The View from Ragdale: An Ideal Retreat for Artists*
*also on Art Talk Chicago
At Ragdale I walked the same meadow Audrey Niffenegger wrote about in her book the "Time Traveler's Wife" that will be released as a movie this summer. Pres. Obama's poet, Elizabeth Alexander, is a Ragdale fellow. I had conversations each night with accomplished writers whose published books were made available to us: playwrights, poets, novelists, 2 other visual artists and one composer although we were lucky to get a bonus composer who came for an event that occurred when we left. Andrea Clearfield added even more to the experience of being with great minds and enormous talent in a space where everyone understood being driven and obsessive. No one said "Aren't you tired of working", "don't you want a break"? Everyone loved their process as much as I do.
Thanks to 3Arts I was nominated for and won a fellowship to attend Ragdale for two weeks in the studio you see here, located in Lake Forest, Illinois. I worked all day in the Meadow Studio that seemed a world away and is only a 45 minute drive from Chicago's north side. I only had to stop to have dinner that the chef serves. YES!!!!! You heard me! There is a chef!
I was assigned the Sewing Room for sleeping. I awakened early, as usual, showered in the down-the-hall bathroom, threw on work clothes, grabbed a banana and a bagel from the well-stocked kitchen, and then strolled the prairie path to my luscious studio that is bigger than most $1500.00 a month New York City apartments. I channeled architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe upon entering this sunlit, spacious room and I was right. Students attending Illinois Institute of Technology designed and built the studio in the meadow. Lit with treasured northern light due to the wall of glass doors and skylights, it has a screened-in porch with rocking chair that I didn't use, a lovely sitting area good for a nap after chatting with residents too long the night before. The studio featured multiple work surfaces and tables, an easel and tons of wall space, my preferred work surface.
The studio also has a high tech composting toilet called "Iggy", after the kind, and attentive director Regin Igloria!There were verbal and written instructions on how to Iggy!
All the staff, from interns to administrators are wonderful. The chef, Linda, providing meals to us each night except Saturday and enough leftovers that we did not have to cook for two weeks; more time for work!
For me, a person who has always worked in some capacity while I worked at making art, this hiatus from worldly responsibilities exposed the possibility of where I could take my work if only I had the luxury of time (and money, of course).
What about all those other Ragdale fellows? Do you have to spend time with them? It's your choice to go to the meals. My group made it an anticipated part of the day. Twelve were in residence during my stay and that is close to maximum.
I decided to start one new work each day and was able to keep to that promise spending up to 12 hours a day in the studio, without interruptions. Some works I began were large, 6 feet by 3 feet, five were 30" x 40". Others were smaller...but I achieved my goal and a couple over. Now, of course I have to finish them.
Artists, writers, composers, this is a way to totally focus on your work. Yes, I had to compete with other artists for the spot. Yes, I am behind on everything else, (I frequently can't keep up with all I try to do) but NO, I wouldn't trade the experience of Ragdale for anything.
Maybe this atmosphere can be achieved without going away, if you put your mind to it! If Not, apply to Ragdale or find another program like Oxbow in Michigan! The Trib Local did a feature on Ragdale with photos of the beautiful grounds and information about the history. Click here to read it.
if you're not an artist then you might make a donation.You will be
invited to Ragdale events, readings, etc. and you will support a great
This untitled, unfinished piece began at Ragdale...
*This was originally posted to Art Talk Chicago...read helpful comments here and on my Facebook page.