1800s.
Consisting of a roughly 10-minute documentary film, series of portraits, and a website (featuring an article written by his friend Anna Mattson), Bell tells the story of the Thomas Family, specifically, Evan Thomas––fifth generation farmer.
“They have had to leave over 50% of their land unfarmable just to have enough water [to raise their primary product], […] and they really don’t know what the future entails,” he states solemnly. With droughts becoming increasingly worrisome, the issue is exacerbated for regions who are teetering on the verge of not being able to get enough water to sustain themselves––much less thrive. Bell does a service by shedding light on this issue, as most people think of the Pacific Northwest as one big rainy landscape––unaware of the different microclimates within the region’s states, which range from coastal beaches and verdant forests, to the High Deserts of Central Oregon––where the landscape is dry and bathed in rocky hues of red, orange, and gold.
For Bell, the opportunity to have dedicated time to edit his piece was invaluable, as was the opportunity to screen a rough cut of his documentary––which was a particularly good precursor to his current stage of getting ready to submit his film to the festival circuit. Additionally, while his film is bound to be a learning experience for his audiences, it was just as valuable for Bell himself, who notes that although he’s generally well-versed (but admittedly, far from an expert) on the topic of water rights, studying it as an outsider who does not have to deal with its reality on a daily basis was vastly different from having the added insight of people who live with the challenge day by day, year after year.
Like many artists, Bell may have discovered a subject that he isn’t ready to move on from, “[This experience] offered a lot of questions […] for future projects, and if I want to create an additional cut of this [piece], [my experience and connections at PMRCAA] definitely gave me a lot of directions to follow.” Just when he thought his story on water rights was coming to a close, it may in fact be the beginning.
Connected in Gratitude.
The final story that this cohort shared was one of gratitude––both for the time they got to share together, and for the generosity bestowed upon them by PRMCAA. While Honda, Matsumoto, and Bell all had fond memories of the meals and conversations they shared where they broke bread and traded notes about their projects and the process of being creative professionals, they also expressed their individual gratitude for what their time at PMRCAA helped them accomplish.
For Honda, she could not have continued her work without being able to be connected to the local community. Her series of hands and the stories that accompany them being a physical representation of reaching out to connect, to link with each other. To be welcomed back to PMRCAA is an incredible privilege that she cherishes.
Matsumoto’s taste test story also included how Kathy Deggendorfer, Roundhouse Foundation Founder and Trustee, graciously offered up the flour mill and the farm fresh wheat; going on to note how Becky Lukens, Administrative Assistant and Residency Associate, helped them figure out how to operate the mill]. Was this an official pre-planned part of the Residency? No, but it was a part of the experience and Matsumoto deeply appreciates the ability for Residents to flex and explore throughout their time at the ranch.
Bell, who actually had to leave early to defend his thesis, notes that even his abridged time was made incredibly valuable. From the insights of Trustee Frank Deggendforfer (a former member of the Sisters Irrigation District board) to the team helping him set-up his initial screening, his experience proves that it’s not the length of a residency that matters, so much as the quality an artist is able to extract from the opportunity.
As these three artists continue to share their stories with the world through their work, each looks back fondly at the chapter that now links them together.