Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sabine van den Bergh named winner of Prix Résidence Moulin à Nef

VCCA (Virginia Center for the Creative Arts) in Amherst, Virginia, announced that an independent panel in Paris has selected photographer Sabine van den Bergh as the 2017 winner of the Prix Moulin à Nef. Van den Bergh holds an art degree from Arnhem in the Netherlands and has shown her work in exhibitions in Beaumont de Lomange and in Auvillar, France.

The Prix Résidence Moulin à Nef provides Van den Bergh with a month-long residency at VCCA in Virginia, where she will provided a private studio, private bedroom, and three prepared meals each day in a community of 25 writers, composers, and visual artists from across the US and around the world.  Van den Bergh plans to be in residence in 2018.

As runner-up, visual artist Patrick Polidano of Saint Sulpice et Cameyrac will be awarded a month-long residency at VCCA’s Moulin à Nef Studio Center in Auvillar, France.  His work has been exhibited in Bordeaux, Saint-Maixant, and Dijon, among other locations.  He plans to be in residence in Auvillar in April 2018.

Each year, the Prix Moulin à Nef is awarded to a visual artist from the Midi-Pyrénées or Aquitaine regions of France.  Artists interested in applying should contact Cheryl Fortier, Resident Director of VCCA’s Moulin à Nef (

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Inaugural Steven Petrow LGBTQ Fellow Cris Beam

The inaugural Steven Petrow LGBTQ Fellow, Cris Beam, will be in residence at VCCA for the month of August. 

Cris is an author and professor in New York City. Her most recent book, To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care (Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt, 2013), was named a 2013 New York Times Notable Book, was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Award, shortlisted for the William Saroyan Prize and was a best book on several year-end lists including NPR, New York Magazine and The Boston Globe. She is also the author of Transparent: Love, Family and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (Harcourt 2007), which won a Lambda Literary Award and was a Stonewall Honor book. Her young adult novel, I am J, (Little, Brown in 2011) was named a Kirkus Best Book and Library Guild Selection, and is the first book with a transgender character to land on the state of California’s recommended reading list for public high schools. Her short memoir, Mother, Stranger was published by The Atavist in 2012 and quickly reached the top ten on Kindle Singles. Forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is I Feel You. Beam’s work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Awl, Huffington Post, The Guardian and on This American Life. Beam is an assistant professor at William Paterson University. She’s currently working on a novel.

The Steven Petrow LGBTQ Fellowship is open to applicants working in all genres (writers, visual artists, and/or composers) and consists of a fully-funded two-week residency at VCCA, which includes a private bedroom, board, and an individual work studio. To be eligible applicants must self-identify as LGBTQ. 

A VCCA Fellow himself, Steven is an award-winning journalist, hailed as an expert on modern manners by The New York Times, People, Time, and NPR. Steven is a columnist for the Washington Post and for USA Today. Previously, he wrote The New York Times’s “Civil Behavior” column and “Digital Dilemmas” for Parade magazine. His five books include Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners, The Lost Hamptons, and Dancing Against the Darkness: A Journey through America in the Age of AIDS. 

Steven’s own work about LGBTQ issues found much support at VCCA over the past decade. “I’m funding this fellowship to provide support and recognition to LGBTQ writers and artists, especially because government funding of the arts is at risk these days. The arts are core to a democratic nation,” Steven said.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 Wachtmeister Award for Excellence in the Arts winner Emily Rapp Black

VCCA’s 2017 Wachtmeister Award for Excellence in the Arts winner, Emily Rapp Black will be in residence at VCCA in September. Selected from a highly competitive field of international applicants, Emily will receive, in addition to the a fully-funded residency, reimbursement of travel costs and honorarium. 

Emily is the author of Poster Child: A Memoir, and The Still Point of the Turning World, which was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the PEN USA Award in Nonfiction. She was educated at Harvard University, St. Olaf College, Trinity College-Dublin, and the University of Texas-Austin where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. In addition to VCCA, Emily has received fellowships from Yaddo, the Jentel Arts Foundation, Fundacion Valparaiso, the Fine Arts Work Center, and Bucknell University, where she was the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence.

