Pine Meadow Ranch: The Source of Inspiration
Three artists use Pine Meadow Ranch as a source of inspiration for their work across three different mediums.
Almost all of us have heard creatives discuss how a source of inspiration “influenced their work” but what does that process really look like to the visual artist, sculptor, or writer?
To visit Pine Meadow Ranch (PMR) is to become immersed in the natural world––livestock and wildlife traipse through a green, gold, and red landscape. Fields of flowers make the air seem impossibly fresh. It’s about as far away as you can get from an urban environment, and that’s precisely why artists of every medium love to come here to ‘turn off the noise,’ and discover what can unfurl within them when they’re left to their own devices and work in a serene––and at times, surreal––environment.
Adventures of A Busy Bee | Sarah Red-Laird
Sarah Red-Laird is a woman on a mission; passionate about both bees and art, she is known as “The Bee Girl.” An artist and Founder/Executive Program Director of her nonprofit “Bee Girl Organization,” (BGO) Red-Laird’s brand of ‘bee advocacy’ involves a combination of conservation, research, education, and conceptual art projects. As an artist that literally pulls from nature for her work, she’s been using her time at Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Arts and Agriculture (PMRCAA) to borrow from where she once gave something back.
“[Cyanotype] was invented to create photographs and it was actually [popularized] by a woman [Anna Atkins] in the 1800s,” she says. An educator through and through, Red-Laird provides a mini-lesson on the background of cyanotype, laughs about the pitfalls of some flowers being too large for the process, and how she elevates her creations with the addition of encaustic beeswax and entomological specimens of bees from BGO’s collection.
Though her creations are obviously beautiful, they carry a double-meaning––the flowers used to create the cyanotypes are harvested from her partners’ respective ranches, farms, or vineyards. The flowers are pressed to flatten and preserve them and then used to create the cyanotype print.
These aren’t just any flowers she gathers, they represent the work she does to help agriculturists and vintners strengthen their own efforts by creating habitats for bees (a crucial pollinator) on their properties––a practice she actually brought to PMRCAA a year prior when she collaborated with PMRCAA’s Director of Ranch Operation’s Pam Weaver to install a regenerative habitat. Red-Laird launches into how there are now two habitats cultivated from the same blend of flowers, but due to the difference of one location being an upper parcel of gently-used land, while the other is a heavily-used pasture, the flowers that chose to thrive in each section are incredibly varied––yet another example of nature at work.
For the community engagement portion of her residency, Red-Laird hosted a lecture, pasture walk, and studio tour––a fitting combination, as she notes that being the executive program director of a nonprofit organization, an artist, beekeeper, and a conservationist who is involved in ranching, wine-making, and entomology/melittology communities, means that there is very little about her artistic practices that is direct. This is one of the reasons she appreciates everyone at PMR not only welcoming her back to enjoy the fruits of her previous labors, but giving her the grace to engage in a nonlinear artistic pursuit.
It is this comprehensive approach that ultimately makes her cyanotypes doubly-striking; they’re not just beautiful to behold, there is a legitimate history behind each one. Everything about Red-Laird draws one in as she discusses her favorite bees; what it’s like to conduct research, and the importance of working in tandem with nature. But the most important message she’s communicating with her holistic approach to art and conservation is why human beings have a duty to ensure safe and prosperous natural habitats for the creatures we share this planet with.
Creating Utilitarian Beauty | Ceramicist Dylan Beck
“The focus of the utilitarian forms is usually around some sort of ritual or meaningful practice, or objects that have a function that’s beyond, just maybe of a everyday use,’” states sculptor and ceramicist Dylan Beck. A statement that makes perfect sense when one views Beck’s current collection of altarpieces, platters, bowls, bookends, planters, and cups that invite curiosity and conversation (and perhaps even touch––as many of the pieces are incredibly tactile in their appearance).
Granting a sneak preview of some of his newest work conducted during his residency, one need not be a resident of the Pacific Northwest to quickly see how he has begun translating the region’s picturesque and varied landscape into functional pieces that remain unquestionably artistic and independently produced––in the best sense of those terms.
Giving a brief tour of his studio and some of the treasures he’s collected during his stay at PMR, there are at times direct translations of the samples he has collected or the landscapes he has seen appearing in his work. From volcanic, water, and sky-like cups to the illusion of mycelium ‘growing’ on ceramic forms, he explores the interconnectivity of nature in some very playful ways––including the fact that his medium of choice is directly of the Earth.
