Art&Soul: Venice, Italy Spring 2017 Artist Residency

IMG_20170416_175639231_HDREven though we have been returning to the magical city of Venice for more than 30 years, the planning process for our Artist Residencies still takes months of preparation, where we receive the initial applications and go through the selection process, which attempts to create a group of artists who will be both diverse and harmonious: make reservations in apartments which will accommodate individual and group requirements, coordinating arrival and departure procedures, and ensure that all of this information is disseminated to those involved.

This means that we have already established a correspondence with visiting Artists long before their arrival in Venice and are familiar with names long before we meet in person.  Art&Soul encourages its participants to communicate regularly prior to the residency in the hope of answering all questions before arrival.

Our resident Artists are housed in apartments that are in many different locations around the city of Venice, as we believe this affords the most rewarding “authentic” experiences where Artists become a participant in the neighborhood. Art&Soul is affiliated with an Artists Cooperative that is housed in the old Convent and Cloister of San Damiano e Cosimo on the Giudecca and our Artists share a common studio in the midst of other studios producing paper, masks, glass, bookmaking and painting.

We arrived 5 days before the Artists and after a somewhat groggy and jet lagged first day, settled to the task of preparing to receive them.  The next days were spent checking each apartment, stocking it with some “basics”, preparing the studio, confirming arrangements for workshops, acquiring transportation and museum passes and organizing water taxis and public transport that would get the Artists to their apartments.

None of these thing are–in themselves–particularly difficult, but it takes a day or two to realize that nothing can be achieved easily or quickly in La Serenissima, and there was plenty of frustration as we sat on slow vaporettos moving from one end of the city to the other, loaded down with shopping bags.

Saturday, April 1st arrived bright and clear and we rode the Alilaguna across to the airport where we waited for our first participants.  It was a long day of moving people and luggage from the airport, railway station, and bus terminal to their apartments and we sat down to dinner that night at 10:45 pm, tired but happy in the knowledge that we had settled everyone.

It is a major part of our commitment to the visiting Artists to NOT organize their every waking moment, however we do attempt to offer an almost daily “possibility”–At the start of each week we post a list of these possibilities making sure that it is understood that everyone chooses what they want to do.  The first few adventures encouraged and explained the use of the Abbonamento passes that we supply, and Artists quickly learn how to use the vaporetto system much the way that many city dwellers use the subway.  Our Artists also learn “the ways” of Venice…best cafes, quietest areas, streets not clogged with tourists, what to eat…what to drink.  And so for a couple of hours each day all or some of us visited churches, museums, favorite places, special artisans, or just walked on the beach…all the while cementing friendships that will clearly endure.

The Venetian afternoon drink called “Spritz” quickly became a favorite.  But something else happened in these first few days and this remarkable group of individuals very quickly took on a “family” persona, that Art&Soul, of course, hopes for.  This was truly a warm and sharing group of extremely talented individuals, each contributing skills and experiences that enhanced the residency program for all of us. They came from many different parts of the world, and in the month of April wove a fabric of friendship that brought together different perspectives, ages, gender, cultural and artistic expression in a truly supportive and caring way. We would like to thank the following Artists who made “Art&Soul in Venice 2017” such a wonderful experience:

Linda Katsuda (United States)

Hans Silvius (The Netherlands)

Nichole Riley (U.S.)

Uma Viswanathan (Canada)

Mary Claire Moloney (U.S.)

Karen Hopkins (Australia)

Daniel Yuhas (U.S.)

Jill Rocksund (U.S.)

Keith Morant (New Zealand)

Trish Morant (New Zealand)

Karen Heberling (U.S.)

Lori DiMuro (U.S.)

Stephanie Champion (Australia)

Thomas McPherson (Costa Rica/U.S.)

Joanna Horton McPherson (Costa Rica/U.S.)

Eric Holowacz (U.S.)

Each day, these Artists could be found in many different parts of the city drawing, writing, painting, taking photographs, or simply sitting…absorbing the wonder of their surroundings, and there was a continuous sharing of these experiences and images.

Our first group effort was to mount a show of our work at the famous cafe & gallery of IMAGINA, found in the university district of Campo Santa Margherita.  Because 2017 is a Biennale year, exhibition space was very scarce in Venice, and we were lucky to secure this venue.  One of the great challenges for traveling Artists is to confront the difference in medium and materials found in other parts of the world–and there was something of a “whirlwind” of activity where locations and addresses of art supply stores, discoveries of new materials, and best prices on frames were exchanged.

The works were hung late on a Tuesday evening and on Wednesday at 7:00pm we received a large and enthusiastic crowd at the official opening.  It was truly an international and eclectic grouping of work, and the exhibition “Art&Soul in Venice 2017” was a very successful contribution to the art of Venice as it geared up for this year’s Biennale.

There were a number of featured events during the month, and it is probably simplest to list them.

Our Artists attended a bookmaking workshop with renowned bookmaker Marina DeGrandis where they each completed a classic Venetian folio-style sketchbook, cutting the leather and stitching Fabriano paper into the binding.

They attended a cooking class at the Istituto Venezia with the energetic Anna Santini and her sous chef where they cooked and consumed some amazing Venetian recipes.  Anna buys prosecco directly from a wine grower on the Veneto, and we were treated to many a fine bottle to supplement our meal!

We spent a day in Padua discovering this nearby city and another day trip in Vicenza where we focused on the architecture of Andrea Palladio.  First, in the city museum given over entirely to his works, and then to the spectacular Teatro Olimpico where we sat in awe of his accomplishments.

Weekly festas were held at the Rawlings’ apartment in Ormesini, located in Cannaregio, and a very memorable evening was spent first walking through the Ghetto and then returning to our apartment to watch the Al Pacino film version of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, which we projected onto the wall.

On another evening, “our” photographer, Hans Silvius, blacked out the windows of the front room of our apartment, and turned it into a gigantic pinhole camera as we sat in the dark, watching the view of the canal slowly project itself across the entire room.  We were all enthralled!

