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