Moab and Arches National Park, Utah, by Walker

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Nestled in a valley carved over millennia by the Colorado River lies the town of Moab, Utah, the outdoor mecca of the American West. Travelers from all corners of the continent make their pilgrimage to Moab to bike, kayak, climb, hike, BASE jump, rappel, raft, 4×4, Jeep safari, tightrope walk, and zipline through the grand mesas, canyons, and natural arches. If it involves outdoor recreation, physical skill, and some degree of danger, it can be found in Moab.

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The town of roughly 8,500 hasn’t always been this way; founded in the 1940s, Moab began as a uranium boomtown, fueling the military’s new hunger for radioactivity. After the fixed-price contracts expired, so did the mining, as Moab’s extreme isolation made transporting ore prohibitively expensive.

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The next wave of industry came in the form of natural gas, as new extraction technologies granted access to previously inaccessible fortunes. Within time this market too dwindled as reserves were depleted. Moab’s current reincarnation as an adventure tourism hub would have been hard to imagine in such an inhospitable climate if not for one of its most ardent supporters, Edward Abbey. During the early 1970s, Abbey published numerous books dedicated to the protection of Moab’s untamed wilderness. In a cruel twist of fate, it seems that his romantic writings have contributed to the influx of “industrial tourists” Abbey so despised.

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Moab is home to a large transient population, one that we had become a part of. While we towed in our customized trailer, we saw a vast array of homebrew camper solutions, ranging from converted Chrysler minivans to pickups with tiny houses built over the bed; one camper even towed in his small motorboat and slept in the cabin. Moab’s permanent residents have built a vibrant community, centered around the arts, sciences, and an inventive DIY spirit. Public parks are plentiful and lush, the library hosts its own comic convention, and multiple co-op and employee-owned businesses provide groceries and secondhand goods. We made quick friends with Cathy O’Conner and Rosie Boone, owners of Desert Thread, the only yarn and fiber store in town. They opened their doors and AC to us, and even started carrying Danielle’s prints and Skein Scarves. We were invited to spin yarn on Saturdays, and even participated in the Moab Art Walk with the storefront.

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Moab, with its two neighboring national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, occupies high desert, where humidity rarely reaches over 20 percent and temperatures fluctuate by 50° within a day. During our time there we saw multiple cases of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Remembering to drink water was a constant activity with our porous mammal bodies. While consuming so much water in order to stay hydrated, we also had to eat extra salt after experiencing symptoms of desalination. Without running water at our campsite, each day began to revolve around acquiring and storing water. While we served as camp hosts, the local BLM office provided us with a large tank to keep in our truck. Even with this luxury, we made sure to have a few spare gallons with us at all times. The last week we spent there, temperatures stayed in the 100s all day, and our tiny mobile garden essentially fried except for the rosemary; it was high time to move along.

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During our time as campground hosts for the Bureau of Land Management. we felt we had become part of Moab. We recognized folks in the grocery store, made friends, had our paintings recognized by locals, and knew the thrift stores as well as Chicken Alley. The grand natural wonders of Arches National Park had brought us to Moab, but it was the people and community we felt a part of that made it hard to leave.

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White Sands National Monument : By Danielle

 

I remember scanning over google earth on my phone on our way into the south west admiring the satellite images of the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico. When I saw White Sands National monument I thought it was a glitch on Google’s part. A beaming white patch in the middle of brown, black earth. Zoom in, and it only looks more strange. When we go to national parks I try not to study the pictures online too hard as I like to be surprised. Nothing could have prepared us for this unreal alternative world. White Sands National Monument has been protected and recognized since 1933.  It is the largest deposit of gypsum in the world. With no ocean to escape to, the gypsum runs off of the surrounding San Andres and Sacramento Mountains via water, and collects in a lake bellow and eventually blows southwest creating a massive dune field. The park, in rock time, is new and still changing. 

     We decided to head straight to the park once the trailer was settled in Alamogordo. We borrowed some saucer sleds from the campground host, because apparently the sand was sled-able. The sun started to set and the wind was relentless as we drove past the park gates. That didn’t deter us. The white dunes start almost abruptly, like a giant emptied his shoe after a beach day. We yelped and awed at the sites driving in. I kept expecting to see ocean, but instead the horizon kept opening up to what seemed to be an endless sliding landscape of blinding white, until the horizon finally met the distant mountains.