Many years ago, we discovered a glass-making workshop which is completely off the tourist route and does not routinely accept visitors.  Over the years we have developed a working relationship and a visit to see them is always a highlight for us.  We spent an hour in this active glass studio watching master craftsmen at work producing a huge chandelier.  We observed as they produced the many small components of these elaborate lights and they stopped to produce some simple vessels and figurines which they then sold to us at extremely low prices!

As the month progressed, it gave us enormous pleasure to see individuals become more relaxed, independent and “at home” in Venice, and stories of “discoveries” and new favorite places were being shared daily.

Together, we stood in front of some of the world’s great paintings–shared Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, and a host of others…felt the presence of Palladio by walking into his buildings, and of course marveled at the scenery that surrounded us constantly.  We were participants in both the Palm Sunday procession from Formosa to Saint Mark’s, and the Traghetto Regata that finished at the Pescaria.  For a month we truly were “locals”.

It was a wonderful time and we would like to thank all who participated or helped in any way.  To the Artists:  Our heartfelt thanks for being such wonderful companions…such profound ambassadors!  We will remember our time together forever…we hope that you will too.

Abbracci,

John & Souheir

We will now “turn it over” to the beautiful words and images shared by a few of our artists…telling of their own stories and experiences in La Serenissima:

“John & Souheir curated a most detailed, interesting and well-coordinated experience of Venice. As first-timers in Italy, my husband and I found meaning & inspiration through the way the residency unfolded.  Our favorite aspect of the experience was the Rawlings sharing their passion for Venice, which was contagious and inspirational. John brought us to special places and shared both personal and history tales. In this way, they brought us into the heart of Venice’s history and the depth of its art.  We appreciated also how we as a group got to know each other in formal and informal ways, which deepened our experience. We recommend this program for anyone looking to experience community and art in Venice. We want to participate again and will certainly return to Venice one day: this residency landed during our month-long honeymoon and thanks to John & Souheir we’ve been bitten by the bug. Now we don’t want to travel any other way but through programs like theirs!”                 –Joanna and Thomas McPherson

“Thank you for the most amazing Artist Residency I have participated in.  The excursions, activities, and travel pass you provided were optional but we soon discovered the true value of them and used them to the fullest…..even in revisiting places seen on previous trips.                        –Linda Katsuda

“As a professional artist, it was a great joy to be accepted for an ‘Artist’s Residency’ in Venice for the month of April 2017. This was titled ‘Art and Soul’ and organised by John and Souheir Rawlings of Montana. While I have been to Italy many times and exhibited in Venice before, I have never been on an actual ‘residency’. My wife, Tricia, and I were very happy as the professionalism of the organizers seemed genuine enough but we were somewhat uncertain as to how things would go.  However, we had no need for any concern as, on arrival in Venice, we were met by our genial host, John Rawlings and guided expertly to our apartment (ready stocked with food essentials) in the Castello district of the city. There were twelve artists selected from different parts of the globe and we were all introduced to each other and taken to the studio spaces in Giudecca. There is much I could relate about the interaction between us all but, suffice it to say, we all got along extremely well with each other and had a great creative, and often hilarious rapport.

Apart from the times that we were left to our own devices (painting and creating towards a pre-arranged exhibition) John and Souheir would arrange meeting points around the city from where we would walk to places of interest, particularly great Churches, Basilicas and craftsmen’s workshops. It soon became very clear that we were in the hands of a true expert on the history and art of this great city.

We were taken to many incredible places both in and out of Venice; San Giorgio Maggiore, (to the top of the Campanile), the islands of Torcello, Burano and Murano as well as the amazing fish and fruit markets of the Rialto. We walked with the Palm Sunday procession from Campo Santa Maria Formosa to the Basilica of San Marco and visited the beautiful church of Miracoli. Another great day was spent in the museum of the Basilica of San Marco followed by the Easter Sunday service in this great historical venue. There were bookbinding classes and, for the real enthusiast, Italian cookery classes. In the heart of Venice we had a wonderful insight into the craft of forcola making and when we visited Murano we were privileged to see a real glass workshop in action. We were treated to a day in Padua to view Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel and a trip to Vicenza to visit the magnificent Palladio museum. For me, two special excursions were a visit to The Peggy Guggenheim museum and the boat trip across to the island of San Michele. This is the great cemetery of Venice where we viewed the graves of many luminaries who included Joseph Brodsky, Ezra Pound and Igor Stravinsky. All of these activities, plus much more, were expertly managed by John and Souheir.

In the days between such adventures we were busy preparing our artwork for the exhibition to be held at the Imagina Café in Campo Santa Margherita. The show opened on April 19 th and was another happy and hilarious evening for all.

We were all genuinely impressed by this wonderful couple who had put such a project into operation. The sheer professionalism of Souheir coupled with the enthusiastic erudition of John made for an unforgettable month of laughter and learning.

“Venice is eternity itself.” Joseph Brodsky

Thank you so much John and Souheir for this rich slice of eternity!”

—Keith and Tricia Morant

“Venezia with Art and Soul:  For a month I was away from my family, my home, my job, and most of my responsibilities. It was detoxifying and soul discovering. Venezia, along with the help of John and Souheir, allowed me to enter a very hidden space. One that at times I tried to manage, control and conform to what I thought I needed. I learned very quickly to succumb to the agenda of this place. When I allowed the intent of Venice to guide me I discovered what was beneath the surface, amazing layers of history, architecture, art, and culture. I was given the opportunity, if only for what is a brief moment, to become one with this place and to become one with myself. I learned a plethora about Venice through the guidance of Art and Soul, and as a happy coincidence, I learned just as much about myself.  Thank you for the amazing opportunity to see me and Venezia”.                                                                                                                          –Nichole Riley

Please click on link to view our Venice Photo Album:

https://goo.gl/photos/aFFXjYBFQqYkR3Wt5

 

 

 

 

EBLAR 2017 “Conversations with the Landscape”

Mesilla-New-Mexico

In February of 2016, Neal Brown, President of Lago Rico–the company which operates the Damsite facility at Elephant Butte Lake in New Mexico–invited Art&Soul to plan and direct a month-long Artist Retreat in early 2017.

