Four artists in residence connect with each other, and reconnect to the humble yet powerful traits of curiosity and exploration in Sisters, Oregon

All photos courtesy of Loma Smith Photography

Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Arts & Agriculture (or simply PMR) is a place of breathtaking beauty, but it’s also a place to get in touch with the natural world and test new ideas. The May/June 2023 Artist in Residence cohort employed a variety of mediums during their time at PMR, but the common thread was how they connected to their work, the community, and each other.

Sally Finch, husband and wife duo Julian and Emilia Saporiti, and Milo Vella started off as strangers, which is one of the first things most Artists in Residence will tell you if you ask them about their experience, “I didn’t know who was going to be there, or how, or IF we’d interact,” they’ll say. Yet, this particular quartet soon found themselves sharing their work processes with each other and engaging in many lively conversations. Even when coming from disparate mediums, a passion for the arts and an appreciation for the natural world is a common thread.

Another shared sentiment that almost every Artist in Residence has is that they arrived prepared to produce as much as they could, after all, the beauty of their opportunity is that they’re placed in an idealized setting with all of their needs met, and the only thing that’s being asked of them in return is that they connect with their surroundings, embrace the opportunities it presents, and focus on their craft. So, imagine their surprise when their motivation shifts from focusing on the quantity they produce to absorbing what the land has to offer to collect memories that will inspire them long after they depart.

The Everyday Data Around Us

At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that Sally Finch’s watercolors were just that––highly detailed, extremely precise paintings, but Finch is very much a mixed media artist, as well as a researcher. Collecting and cataloguing various forms of data about the natural world, Finch color codes her information, and then translates her findings into visual artistic mediums using paint, hole punches, maps, and in her latest piece, wool yarn.

Throughout her experience, she found herself encouraged to question her own methods in surprising ways, such as walking through the fields with someone who was familiar with her research and cataloging methods. Her companion asked her which color their stroll would be categorized as. Pleasantly surprised that someone connected to her work and process enough to pose this question, Finch realized she needed to revamp her current color-coding system, “… I thought about it, and decided that maybe there needed to be…another split category and that maybe it would be both ‘orange’ for pleasure and ‘green’ for research. I mean I was definitely learning, but it was also just a really enjoyable thing talking to this person about her work… So, that is when somebody understands your work, and thinks about it enough to say, ‘What is this?’”

Finch also pushed her boundaries and shared a great deal of herself when she did something that is practically verboten in the artistic world––whether due to discomfort or perfectionism––, she displayed an unfinished piece in her open studio.

“So in my open studio, I had one finished work, which I brought with me that was not done there [at PMR], but the point was to show people what we had done during our residency, and in my case, I had one project that had already been started but that I continued to work on and I had the pieces about working in the garden. That, I didn’t start until I got there; and so, when people saw it, there wasn’t much to it yet,” Finch says nonchalantly. She leveraged the opportunity to share her process during the open studio, displaying her partially finished work, an explanatory legend, and pinning all of her tools to the wall to showcase how she punches out the holes and fastens them down. Due to this approach, attendants weren’t afraid to engage with the unfinished work and ask questions, which was a surprisingly refreshing experience for both viewer and artist.

Living in The Moment Through Community Participation

Artistic duo and married couple Emilia and Julian Saporiti form the folk band “No-No Boy,” but they are also artists outside of the musical medium, as well as accomplished academics (Julian has a PhD in Ethnomusicology/American Studies and Emilia is currently a Law Student). While they deepened their own bond as they spent hours upon hours playing music in a barn, it was when they came out of their cocoon that they were able to enjoy enriching experiences through the land and the community.

Using the landscape as a backdrop, the Saporitis captured Sisters, Oregon bathed in gold during sunset––imagery which they say we can expect to see pop-up in some of their future music videos.

Mrs. Saporiti (who just finished her second year of law school as of this writing) is also a visual and textile artist. She had the opportunity to get back to her hands-on artistic roots when she tried out a colorful new medium.  Like a portion of Finch’s story, it all begins with a stroll––this time, through PMR’s dye garden. These same flowers would soon leave a lasting impression on the Saporitis’ work, literally, as Mrs. Saporiti goes on to say that she tried her hand at ‘flower pounding’ or ‘flower hammering’––a process that involves pounding/hammering a flower onto paper or fabric to be left with a perfect impression of that flower. This too shall make an appearance in a music video or on cover art, and represents another piece of their experience that will live on in their new work.

