I am just a few days into a two-week residency at the Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap, GA, and I have taken over the generously-sized walls of my studio and am imagining all of my work in as big a picture as I can. Sketches and ideas and notes are pinned to walls, a lengthy to-do list is on the white board, and the baby grand piano sits in the middle of the room, always ready for me to play. I have always laid my work out on the floor at points during the composing process to see the whole thing (or at least larger parts) at once, but it is quite something to be able to sketch standing up, then take two steps back, and look at the zoomed out idea of what I’m working with. I caught a rare moment of internet here and wanted to get this post up, but I’ll try and share pictures when I’m back in the plugged in world so you can see just how big the goldfish bowl is while I’m here.
The center started off as the Jay Hambidge School of Dynamic Symmetry and Weaving (circa 1941), and was developed and run by Mary Crovatt Hambidge (1885-1973). There’s a documentary coming out this year that goes into the history of how the space went from what it was then to what it is now, and I’m sure that will be much more clear than I could explain. (You can also read Hambidge’s on-line history here.)
As the residency stands now, Hambidge is working to support a diverse group of artists at a variety of career stages, and to give them the space, privacy, and environment they need to work on their art for 2-4 weeks in the non-winter months. For these two weeks, I am sharing 600 acres of land with nine other artists: poets, a fiction writer, a fiber artist, ceramicist, book artist, installation artist, and sculptor. We each have our own cabin that includes a studio space and a separate living space, and we come together for dinner on weeknights and share a delicious vegetarian meal together. While I am here, I’ll be finishing up a commission for Red Star Brass (also please consider donating to their GoFundMe fundraiser so they can attend the residency where they are premiering my work!), and starting into a new large-scale work for Pierrot ensemble (including singer!) that incorporates a poem by Mary Colborne-Veel called “Song of the Trees.”
Last night after dinner, we were invited by Jamie (Hambidge director extraordinaire) up to Mary Hambidge’s cabin for a little history and conversation. Beside the fact that the craftsmanship of the space is amazing (I am my father’s daughter), it was great to learn more about this woman who, in the middle of the 20th century, was paving the way for artists like me to be able to have a quiet, insulated (from the outside world) space to practice our art, to get better, to focus, and to learn. Things I learned: Mary was a very accomplished whistler in 1911, during a time when women did not, under normal circumstances, whistle, especially not in public (scandalous!). She traveled to Greece to learn about Greek weaving and fiber arts practices, as well as Dynamic Symmetry, and brought those skills back to the States where she held classes and workshops to teach other women these techniques. The women worked in Rabun County to supply a store that Mary opened called “Weavers of Rabun” on Madison Avenue in New York City. Basically, she was fancy and a badass, and made a lot of opportunities available to a lot of people who needed it.
After Mary passed away in 1973, Eliot Wigginton wrote a beautiful tribute to Ms. Hambidge in Foxfire magazine (Vol. 7, No. 3), a publication that was born out of time spent here on the grounds, though I’m not sure which came first: the magazine or Foxfire cabin, just up the hill from my studio. Jamie shared the edition with us last night and after reading the first paragraph, I asked to borrow it and take some time to look through Wigginton’s writing about Mary and to read through some of their correspondence. Here is that opening paragraph:
“Mary Crovatt Hambidge has died. The date is not important for she was not a woman bound by dates. Most never knew her age. It would have been easy to find it out, but in reference to her, all those earthly tags seemed somehow unimportant. It was as if she had always been here and always would be, despite the outward signs of decay – signs which only somehow added to the feeling of permanence that surrounded her.”
This woman clearly left her legacy in this space, but also on the people who spent time here with her. Her biography and work constantly leans into her work with others and in advocacy of the work of others, in promoting and supporting artists who, like many of us, depend on a community to grow and create. It seems like Mary is woven into the earth here, like she touched every tree and appreciated each one.
Last month I wrote about wanting to engage more with badass repertoire by equally badass female composers. Coming here to Hambidge has also introduced to me other female artists (as well as a few men), both the women with which I share a meal each night, and also Mary Hambidge, who purchased this land and fostered this community beginning after her husband passed away; she did it all on her own, except for some financial support she received from a female opera singer. She advocated for art and the artist’s process in a time when the industrial revolution was exerting extreme pressure on society. She promoted craftsmanship and skills executed with one’s hands rather than a machine. She appreciated and understood the importance of communing with, respecting, and preserving our natural surroundings. She fostered a community among artists, writers, and even scientists, that allowed each to work in isolation and also feed off of one another’s energy; today, Hambidge fellows balance and see all of Mary’s hard work in the way our own experience unfolds during our time here.
In a letter to Wittington dated 4/28/63, Mary writes: “The keynote here is work, work together, not just be patronized by a rich person. My plan for this is different and has to be, as I am not rich and don’t believe in the thing just supported, but built up through work and human endeavor…. My idea, perhaps, is something on the order of cooperation but I dislike the word, as it’s too Latin! The Greek word symbiosis is better, Life together, not just work.”
There are so many ways in which we can advocate for women and the work of women, and so many examples of women in history who have pushed back against expectations and generalizations of their gender. Mary Hambidge is one of those women, and for her I am grateful. This Foxfire edition has given me a lot to think about in the greater scope of work, cooperation, art, advocacy, and process. At dinner tonight, we were talking about why we do what we do, and a poet made the statement that she wrote poetry to push on the edges of our insides and our feelings. Meeting my fellow fellows (hah!) and learning about the woman who made this opportunity for us has, even in these short few days, challenged me to push on the edges of my work and life. More on that later…