Jentel Artist Residency: Week 1 (The Intro)

As you may have already read I was officially accepted to be a writer-in-residence at the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Banner, Wyoming. Last fall was a busy time for me applying to residencies left and right, six in all. I was wait-listed for two residencies—Jentel being one of them. Two weeks after I received my letter notifying I hadn’t been officially accepted I was informed that there was a space open and asked if would I be interested. I replied immediately, "Of course!" and within twenty-four hours was to be a writer-in-residence.


With a month of planning to go and a bunch of retractions of applications for conferences and so forth I got ready for this trip and to take a month off of work. But there were still pangs of anxiety. What if I wasn't productive? What if I didn't like the other artists? What if they didn’t like me? What if Wyoming was too rural for me? What if I needed something desperately I could only get in NYC? How would I survive, exactly? I hushed these concerns and looked forward; preparing everything that I'd need and what had to be taken care of while I was away. And with that I loaded my bags—after sitting on them and jumping up a couple times to get them closed—and departed for Wyoming.




Well, the land that is Jentel (and a whole bunch of acres) is in fact serene. You won’t get anything more serene if you tried, believe me. At the airport I met up with another artist (a painter), Lisa, and we were taken by director Mary Jane through the town of Sheridan (with a slight detour to slow down for a wild turkey crossing the street) and on to Banner. Mary Jane drove from the main road onto a dirt, cobbled road and we saw spots to get cell phone reception (atop a hill of rocks) and then the main entrance (equipped with a grate for cows so they don’t get on your territory) and towards the space itself.

We are surrounded by mountains here and the land is vast and wide and a greenish brown as we’re still in transition weather here. The air is fresh and the creek is right under the studios providing some calming sounds and a lovely view outside your window at any angle.




This really is a place that's conducive for creativity and the fact that there are windows in every section of the residence as well as the studios, for me at least, is key. Natural light helps me more than artificial. After a while fluorescent light or otherwise may irritate my eyes and when you’re looking at a computer screen for hours you need all the help you can get. But natural light, while it may produce a glare, is much better for the eyes. And in my studio I have it aimed directly at me so there’s no need to turn on the small lamp on my desk or the lights within my cabin-like digs.

Being from NYC I’m used to finicky weather, especially over this past year. But man it’s been snowing a bit and then stops and then starts and then I wake up and there’s a thin blanket outside my window. The blanket melts as the sun rises in the late morning/early afternoon and what do you know it’s snowing again as I walk out of my studio and several feet towards our residence for lunch. And then said process repeats for days four and five of my residency. Though today was absolutely gorgeous nice and warm and just like spring. But the landscape is beautiful and wherever you look there are mountains. Mountains to the left of me, mountains to the right…  And the snow itself isn’t a hindrance. Heck, when we were interviewed by the local media for the paper we were informed that everyone is pretty much used to this. So what am I complaining about?



The Digs  




Jentel itself (supported by Neltje a wonderfully kind artist with a great eye for design) is more than I could imagine and pictures really don't do it justice. Trust me. As Mary Jane showed Lisa and I to our individual spaces as well as the residence and studios we were dumbfounded. Lisa and I kept looking at each other wondering "Could this get any better?" Hell yes! It was like we were audience members on

Oprah waiting for the next big reveal of just how lucky we were.

Neltje designed and built this place up from scratch. There are wings in this house (Not wings like a bird or butterfly, but wings as in spaces where you reside that are pretty large). Wings, people! On one side are three bedrooms and two bathrooms (full) and the same is on the other side. In the middle we have a large living room, kitchen (which I was worried about and see that I am more than blessed by what we have), and dining area for us. There are stairs leading upstairs to a vast library with computer and internet and then to a media room with a large flat screen TV with satellite service and a DVD/VCR player.

And I haven't even mentioned the studios! Each residency last a month and starts/ends on a Friday. There are four visual artist residents and two writers at any given residency over the course of the year and they operate over 11 months of the year.

