Coffee "shop" in the middle of nowhere outside of Taos.
I hope you had a chance to read Part One of this post, where I talk about amazing residency experiences offered by The VCCA in Virginia, and Le Moulin à Nef in France. These next two residencies were both located in high deserts. I live in the high desert of central Mexico so I have been in several similar landscapes in my travels lately. These were both beautiful and meaningful retreats for me, in different ways.
3. Herekeke Arts Center, Lama, New Mexico
Herekeke is a stunning and peaceful retreat center in the northern part of the state. New Mexico is well known as the long time adopted home of artist Georgia O'Keefe. Her life at Ghost Ranch is well documented and photographed and the landscape she painted is still a big attraction to the area. Many people love Taos and Santa Fe, both operating as centers for art in the southwest. Just thirty minutes outside of Taos, is the little village of Lama, a small community located in Taos County and populated by more animals than humans. At over 8000 feet, it backs up to the more-than-million-acre Carson National Forest in the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains. If that scenery doesn't inspire great art and writing, I don't know what will.
Herekeke which is situated on about 100 acres, is run by Peggy and Nat, who also live on the property. This retreat was a solo act for me which turned out to be just what I needed. There is room for two fellows at a time sharing a sweet and homey two bedroom/two studio house. It just so happened, that aside from one night of overlap with a previous lovely young resident, I had 2 weeks alone with my thoughts and brushes—plus horses and goats.
My mornings usually began with coffee and meditation from the "Really Big Chair" on the porch. The view was stunning and tranquil and a great start to the day in the studio. The more -than- million -acre national forest is no joke. It was absolutely the most gorgeous, solitary hiking place I have ever personally been. It was my first time in this part of the country and O Keefe's high desert did not disappoint.
The house had this view for it's front yard and needless to say, I soaked it and the afternoon sunset in like a dusty rag.
Nat and Peggy used to have this as their home and the place is lovingly adorned to reflect the artists they both are. An added treat —and the second time for me in a residency— is that there was a piano! (not to mention a wall of old accordions collected by Nat, who is also a musician.) There was even music for a little Bach sonata I remembered playing as a child.
The kitchen is fully equipped with lots of healthy staples for use. Taking advantage of the summer season, I signed up for a CSA before I arrived, and enjoyed a bounty of local, fresh vegetables. Since I didn't have a car there, Peggy generously drove me into Taos twice for other groceries. Other than that, I was blessedly alone. They did come everyday to feed the goats, but I did not see them everyday and they respected my space.
And, speaking of goats! This one's name is Zelda and these were her two babies during my stay. The little ones were of course, friendly and frisky and usually tried to eat my hair or my pants, but I so loved hanging out with them. I defy anyone on the planet to resist a baby goat. I mentioned in Part One of this post, that many retreats seem to be located in the mountains. All that hill walking echoes our own vastness and perhaps allows us to go deep into our work and practice while in that environment. The Sangre de Cristo mountains are no exception. Having animals to visit on daily walks created just the right amount of company needed to balance all the solitude.
One of the great perks I have realized from retreats is the possibility of exploring a new place before and/or after the residency. Since I had never been to New Mexico, I planned on a few days in Taos before and a few days after in Santa Fe. In Taos,I stayed in the coolest Air BNB ever called The Laughing Horse, an old earth ship house where Georgia herself stayed, back in the day. I even got to sleep in her room. While O'Keefe was never one of my very favorites, her artist mystique and vibe are qualities I would not mind to absorb in some small way. I think people go to her home in Abiquiu for that reason. And so did I. I was lucky to meet someone obliging with a car to take me there when I visited Santa Fe. It is a majestic and iconic landscape to be sure. Just as she painted it.
Another perk of this residency is its proximity to The Lama Foundation, a non-denominational spiritual center founded in 1967. Located within walking distance up the mountain, it is here where Ram Dass famously wrote and published Be Here Now. In the end I opted to maintain my solitary groove, but if desired, there are times when the public is welcome to join up for dinner and activities as guests at the center.
One of my favorite moments from that retreat was having all the doors of the house open and suddenly hearing an animal scurry across the piano. The chipmunks and squirrels took advantage of the space, often trying to clean out my granola! Add to that the gorgeous bird life, horses and goats, plus Peggy and Nat's sweet dogs that would wander in and out of the house, I felt like Snow White sequestered in her artistic woods, being aided by all the animal spirits.
2. Valparaiso Foundation, Mojacar, Spain
My first trip to Spain was a few years ago to attend a family wedding in Madrid. I fell in love with the city, the architecture, the art- (The Prado!) What better way to return than to focus on a residency, this time in Andalusia in the seaside town of Mojácar. The Valparaiso Foundation has a fascinating history which I was privileged to hear about directly from the founder herself, Beatrix Beckett. She and her artist husband Paul, both Danish, bought the abandoned olive mill in the early 70's and set about to restore it to working order and eventually it opened as a place for artists to gather and work.
For many years, the residency was free, but economics forced them to begin to charge a nominal fee a couple of years ago. They do still offer grants, however, and I was fortunate enough to receive one of two offered for every session.
Before arriving at the residency, I took advantage of the proximity to the Mediterranean and spent a week in San Jose just an hour from Mojacar. A slip of a village, it is famous for it's vast and wild beaches with giant rock formations. I had a sweet, seaside respite and got a jump on some paintings I had planned to develop at the residency.
The residency building itself is simply stunning. The inside of the house still retains its olive mill roots complete with giant olive press and urns from the 17th century amidst a well-stocked library in quite a few languages.
While I knew that the residency included all meals, I was not at all prepared for the amazing quality of those meals! My fellow fellows—2 poets, from Madrid and Cumbria, and one painter from Dublin—and I were treated to the most elaborate and delicious food daily, from our lovely cook, Beatriz, who has worked there most of her life, and also lives across the road. Incidentally, no surprise that we were served the most flavorful olives I have ever eaten. Not only did we have wonderful food, we were also provided with nightly bottles of wine! The other artists were such interesting and generous people, dinners usually went on for 2 hours with stimulating conversation. We often walked into the town of Mojacar later in the evening, just a quiet 20 minute (although very steep) walk away.
Beatrix, (side note: we had Beatrix the founder, Beatriz the cook, and Beatrice, one of the fellows) who lives next door joined us for dinner a couple of nights. While she is quite up in years, she was so gracious and full of great stories of the origins of the place and her adventurous life with her long deceased husband. I felt like I was listening to Isak Dinesen, I had a farm in Africa...
There are four artist studios, that are separate from the main building. I had what I decided was the best one, as it was off by itself next to the chickens with a wall of windows for light and a great view.
The peace and quiet along with being surrounded by thousands of olive, almond, and citrus trees—not to mention a spectacular view into the valley— creates for ideal working conditions anywhere on the property.
The amazing gift of time to work, coupled with the connections and friendships I have made in residencies keeps me coming back for more. Meeting other writers and artists from around the globe reminds me of the shared beauty and wonder we are all trying to bring from the depths of our hearts and psyches. Allowing different landscapes and locales to influence what and how I see continues to inform and stimulate my work. With any luck, I will be writing another post from a residency in Key West where I hope to be early next winter. While the high desert landscape can be seductive, I am ready for lush.
If you've enjoyed any of my writing, please consider sharing. I would love to hear comments about other artists' experiences in residencies. Gracias!