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February 2015
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Finding the Artist’s Retreat-or My Cabin in the Woods

Finding a spot to create. It seems to be a goal for writers, artists and musicians. Often it’s a quest.  Maybe that’s a good word for it.
I spend more and more time thinking about it-a cabin in the woods.
I’m not sure why that dreaded “If only….” phrase has kept popping up in my mind but it has me daydreaming of a place to relax, unwind, meditate, recharge-every adjective that an artist needs in order to justify her creativity! Silly. I have a studio that is the envy of most artists. We built it 18 years ago from parts of a 1910 home being torn down in the area. It’s 24 x 30 feet in size with 10 foot ceilings, beautiful reclaimed pine flooring, the old windows-it is stunning!

And I know this! But in reality it is crowded! Oh it started off with SO much space but with 2 working artists that changed quickly
Even the shed we added behind it turned into a storage area. Oh and we have a woodworking shop..the downstairs filled  with tools and the upstairs filled with things we are storing but do not need. (easy with 4 grown kids who move around)

At the beginning…….:-)

And we have grown rose clippings from abandoned homesteads and they have grown and matured into a profusion of cascading color enjoyed by painters every spring…so WHY was I searching?

Seven Sisters roses cascading down the tobacco stick fence
Red Seven Sisters brought by mother as a cutting from her family homestead in Mississippi.

What am I looking for?

I lean towards mountain properties- a throwback I am sure of my New England upbringing where we lived in an 18th century farmhouse on 50 acre farm in upstate New York (next to MA and VT) and had unfettered run, on foot, skis and horses, of the mature forests and surrounding streams, farmland and towns. Our freedom included the glorious huge beamed barn with its many outbuildings and the secret hideaways within them all. Ah, such memories!

In my mind, my cabin art retreat  has to have a stream, mature trees…and of course-a small cabin.  Again, I recognize this from childhood memories of running through abandoned farm fields and discovering, in the dark recesses of hemlocks and maples that bordered all the forgotten fields, streams that cascaded down rocks into small pools of cold, pristine water.  It was all very magical to a child of ten and I clearly recall the details of discovering Jack in the Pulpits, ripples in the water pools, crawdads under the stones, floating maple leaves and the cool tang of the hemlocks. And other than the delighted sounds of discovery by my twin sister and younger brother, the only other sounds were that of the waterfall.  The sound of gurgling water can quickly transport me to that spot anytime I hear it.

And on a bittersweet, yet telling note, the last family vacation I had with my twin sister was in the  NC mountains. Eileen and I were 28 and I had 3 children, the youngest just 4 months old and a too busy life and business when our parents rented a little summer house for us to have a vacation in for our upcoming 29th birthdays :-) .  It sat in a valley with a little stream in front of the house. My 6 and 3 year old played for hours on end at the edge of the shallow gurgling water, building and rebuilding little stone houses. There had been no TV, no phone and we had sat on the front porch at night counting stars and waiting for the shooting ones. I had purposely left my guitar at home and brought my new hammered dulcimer. So our evening musical entertainment was the singular sounds of the dulcimer chords.

With my youngest in a backpack (or my mother staying and watching him) we explored caves, pastures, mountains, abandoned farms. We had bought Audubon books and learned the names of the wildflowers we were  discovering. The children were at that age where everything held wonder and my parents and sister enjoyed sharing all the wonders with them.  Something as simple as watermelon seed spitting contests and watching frogs hop held them in rapture. It was a good summer and even better memories. A year later my twin was gone and all that was left us were the memories.

So I sort of know WHY I am looking….maybe it’s that I am searching for a bit of those memories I have just described. The point was I had a sort of an epiphany the other day.

After spending inordinate amounts of time on Craigslist, looking at properties that I could not afford, or cheap ones simply too far away (there IS a practical side to me!) and …..daydreaming, wasting an awful lot of time…. I shook myself clear of it.

I already have a small “cabin”. I am on a couple of acres of land. I have mature trees. I have deer and wildlife. I have a stone fountain I bought used 3 years ago and never used….hey, I can MAKE my own cabin in the woods and do it right here!

Bought from a friend whose mother had used it first as a pottery studio, then as storage (of course!) it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up!

So $250.00 moving fee later, the 12 x 20 building is finally deposited between our house, studio and pasture. It isn’t very lovely but it was insulated, wired and covered inside with many grungy shelves and a linoleum floor.

We are on 2.5 acres but the back is heavily wooded and alas…there was no way to get the whole shebang  to the back area.

At first the changes I did were cosmetic: cleaning the sides, painting the door and trim, replacing the screen door with a vintage door……then I cleaned and painted the grungy insides shelves, thinking of paneling or sheetrock but not getting beyond that.  Amazing what a little paint can do.
But within a few months we were storing frames and paintings in it, stymied by the cost of running electric to the inside panel.

And then the epiphany happened and I made a decision-yep-just like that-
The frames and artwork can go where they belong-into the 8 x 16 ft cargo trailer used just for that purpose. I’ll enlist the help of some friends who can make a few things happen….for starters, I want a sliding door off the other end…this one door opens into the driveway-and cannot be a major entrance easily.
So I reasoned that if I bought property with a similar building on it, I would be facing the same economic and design challenges anyway so….what the heck!

So now I have my brain in gear…how to heat? Maybe a propane fireplace? Small woodstove?  Must think this through but  so many shelves are a bonus to help move my craft and silk work out of the main studio and into a smaller one…..let’s see-add a small deck out the side where the sliding door would be, take that long unused stone waterfall….. are you feeling it now? :-)

What WILL the free range chickens think!?  Stay tuned for what starts to happen next!

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