Thursday, April 25, 2013

So Long to my Cabin in the Woods

My time at Brush Creek Ranch as an artist-in-residence is drawing to an end, and a big piece of it ended yesterday: Wednesday afternoons volunteering as a guest artist at the Hub in Saratoga.

The Hub is a rec. center for children ages 5-18 to hang out after school. "Hang out" may be too loose a term -- as many afternoons are spent with activities like kayaking, tee-pee building, model rocket launches, and antler hunting -- all led by dedicated and passionate adults. Homework, art, and music round out the hours. Like Wyoming itself, the Hub is two things: hurting for new faces, and big on hospitality. Visitors are always welcome.

[Mixing homemade watercolor paints at the Hub, Saratoga, WY]

As a teacher in my home of Portland, Oregon, I knew I couldn't go a month without working with children in some capacity. I asked around for opportunities, and the Hub was offered to me as a welcoming venue. The kids at the Hub turned out to be as much of an inspiration to my art-making as long stone-collecting, moose-tracking, snow-shoeing walks on the Ranch.

My time at the Hub was spent sharing projects that reflected my "from scratch" attitude on art. Can't buy it? Make it! Doesn't exist? Make it! Don't know how? Experiment! Found objects, recycled objects, and household materials blended with a DIY spirit as I led classes in bookbinding and material making.

[Introducing my first class, Pop-up books.]

Over the past month we've engineered pop-up books, bound miniature journals with collected twigs, created old-fashioned toys, and mixed watercolor paint out of common kitchen wares and ingredients. How delighted I was to open the local newspaper, the Saratoga Sun, yesterday and see a beautiful full-page color feature about my time at the Hub.

[Th Hub kids using bonefolders; the crease-making
 tools carved from elk bone are always a hit.]

These Saratoga kids were naturals at thinking outside of the box. After adeptly following initial directions for each project, the questions, tweaks, and experimentation began: "What would happen if I added this? " "Maybe this book could be used this way instead..." This little town in Southeast Wyoming is doing something right, and I'm thankful I could be a part of it this spring.

[A student with a pop-up tree... a design and concept all her own.]
My experience of child-like wonder, so vital to the artistic experience, wasn't limited to my afternoons at the Hub. With days on the Ranch filled with the aforementioned stone-collecting, moose-tracking, and snow-shoeing, the other residents and I found ourselves each evening reminiscing about walks in the woods taken decades ago with fathers or older siblings. We traded folklore and old wives' remedies, pored over bird books to identify a certain waterfowl, or learn the migratory paths of Sandhill cranes.

[Crossroads at the Ranch on a sunny day.]

Before I came to Wyoming, I read "Letters of a Woman Homesteader," a collection of missives from pioneer Elinore Pruitt Stewart written to her past employer. In them, the Denver transplant recalls her early twentieth-century move to Wyoming to work on a ranch. Despite the obvious hardships, Elinore always finds magic in her surroundings. She recalls one summertime outing with neighbors:

"The sun shot arrows of gold through the pines down upon us and we gathered our arms full of columbines. The little black squirrels barked and chattered saucily as we passed along, and we were all children together. We forgot all about feuds and partings, death and hard times." 

"How Romantic... and saccharine," I thought.

A month later, I found myself at the large kitchen table at Brush Creek that that become as much a home as my studio or bedroom.  Amidst much pouring of red wine and spooning out of fried rice for dinner, a fellow resident gushed: "I felt like I was back in third grade today... walking through the woods in the snow, looking for deer, playing down by the creek."

"That's how we should all feel, all of the time." answered Beth, our director, assuredly.

Well slap me silly and call me Sally; there we were, all children together after all.

[A walk to the creek.]

I hope future residents can both feel like children and find the time to work with them when visiting the Platte Valley: I know the rewards of wonder and play will continue when I'm back in the city.



  1. Wonderful, inspiring! You're a saint for doing this, and I'm glad you benefitted as well!

  2. Teaching was wonderful; I am excitedly planning summer camps back in Portland, more inspired than I would have been otherwise. I am happy I could have a positive impact!

  3. I opened this after school mentoring program back at the beginning of 2004, as Chapter Director. I am more then elated to see it is still being utilized by BBBS of Greater Wyoming, and that you had the opportunity to contribute your talents to the children of Saratoga. Thank you for writing your story down, and sharing photos of the projects you lead.