Emily's work has appeared in Vogue, The New York TimesLos Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Modern Loss, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, O the Oprah Magazine, The Sun, Lenny Letter, and in many other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her next book, Casa Azul Cripple, is forthcoming from The New York Review of Books/Notting Hill Editions in 2018. Emily is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California-Riverside. She lives in Palm Springs with her husband, writer and editor Kent Black, and their family.

The Wachtmeister Award acknowledges the vital role of the arts in our world, the importance of artists who exemplify excellence in their field, and the necessity of time and space for the creative phase of all artistic work. Endowed by VCCA Board member emerita Linda Wachtmeister and administered by the VCCA Fellows Council, the Wachtmeister Award is presented biennially on a rotating basis within disciplines to a prominent writer, visual artist or composer whose significant achievement in the arts is widely recognized. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Creating Something Special For The VCCA Guest Blog Susi Smither

Being half American is very dear to me especially when that ties me to Virginia, where my Mother was born in Lynchburg. I've always felt at home there especially as an escape from the frenetic pace of London so you couldn't have a better location for an artistic retreat. At the end of a long winding driveway, tucked amongst lush woodland with the Blue Ridge Mountains on the horizon you'll find the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). Since I've been collaborating with them on an auction lot to raise funds during their Fête Champêtre on Saturday April 29th 2017, I was delighted to have the chance to look round their grounds, hear how things are run and even meet a couple of their residents last time I was in town.

“One of the leading artists communities in the world with locations in Amherst, Virginia and Auvillar, France, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) has as its mission advancing the arts by providing creative space in which our best national and international writers, visual artists and composers produce their finest creative work.”

Every year across both of their locations at Mt. SanAngelo in central Virginia and at the Moulin à Nef in France they host over 500 professional artists selected by a peer review panel from the applications they receive. Each is deemed to be at a point in their artistic journey which would merit their time there and are working on important or innovative work in their artistic field whether they are poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, playwrights, performance, film and video artists, painters, sculptors, photographers, installation artists, composers or cross-disciplinary artists. They are given the space to create, be that a large airy studio, a room with a writing desk and comfy chair or a music room with a grand piano but more importantly they are given the mental space without distractions as well as board and 3 meals a day. 

At the VCCA in Virginia, which I visited, they have up to 25 residents at one time with 9 visual artist studios, 3 composing studios and 13 writers rooms. Part of the magic of their time there is the community created with the resident coming together each evening for dinner - a chance to talk through their projects, get fresh insights or spark off new ideas. So many of their past fellows are so moved by their time there you can find their pieces of art dotted around the grounds or hanging proudly on the walls. 

During our visit we were lucky to be able to meet a couple of the visual artists currently in residence:  Chris McEvoy from Oswego, NY and Colleen Garibaldi from Washington, DC.Both were preparing for an upcoming show and brimming over with enthusiasm. It's not often you get a glimpse into that very personal creative space with each still distilling down their ideas, experimenting with the direction they are taking their work and paint still wet on their canvas. 

To take a look at both their work please visit their websites:

With such a creative and unique place we wanted to come up with an equally creative lot for their auction and curated a special suite of gemstones for the highest bidder to win - but it doesn't stop there. This is just the beginning, as we will work with the winner to create a completely bespoke item of 18K gold jewellery encompassing these stones. They will be involved in each step so that the piece is exactly to their taste and size. 

To view the entire package, please go to: (password: "unlocktherocks") 
If you're interested in placing a remote bid, please call VCCA by 5:00PM on Friday, April 28th.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Guest Blog: Elizabeth Bradford in Auvillar

Staring at a stucco wall struck by sunlight, covered in vines, I find myself beside a river, beneath a hill, in the agricultural belly of France. It’s a rare opportunity to briefly live and work in this warm light, surrounded by a thousand kinds of patina. For a month I have a residency at Moulin à Nef in Auvillar. It is the French outpost of the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. VCCA is one of the midwives who delivered me into my current state as an artist. The opportunity to live and work in their community for the first time was a watershed. I am hoping that Moulin à Nef rolls over me in as powerful a way.

