I went into my residency with at least one concrete focus—how social activism ties into creating art. I overwhelmed myself on the first day of work with the many aspects of Paonia I wanted to focus on exactly. The fracking conflict intrigued me, particularly because of the way it appeared to divide the town. There were signs everywhere outside of residents’ homes and on sidewalks addressing where the money would go and who would be paying for the consequences. At first I wondered if the pro-fracking team was led by those who worked in the coal mines that were still operating. Only after the end of my opening presentation, was I corrected by a town resident. He made the claim that coal miners in Paonia today have created a sustainable way to extract resources from the mines without destroying the mountain long-term, reconstructing my impression on both today's miners and the fracking project. As my understanding of Paonia’s current political and environmental challenges developed, so did my plan for how I would approach the next month I would be there.
After the first week, I decided to concentrate on two subjects--art and social transformation. I started exploring the fracking debate and the history of the coal mines that contributed to the identity of this town. I approached my research directly through the people I met each day. Just by raising the conversation with local residents throughout the month, I got something different than the information I was looking for alone. For example, standing at the cash register of the Harvest Market a block away from Elsewhere, I learned about Bill Koch’s pursuit to invest in land that included parts of Paonia. The woman behind the counter explained that his intentions were for the sake of creating and preserving a romanticized rendition of the old west. I also found out that parts of the land he wanted to buy out were major fishing locations alongside scenic and frequently used routes through the North Fork Valley. The employee sharing this information with me spoke in a tone of distaste for Koch’s plan, but pride for her town in the fight to stop him. She went on to explain that immediately upon this information leaking out to the public, the town of Paonia came together to fight against this plan from following through.
While I spent a lot of time researching the information that would guide my work, I did not anticipate the content in the work I would create exactly. I wanted to create as I went. Whatever I found myself most absorbed by in the moment each day--that’s what I wanted to paint. So naturally, it makes sense that I spent a lot of time working with landscapes.
I approached my residency with high expectations, but had absolutely no idea of what to expect exactly. My goal was to create a large body of work, focusing on drawing and painting specifically. While I completed this to a degree, I did not produce as much as I had hoped because I took advantage of other aspects Elsewhere studios and Paonia had to offer. I learned how to throw a pot on the wheel, hiked and explored parts of the land that I couldn’t see from my studio window, tried cross-country skiing for the first time and marinated in a hot spring for an afternoon.
As a part of routine during the week I spent working at the ceramic studio, one of the other residents and I frequently took walks towards Minnesota creek to a run-off that dried up from the winter. I believe that if you choose to focus on studying landscapes, it’s important to get to know a place in it’s varying forms. The first day we visited this spot, it was layered in a few inches deep of snow. After a few days, the snow began to melt, exposing the ground underneath.
While I wish I could have produced all the work I wanted to in the month I was at Elsewhere, it turns out one month was only just enough to coverage the surface. A lot of my experience became about gathering data to continue working with upon my return home. My expectations for the quantity of work I’d like to come away from Elsewhere hasn’t changed. I plan to continue referencing what research, work, and photographs I’ve gathered from my experience in this quaint little town that rests alongside a national forest. I plan on continuing to build on it until I feel satisfied. If and when this day comes, I plan to refer to this body of work as I take on a new project, continuously shaping the way I approach every new piece going forward--old perspectives building the new ones.