A second-time artist in residence at PMR, Beck doesn’t shy away from taking risks in his work, as he asks for feedback while musing over which of his new creations is translating the best. In case there was any lingering confusion or uncertainty, he discusses his work in very plain terms, “…the inspiration for the forms come from the natural world, and one reason is I’m just really inspired by nature, but also, I want the work to evoke nature and ecology as a means of helping people […] have more of an ecological imagination.”
Like every artist who is fortunate enough to earn a residency, the appreciation Beck feels for his time at PMRCAA is larger than himself. While he praises the support he received from fellow artist (and The Roundhouse Foundation Founder & Trustee) Kathy Deggendorfer, he wants his fellow artists to experience the same freedom and creative nurturing that he was privileged to enjoy. Beck also led a lecture for locals while he was on the ranch.
“It’s a really great opportunity and they…really care about your ability to make a change in your practice, but also do something that is really related to this place, in this community…people aren’t just flying in from somewhere else and doing their ‘artist thing’ and disappearing.” Beck also takes pains to stress that the requirement that residents ‘make a contribution’ doesn’t mean manual labor on the ranch, it means finding a way to share your skill and talent with the local community. A fitting message from an artist whose work plays with natures’ interconnectivity as a source of inspiration.
Words of Wisdom | Joe Wilkins
Bonafide literati Joe Wilkins is an author, poet, and professor. The creative process for a writer can appear meandering and disjointed to others, simply because a lot of the work involves absorbing information, surroundings, conversations, and then letting it germinate in the back of one’s mind before the seedling of a story presents itself. Ideation isn’t always as simple as: sit down, let a story present itself, and write for a few hours. Thankfully, PMRCAA understands that each artist has their own process, and the way their form of ‘work’ presents itself may be different than what one typically expects to see. Wilkins is acutely aware of the time it takes to practice his craft, “I write a lot but I’m pretty slow to get things sort of towards that final [point], so maybe [in a] month or two there might be some Tam McArthur Rim poem or something like that,” he says with a bit of a chuckle.
Though he has been working on wrapping up his second novel, for Wilkins, his time at PMRCAA was largely spent exploring the landscape and the town, and then cataloging that process for future work. Opportunities to bike, hike, fly-fish, and head into town were information gathering sessions that he has copious notes of. In fact, it became a morning ritual for him to, “…go sit on the porch of the caretaker’s cabin [with my morning coffee and] my journal and pencil.” He deeply appreciates the fact that the PMRCAA Team supported him in his process by giving him the space to approach his work organically, rather than force the expectation that he had a novella or a certain number of chapters completed by the time his residency came to a close.
For Wilkins, some of the fondest memories of his residency involve the little moments he got to spend getting to know others. His community engagement piece was hosting a workshop at a local bookstore, Paulina Springs Books, which ultimately led to many meaningful connections with the local community. In his own words, “[My] workshop was early in the residency which was then nice because…I sort of had these connections already which was fun,” he says with a big smile. He goes on to enthusiastically talk about how he went to a live music show in Sisters and realized that two of the musicians attended his workshop. It wouldn’t be the last time he ran into attendees from his community class, and he even notes that he had participants following up with him to share work that they had produced due to the workshop.
What sights and sounds did Wilkins see? How will he translate the sensory experience of the ranch and community connections during his time in Sisters, Oregon into his new written work? Like many creatives, he’s keeping that close to the vest until he’s ready to share those answers through his work. Stay tuned…
Choose Your Own Adventure
If there’s one lesson we can take from these artists, it’s that inspiration can indeed come from any and everywhere. Sisters and Pine Meadow Ranch, are beautiful places that one will no doubt walk away from with fond memories, but what is one going to do with those memories? Especially when dealing with locations, how do we keep that memory and experience alive and inspire others to create their own?
Red-Laird’s lives on the land, where her floral fields encompass a visual feast for the eye and a veritable paradise for pollinators; then of course, there are her cyanotypes created from the pressed flowers she helps to cultivate. Beck’s work makes an everyday appearance, where one can enjoy their morning beverage while looking at nature and holding a representation of it in their hands at the same time. As for Wilkins, his work will live on in print––the story of his residency subtly enmeshed in a tale of his own creation. Three artists, three experiences, three different interpretations of the same landscape––choose your own medium, and adventure.
All photos courtesy of Loma Smith Photography