Recently, I spent a month at the Elephant Butte Lake Artist Residency. I’ve heard about artist residencies, and I was eager to experience one. The theme of this residency was Conversation with the Landscape. This rural desert landscape and I had lots of say to each other!
It was a big adventure to be sure. The first week I felt like a kid at camp – I was somewhere brand new, not knowing anyone and yes, I was homesick that first week but by the end of my four-week stay, I shed tears of happiness and appreciation for my amazing experience.
Although I’ve spent tons of time in northern New Mexico when I was younger, this was my first time to explore southern New Mexico. We all had our own casita overlooking Elephant Butte Lake which was usually full of vintage houseboats. We had no TV; cell phone service was very sketchy, but we did have Wi-Fi.
The nearest town was Truth or Consequences or T or C as the locals refer to it. It is a funky town known for its natural hot springs and its long name. My favorite spring was the Riverbend Hot Springs formerly a bait shop but now a relaxing spa overlooking the picturesque Rio Grande River.
This residency was self-directed. I was on my own. I could do whatever I wanted. No instructions. No critiques. It was like how I imagine Heaven being.
There were eleven of us from all over the country representing a variety of art forms including a documentary film maker, a potter, a paper maker, a photographer and visual artists.
We had a big space for our communal art studio. At times the studio was buzzing with activity. While other times I would enjoy the peacefulness of being the only one there. I enjoyed seeing what everyone else was working on. I tried to absorb as much as I could from the other artists. I was constantly asking questions. What brand of paint is that? Where did you get that brush? How did you do that?
We gathered each Monday morning to go over what was planned for the week. On Friday afternoon, we gathered again for HAPPY HOUR which involved lots of salsa and beer tasting.
We went on weekly excursions including trips to Las Cruces, Mesilla, Pueblo Ruins at Abo, Hatch and the ghost towns of Chloride and Monticello. I had two favorite places: the bird sanctuary at Bosque del Apache and the Gila Cliff Dwelling which was majestic and mystical. It was a long gorgeous drive through the mountains aptly named the Trail of the Mountain Spirits. I could feel every one of them.
We artist were good at balancing our work time and play time. For fun we would have a potluck, watch a film, go for a soak, or make a run to Casa Taco. The best brisket taco in the world can be had at this place. Seriously! Everyone was respectful and understood when you just needed to chill in your casita by yourself.
In this remote and isolated creative sanctuary, I found myself craving time to be with the land rather than in the studio. I marveled at the wide-open expanse and how the ever-shifting light constantly changed the colors on the lake.
I did lots of creative thinking and soul reflection while hiking. My creative practice shifted from creating finished work to keeping a sketchbook of ideas and impressions. I wanted to listen and absorb all that the land had to offer. It was a time to learn and be. The studio work would just have to wait.
In my next journal post, I’ll share some pages from my New Mexico Sketchbook and thoughts about my creative process.