    “There are people on the dunes”, I said leaning half way out of the car window. I couldn't believe you were allowed to climb on them. We were used to fragile beach dunes, perfect sand and grass holding the island’s coast line from slipping into the sea. Here the landscape moves and shifts constantly, and much more quickly. After an hour or so, the spring winds will ease all evidence of foot prints.  The local plants and creatures have developed ways to deal with the slow motion of sand. The tamarisk salt cedar bush for example drives its roots into the dunes, then holds and collects moisture around each root. That in turn, hardens the surrounding sand to create a cement like dome around the living root structure of the cedar. We know this because when that dune it grew in moves on, the cedar becomes a tower in a valley waiting for the next sand dune to roll over and cover it again. 

    Once we were out of the car, we found that the sleds worked great. I cant describe the pleasure of that pure sand with the absence of humidity from the ocean. Nothing sticks to your skin, but instead pours off of you leaving a light dusting and a gypsum sparkle on your now, very likely sun burnt arms and legs. As dusk fell the wind picked up even more. We armed our faces with sun glasses and bandanas. The blinding surroundings took on a new form and the modern world dissolved into horizon. 

    “This place becomes something entirely different once the sun is gone”, I remarked to Walker. “I bet we could camp here over night”, he replied. The next night we did just that. We got up early to claim a camping permit, which are limited, and parked the adventure wagon in a lot half way into the park and hiked the rest of the way in to find a campsite. 

    That night the wind had settled, and a half moon priced a clear sky. We set up our tent and made dinner, then roamed the surrounding lunar landscape. Because of the pure white sand bouncing every inch of starlight, there were no need for lanterns, even with a portion of the moon. It was so disorienting walking over the hills and dips, what with flat shadows and a hushed silence you rarely experience. Burrowing owl hoots chattered there way into the glittering valleys once in a while. A night desert chill crept in across the landscape and I laid against a steep dune, burying most of my body. The gypsum still held warmth from the day and I felt suspended in the same heavens I was gazing up at. 

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    It was a dream, until suddenly the silent sky broke with a thundering fighter jet. We followed its light where it landed not too far away. Over half of the gypsum dune field was designated The White Sands Missile Range 1941, the largest military testing site in the United States and contains the Trinity Site, host to the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on Earth. A frigid reminder, that left us wondering how much longer we have with natural wonders such as these. 

An island in the desert, Marfa Texas: By Walker

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There isn’t a whole lot five hundred miles West of Austin. Once or twice on our journey a road runner would characteristically dash across the pavement, or even more theatrically, a tumble weed. Our destination among the vast nothingness was Marfa, Texas —an island in an ocean of dessert. Much as the ocean is the Vineyard’s stoic gatekeeper, imposing forty five minutes of contemplation and observation in form of a ferry ride, the dessert creates a threshold of emptiness, impassible by any means other than a 3 hour drive during which both mind and landscape transform from busy and twisting to flat and open.

     The magic of this subtle barrier was heightened by our travel at dusk, casting flat blue light on the omnipresent creosote bush, and shrouding Marfa in the mystery of night. Once parked and exhausted we immediately went to bed. The next morning, eager to experience the new landscape I stepped outside for my morning coffee and was frozen in place by uncanny stillness. There was no wind, no sound except a distant croaking raven and nothing but dusty yellow grass stretching to the empty blue sky.
    As we wondered into town we saw Marfa is like the land surrounding it, empty. The train last stopped in town in the early 70s and Marfa never recovered. Every other building is boarded up, the single grocery store only has 5 isles, and the only place we tried to get a sandwich for lunch ran out of bread. Through this great lacking however, Marfa reveals herself. The constant presence of the void and awareness of emptiness creates a rarified atmosphere where even the most mundane encounter becomes charged with meaning. To put it simply, walking in Marfa is weird. We liked it.