My studio is tall and wide with 6 foot windows and mottled walls stained a pale jade. I have suffered all the vagaries of travel in the last five days with canceled flights, lost luggage and bad rental car contracts. The first thing I plugged into an outlet blew a fuse and then I turned around and slipped on a throw rug. Five days after leaving home, I’m still wearing the same outfit, and trying to figure out how to be an artist in the absence of my materials. Somewhere in Boston, or maybe Madrid, there is a hard shell golf case filled with stretcher bars and canvas, and every color of the rainbow. And I am here, disjointed as though missing my beloved. Aimless and lost.

My son challenged me, upon saying goodbye, to pretend I was on Mars— to loose all the familiar bonds, including, he said, the bond to the self I know. I’m beginning to think that there is some divine plan at work to divorce me from my supplies and plunge me into some deeper mining. Yesterday I prowled the Super Marché for kids’ art supplies and came out with some too pale, too tiny markers and pencils. I spent the afternoon by the river making marks, pushing the inadequate materials to speak. It was a challenging and stimulating exercise with a kind of odd, fresh success.

My first night here, we residents and the directors enjoyed a two hour dinner talking about our lives as artists. I said something about how handy it can be to be creative, and how, as a teacher in secondary school, I discovered there was no budget for supplies so I taught my students to paint using discarded house paint donated by Lowes, on pieces of packing cardboard. The directors were in the midst of installing Ikea cabinets in a pantry, and set the packing cardboard aside to be recycled. I asked if I might have it to work with.

In the early hours of the morning I had a vivid dream. Long and elaborate, and completely remembered, it bore powerful images of home. Someone from my past came for a visit and spent the night, sleeping bolt upright in an armchair. In the studio that dream is feeling very close to the bone, and is being expressed in cardboard.

My favorite line, in all the poetry I have ever read, may be the line from Mary Oliver, “You do not have to be good.” Oh, really? What a relief. Words to live by.

As the first born southern daughter of a first born southern daughter going back seven generations of first born daughters, I have some deeply embedded notions about how good I must always be. So today, I revolt and cut cardboard at random, allow that it does not have to be good. If I am lucky I can reach inside and pull forward the mysteries of that dream.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hanno Ahrens, 1954-2016

Swing, Boat, Table

What Hanno made of wood this year:
a swing, a boat, a table.

He doesn’t believe he’s made art this year;
the swing, the boat, the table

are objects he made to invite those he loves
to sit down.

Not objects people in rooms walk around,
regard in boredom or awe while locked at the knee–

a few vaguely yearning to float to the sea,
break bread with friends, rise through the air–

a few vaguely yearning–and not knowing why–
to sit in a tree.

                                    –Elizabeth Seydel Morgan

I remember Hanno Ahrens as larger than life: tall, commanding, and generous. He was a no-nonsense guy who lived large and his wood sculpture filled that large space. His work was also commanding, yet elegant, deeply in tune with its material, and perfectly proportioned. In “Swing, Boat, Table”, VCCA Fellow, poet Elizabeth Seydel Morgan captures the power of Hanno’s work. It spoke to us, even when we didn’t know we were listening.

I learned today that Hanno died last spring. I remember the many springtimes he drove up the hill at Mt. San Angelo in his truck, its bed full of tools and timber, ready to work in the studio. He came for a residency, but he also came to visit his daughter Dana who lived up the road in Charlottesville with her mother. Dana was the same age as my daughters, and Julia and Eleanor were Dana’s companions in the days before or near the end of Hanno’s residencies. The girls would play in the fields. They were the “nature girls” and Hanno was their guide.

Hanno built a beautiful boat by hand and sent the girls floating off on Sweet Briar Lake.  He dove into the water to grab a snapping turtle by its tail.  He filled his t-shirt with crawfish that he would later cook over an open fire. He ate seedpods off the coffey tree and once skinned a snake right before their wide eyes. 

After years of adventurous visits and four residencies at VCCA, Hanno and Dana moved to the wilds of Northern California and built a life there. Our communication was sporadic, but he still felt like a presence in my world. The note I received today immediately brought him closer than he’d been in years.  The world feels diminished now that I know he’s not in it.

