For three Artists in Residence, Pine Meadow Ranch would lead to a series of adventures, meaningful exchanges, and a new understanding of and deep appreciation for the term ‘generosity.’
All photos courtesy of Loma Smith Photography
If one could only use two words to describe Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Arts & Agriculture (or simply, Pine Meadow Ranch / PMR), they would probably be ‘uncanny’ and ‘generous’. At least, those words or synonyms come up with every Artist you speak to who has had the pleasure of taking part in a residency. Each artist in this cohort has their own unique story and relationship with Pine Meadow Ranch, but the sentiment they all share is how overwhelmed they are with the level of generosity and hospitality they received – so much so, that they walk away a bottomless well of gratitude, and when you feel that good, you can’t help but try to pay it forward.
In this edition of our ‘Artist in Residence Series,’ we explore what it’s like to become a community at Pine Meadow Ranch in 2-weeks, and carry that momentum out into the ‘real world’– not only through one’s work, but through one’s values…
Of Culture and Community
Mersaedy Atkins boasts several talents – she is a highly talented designer with an emerging fashion line, a steward of tradition and language, and the first ‘Confluence Emerging Indigenous Artist/Educator,’ and yet, despite all of her accomplishments and gifts, she remains remarkably humble and down-to-earth. Perhaps it’s because she had her own challenges early in life that she has an attitude of ‘no person left behind,’ because she understands that representation, support, and reaching common ground in the human experience are a large part of what it takes to overcome challenges – she firmly believes one has to take responsibility and put in the work, but wonders who’s going to be there when they reach the other side?
For Atkins, her time at Pine Meadow Ranch was particularly meaningful, “…as much as it was […] an artist residency. It felt like a healing retreat,” she says, noting how the experience is “deeply spiritual.” Being able to connect to the land, have the freedom to work on her line of native regalia, and have her voice amplified were all gifts which she was deeply honored to receive, but what pushed her experience over the top was the private tour she and her cohort received of the vault at the High Desert Museum, conducted by none other than the museum’s Executive Director, Dana Whitelaw. There, Atkins had the opportunity to view Indigenous creations and facilitate an informal conversation about what it means to share, preserve, and steward Indigenous Pacific Northwest Culture, and how one can be an advocate and ally even when they do not belong to a tribe.
Fueled by inspiration and a new outlook on the importance of being open and sharing one’s story (a meaningful revelation for an admittedly reserved and private person), Atkins worked on patterns and regalia in anticipation of an upcoming fashion show. The best part, not only will she be showcasing her own line, but she’ll be sharing the work of students who take part in classes she offers as part of her Confluence Emerging Indigenous Artist/Educator role––putting on a bona fide Indigenous regalia fashion show. “I’m taking my community with me,” she says with a laugh.
It’s all in the name of encouraging her people to share the beauty of their culture, “I think there’s a lot of opportunities out there but Indigenous people aren’t very boastful […], we don’t brag about ourselves or put ourselves out there,” but that’s exactly what she’s been empowered to do, thanks to the hospitality and generosity of Pine Meadow Ranch and Roundhouse Foundation (whom she repeatedly thanked). Atkins already knew the importance of valuing one’s tribe, and now, thanks in part to her experience at Pine Meadow Ranch, she and her students will be sharing the beauty of their traditions with the world.
Cultivating A Community
For Kaci Rae Christopher, the residency at Pine Meadow Ranch was an opportunity to rethink the process of being an author. Though she studied poetry, Christopher now uses her degrees (a Bachelor’s in English Language and Literature/Letters and a Master’s in Creative Writing) and background in special education to breathe new life into the poetry of gardening and creating with natural resources. However, she hasn’t sacrificed her love of words; in fact, her time at Pine Meadow Ranch would be spent working on her second book – although, the way she undertook her drafting process this time around was decidedly unorthodox, and perhaps that’s why it’s working so well.
Unsurprisingly, Christopher was prepared to hunker down and bury her head in what one envisions as the ‘traditional practice’ of drafting a book––spending hours upon hours chipping away at pages, and only emerging from her workspace when it was absolutely necessary. Instead, she found herself working on a more conceptual level, figuring out how her second book of gardening curriculum can answer some of the bigger, more challenging questions and feelings children may have about the environment and a world in flux amidst climate change, such as grief.
“…there’s just so many layers [that] I need to consider, and I needed to have the space to just get it out physically and then be able to see all those themes and those lenses that I want to apply to it. So, it was less time, sitting and writing and more like scaffolding,” she says.