    It was precisely this elusive quality that drew the artist Donald Judd to Marfa, where, in the early 90s he bought entire blocks of the town and the retired air force base. Before his death Judd transformed the base into a permanent installation space called the Chinati Foundation, for his minimalist sculptures, a pairing that couldn’t be more perfect. Judd’s sculptures resonate with the equally sparse landscape and each elevates the other. I’ve seen plenty of Judd sculptures before, but never felt them until visiting Marfa. This place was special.

    During the short stay a single topic dominated conversations with our friend Mary Etherington, who moved to Marfa after decades on the Vineyard. Was this what the island was once like a mix of cultured bohemians and like-minded one-percenters? Is this the time to invest in Marfa, and hope an explosive return on investment, like Chilmark real estate before the phone lines? Could Marfa help launch our art careers? The answer we discovered was no, this place, like many we’ve visited is a smaller reflection of America as a whole.

    Judd created a minimalist’s paradise in rural Texas, but in doing so also sowed the seeds of its undoing. Putting Marfa on the international art map set the wheels of gentrification in motion, each year more of the latino families who maintained the town between booms are forced out by living costs. The hip art-savy crowd who first migrated to Judd’s vision are priced out of rentals, as buildings are bought and turned into high-end Air B and Bs. Plus there’s talk of building a new airport, for the art collectors to fly into, who else is going to buy the $100,000 Christopher Wool paintings in the new hotel lobby?  Here too, the river between rich and poor is widening.

    After 3 days that seemed strangely divorced from time we departed for New Mexico, back into the subtle barrier of the Texas flatlands. Traveling West, boarder patrol checkpoints are the single interrupters of the vast emptiness. Some are evident miles over the horizon by white blimps floating hauntingly in place, tethered to the ground by great kevlar leads. These eyes-in-the-sky spot any would be boarder crosser, and effortlessly dispatch a convoy of armed boarder agents to intercept before they ever cross the Rio Grande, another river ever widening.

Habitable Spaces: Exploring big sky country by Danielle

 Habitable Spaces is settled in big sky country of Kingsbury Texas. I had multiple tour guides  through all of the winding trails on the massive property. The beloved farm dog pack never let you leave the community without an escort of happy panting pups. Watching these guys run around inspired me to think of what true freedom and pleasure must look like. 

Habitable Spaces is settled in big sky country of Kingsbury Texas. I had multiple tour guides  through all of the winding trails on the massive property. The beloved farm dog pack never let you leave the community without an escort of happy panting pups. Watching these guys run around inspired me to think of what true freedom and pleasure must look like. 

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I have always heard of and wondered about “big sky country.” Seeing it dominate the landscape while rolling through rural Texas was worth every moment. Entering the rusty blue gate that said “Habitable Spaces,” I didn’t know what to expect. Walker remarked how the dirt road and the short trees looked like somewhere on Martha’s Vineyard. This would be our landing place for the next few weeks, through a short artists’ residency.

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Habitable Spaces is a small, grassroots sustainable farm and artist community in Kingsbury, Texas. It was founded five years ago by artists and farmers Alison Ward and Shane Heinemeier. As we took the corner around the driveway, we saw all of the little buildings, the community house/kitchen, the bathhouse/tool shed, the Woofers yurt, a tiny pallet house, Shane and Alison’s tiny house, and numerous works in progress. Utilizing almost exclusively salvaged and recycled materials, everything there was built by the hands of folks who live and work at Habitable Spaces or its local community. 

When we pulled into our parking spot, we managed to get the trailer stuck. After a quick call to a neighbor, Sam came by to help. An older gentlemen with a kind face and polite tone, he and his son Jeremy saved the the day. Sam got his trucker’s license at 16 years old, and he moved us out of the tight spot with grace and ease, and forded a thick patch of Texas mud. We thanked him profusely, and he told us he would be seeing us again at the fiber workshop Walker and I were leading the following week.

Alison and Shane are both talented artists who now put their creative energy into the farm and surrounding town. With goats, rabbits, chickens, quail, ducks, a couple of very loud guard geese, multiple gardens, an orchard, and monthly events, their hands are full. After spearheading Kingsbury’s incorporation a few years ago to protect its taxpayers from the encroaching city of Seguin, Habitable Spaces became a hub of the community. As a result, they have cultivated a fantastic relationship with the locals. We admired their dedication to their town and the folks they share it with.

