During June 2018, Natalie took month-long respite and creative journey during her residency at The Hambidge Center in the woods of north Georgia. She reflects on her time there and shares her experience for which she is eternally grateful:
In the summer of 2017, I was going through what will always be known to me as “The Summer of Onslaught.” It was, in other words, a brutal period of my life. Diverse and disparate events and actions, all outside of my control, barreled down on me like a fireball; I had no moment of respite. As soon as one event—personal and/or professional—seemed even mildly resolved, more turmoil arrived. My life felt like a beautiful birthday cake with trick candles: you blow and hope for your heart’s deepest wish but, to your horror, the flame reappears. You blow and blow until you realize that no amount of breath or effort can stop the onslaught.
I think of myself as a wildly positive person—the eternal optimist. How else could Alabama Chanin, The Factory, Building 14, and The School of Making even exist? But even the most optimistic human can burn out, burn up, fold in on herself, and shut down. Last summer—in the midst of chaos, I was sitting on my back porch with a friend and said, “I don’t see an end. I don’t see a break from the little fires erupting around me on all sides. I wish that I could have one moment to clear my mind; I need time to understand this. I want something like a residency.” And although I didn’t really even know what that meant and had never done a residency, I knew that it was something that might save me.
In a matter of days, I received a call from my dear friend Angie Mosier telling me that The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences was trying to get in touch with me about… a residency. She put us in touch and, indeed, I was awarded a monthlong residency program thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Sometimes it is important to speak something out loud, if only to one other person, and the universe will go about making it happen.
The Hambidge Center, the legacy of famed weaver Mary Hambidge, is a creative residency program nestled on 600 acres of forested mountain terrain in the North Georgia mountains, near Rabun Gap. The sanctuary belonged to Mary and her partner Jay Hambidge—who both worked to develop and promote the theory of Dynamic Symmetry. The residency program is open to any creative person in the fields of visual arts, writing, music, dance, culinary, textiles, and/or the sciences. The Center believes in a classic, self-directed residency where they provide a simple place for creative development and production, based on an individual’s wants and needs. Included in the residency are living quarters and a studio space, along with a support system for artists and scientists to provide room for creative encounter. There is no internet access in the studio, no cell service, four evening meals a week are provided—and lots of leftovers for lunch the next day. That’s it. In essence, they protect and nurture your time so that the little fires from the outside world are removed from the resident’s life and there is space for exploration.
It’s now almost exactly a year since I received that call from Angie. I’m sitting in the Brena Studio—my studio—at The Hambidge Center as I write this. I’ve been here for three weeks. I look out my window and see only trees and sky. The lush, temperate rainforest beckons morning and afternoon walks, waterfall swims, and deep breathing. I hear water running in the distance, leaves blowing in the trees, and the occasional call of a bird. My workspace is clean and orderly and perfectly arranged in a manner most conducive to my personal creativity. And I’m working.
In my residency, I follow an impressive array of writers, photographers, chefs, and creative thinkers from all genres. My beloved friend Scott Peacock worked on The Gift of Southern Cooking with his friend and mentor Edna Lewis in Mary Hambidge’s original cabin. My heroine Natasha Trethewey, former U.S. Poet Laureate (when such things were appreciated), worked here before me. My friend Angie Mosier was here in residency in 2016. She started a project which attempts to connect individuals in today’s changing social climate in the mountain south through food. Angie’s family is from the Smoky Mountains and she is exploring the relationship that links together that history and culture with those recipes and materials. It is a fascinating story that is unfolding and today, as I write this, she is at the nearby Walnut Hill Studio—on her second residency—continuing this important piece of work. In the same studio, Lisa Donovan, acclaimed pastry chef, author, and recent recipient of the James Beard Award for Journalism is working on her memoir, to be published by Penguin Press. Two days ago, these two brilliant women taught a workshop called Elemental Pie that connected flour and butter with the trajectory of making, women, and humanity. It was thrilling. These are the types of unexpected, yet artistically stimulating projects happening around me and inspiring me to continue my own work.
