This is the talk given at the opening Reception for Lost in the Lavender – Friday, September 9, 2022 at 6pm. Read the full Artist Talk below.
Video and photos by Claire Rosen.
To speak about this work I feel I must take you back in time, just a few years, to the moment when my sister-in-law gifted me a tiny tube of bath salts. The choice of jar, the typography – each part of this item so thoughtfully selected and designed. I immediately wanted to know everything about this miniature beauty. Everything about the tube was artful, magical. A few months later, I saw images online of Warwick lavender products and they were totally unlike any product photos I had ever seen. I had to know who was behind them. I am not so sure of the order of events after that… Claire says she Instagram-stalked me, I thought maybe it was the other way around. And then we chatted on the phone one afternoon. I like to think it was a Sunday, it felt like a Sunday in my mind. After rambles about art projects and ideas, workshops and a whole assortment of things swirling around I got off the phone and said, “John I think I just made a new friend!”
The most magnificent of creative tornados surrounds this farm and Claire is at its center. In that conversation she invited me to the farm to visit. A day in maybe early March, the lavender was taking its winter nap beneath the soil. I walked these fields and could see her whole vision for the farm. Claire laid it out so perfectly, floating from one spot to another, painting the image with her words: a spot to sit with a cup of tea here, string lights over the old tennis court there, an airbnb in that cottage, an artist alcove at the end of this barn…it went on and on and I followed along for all of it.
I’ve long held the belief that something magical happens when creatives come together and share their practice in communion with others.
I have had an obsession for quite some time with the idea of artist colonies, certain places around the world that for some reason, some perhaps-magnetic pull, draw together and become a home for artists who live in community with one another. Maybe this obsession came from listening to stories about the art-focused high school my mother attended, or hearing about her musical practices and collaborations late into the night during her university years.
Perhaps it was also from reading about an especially-famous art colony that grew up around in the 1930s in the mountains of Western North Carolina at a place called Black Mountain College. The immigrant and author, Louis Adamic, wrote about his time at Black Mountain College, “I had thought to stay an hour or so and then go. To shorten a long tale, instead of staying overnight, I remained for two and half months.”
I can see a similar pursuit unfolding here on the farm: although I have no intention of staying for two and a half months, we, as guests of this farm, are witnesses to genius and another magnetic pull: history and nature and art and love all live here and we are so fortunate to be welcomed into it. As Elsa, the main-character of my new-favorite streaming show, 1883, reminds us: “There is a moment where your dreams and your memories merge together and form a perfect world. That is heaven.”
Can we have art without the natural world, surely. Can we have the natural world without art, ok. But delight is in them both working their magic together, in unison.
I felt that unison begin when Claire suggested, a few days after my first visit to the farm, that I consider a creative residency on the farm, which would involve a week of exciting new possibilities, joyously-overlapping passions, and contributing to one another’s creative processes. Like the botanicals that give my work life, with time, attention, and a little bit of watering, this idea grew into reality and became real for me this past summer.
After I unpacked and settled into this place of creative inspiration and possibility, I took time to walk the grounds and re-acquaint myself with the farm I would call home for the next six days. As I walked through the lavender fields that get to watch the sun set each evening, I felt lost. But in the best possible way.
To be lost often has negative connotations: unable to find the way or not knowing one’s whereabouts. The implication being that one took a wrong turn or lacks direction. As I have gotten older, the feeling of being lost has become one more of delight than of fear or sorrow. On some weekend days, my greatest hope is that John will jump in the car with me and be up for getting lost among the backroads we drive-past every day. It’s hard to truly get lost when tied to an agenda or smartphone. One has to go out of their way to be immersed in another place, another time.
My time here on the farm was otherworldly. I was lost in the most beautiful way, without a tether to my life back home: I existed on a different timeline. I observed different patterns and learned new things about myself. This time was sacred. Just as in making mistakes we often find answers, it was in getting lost that I found my way to my work and a new home for my heart. My hope is that as you let yourself be immersed in this work, that it would become an invitation for you to get lost, even if just for a moment.
My heart skipped a beat when I recently heard the suggestion: “To see land is to be silenced by it.” I would say the same is true of art and when land and art converge for me there is communion unlike any other. My world hums in perfect harmony. This is my holy communion. When I walk, I see shapes and compositions. I study each blade of grass and how I think it will render on my paper. I dream up the compositions that look most like nature while also being whimsical. I am just as enamored of the process as I am with the final product. This process makes me slow down and feel my way through each step. As you experience it tonight, I want you to feel. I want you to be in this spot with me. Because here is where divinity is.
Most of you know that at the beginning of June my dear father passed away. He was my kindred soul, one that always made my being feel at home and at ease. A friend who lost their father recently wrote, “I will be homesick for my father for the rest of my life” – and there are no better words to describe my own feelings.
But in the absence of him, I see so clearly now. As a restoration architect and historian, my father studied each detail and honored the past as he presented the future. As the farm became my home for the last week in June, it felt that my father had somehow planned this. I can’t describe how much I felt my father’s presence alongside me during my artistic residency. It felt as if something cosmic had taken over and placed me here. During this residency, I found more meaning in my work than I ever had in the past. I found meaning in each blade of grass, each lavender blossom, and in each sunset. I felt meaning in every personal connection I made with visitors to this farm.
All of these pieces seemed to be working separately before I came here for the week. As I was folded into this family, it all seemed to make sense. I said to Claire yesterday, fighting back a few tears, that my holy, artistic communion here changed my life for the better…there are no other words than that.
Thank you Claire. Thank you Ed and Dolly, Charlotte, Camille and Lillie. Thank you to Katie, Holly, Kai, and the entire Warwick Furnace Farm Family. To my family, Mark, Nic, Mom and Dad. And to my John.