 Right before sheep shearing. Left to right, Bob, one of the current workers (WWOOFERS) Walker in the back, Owner Alison in the center and behind her Eleanor, the Artist in residence 

Right before sheep shearing. Left to right, Bob, one of the current workers (WWOOFERS) Walker in the back, Owner Alison in the center and behind her Eleanor, the Artist in residence 

 Owner Sean

Owner Sean

On the farm was the inner network of the permanent and visiting residents. There was always something being worked on, someone making bread for the shared dinners every night, and usually an artist in residence working away. This month, Eleanor Scholz was working on intricate patterned wood panels to be permanently installed in the ceiling of the common house. If the farm was quiet, you could always count on the company of a dog, or five. Whenever I decided to take a walk or a bike ride along the paths twisting among the 190 acres of forest, old cotton fields, and cactus, I could count on a dog chauffeur.

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During our stay we gave a fiber workshop where people made, assembled, and decorated their own drop spindles (a simple device used by the ancients to spin yarn, long before the invention of a spinning wheel), then learned to spin yarn. Sam and his wife Joan have a beautiful farm down the road, and offered a couple of sheep yet to be shorn. I anticipated a shearer coming, but once we arrived, Joan had the shears out, and we all took turns attempting to give that sheep a close shave. Our cut job was far from perfect — it’s a good thing the sheep didn’t have a mirror; it looked like it got run over by a lawnmower. It was fun working with different material, but I have never worked with Texas sheep, and found myself picking cactus spines out of my fingers now and then. 

The workshop was a success; we were pleased to see how many locals came out to participate. Young, old, men and women were all focused and spinning at one point. Tricky at first, hand-spinning can be very relaxing once you get the hang of it. After we spun and worked up an appetite, Shane smoked some local venison, and the group feasted on the homemade products of the farm and veggies from neighbors. I remember Alison telling me how important it was for them to have something like Habitable Spaces available to rural communities such as Kingsbury.

 Eleanor Scholz was one of the artist in residence. She is a fantastic wood burner! http://eleanorscholz.bigcartel.com

Eleanor Scholz was one of the artist in residence. She is a fantastic wood burner! http://eleanorscholz.bigcartel.com

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The space is not just a fertile gathering place for connecting and socializing, but also a place of education on sustainability, a safe place where visitors can build bridges of better understanding into their own creativity. Our visit was a inspiration, and a window into our own future of building community, sustainable lifestyles, and making art along the way.

Austin Texas, we like you

 Getting ready finally.. to go where its not snowing! 

Getting ready finally.. to go where its not snowing! 

After our breakdown, we had some major decisions to make. Selling art at fairs had proven disappointing, living and business costs had been higher than expected, and we had missed a major show in Florida. While grounded with family in central Massachusetts, we left our truck in the capable hands of Mikey, a family friend who owned three Chevy pickups like ours, who had done all their maintenance himself. After three days and about $400, Mikey had done what a garage in Connecticut said would take two weeks and four grand. Our butts had been saved. 

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The solution to our cost of living issues was to scrap the entire East Coast and head for Texas, where we knew plenty of folks with plenty of space for a trailer. After a week of route-mapping and reworking our plan, we set out for the Lone Star State on Jan. 27 with a road-ready tow vehicle. The new strategy was to move the trailer as little as possible, spend as little as possible, and focus on online income. The month of February would start in Georgetown, Texas, an hour north of Austin. Following would be another two weeks at Habitable Spaces, a sustainable farm and artists’ residency an hour to the south. Another critical component would be three months volunteering in Moab, Utah, at Arches National Park, followed by three more months at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California. Both locations provide a campsite and plenty of free time for art practice. Equipped with a cohesive and more stationary itinerary, we departed Massachusetts.

 The big ol truck is looking small next to the real trucks. We had our fair share of free Walmart and truck stops to overnight in while heading to the south west. 