After almost a year of planning, promoting, and dreaming, EBLAR–Elephant Butte Lake Artist Retreat–opened its doors to the inaugural group of artists.  These artists from across the U.S. and Canada, arrived at the Damsite on January 30th and what transpired over the next 30 days was truly wonderful!

Souheir and I had arrived two weeks earlier and spent long days constructing easels and drawing boards, turning a large building which had been a bar and restaurant into an active studio area.  Lighting was one of our principal concerns, and created some headaches, but when everyone arrived at the end of January, we were as ready as we could be.

Each artist was housed along the cliff of the lakefront in their own “Casita”–small, adobe-style houses–built by the CCC in the 1940s.  They are self-contained, consist of bedroom, kitchenette/sitting room and bathroom.  Lago Rico worked right up to the 12th hour in a renovation project that replaced heating, wiring, and plumbing, and upgraded windows and outside stone walls.

Artists had 24 hour access to the studio space, and were invited to participate in daily activities offered by Art&Soul.  This participation was entirely voluntary and allowed artists to choose how to structure their time at EBLAR.  The weekly schedule began with a Monday morning group breakfast, followed by a discussion of the previous week’s work. Yoga classes were offered a few times each week, and we all met for “chips & salsa” (and cervesas & margaritas!) every Friday afternoon.

Each week also included at least one excursion around New Mexico, and we visited Las Cruces and the town of Mesilla, the Pueblo ruins and petroglyphs at Abo, the ghost towns of Chloride and Monticello.  The famous Arrey Cafe is where we stopped for breakfast enroute to Hatch–the chile capital of the world!–and also visited the bird sanctuary at Bosque del Apache.  We shared a fantastic meal together in Hillsboro, followed by the long, beautiful drive to the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

We mounted our own exhibition in the town of Truth or Consequences–at RioBravo Gallery–for the 2nd Saturday Art Hop.  The show was a resounding success and received rave reviews from both local journals and regional art magazines from Santa Fe and Albuquerque.  Souheir and I conducted two workshops in TorC, and both community members and EBLAR artists were invited to attend.

Beyond these “activities” however, the artists rapidly coalesced into a group that visited local coffee shops & cafes, organized group meals and enjoyed “film nights” at the Studio. Truth or Consequences is famous for its astounding natural hot springs and visitors have come to these “healing waters” along the Rio Grande since paleolithic times.  The EBLAR artists were, of course, equally captivated by their restorative powers and “going for a soak” became a daily event for some!

The commanding presence overarching all of these activities is, of course, the New Mexico landscape and the scale and grandeur of it leaves a permanent impression on any who spend time in it.  The stillness is so complete that it demands at least something similar from us and by the month’s end, I think it was fair to say that all of us had adjusted our life’s rhythms to a lower pitch.

This month, spent in such a pristine and inspiring place; with such a wonderful group of talented and committed artists, went far beyond the expectations of Souheir and me, and we have spent the past days remembering and reliving this time.

Lago Rico is so happy with this–our first-New Mexico retreat, that they have invited us to continue with them and to begin plans for 2018.  Next year, we will offer TWO Artist Residencies, each a month long–one in January and one in February, and these will be followed by a one week Art & Yoga Retreat in early March.

To the participants of EBLAR 2017:

John Cameron, Damini Celebre, Marz Doerflinger, Sherel Purcell, Silky Hart, Laurie Kahn, Araela Kumaraea, Caz Love, Taylor Maroney, Karen Meadows, Vince Montague

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  You were wonderful partners in an amazing experience; your generosity of spirit and work, your passion, your humor, your commitment and discipline have filled our hearts.

Now we turn this blog over to some of this year’s participants…who have their own stories to share, and some amazing photos of their time here.  Enjoy!

Carpe Mañana!

Muchas Gracias,

John and Souheir Rawlings, Art&Soul LLC

“I truly enjoyed my month at EBLAR as did my fellow artists in residence.  John and Souheir are truly wonderful and giving hosts.

As we prepared for the opening of our group show, John and Souheir worked non-stop to insure everyone got all the help needed to mount a successful show and a good time was had by all. Every concern with regards to the tasks of daily living too was addressed quickly and to the satisfaction of participants.

Both John and Souheir offered additional classes and workshops for our group along with members of the community that stimulated creative development.  They also organized outings of interest to artists and travelers alike. On a personal level, they are fun, down to earth and genuinely concerned that all members of the group feel welcomed and valued.” –Sherel Purcell

“My time at EBLAR exceeded my expectations. The location is a place of stunning rarefied beauty.  I have never been somewhere so quiet and peaceful in my life. It was the perfect atmosphere to sink deeply into creative practice. The studio environment was harmonious, allowing for deep focus, and full of camaraderie and connection with the other artists. EBLAR was a very rich and wonderful experience.
I felt I reconnected with the sense of pleasure and meaning that art making brings, something I hadn’t felt for many years before.”
–Caz Love
“My time at EBLAR was really beyond words. John and Souheir are some of the most incredible people I have come across in life thus far. They are wise and accommodating and also just pure fun! I learned so much from their approach to life. The more intimate size of the group was also a plus, we were really able to bond in a way that I haven’t seen happen during other residencies and retreats. The landscape that surrounds EBLAR is extremely inspiring, even despite the fact I am not a landscape artist. I don’t believe that I have ever lived in a place so quiet! It was unbelievable to wake up and watch the sunrise and listen to the birds on the lake below. It was an incredible experience to make art in the desert, surrounded by sun, mountains, wildlife, green chiles and hot springs. The people of New Mexico are some of the kindest you will ever meet! EBLAR was both a spiritual and creative experience for me, and I left a different person than when I arrived.”
–Taylor Maroney

“It was a very positive experience! The landscape, which is transportingly beautiful, filled my soul. John and Souheir were supportive and well organized. They know when to get involved and when to pull back. They supported everyone in the group, but were careful to leave us lots of room.  And the other artists, who were working on a wide range of projects, were interesting – and also fun. The owner of Lago Rico, Neil, is totally dedicated to reviving the place. Will, who worked with us more closely, is knowledgeable about the history of the damsite and the local towns. And both were very helpful.”                                  –Laurie Kahn

Sedona, Arizona, U.S.

