Vermont Studio Center
Johnson, Vermont 1998
In 1998, I was awarded a Marshall Frankel Foundation Fellowship to attend the Vermont Studio Center (VSC) as an artist in residence. Over the years, the Foundation has supported a number of my colleagues in the Chicago art community for one-month stays at the program. It was my first professional residency, and it would have a profound influence on my work for a decade to come.
Founded by artists in 1984, the Vermont Studio Center is the largest international artist and writer residency program in the country. Each month, the Center hosts 50 residents who participate in 4 to 12-week independent studio projects; the 600 residents who visit annually represent a diverse and dynamic community of cultures, experience, ages and creative media.
Located in the northern Vermont mill village of Johnson, (population 3,450), the Vermont Studio Center resides in the heart of the Green Mountains, a beautiful and pastoral region in the northeastern part of the United States. The Center’s 30 historic buildings – serving as studios, housing, lecture and dining halls, a meditation house, yoga studio, library, gallery, studio store and gardens – are situated along the banks of the Gihon River, and are all within walking distance of one another.
When invited to attend the program, I was given a choice of months over the calendar year. I learned that, in addition to the broad, ongoing diversity of the studio community, several visiting artists attend the Center for a similar period of weeks or more, and interact as mentors to the residents. One painter in particular caught my attention, as I am a great admirer of his work and, at the time, we were both represented by Hill Gallery of Birmingham, Michigan.
John Walker (British, b. 1939) is an English painter and printmaker whose early pieces were inspired by Abstract Expressionism and Post-painterly Abstraction. One of the most accomplished painters of his generation, his work is never static. I find that he persistently keeps his own idiosyncratic voice in his process, evolving the compositions from once relatively flat and abstract planes, to later introducing nearly representational forms. Text and figuration seem to play a larger role in more recent projects, but always with some ambiguity; the “language” of his work retained as much in the material and mark-making, as it is with any hint of the objective. To me, the paint is as much a vehicle of what he holds in his mind and heart, as are the figures, writing, or historical references. John Walker is an artist of amazing power, experiment, and integrity.
Ironically, perhaps, at the time of my residency, John Walker had just finished a suite of prints pertaining specifically to World War I and, I believe, his father’s terrible experience in it. They were of a modest scale, but possessed all of the energy and attraction contained in his larger canvases. I had just gone through a grave personal crisis and I found the intimacy and vulnerability in his prints to be both compelling and assuring, somehow. We conducted numerous scheduled and more spontaneous visits to my studio, with conversations ranging from pure painting, to landscape, changing weather, and history. I was in a transition away from the medium that brought me recognition in the art world, and knowing John Walker gave me the confidence to try something new.
Before heading to the Vermont Studio Center in 1998, I opened an exhibition of new collage works in the project space of the David Beitzel Gallery, New York. It was the advent of an art-making process – continued and truly expanded in scope in Vermont – that would be the cornerstone of my work for the next 12 years. (See Work, mixed media/collage section.) Mary Antonakos, curator and then director of the University of Illinois ISpace, noticed the shift in my focus and offered me a solo exhibition of the very pieces I made while in residence. We produced a catalog, for which there are two fine essays by Julie Sasse and John Brunetti (See Press, catalog essay section), and traveled the show ultimately to seven institutions, one venue of which was in Munich, Germany.
The quality and international make-up of the Vermont Studio Center residents, plus the highly personal and inspiring interaction with one of its visiting artist/mentors, John Walker, seemed to be the right chemistry for an amazing period of experimentation and discovery for me: not to mention, the fall weather that beautiful November rapidly turned to wintry snow, and some colleagues and studio mates were to become lasting friendships.
The Mission of the Vermont Studio Center states:
To support artists and writers by providing studio residencies in an inclusive international community, honoring creative work as the communication of spirit through form.
Vermont Studio Center
80 Pearl St,
Johnson, VT 05656