The big ol truck is looking small next to the real trucks. We had our fair share of free Walmart and truck stops to overnight in while heading to the south west. 

Four days of driving had us overnighting in rest areas and Walmart parking lots until we came to Hot Springs, Ark. Though disappointed there was no public bathing in the springs, we did tour a grand old bathhouse, and learned about all the geological weirdness that put a hot spring hundreds of miles from any volcanic activity. It was also the first warm night we had, having brought the cold New England air and even some snow with us all the way into Tennessee.

 Alive and well in Hot Springs National Park AK

Alive and well in Hot Springs National Park AK

The next day we drove to the driveway of a dear friend in Georgetown, Texas, a rural area built around a large retirement community. In the red state of Texas, Austin and its surrounding areas are a liberal haven, full of people and groups who rally around the causes their state ignores. Barbara and George, our hosts, volunteer at food pantries, organize afterschool programs for children of single parents, and make care packages for families transitioning out of homelessness. Their daughter Mary, an actress and model who has been featured in Danielle’s “Seed Series” films, makes daily calls to the House and Senate. At events in Austin, we met others who marched for LGBTQ rights, disrupted Immigration and Customs Enforcement checkpoints, or raised funds for women seeking abortion services.

 Parked in Georgetown TX

Parked in Georgetown TX

 Mary Cathrine in front of one of her mothers paintings of a younger Mary

Mary Cathrine in front of one of her mothers paintings of a younger Mary

 Mary took us to her spot in the magical Austin Green Belt

Mary took us to her spot in the magical Austin Green Belt

 Uncommon Objects, a fantastic antique store in Austin 

Uncommon Objects, a fantastic antique store in Austin 

 We of course had to find a dinner and have fried pie

We of course had to find a dinner and have fried pie

We spent the next two weeks day-tripping into Austin, exploring its eclectic mix of food trucks, music venues, and secondhand stores, and eating every kind of taco we could find. We met writers, physicists, theater directors, playwrights, and hackers; attended story slams, puppet shows; visited a fish gallery; and learned how to two-step. Austin lived up to its reputation of weirdness, wonderful people, and being alive with performances. The whole visit left our bellies full and grins on our faces.

 Learning to two step at The White Horse! 

Learning to two step at The White Horse! 

 Austin isn't really known for their gallery scene .. we googled and found The Fish Gallery. excited we figured it was a bunch of fish paintings. It ended up being even better.. real fish! 

Austin isn't really known for their gallery scene .. we googled and found The Fish Gallery. excited we figured it was a bunch of fish paintings. It ended up being even better.. real fish! 

 A local storytelling event held in someones back yard was well attended. 

A local storytelling event held in someones back yard was well attended. 

 omg.. the Crackles.. 

omg.. the Crackles.. 

Looking back, the first night of warm air in Hot Springs marked a change for both Danielle and me. It was the air our trailer was made for: It meant places we’d never been, people we’d never met, and entering into the heart of an adventure with no end in sight.

The Break Down on Breakdowns as told by Danielle

 A moment of sighing .. 

A moment of sighing .. 

There’s always a “could have been worse.” In this case, Walker and I looked at each other and said, “At least we didn’t die.”

Yes, we broke down. Yes, we are OK. No, we are not giving up … not yet, at least.

I found a seat on a sidewalk curb next to our mobile house on a residential street somewhere in Norwalk, Conn. Looking down the unfamiliar road, I sat and simmered, almost surprised at how angry I was, but not necessarily surprised at the breakdown — the truck had been giving us grief since we bought it. Luckily, we were close to a friend’s house where we took refuge.

We thought we could get the truck repaired and carry on like nothing happened. But the local garage gave us a grave report. What we needed, it seemed, was a new tow vehicle. Our next destination was Washington, D.C. But rather than risk getting stuck in some Kmart parking lot there, we decided to make the very minimum repair and limp back to family in Massachusetts. It was crushing to know we hadn’t even left the neighboring state before we were forced to turn around.