Last summer our friend Jan Shanahan asked us for advice as she began to present an idea of creating an arts organization in NW Montana.  A part of that initial thinking was to explore the possibilities of conducting Artist Residencies in our area.  We did little more than offer our expertise, support and encouragement and watched with interest as she slowly developed her ideas.  She traveled to Sedona, Arizona and met with the new director Eric Holowacz who not only added his expertise and enthusiasm, but also presented an idea of an exchange between Montana and Arizona artists and with the flair that seems to be a signature element in all he does, called it “Fire & Ice”.  It was decided that the first exchange would occur in the summer of 2016 and Jan assembled a group of “Montanan” artists to travel down to Sedona for 10 days in August.

 

We were honored and delighted to be part of these chosen artists and made our plans accordingly.  We decided to take the Allegiant “cheap” flight to Las Vegas–rent a car, and then drive to Sedona.  Apart from being an hour late, the flight was uneventful and we bumped over the hot desert air and descended into Las Vegas where we caught a shuttle to the rental car center.  At the front desk we were told that we could not drop off the car in Sedona as was advertised online…Phoenix was the closest return place!  The only sensible remedy was to rent the car for the entire 9 days, while not budgeted for, wasn’t an enormous hiccup–(It actually turned out to be a very positive thing).

We headed the car east and started the 4 hour journey to Sedona.  It is an arid landscape, but is certainly not desolate, and we traveled through truly remarkable combinations of colors and textures and were finally made aware of a rather remarkable piece of information.  It was what the locals call “monsoon season” and a warning came over the radio and on our cell phone telling us of potential flooding ahead.  It was 100 degrees Fahrenheit with few clouds in the sky, but 50 miles later we passed through the mud and debris of what had obviously been a torrent of water crossing the road.  The drive south from Flagstaff to Sedona is breathtaking and we drove through the dusk to an Italian Restaurant in Sedona where we were to meet Eric for dinner.  We were instantly at ease with each other and over a wonderful meal, came to realize that we had many things, places and people in common.

After dinner, he drove us to a beautiful home that we would occupy for the next 9 days–Its owner was away on vacation and we had the place to ourselves.  It had a large garden, was beautifully furnished, and above all, was air-conditioned!  The rest of the Montanan contingent were driving and were not expected to arrive until the next evening, so we had the whole of the next day to explore and it now became clear that having the rental car would become an important part of our stay here.

Sedona is a pretty little town nestled among magnificent mountains that are a constant backdrop of dramatic shapes and colors.  It is clearly a prosperous place and streets, curbs and sidewalks are pristine and welcoming.  It is also the home to a host of art galleries and we had obviously arrived in a town with a profound caring for the arts.  We introduced ourselves to the folk at the Sedona Arts Center and were shown to the space we would occupy as a studio for the next week.  SAC is a facility that any community would be proud to embrace.  A large modern gallery space opens onto one of the town’s busiest streets, has large, flexible exhibition spaces and offices above an extensive ceramics facility. Behind that, a very large parking lot, and several acres of vacant land.  All of this, populated with a friendly and helpful staff that ensured we had everything we needed during our stay.

Jan had called a meeting in the studio space on Saturday morning and we were finally introduced to our fellow artists:

Cindy Kittridge:  Fiber Artist, Writer from Cascade, MT

Jim Kittredge:  Calligrapher, Jeweler, Designer from Cascade, MT

Meagan Abra Blessing:  Painter from Bozeman, MT

Michael Blessing:  Painter/Musician from Bozeman, MT

Sheri Trepina:  Collage and Watercolor Artist from Kalispell, MT

Linda Katsuda:  Printmaking/Mixed-media Artist from Whitefish, MT

Jan Shanahan:  Fiber Artist from Whitefish, MT

On Sunday evening, SAC had organized a welcoming party at the beautiful home of one of its patrons, but as we were getting ready to drive to this home, we were treated to a personal experience of their “monsoon season”!  It has been a long time since we have experienced that much rain in so short a period of time.  The water was literally 2” deep on the roads.  Visibility…not much.  Everywhere is hard and rocky and the water simply flows over the landscape.  Those beautiful red mountains spouted mini waterfalls and the temperature hovered around 80 degrees F.  It was really quite an exciting ride…and the party was a great time to meet our hosts.

The next week was an extremely pleasant time, spent mostly in the studio space where we worked on individual pieces and received visitors who came by to see what we were doing. (The camaraderie in the room increased daily, and we parted a group of friends who have promised to revisit in the future.)  On Wednesday, at the end of a day in the studio, we all walked to the Cowboy Grill where Jan and the foundation took us to an excellent dinner.

Every day was loosely organized, allowing us to spend some time exploring Sedona and its surrounding area, and we managed to spend time in most of the town’s galleries.  We drove south to Montezuma’s Well where we literally had the place to ourselves.  In a high, rocky plain, a sink hole perhaps 500 feet in diameter drops dramatically to a deep pool of water fed by subterranean springs.  The Hopi people believe that this vent in the earth is their birth passage and that they entered the world from this place.  It is held sacred by other contemporary Native American peoples also, and was a center of occupation for pre-Colombians whose ancient dwellings still cling to the cliff just below the rim.  A ranger that we met on our walk told us of a petroglyph site close by and we decided to visit that the next day.  V bar V Ranch Petroglyph site is a small, but almost perfectly preserved cliff of rock carvings and figures and even though the sun was very hot, we found ourselves standing for a long time in front of these wonders.