From the class description:
Lisa will speak to the emotional elements that take over when she is baking and how that makes its way into her writing. Angie will talk about how she uses her photography to capture the techniques but also the beauty of working hands, ingredients and the joy of cooking.
“All art is a mixture of science and emotion, no matter what the medium.” —from The Hambidge Center description of Elemental Pie
Although I also taught two lovely workshops during my residency, it was such a treat to sit and listen to this group who had gathered for this workshop and talk about creative inspiration for making pie, for making dough, even how creative impulse lead Angie and Lisa to substitute boiled peanuts they bought on the side of the road for the originally planned, but unsalvageable, mushrooms for the hand-pies. (They were delicious.) Conversations wandered to how women and men have had to physically and metaphorically untie apron strings and put tools away and choose between making, work, and family because there are just too many of those fires to put out—and it all takes time.
I don’t know if your experience is the same, but my truth is that creative endeavor needs space and time to breathe. It requires this moment of silence for what ancient Greeks called eudaimonia (inspiration or creative flow) to arrive, be heard, and find its way out into the world. Whether it is designing fabric, developing silhouettes, writing a story, or planning a space, inspiration isn’t dropped from the big, blue sky; it needs to be tended and listened to and coaxed into reality. It needs to be tested and evolved and shared in a safe space. It is something that is ephemeral and solid at the same time. Last summer, living in chaos and constantly putting out fires dulled my senses; residency cleared a space for ideas to form and shapes to emerge.
I believe that to be human means to be creative. Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her lovely book Big Magic, “We are all makers by design.” It is in our very DNA to make, because when you look back in time and the trajectory of your own family, you most often find, as Gilbert puts it, “…people who were not consumers, people who were not sitting around passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things. This is where you come from. This is where we all come from.” And I understand deeply that this is where I come from and that to be a full and well-rounded human, for our society to be well-rounded, we have to make and we have to create space for creative thought and endeavor to emerge. And that takes time—and courage.
Rachel K. Garceau, ceramicist and sculptor who is also in residency this month, pointed me towards Rollo May’s book titled The Courage to Create. On page 21 May writes, “Whereas moral courage is the righting of wrongs, creative courage, in contrast, is the discovering of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which a new society can be built.” This is what residency is for me: the opportunity to discover new forms, new symbols, and new patterns in my own work.
Joan Didion once said, “I don’t know what I think until I write about it.” I feel the same way. Until I was able to sit and write about the last year of my life—solely for myself—I wasn’t able to know what I thought about it. And until I understood that year, I was unable to think of creative undertakings or have true creative courage.
My work table is orderly, I feel filled with courage and I‘m ready for creative endeavor.
I’m eternally grateful to The Hambidge Center and the National Endowment for the Arts for a Community Engagement Grant. As part of my residency, I was lucky to curate a show in collaboration with Rachel K. Garceau. Titled Process in Works, the show is open to the community through September 8th, 2018. Rachel’s work is site-specific to Hambidge and will be on display for approximately a two-year period. It is well worth the trip to visit Hambidge, the North Georgia Mountains, and, of course, our collaboration.
From The Hambidge Center:
Process in Works is a growing, evolving show of work by Natalie Chanin and Rachel K. Garceau about the purposeful setting of intentions, approaching the world with curiosity, exploring the meaning of value, and creating cumulative beauty with small, everyday acts and objects. This exhibit is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The gallery show offers imaginative and interactive experiences inside and out through textiles, ceramics, making stations, an inspiration library and so much more. We are so proud to bring these two truly amazing women together for a show like no other.
Address: The Hambidge Center, 105 Hambidge Court, Rabun Gap, Georgia
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9am-4pm; Saturday, 10am-5pm
Gallery Phone: 706-746-5718
There are different types of creative residencies and you can gather more information here.
Apply for a creative residency here.
Support The Hambidge Center here.
And even if you can’t make a visit to this magical place, make space in your life for your own personal residency—ten minutes at a time.
P.S.: I’d like to thank The Hambidge Center and the Rabun County Public Library for hosting workshops during my residency. Inspiring one and all.