“The beginning of October is one of my favorite weather times on the coast,” Tamara Jennings, Sitka’s Program Manager beams, just back from helping a newly arriving artist in residence settle into our coastal campus. “The temperature gets crisper, the leaves turn, the air is clear, the wind dies down and the sun is shining most of the time.”
The changing of the seasons at Sitka is especially dynamic this year. Due to the pandemic, Sitka held workshops in just our largest studio space this summer and extended the workshop season into October. Due to Tamara’s scheduling ingenuity, the last coast-based workshops of the year overlapped in time and space with the arrival of the first artists and scientists-in-residence, opening up new programmatic synergies and insights.
For some, scheduling is a task. For Tamara, like an orchestra conductor, it’s a creative artform.
“Workshoppers got to experience Fall on the coast and see the first residents of the season at work in their studios. It opened up more dialog,” Tamara reflects, “and two of this year’s residents have already put in applications to teach next year, inspired by the workshops they saw in session.”
One of those workshops is Jef Gunn’s The Heart of Painting: A Week-long Master Class. Visually eavesdropping my way through the studio, I am swept away by a work in progress by Diane Devens. “I usually work from source material, but for this piece I worked from my imagination,” Diane explains, taking me inside her creative process. “This is how I imagine the beach at night. The ocean is there, but it’s the vastness of the universe my imagination is drawn to when it’s dark on the beach and the night sky is everywhere.”
As Diane works to capture infinity in oils, Jordan Schnitzer Printmaking Resident and process-based artist Jenene Nagy is experimenting with soft ground and hard ground copper plate etching techniques and exploring the creative tension between methodical mark-making and randomness. A series of multicolor test prints are push-pinned to her studio wall, filled with stippled orbs that shapeshift before my eyes with organized spontaneity as I step closer, like murmurings of birds or shoals of fish.
“I tried to come here with no expectations of what to make. That was something I wanted for myself,” Jenene shares about her Sitka residency. “The other thing I wanted for myself was to be open to what would unfold.”
Along with Jenene, the first of 15 practitioners to arrive took us inside their work at the first Resident Talk of the season. Photographer Kelda Van Patten shared her fascination with constructing images that challenge our assumptions about photographic “truth,” blurring the boundaries between what is real and what is fiction. Photographer Mike Vos shared how he uses double exposures to layer natural and industrial images “in-camera” to evoke haunting environmental narratives. Painter Ashley Williams shared work probing her experiences in the natural world, which are “ones of intense wonder and simultaneous dread thinking about what is going to happen in the future.” Ecologist Elizabeth Besozzi confessed her passion for scientific and technical writing-meets-activism: “There is an aspect of it that is craft-like in that you have to meet all of these scientific and historical conventions, the history of how all of these conventions came about and who was allowed to participate in their establishment and who was not. My love includes both a love for the craft itself and also deep interest in understanding those barriers and breaking them down.”
My hope is that this journal entry serves as an open window into the intangible power and reach of what happens at Sitka each Fall, and that by sharing the creative processes of the professional artists and scientists we host, your own unique way of interpreting the world and challenging assumptions is sparked.
Our next Resident Talk takes place on November 16. For those in the Portland area, the Sitka Art Invitational takes place on November 6-7. Keynote speaker and musician Michael Wimberly will inspire us all on December 2. Wherever you are, I look forward to sharing experiences that invite us to see the world in new ways, open us to new voices and bring us closer together this Fall.