On Friday, the Sedona Art Center was a part of a monthly “Art Walk” and had mounted a large “Members” exhibition.  We were working in the space adjacent to this exhibit and were invited to be a part of it.  It was a very lively evening and we received many, many visitors.  It was a perfect way to end our time in Sedona and next morning we drove up the winding road through Oak Creek Canyon and west, back to Las Vegas.

It had been a wonderful 10 days, where we made some great connections with new people and a new place.  We feel very fortunate to have been included in this first “Fire & Ice” exchange and look forward to hosting the folks from Sedona when they visit Whitefish next summer.  We would like to extend a very special “Thank You” to Jan Shanahan for allowing us to be part of her dream.  She is a wonderfully generous person with great vision–it’s been a pleasure working with her!

–John & Souheir

 

 

NEW MEXICO, U.S. 2016

Greetings from New Mexico!

We have now been here for almost 3 weeks and we suppose the best way to describe the passage of time is that we both have the feeling that we have only just arrived but that it seems like we have been here forever.  We certainly are beginning to understand why so many people “run away south” to here in the winter time.  The local folks are truly some of the most friendly people we have ever met–on the planet!  Life is slow, deliberate, and apparently endless.  We saw a bumper sticker on a car that says, “CARPE MANANA”!!  and it pretty much sums up the pace of life in Elephant Butte.

Elephant Butte Dam was started in 1911 when it was projected to be not just the largest irrigation dam in the US, but probably the world.  It collects the waters of the Rio Grande and is the last catchment before this river enters Mexico.  After dam’s completion, the lake slowly filled and created a body of water 44 miles long and often more than a mile wide.

Irrigation projects below the dam blossomed and agriculture has been spreading out from the river course ever since.  In the 1940s the Dam site became a staging point for the CCC and more than 7000 workers lived in this area.  They occupied some of the larger buildings left over from the dam construction, but also set to work and began building many small houses (casitas) that spread along the lake front and dotted the surrounding hillsides.  Not all of these buildings remain, but those that do are a part of the Dam Site at Elephant Butte complex.

We live in one of these little houses–when we arrived we lived in a smaller one at #12…but when they realized that we needed more room to work, they moved us to a duplex and we now live in #15 AND #16!  When we got here, we were delighted with the 60 degree temperatures that greeted us.  The night temperatures still hovered around freezing–but it was very pleasant.  Since then, however, we have been treated to 10 straights days of 70+ degrees, and each day is filled with continuous sunshine.  Souheir has already acquired the beginnings of a great tan and John has moved from transparent to white!!

It has been absolutely wonderful.  We have been treated to a boat ride to the other end of the lake and were amazed at the number and variety of birds that are resident here.  There is a small herd of mule deer that hang out around the casita–they forage on the most unexpected plants–they even nibble at the prickly pear!  On our walks, we see the quail busily scavenging among the cacti and in the afternoon quiet, the sound of the doves calling lulls us right off to sleep.  We have yet to see a javelina, but they are rumored to wander around the casitas at night!

We are about a 10-15 minute drive from the small town of Truth of Consequences…which used to be called Hot Springs until a TV show offered $10,000 back in 1950 to any town willing to change its name to that of their TV show–REALLY!  Why Hot Springs?…because the town is FILLED with them.  Even before the white guys showed up, the Native Americans came here to heal and soothe their bodies–There are about 10 bath houses in town–we are slowly working our way through them…sort of a “research project”!

And the population of T or C (as we locals call it)?  Polyglot–White, Hispanic, a few Native Americans–lots of Tye Dye and men with ponytails–feels a lot like a retirement community for hippies.  If you were wondering where they all went, we think they headed here…  But as we said earlier, these are the friendliest people.  We went to the movies.  El Cortez…movies every Fri. Sat/Sun & Wed–we went to see The Revenant…we walked up to a window that opens onto the street.  The guy in the booth sells 6 or so tickets–then puts up a “back soon” sign and ducks back into the lobby to sell popcorn and goodies to those ticket holders–then back to the booth for another 6-8 tickets…and so on.  Of course the movie started late–but the crowd was quiet and patient. Amazing…no horrible previews–instead, the guy comes to the front of the theatre (there were about 75 of us), asked us to turn our phones off…told us about next week’s movie and pointed out that one of the actors in tonight’s movie was a kid from Albuquerque! The crowd applauded and called out “thank you”.  We had a great time!

We have discovered a small town called Hatch about 30 minutes south of here.  It is considered to be the chile capital of the WORLD!  Chile fields forever… By stressing the plant (starving it of water once it has fruited), they control the “heat” of the pepper. We found a local restaurant–totally Mexican–wonderful food.  We went to buy some chiles from a stall and were served by a young girl who spoke no English–it truly felt like another country.  Last weekend we spent a couple of days in Las Cruces, which is about 80 miles south of here.  It’s a university town and is certainly the “big city” for local folks, but on its outskirts is the tiny town of Mesilla and this is where we spent most of our time.  It is absolutely charming–a collection of adobe houses clustered around a central plaza.  Souheir immediately began a “photo essay” of local doors (included in our photos).  John just “hung out” in the bookstores.  We had a great Valentine’s dinner at “La Posta”–which is rated as one of the most famous Mexican restaurants in the US, and stayed at a B & B just out of town.

As wonderful as our two days in Mesilla/Las Cruces were, the drive home was unforgettable–wonderous in fact.  We drove west to Deming and from there North to Silver City–the road out of Silver City climbs up the Pinos Altos Range to 9,025 feet!  It took an hour and twenty minutes to drive the 30 miles and we passed one car…Then we dropped 2000 feet in a mile to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  It is a small collection of ancient cliff dwellings that is tucked into a beautiful canyon.  It is about a mile walk uphill to get to them, but once there, you can walk through them–it was a marvelous experience that we shared with about 3 other people.

