For some of us, this has been the most devastating of years. Families have lost loved ones and, in some cases, their livelihood too. Nobody has been truly exempted from the effects of the pandemic. Even those who see themselves as above the fray, are within the reach of the virus and its many consequences.
I’ve personally experienced the grief that accompanies death and desolation like a great, heavy weight that makes moving difficult. The solitude alone (even in the absence of disease) is affecting my mental health and, surely, that of millions around the globe. Financially, it has also been a stressful and paltry first half of the year. One needs to dig deep to find nuggets of gratitude in this sea of hopelessness.
It was with this end in mind (cultivating gratitude) that I accepted the invitation from the Vermont Studio Center. I felt a bit frivolous and self-centered taking time for myself during such a time, but at the same time, a chance to safely venture into the world once again was very attractive, and I thought this might be the ticket. After all, the only thing that would get me out of my home (if only briefly) would be a chance to work on my art projects uninterruptedly. Or so I thought…
For those of you unfamiliar with the Vermont Studio Center, it is a non-profit artist residency located in the town of Johnson, one of many small towns of rural Vermont. The Center is a large part of the town, now that they have acquired many of the old buildings to house the artists. They offer short term residencies and lectures by visiting artists. More than anything, it is a environment where one can let creativity be front and center. Everyone else is there for the same reasons as you, and sharing is encouraged. On paper, a great place to recharge and give the creative mind a boost.
I stayed in a little corner house at the end of the street, a tad too far from my studio in the church building. It never felt farther than the evening Isaias poured on the town and I had to run (or rather wobble) uphill with a box of art supplies and a towel over my head. A lot of paper was soggy and ruined by the time I got to the house. But I digress…
I suspected when I agreed to be part of the second cohort of 2020, that my experience there would be somewhat watered down (and I don’t mean by the rain). The irony of the situation was not lost on me: an artists’ residency is designed to be a mixer where you can exchange ideas, make new friends, and grow unimpeded.
How would Covid-19 impact the very core objective of the VSC? We were told we would have to remain separate and rely on zoom virtual sessions. We couldn’t visit any of the studios or converse over a meal. We were to be segregated from each other for the duration of our stay. Inspiration took a big hit as a result and the social side of attending a residency was swiftly expunged. Since it was all done in the name of safety, I made peace with the reality of it, and decided to concentrate on my projects.
Most people who know me (not many) would understand that I tend to have a sense of humor about hard things that happen to me. It is a coping mechanism, and one that works wonders. I would otherwise be in tears all the time…but I would much rather laugh.
That is exactly what I did upon the unveiling of my accommodations at VSC. To call them subpar would be generous. Suffice it to say that my husband thought it necessary to come back the following day to “secure” and clean the place. Windows had no locks, for instance… We spent a whole day scrubbing the bathroom and the kitchen. The love seat and rugs were a lost cause. Two of the lamps had no working bulbs, and the whole place was smelly. It looked like it had been “furnished” by diving into the nearest dumpster. We had ourselves a good chuckle.
The funniest thing was the toy microwave on the counter. I could barely fit a cup of tea in it. The bed was tiny too. My ankles and feet dangled from the bottom of that bed a good ten inches (I am not a giant), and I started to wonder if I had landed in Munchkin land by mistake. I expected some funny technicolor little person to pop out of a cabinet and start singing.
Now, before you think I am exaggerating, despite being in the heart of Vermont, I felt uneasy because the house was adjacent to a large construction site as well as a public park. Perhaps my inner big city gal was playing a trick on me. I was alarmed to hear people coming and going at all hours. There were construction workers, pick up trucks parked in front of the house, and the park itself seemed to be a popular nighttime destination for folks in the area. I barely slept the first night, having propped all kinds of items against my windows. The next day I was so exhausted I couldn’t even make it to the studio until late in the afternoon. I slept for a few hours while my husband dealt with those darned window locks. Only later in the day was I able to walk down to the church to start working.
The week went by very slowly. Most of my time was spent making sure every surface was sprayed and thoroughly wiped. Making artwork quickly took a back seat to keeping safe and healthy. The objective of the stay was not being accomplished the way I had expected, so I decided to remain for the initial week and then return home to my own studio after that. If managing risk was to be my main activity, I would much rather be home. At least I would be able to spend that time making artwork. It seemed like a no-brainer.
I’ll remember my time at VSC as a worthwhile experience, but one colored by Covid and shrunk by the inevitable restrictions. Residencies and pandemics simply don’t mix well. Oil and water. Toasters and bathtubs. Forks and electric sockets. You get the jest…
I now have a newly found appreciation for my little home studio. First of all, it's clean and cozy. Though tiny, it keeps me warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It acts like a cocoon where I can feel safe and anxiety free, if only for a few hours. I wish with all my heart everyone had a place like it these days. A place where they could decompress and regain some composure. My private studio is a lifesaver for me, and I will never take it for granted. Never.