-Sheila Gulley Pleasants

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Theresa Antonellis One Breath One Line

“I invented the one breath, one line method during my last year of graduate school,” says Theresa Antonellis referring to her unusual drawing process. “I wanted to find a way to synthesize everything I was thinking and learning before I started my MFA.” For many years prior, Theresa taught yoga and massage both of which involve a lot of breath work. Finding herself in the pressure cooker-environment of graduate school, she wanted to incorporate the two calming disciplines into her practice. That’s when she started experimenting with breath-generated mark making. “I was making marks based on the range of motion in my arm, and I came to settle on this very controlled one breath, one line and range of motion in the wrist or the arm plus the length of the drawing implement.“

At VCCA, Theresa was working on a series of line drawings made with a ballpoint pen and larger works made with oakgall ink on Japanese paper. The work shares an affinity, but the effect is quite different.  

The smaller works are tighter, more controlled. To produce them, Theresa starts at the center of the page, drawing lines from the top down. After four or five lines, she flips the image around and works in the opposite direction so that the drawing emanates from the center. Each line is made on the exhale. When she stops, she has to rest her pen to inhale and gather her focus. While she’s doing this, the ballpoint pen is resting on the page. A little puddle forms as the paper absorbs ink, creating a little dot at the end of each line. The visual embodiment of her technique, the dots tell us that’s where she paused to take her next breath. They also add a visually interesting flourish to the lines, both tempering and accenting their verticality.

Theresa has a set of rules that govern the drawings: the lines can’t touch, but they have to be as close together as possible and as straight as possible. Theresa is as interested in the resulting negative space as she is in the lines she draws. “I really enjoy that kind of white space that shows up between the lines and it becomes its own pattern. Every line is a reaction to the previous line and I feel like breath is like that. Every breath, while it may be the same length, is a reaction to the depth or the shallowness of the previous breath and the lines express that.

“During the process the pen will run into little imperfections in the paper, or my hand will express an imperfection in its range of motion and that shows up as a blip. I’ll accept that blip and I’ll continue and almost exaggerate it until it’s worked out of the image. I’ll push it out of the image much like one would massage a knot out of a muscle.“ This narrowing and widening of the space between the lines infuses the work with a rhythm and produces the effect of light and shadow.

Theresa uses the same spare language as Minimalism, but without the hermetic coolness of that genre. With the one breath, one line drawings, she has breathed soul into the work with the hand (and breath) of the artist clearly revealed.

The oakgall ink pieces involve the same approach. Because they’re bigger, instead of using just the range of motion in the wrist, she’s using the range of motion in the entire arm. “I dip the brush into the ink and make one full line on one exhale. They’re going to be as straight as possible, but there’s going to be some variation within them. And I copy that variation, so I allow that variation to be copied as I work it out.”

Made from crushed oakgalls, which are round nut-like growths that oak trees produce to protect themselves from the eggs of nonstinging wasps laid in their leaf stems. Oakgall ink dates back to the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, it was used in illuminated manuscripts and many of our important civic documents were written in oakgall ink.

To make the ink, boiling water is poured over crushed oakgall and left to sit over night. The next day, ferrous sulfate is added causing a chemical reaction. (In ancient times they used rust or some bit of rusty hardware.) The solution is no longer a tea; it is now a permanent dye. Initially, the ink has a midnight blue, deep purple cast, which darkens as it ages. The addition of gum Arabic emulsifies the liquid making it less watery.

Like many Fellows, Theresa feels that one of the points of a residency is to experiment, to push yourself to do something you wouldn’t normally do, so she brought a set of colored pencils with her to VCCA. Using the pencils she created a series of freehand circles in grid, selecting the colors based on a random set of rules. She wanted to represent as many colors as possible, without automatically going for her favorite colors. She also made a second grid in more neutral hues. The work is her response to the intense focus that her line drawings require. Here, she’s not really focused on the breath, but on producing a perfect circle with the gestural mark—a discipline of a different sort.

“I’m very interested in perception, this breathable boundary between what we are thinking about inside and what shows up outside. So I’m drawing these circles, which look pretty perfect to me. I haven’t measured them with a compass. But, so what is perfect? Can I draw a perfect circle? No, but I can draw a nearly perfect circle and doing this makes me feel really good. I like the idea of drawing something that is physically in me and expressing that outwardly. And then there’s the idea of what does it take to perceive something? Some of these are barely coming off the page and others are much more delineated, much more detailed. I like the idea of the eye falling on the image and the moment it begins to see the image emerging from the page.”

When not working on her art, Theresa teaches art history at Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania where she also runs the Martha Gault Art Gallery.