Back in the car we headed south then east to T or C–but had to cross the Mimbres mountains and climbed to 8,547 feet to the pass before descending back to the Rio Grande valley and home.  Driving this road was almost a fantasy.  On the west slope (side) of the road where the sun did not reach, the snow was about 2′ deep.  On the east–it was completely dry–arid, dusty…cooked in the afternoon sun.  We did about half the drive with the sun roof open in the car!  We drove into the town at about 6:30pm, spent a half an hour in a hot spring and came “home” to our casita.  It was one of our life’s most memorable drives…

We are both working–

John is completing one of his “shield series” using Apache imagery for a gallery here in New Mexico, and Souheir is designing a mural for a hospital commission. And we are both working on an installation piece for our dear friend Deena in Palm Desert, California.  We are happy and relaxed and can’t believe we have another 3 weeks here in this beautiful place.
Adios,
John and Souheir

Sedona, Arizona, U.S.

Last summer our friend Jan Shanahan asked us for advice as she began to present an idea of creating an arts organization in NW Montana.  A part of that initial thinking was to explore the possibilities of conducting Artist Residencies in our area.  We did little more than offer our expertise, support and encouragement and watched with interest as she slowly developed her ideas.  She traveled to Sedona, Arizona and met with the new director Eric Holowacz who not only added his expertise and enthusiasm, but also presented an idea of an exchange between Montana and Arizona artists and with the flair that seems to be a signature element in all he does, called it “Fire & Ice”.  It was decided that the first exchange would occur in the summer of 2016 and Jan assembled a group of “Montanan” artists to travel down to Sedona for 10 days at the beginning of August.

We were honored and delighted to be part of these chosen artists and made our plans accordingly.  We decided to take the Allegiant “cheap” flight to Las Vegas–rent a car, and then drive to Sedona.  Apart from being an hour late, the flight was uneventful and we bumped over the hot desert air and descended into Las Vegas where we caught a shuttle to the rental car center.  At the front desk we were told that we could not drop off the car in Sedona as was advertised online…Phoenix was the closest return place!  The only sensible remedy was to rent the car for the entire 9 days, while not budgeted for, wasn’t an enormous hiccup–(It actually turned out to be a very positive thing).

We headed the car east and started the 4 hour journey to Sedona.  It is an arid landscape, but is certainly not desolate, and we traveled through truly remarkable combinations of colors and textures and were finally made aware of a rather remarkable piece of information.  It was what the locals call “monsoon season” and a warning came over the radio and on our cell phone telling us of potential flooding ahead.  It was 100 degrees Fahrenheit with few clouds in the sky, but 50 miles later we passed through the mud and debris of what had obviously been a torrent of water crossing the road.  The drive south from Flagstaff to Sedona is breathtaking and we drove through the dusk to an Italian Restaurant in Sedona where we were to meet Eric for dinner.  We were instantly at ease with each other and over a wonderful meal, came to realize that we had many things, places and people in common.

After dinner, he drove us to a beautiful home that we would occupy for the next 9 days–Its owner was away on vacation and we had the place to ourselves.  It had a large garden, was beautifully furnished, and above all, was air-conditioned!  The rest of the Montanan contingent were driving and were not expected to arrive until the next evening, so we had the whole of the next day to explore and it now became clear that having the rental car would become an important part of our stay here.

Sedona is a pretty little town nestled among magnificent mountains that are a constant backdrop of dramatic shapes and colors.  It is clearly a prosperous place and streets, curbs and sidewalks are pristine and welcoming.  It is also the home to a host of art galleries and we had obviously arrived in a town with a profound caring for the arts.  We introduced ourselves to the folk at the Sedona Arts Center and were shown to the space we would occupy as a studio for the next week.  SAC is a facility that any community would be proud to embrace.  A large modern gallery space opens onto one of the town’s busiest streets, has large, flexible exhibition spaces and offices above an extensive ceramics facility. Behind that, a very large parking lot, and several acres of vacant land.  All of this, populated with a friendly and helpful staff that ensured we had everything we needed during our stay.

Jan had called a meeting in the studio space on Saturday morning and we were finally introduced to our fellow artists:

Cindy Kittridge:  Fiber Artist, Writer from Cascade, MT

Jim Kittredge:  Calligrapher, Jeweler, Designer from Cascade, MT 

Meagan Abra Blessing:  Painter from Bozeman, MT

Michael Blessing:  Painter/Musician from Bozeman, MT

Sheri Trepina:  Collage and Watercolor Artist from Kalispell, MT  

Linda Katsuda:  Printmaking/Mixed-media Artist from Whitefish, MT 

Jan Shanahan:  Fiber Artist from Whitefish, MT  

On Sunday evening, SAC had organized a welcoming party at the beautiful home of one of its patrons, but as we were getting ready to drive to this home, we were treated to a personal experience of their “monsoon season”!  It has been a long time since we have experienced that much rain in so short a period of time.  The water was literally 2” deep on the roads.  Visibility…not much.  Everywhere is hard and rocky and the water simply flows over the landscape.  Those beautiful red mountains spouted mini waterfalls and the temperature hovered around 80 degrees F.  It was really quite an exciting ride…and the party was a great time to meet our hosts.

The next week was an extremely pleasant time, spent mostly in the studio space where we worked on individual pieces and received visitors who came by to see what we were doing. (The camaraderie in the room increased daily, and we parted a group of friends who have promised to revisit in the future.)  On Wednesday, at the end of a day in the studio, we all walked to the Cowboy Grill where Jan and the foundation took us to an excellent dinner.