The visual artist studio is a lovely space with a kitchen and old school fridge (aka ice box) a bathroom and four spaces that are quite large for those who need it. They even have a bed in their studio! Each one has a great view of the land and from every angle you can see the mountains surrounding Jentel. Each of their studios are named after the seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall.

The writer's studio is more like a cabin with a mock—but working—fireplace, a desk, bookshelves, thermos, rolling chair, lounge chair and gorgeous view of the space. The names of the writer’s studio rooms are sunrise and sunset. I got sunset. They are named this way because of the view of the sun you have. Lorraine, a successful novelist, can get a clear view of the sun as it rises, while I have a close-up view of the sun (and can feel it’s heat) as it sets. But, words really can’t summarize it so here are some more pics!



The Residents 


And the artists themselves are wonderful! I'm surrounded by women at great stages in their careers and feel humbled and honored to be around them. We've gotten along quite well with each other and have had some fabulous meals! Joyce (landscape artist) made an amazing roast chicken with crispy veggies ala The Barefoot Contessa and Rachel (textile artist/weaver) made us some wonderful, and healthy, salad on a first full day in after we went shopping. Our first day in we were welcomed by a lovely turkey chili meal and brownies from Lynn, the organizer and welcome wagon, and necessary items for  breakfast the next morning (eggs, artisan bread, butter, milk, and orange juice) and have the run of a gorgeous kitchen the likes of which I've only ever seen on television, mainly Food Network.

We’ve decided to make meals for each other every other day and we generally eat together around the same time over the course of the day. Lisa made us some fish tacos and then Lorraine (award-winning author) made us green salsa enchiladas. Karen (visual artist) has been steady with the healthy items and made us roasted root veggies and has turned me on to kale. (Yes, kale!) I’m next and I foresee some shrimp and couscous dish and yes, of course, dessert! I already made blondies and these have gone over well. Even the elevation didn’t affect them rising very much.  (Of course this section is supposed to be on the people and becomes more about the food. I know, priorities, Jenn.)

There’ve been some heavy games of Scrabble and some great discussion and some watching of bad reality shows (Since when did The Judds need a reality show?) Karen initiated a weekly reading series where we can read our own work (or really us writers can) or you can read something that you like and share it with the group. I’ve gotten some very good responses to my work and encouragement from my fellow artists. It’s definitely a feel good group, but genuine in the fact that we enjoy each other’s work and want everyone to do well or continue to do well.

The Setup



A residency generally means time to just do what you need to do. Some have you meet with people regularly to review your work, others just provide you space and time to create leading to some solitary moments, and some may have you do some community outreach or a project while you’re there. In the case of Jentel there’s an optional reading and interview with the local news paper, but for the most part you’re left to your own devices and provided a weekly stipend to buy the necessary goods from the store on our trip into town each week.

When Lynn sat down with us for orientation she informed us that this is a time for us to re-energize and take care of ourselves. If that means producing art, great! If not, that's great too! The most important thing is to make sure you feel relaxed and give you the time and space you need to be a productive artist whether it's here or when we return home. This was a wonderful thing to hear because I think we all have pressure on ourselves to be productive. When are we going to have a landscape like this again? When are we going to get money to buy our own groceries? When are we going to have a month to not worry about anything but being an artist? When are we going to have all these damn comfy chairs in one space? For city gals like me, never that’s when or at least not unless I get another residency or buku bucks.

For me, I’ve found this a relaxing and very fruitful time. I’ve written four hours a day or more and pretty much hold creative hours like regular work hours—from the time I get up until close to sundown. And by evening it’s all about relaxing, but I’ve been hand writing things in the evening since it’s nice to have a break from the computer screen.

Yes, I’ve been on the social networking sites and raise my hand in defeat at being a bit of a Twitter junkie, but all in all I’ve gotten a rhythm and flow going that I know will produce some heavy stuff by month’s end. And the month’s end is a time I am not looking forward to because with the space itself being gorgeous and comfy, the food being good, the people being wonderful, and me being productive I can see myself dreaming of this place once I leave. But, I still have three weeks before I have to worry about that.