For one glorious month this fall, I’ve been a writer-in-residence at the Jentel Arts Foundation in Sheridan, Wyoming.
Jentel is a working cattle ranch in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, and it’s also a colorful and secluded mecca for creative people. Every month they invite six people — four visual artists and two writers — and from September 15th to October 13th, I am one of the writers.
I’ll remember a lot of things about this place: trail runs in the hills, the log cabin that I use as a writing studio, the smell of the rain. But the best part of being here — by far — has been meeting the other artists-in-residence.
Shigeki Yoshida is a Japanese photographer. At first I was struck by the darkness in his work, but the more I look at his photos, the more I’m fascinated with the way he plays with light.
Naomi Reis is also influenced by her Japanese heritage. She currently lives in Brooklyn, where she uses her work to explore the cracks between industrial architecture and the natural world. These are from a series she calls “Borrowed Landscapes,” one of which was recently featured in a J. Crew store in Brooklyn.
Emily Dunlap is a sculptor and mixed media artist. She’s from the Midwest, and her work is about feminism and hunting culture and her relationship to where she came from and where she’s going.
Jane Guthridge hails from Colorado, where she works with beeswax and paper and natural shapes. Some of her work is three-dimensional, and the shadows her sculptures cast change throughout the day. Everything she makes feels ethereal and luminous.
The other writer is Renee Restivo, a curly-haired Italian woman who writes for National Geographic Traveler, speaks about Sicilian cooking on National Public Radio, and has shared her culinary prowess on the Travel Channel. She makes us biscuits and gravy with locally raised beef and heirloom eggs from the farm down the road, and she laughs like an Italian.
Taken together, we’re an eclectic cast of characters. I’ve wondered more than once if we’re in a reality television show. Some of us are moody. Some of us are afraid of rattlesnakes. We’re here to breathe in the open space and work on our art, and we’re spending a lot of time in our pajamas.
This much I know: Neltje, the woman who founded this place, knew what she was doing. “The creative process is valued here,” the program director told us. “And for this one month, we want you to know that your art matters.”
And that’s what we’ll remember most of all.
(Naomi Reis photo.)
More updates from Wyoming coming soon. In the meantime, there’s plenty of information about Jentel at www.jentelarts.org.