Every day was loosely organized, allowing us to spend some time exploring Sedona and its surrounding area, and we managed to spend time in most of the town’s galleries.  We drove south to Montezuma’s Well where we literally had the place to ourselves.  In a high, rocky plain, a sink hole perhaps 500 feet in diameter drops dramatically to a deep pool of water fed by subterranean springs.  The Hopi people believe that this vent in the earth is their birth passage and that they entered the world from this place.  It is held sacred by other contemporary Native American peoples also, and was a center of occupation for pre-Colombians whose ancient dwellings still cling to the cliff just below the rim.  A ranger that we met on our walk told us of a petroglyph site close by and we decided to visit that the next day.  V bar V Ranch Petroglyph site is a small, but almost perfectly preserved cliff of rock carvings and figures and even though the sun was very hot, we found ourselves standing for a long time in front of these wonders.

On Friday, the Sedona Art Center was a part of a monthly “Art Walk” and had mounted a large “Members” exhibition.  We were working in the space adjacent to this exhibit and were invited to be a part of it.  It was a very lively evening and we received many, many visitors.  It was a perfect way to end our time in Sedona and next morning we drove up the winding road through Oak Creek Canyon and west, back to Las Vegas.

It had been a wonderful 10 days, where we made some great connections with new people and a new place.  We feel very fortunate to have been included in this first “Fire & Ice” exchange and look forward to hosting the folks from Sedona when they visit Whitefish next summer.  We would like to extend a very special “Thank You” to Jan Shanahan for allowing us to be part of her dream.  She is a wonderfully generous person with great vision–it’s been a pleasure working with her!                                      

–John & Souheir

 

 

Southern Italy

SOUTHERN ITALIAN SPRING SOJOURN 2016

by John & Souheir Rawlings

 

We are sitting in our room at the Ginestrelle Artist Retreat in the mountains that rise behind the beautiful little town of Assisi.  It is a quiet Sunday morning and a soft rain is falling on the spring flowers that are everywhere in this green landscape.  We are wondering how the past couple of weeks slipped by so quickly and are aware of the fact that we have not found the time to report on our adventure…and of course, this is an attempt to do so.

We left Montana early on the 27th of April and made an easy connection in Seattle for New York–A couple of hours there and another connection to Malpensa, Milan where we had an 8 hour layover while we waited for a plane to Bari in Puglia.  Neither of us were up to staying in an airport lounge for such a long time, so we found a little hotel across from the airport, rented a room, and slept for 6 hours!

We went back to the airport, ate a snack and then boarded an EasyJet flight to Bari.  For the first time, we had decided to primarily use “AirBnB” apartments to stay and we weren’t sure what to expect…or even how it worked.  This decision turned out to be one of the best of our trip so far.  The apartment was right in the middle of the city center and was truly amazing.  We picked the keys up at the airport and rode a taxi right up to the door, which of course opened onto a busy street and gave no indication of what was behind it…

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A truly remarkable space in a converted stone storage room that actually opened out onto a hidden garden!  We spent two nights in this amazing little apartment and wandered around this ancient city.  Friendly people, excellent food, cheap wine…what else could you want?

On our third day, we took a taxi back to the airport, picked up Souheir’s luggage that had been “delayed” somewhere, and rented a car.  We drove down the coast to a little town called Polignano a Mare and had lunch with Judy & Dale–friends from Whitefish–who were spending a few days there, and then drove on to the tiny village of Cisternino, which is not far from Alberobello.  This is the center of the area where the distinctive Pugliese houses called “Trulli” are found.  We have long wanted to see these structures and were filled with wonder and surprise by our experience.

This would be a good place to insert a little “side story”.  The car we rented was a new Ford Focus with GPS, that when turned on greeted us in a rather “plummy” female Briths-accented voice.  What began as “authoratative” dire3ctions quickly became dowright “bossy” instructions and so egan a 10 day relationship that was in tatters at its completion.  Souheir was reading an article that discussed words in the english language that people don’t like–and to our surprise, the word “moist” is universally disliked.  We decided that it must be more than its meaning and thought it was probably the way it sounded…anyway, it wasn’t long before we named the woman on the GPS “Moist Moira”.

The first time she took us entirely around the block only to end up where we started, we knew she could not be trusted and in Cisternino, after following her into some frankly ‘stupid’ places, we capitulated, parked in a little lane, and called the people at the B&B who agreed to come and find us.  So we met our host, Peter on the side of the road and followed him through a maze of tiny lanes, walled on both sides with dry stone fences behind which, fields of wild red poppies nodded in the wind. Then we arrived at our very own Trullo–what a treat!  Our small cottage had five roof structures so distinctive that they are not easily described, so please look at the photos.

 

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The next day we drove to the town of Alberobello, which is literally a village of these structures, and even though the weather was rather rainy, we had a wonderful time wandering through narrow streets among these amazing houses.

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We drove from the “trulli” country to the town of Matera using quiet backroads, passing through rolling hills of wheat fields and pastures.  We crossed the border into the state of Basilicata, and arrived in the crowded streets of this town that is also famous for distinctive architecture.  The surrounding countryside is dominated by large outcrops of limestone which is very soft and can literally be cut with a saw.  All of the local structures seem to be built from blocks that are simply cut out of these cliffs.  In times past, poor peasant folk cut blocks from the hillside, which they sold and then made houses in the cliff holes from where the blocks came.  These houses are called “Sassi” and we were on our way to stay in one!

After yet another fight with Moira, we parked the car and walked to a cafe to meet the owner of the “Sasso B&B”.  Matera is a hilltop city with commanding views of the local countryside, but at its ancient center, there is literally an enormous quarry–that is now completely filled with “Sassi”.  Following our host Leano, we began to descend winding streets that consisted mostly of stairs and steps.  Our Sasso was two vaulted rooms, thankfully not too “deep” in the Sassi area, and we spent two quiet days exploring this unique and beautiful place.