Quickly becoming temporary fixtures within the community as they frequently peddled their electric bikes into town, the couple also had the opportunity to connect to the community in a profound way when, in addition to their open studio at PMR, they played a show at a local book store.

“We packed this bookstore about 60-65 people like the one bookstore in town and played a concert for those folks. And that was really nice, especially since so much of our work has to do with not only playing music but teaching history as well,” says Mr. Saporiti, continuing to note that, “I feel like we really had a good impact with the community and vice versa. And after our concerts, we have a question and answers session. And the questions that people had were just super thoughtful and engaging and it felt like they really understood what we were doing. We particularly look at these interesting histories of Asian Americans that people don’t really learn about in school…there was a lot of openness, a lot of non-political… just…’wanting to learn more’ conversations and a real appreciation of the music.”

Like Finch and Vella, the couple also reiterates their appreciation for the Pine Meadow Ranch staff, who not only work tirelessly in ways great and small, but who help foster opportunities to connect with the community by moving beyond ‘lip service’ and making introductions. This is how the Saporitis had the unexpected opportunity to informally collaborate with PMR’s book artist Diana Phillips. The couple also makes and prints their own books, and through speaking with Phillips, the Saporitis had the opportunity to view, research, and help her photograph a set of ancient Vietnamese scrolls used by a religious sect. Mrs. Saporiti excitedly tells the story of how, “these paintings are paintings of their different deities. And when you hang them up in the correct order, that’s how they would basically create a temple at whatever space they’re in because they started as a nomadic people.”

One can’t help but pause and think about the immense amount of serendipity that allowed this moment to happen, as well as the power of cultural exchange and appreciation. The deep meaning of a complete set of scrolls making their voyage to the United States and being photographed in their entirety can be appreciated by all, due to the thread of ‘the human experience’ that connects us, as well as a natural curiosity about what was, is, and shall be that spans the ages.

The Experience You Take With You

To catch-up to Milo Vella, we had to touch base with him, literally, on the road. Headed back to Owens Valley, California, Vella graciously stopped mid-road trip to pull over and try his luck on his mobile phone. The common theme for this group of artists is that they are all interdisciplinary artists, researchers, and explorers––whether it’s in their own back yard or across the country.

During his stay at PMR, Vella executed a land-use interpretation project, as well as researching native habitats and indigenous approaches to caring for landscapes––work that will serve him well upon his return to Owens Valley, where he works as a Garden Manager for the Big Pine Paiute Tribe. Like our other artists profiled, Vella was grateful that PMR was supportive of his non-straightforward artistic practice, noting that, “Working on a booklet about practices observed or that I thought were interesting is not as straightforward as some of the paintings and drawings done [by other artists].”

Though the opportunity to engage with PMR staff and learn more about permaculture was invaluable to Vella and his practice, it was the chance he had to connect with the region’s children that was unexpected and prompted him to remember that a passion for the environment is like a good garden––cultivated. “One thing that I thought was really delightful was the chance to work with a school group who came through.  There was a one room school house that PMR has a relationship with, so they came by and I had an opportunity to lead an hour long tour and observation session with […] children of all these different ages. The chance to work with them was very unexpected and sweet, and helped me think about the many different ways people are being taught to engage with the land, and the question of ‘this little session [and] sharing some things could have significance down the line.’” Vella says, reminiscing about what has now become a cherished memory.

Since Vella’s palette is the landscape and the Earth itself, it makes sense that he would touch upon the surprising sense of ‘connectedness’ he experienced during his first ever residency. Finch and the Saporitis would also echo this, this sense of not expecting to learn so much from your fellow artists (not because they aren’t talented in their own right, but because they are working in a different, nay, foreign medium), and being unprepared to forge a bond with them so quickly. When asked what his overall favorite memory is about the time he’s spent at Pine Meadow Ranch, Vella says, “…the opportunities with the other residents were really great.” He goes on to muse about the dinners they enjoyed together (another recurring theme, as the Saporitis said that Finch is a fantastic cook), and how privileged he was to be able to enjoy the work of his fellow artists––learning how Finch undergoes her process, and enjoying what he describes as a “very moving concert” by the Saporitis at No-No Boy’s previously referenced Community Engagement Event.

Though each of the artists profiled is headed in their own direction, it is their shared experience at Pine Meadow Ranch that will now bind them together wherever they go.

Published On: July 24th, 2023 / Categories: Pine Meadow Ranch, Pine Meadow Ranch Programs /