One of the great juxtapositions of art is that it’s often a solitary act with an end result that is meant to be shared – Atkins designs, drafts, and sews beautiful creations meant to be enjoyed by people. Lilith Rockett is a ceramicist whose pieces often form sets for people to use together. Christopher’s art is one of the most solitary mediums of all, as a writer might not even be able to concentrate in a shared workspace; yet, sharing is precisely how she “[broke] through some walls that I […] had mentally around my project.” She goes on to discuss how the fact that she was able to “…talk with other educators and other people about it just helped to get to the next step.”
Christopher would take this act of engaging other educators one step further when she asked the Pine Meadow Ranch Team if she could host a ‘coffee conversation’ with educators across a variety of fields (from virtual place-based work to wilderness therapy) and ages (the youngest participant was 22, while the oldest was 80). She hung up her work in progress – another barrier for a writer to overcome – and engaged in a 2-hour conversation with her participants; even Atkins and Rockett attended to support her and join in the conversation. The format was such a success that Christopher intends to keep the group going; she expresses how grateful she is that Pine Meadow Ranch helped plant the seed for this larger endeavor. Now that she’s managed to cultivate her own community of like-minded educators with a passion for the environment and climate change, she hopes she’ll be able to nurture it and help it grow.
Breaking Bread with Your Community
With her ceramics frequently used in restaurants around the world, Lilith Rockett has found a way to turn the solo art of being a ceramicist into a community affair, as food has a unique way of literally bringing people to the table together. Whether her work is elegant in its simplicity or captivating in its use of experimental techniques, Rockett’s pieces encourage one to do a double-take and reconsider how much thought and design goes into creating an everyday utilitarian piece that is also perfect in its beauty – Rockett has the mastered the line between form and function.
Though she works with interior designers, galleries, showrooms, and shops, it is her work with restaurants that she keeps coming back to, perhaps because she has a uniquely fun relationship with chefs. When discussing her restaurant ceramics, Rockett says, “I make custom tableware collections for chefs, but it’s kind of an interesting way that I work with them. Rather than having a catalog and selling off of that, I pretty much design collections that are really specific to the restaurant, their vision, the kind of food they do. And it becomes kind of this play back and forth. Initially it starts with making things that are platforms for their creations, but then it evolves into me making something interesting that inspires them to make something interesting and it’s a bit more of a back and forth now.”
Much like with her work in restaurants, Rockett went back-and-forth with the preconceived notion of what her work would and should be. She details how she began with the concept of a tasting menu and pulling elements of the ranch into her work – making porcelain bowls with a gloss interior to represent day, and black porcelain and gloss interior to represent night, and intending to make multilayered pieces with biochar and different representations of the geology and land over time. Her projects also led to an opportunity for her trio to enjoy an outdoor adventure. After visiting High Desert Museum, PMR’s Trustee and Founder Kathy Deggendorfer would lead the group to Cinder Butte to inspect and gather rocks. Though the rationale for the trip was Rockett’s work (which can include everything from embedding rocks into her ceramics to making a glaze from silt – yes, silt, like the kind you would find in a creek bed or as waste from an irrigation pump), all the members of the cohort enjoyed geeking out on the individual rocks, the rich geology of the area, and of course, the natural beauty of the landscape.
Though Rockett didn’t have time complete all of her original projects, in the end she created a gift for the garden – a Zeer pot, which is an evaporative cooling device that she hopes the ranch can use to keep freshly harvested vegetables cool. So, if that’s what she’s leaving behind, what is she taking away from her experience? The realization that you cannot give anything to your community, if you do not give yourself the time and space you need to explore and bring new ideas to the table – as the mother of a high schooler and the wife of a husband who frequently travels for business, she states that, “It’s been decades since I’ve been able to move through the world carrying only myself, […] I had so much time, and space to really go deep into things because all I had to do was feed myself, I didn’t have to worry about anything else for two weeks and was given so much support.”
If there’s one thing that each of the artists can tell you about, it’s the importance of having access to a supportive community. In addition to repeatedly mentioning how Deggendorfer (whose name was always said with great warmth whenever the trio spoke about ‘Kathy’) helped facilitate excursions and make amazing introductions, as well as how the entirety of the Pine Meadow Ranch staff created an environment where they could thrive, the artists noted how hospitality and generosity can add a new depth to one’s work. As they emerge from their residency, fresh and ready to resume their work, they’ll continue exploring new ways to engage with their personal processes and their communities in equal measure.