This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Cardinal Matters: A Publication for Alumni, Parents & Friends of Cardinal Newman School in Columbia, SC.
When I was a 16 year-old high school girl, I had the opportunity to travel across the entire United States with 200 other teens in what was a 6-week camping adventure. Fast forward 37 years and my dream of doing the trip again became a reality. Launching July 27th, my best friend from high school and I traveled by car to Breckenridge, Colorado, for a three week artist-in-residency at the Tin Shop—one of six historic buildings making up the campus of the Arts District in this charming Rocky Mountain town. With my Subaru packed inside and out with luggage and supplies, Julianne and I set off on a southern route traversing Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, a sliver of Texas and New Mexico to land in Colorado three days later. We had several goals for the trip out west: to stop and take in a hike every day; to stay in good humor especially after 10-12 hours of driving; to help each other with driving and navigating and to begin each day with a travel prayer. We took turns filling up, keeping an eye on the dashboard, and always splitting the cost of meals and rooms in half.
A favorite stopping point was Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico. Not only was this at the end of day three and a very long day of driving, but it was the beginning of what was to be some of the most beautiful scenery we experienced on the trip. Nearly 60,000 years ago this volcano erupted into four lava flows leaving an almost perfect circular rim. The mile loop around the rim was just the right length for stretching weary legs and the vistas of the Rockies in the distance enticed us to get back in the car and drive for two more hours to our destination of Pueblo, Colorado, for the evening. The next morning we only had a two-hour drive to Breckenridge, so we were able to take our time and stop along the way. One of those stops was in Canon City and the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. Once a Benedictine Monastery and boys school, the space is now an event center and winery. We missed the wine because we found it closed that day, but we did take in a stroll and found the old sanctuary that once upon a time was a beautiful space.
We landed in Breckenridge mid-day on the fourth day and I set about creating my home away from home in the Tin Shop at 9600’ above sea level. I had a gallery and workshop on the bottom floor and a small apartment upstairs. My responsibilities were to have the shop open for visitors at least four days a week (Thursday–Sunday) for four hours a day. I was to engage the public and educate them on my work encouraging questions and dialogue about what I do. I also gave a workshop on the art of mosaic making. In turn, I had a free place to live and work for three weeks and I had the opportunity to make some sales. I had lengthy conversations with other artists, participated in a printmaking workshop, went to many performing and visual art events and took part in “open studio” in the ceramics shop. I’d call the experience an “Art Spa”—uninterrupted time to make art, experience art and engage in the dialogue of creating.
Along the way, I met many interesting people including other teachers who shared their stories and experiences. I have brought back with me not only their thoughtful insights but my own to share with our Cardinal Newman community. I’ll never forget the man who often occupied the studio across the street from me. He suffered a traumatic brain injury as a teenager, was in a coma for 3 months, and had to relearn all basic functions. Art was his salvation; his therapy; his connection with others. He worked with pure joy. I’ll share his story with my students and that of another gentleman—an almost Olympic athlete (he was training for the Olympic trials in track and field when he was hit by a car). He too had to relearn everything and overcome huge obstacles. He became a special education teacher and also credits art as well as yoga for engaging him in life again. We talked extensively about teaching the child with special needs. He counseled me to find the one thing my students can do really well, focus on that while ignoring other behaviors that might be distracting. He also suggested deep breathing techniques that can calm a restless student. I came away with a different perspective and calmer attitude about what my priorities will be in the classroom. I want my room to be a joyful place where students can leave the stresses of life outside; where they can learn about themselves and a new medium; where they can learn how to access their creativity and use it therapeutically. We never know when that skill will come in handy.
On my down time, I hiked, biked, photographed wild flowers, went horseback riding, shopped and ate—pretty much in that order. A favorite activity in Colorado is to hike Fourteeners. These are peaks above 14,000’ high. This year we hiked Cameron and Lincoln. These hikes are always highlights for me as they are a challenge requiring good lungs and stamina. The vistas are breathtaking in more than one way—the views are gorgeous but you can’t stay up there very long because of the thin air—just enough time for a few photos, a good sip of water then back down.
The weeks went by too fast and throughout my stay I had an almost constant stream of visitors. We arrived with friends from Atlanta already in town. After Julianne left, my husband and two of our four sons arrived. I had about 5 days on my own, then three sisters arrived; two of whom accompanied me home. We took a more Northern route home: Colorado, Kansas (and more Kansas and then more Kansas), Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina then our blessed South Carolina. The trip back entailed a little more antique shopping and less hiking due to the wishes of my navigators. Seeing the changing landscapes and weather patterns remained interesting and entertaining and the lure of home and a good book on tape kept us trucking. Four weeks after I departed, we drove back into town to a much warmer climate and a lot more oxygen. This was quite the experience and I’m already thinking about my next residency in a couple of years - perhaps in Glacier National Park, Montana. However, flying might be my preferred mode of transportation.