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Moira then “bossed” us down to the coast which we followed west into the state of Calabria, looking for an Agriturismo in Albidona–a little coastal town.  She couldn’t find it…and fools that we were, we followed her uphill and away from the coast (why??)!  11 kilometers of ‘goat trail’ later, we popped out into a small village precariously clinging to a precipitous ridgetop.  Then it actually got worse!  Narrow, winding streets that were wet from rain eventually narrowed to a place where the car obviously would not fit.  Moira said “Turn left Now!”–which would’ve placed us in the front room of the house 2 inches from my sideview mirror, where an old lady was looking (scowling) out of a door that she now couldn’t open because some fool (Moira…not us) has a car wedged up against it!

Backwards up this windy street–and then of course, a telephone call to the Agriturismo–we were exactly 11 kms away from it–Moira demanded that we retrace our way back down the goat trail, but we SHUT HER OFF and found our own way back down.

The Agriturismo was spectacular–in the center of large fruit orchards with unobstructed views of the sea in front and mountains behind.  It was off-season and we and one other couple were the only guests.  Such a wonderfully, peaceful place.

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The next day was designated the “day of our BIG drive”–and would be the longest time in the vehicle for our trip.  We continued along the coast and then cut across Calabria to the (northern) Tyranean coast of Italy and then westward to Reggio Calabria.  We feel a bit uncomfortable criticizing…but this city does not “lend itself easily” to much else; It is congested, overfilled with cars and people, a city of few colors and blocks of buildings that simply fill space with utilitarian sameness…And of course, Moira was useless.  Turned her off and called the B&B host (again)…sigh.

The local dialect is really something and we were aware that our Italian was probably not well understood.  Antonio wanted to know the make and color of the car, and tells us to drive toward the hospital…we had to turn Moira back on.  The traffic was horrendous and John was dodging around cars parked in the middle of the road, when some guy on a motor scooter began to harass him–he drove up alongside and started yelling!  Who was this guy?  What did he want?

Souheir ‘got it’ first…He wanted us to follow him!  It was our landlord!  He zoomed off weaving up the road, periodically looking  behind and waving for us to follow–even up a oneway street the wrong way.  And then we turned a corner onto a quiet road, the cemetery looming above a block of apartments…and we were there.

So…Why Reggio Calabria?  Why all this?  Because, in the National Museum, about a 15 minute walk from our apartment, reside the Riace Bronzes, and we have come to spend time with them.  These huge, ancient Greek statues were discovered by a diver in 60 feet of water near the town of Riace, only a few miles from this city.  Their beauty and presence are beyond our words and again we ask you to look at the photos.

On the way back to the apartment, we stopped at a local pizzeria and discovered the hidden beauty of this city–Wonderfully warm, friendly and patient people!

 

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The next morning we drove even deeper into the ‘bowels’ and arrived at the docks where we caught a ferry cross to Sicily; arriving in Messina.  It was a warm, sunny morning and we traveled west along the coat to the small town of Taormina.  We have not been there for 30 years and could not really remember the layout of its streets and piazzas.  Which of course, is another way of telling you that we wandered around for quite some time before arriving at our apartment.  It was high on a hillside with views of the entire bay!  For two days we joined the tourist throng, ate excellent food, took long walks…and washed our clothes.

We then drove northwest through wide open agricultural spaces.  Sicily was referred to as the ‘bread basket of the Roman Empire’ and that wheat is still growing!  The countryside reminded John a great deal of his childhood in Australia.

For reasons that neither of us can remember, we had decided to stay in the little town of Castelbuono; not far from Cefalu.  We drove easily through the tight medieval streets and found our host waiting for us…we had given up on Moira entirely, and went straight to the map and phone at this point.  We had a lovely stay in a very large, quite beautiful apartment that had a rooftop terrace overlooking the town (where we had breakfast the next morning).

Castelbuono is a quiet place with only a few tourists, and we were largely by ourselves as we walked through its streets.  Our host was happy for us to stay a little longer the next day and it was after lunch before we drove west (again) through Palermo to the Falco Borsolino airport where we delivered the rental car and switched OFF Moist Moira for the last time.

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We caught a taxi to Terrasini where we arrived to a completely empty B&B that was locked! After speaking to a man at the trattoria next door, he made a phone call and then produced a key with our name on it, and said that we should let ourselves in…the host would turn up later.  The Sicilians we met were so easy, comfortable and friendly–they seldomly seemed bothered by much!

We immediately headed out for a ‘passeggiata’ around the piazza, arriving at an outdoor cafe where we sipped the best Spritzes of our lives and later that evening we ate an excellent dinner at the trattoria next door to us.  In the morning we were back at the airport, leaving southern Italy for our return flight north.

From the Milan train station we caught a fast train to Florence and made our way to the Hotel Casci where we have stayed in all of our Florentine visits.  They received us warmly, drank some wine with us, and then allowed us to “wander off” for the afternoon.

The Opera dell’ Duomo, which is just minutes from where we stayed, has been renovated over the past few years and opened last October as the “Grande Museo dell’ Duomo” and we wanted to see it in its new incarnation.  It is truly magnificent…perhaps the finest museum in all of Florence now.  The refurbishment done under the direction of Timothy Verdon–one of John’s professors from his studies here in 1985, is simply stunning.  We have not stopped talking about it since.

We spent the evening at an old friend’s trattoria where he cooked John a special ‘Bistecca Fiorentina’–a giant chunk-o-meat that was consumed with many smiles and great Tuscan wine!

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The next day we took a 2 hour train ride to the town of Assisi and were met by the director of the Ginestrelle Artist Retreat, where we will spend the next 3 weeks.  Ginestrelle is a 19th century farmhouse about 12 km from Assisi.  It sits on a hillside that is densely covered in a forest of oak and elm with the occasional pine.  The road to it is not much more than a gravel track.  It is truly remote and our time here so far has been the most tranquil of all our trip.

We will describe the entire Ginestrelle experience in another letter, and for now send you this to let you know that we are well, warm, rested and creating in the land of St. Francis.

A Prossima Volta,

John and Souheir

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