Once we (read: Walker) did some calculations, we began to realize that our budget couldn’t take on another truck while paying for the losses of the old one. Perhaps there is some way to save our existing truck, but is it wise to put more money into a vehicle that keeps coming back to bite us? We are still sitting in limbo, waiting to hear the final evaluation on the old truck, and it’s painful to have no idea what the next week will hold. The beauty of our partnership is our polar-opposite natures. Walker wanted to hold back and be financially responsible. I was ready to jump off the cliff and build the parachute on the way down. Walker told me when I scream adventure, he clenches.

This week has been a learning experience in dealing with adult things, like truck breakdowns and budget meetings with my partner, but the most valuable takeaway is understanding how to move forward in hard times. When I was angry, I was ready to blame everyone from the jerk who sold us the truck to the current economy. After that I just felt guilty, and placed the blame on myself for not being a good enough artist, or being unable to contribute to society. I finally allowed a dark doubt to slip into my inner dialogue and had to look it in the face, dissect it, and see what it was made of.

 This partial comic of Dog on Fire by KC Green is our go to these days.. 

This partial comic of Dog on Fire by KC Green is our go to these days.. 

Once I did that, I could understand where Walker was coming from, I could understand the foundation of why I was so upset, and proceed to move forward and find a middle ground.

Yesterday Walker shared an article about finding happiness. Its timing couldn’t have been better. I listened to him read it, anticipating the sappy, same old “inspirational” Internet list you find floating around on Facebook feeds. My ears perked up at its unusual suggestion. Rather then ask yourself, “What do I want?” the author proposed a much more useful question: “What pain am I willing to sustain?” Every significant achievement comes with a struggle. We can want the result all day, but to make it happen, we must commit to the unique pain of each want. It’s how we endure these unavoidable negative experiences that shape our lives. The quality of life is not determined by the quality of positive experiences, but the quality of negative ones. To be good at dealing with the negatives is to be good at dealing with life.

 A dark Walker painting while we were stuck in Conneticutt 

A dark Walker painting while we were stuck in Conneticutt 

Artist Residency in Springfield Massachusetts, as told by Walker

 Danielle starting a spinning demonstration at  The Shops and Marketplace

Danielle starting a spinning demonstration at The Shops and Marketplace

Our traveling Barnyard Saints vending booth has brought us across New England, from the quaintness of the Chilmark Flea to the bustle of the Big E fairgrounds. Each location brought its own crowd and palette of vendors, but this week our surroundings had special significance. Our final venue in New England before we turn south for the winter brought us to the most unexpected location yet, a former bank in downtown Springfield that closed in the wake of the 2008–09 lending crisis.

 Parked in Hadley Ma right outside of Springfield MA

Parked in Hadley Ma right outside of Springfield MA

 

Created by Nancy Feth and Mikki Lessard, the Shops at Marketplace transformed the former financial institution into a local cultural hub. The holiday market features 50 local artisans and vendors, live music by the Zanetti School Choirs, and a Hollywood-quality Santa by Spear Costumes. In the heart of Springfield, where most retail spaces have remained vacant since the crisis, the Shops at Marketplace are testament to the resolve of local artists and entrepreneurs to seize opportunity and fix what the banks broke. Danielle met Nancy and Mikki a few years ago when the duo hired her to produce video content for their business Simply Grace, and the meeting quickly bloomed into a loving friendship. We were naturally thrilled to jump aboard as resident artists for the Shops at Marketplace when they invited us to set up our booth in their revitalized space. Initially, we were apprehensive about the lack of foot traffic and general malaise of shoppers in Springfield, but we left inspired by Mikki and Nancy’s display of energy, perseverance, and pursuit of what they believe in.

 The Grace Ladies! Mikki Lessard, Santa (obviously) and Nancy Feth

The Grace Ladies! Mikki Lessard, Santa (obviously) and Nancy Feth

 Walker doing live painting so folks coming in can watch, ask questions and converse

Walker doing live painting so folks coming in can watch, ask questions and converse

 Walker sets up the Barnyard Saints booth at the Shops at Marketplace.

Walker sets up the Barnyard Saints booth at the Shops at Marketplace.

 

We immediately connected with artist Stefania Amore of Stefania Amore Designs, whose handmade purses and shoulder bags fuse precision construction, vintage materials, and a seriously far-out aesthetic. We began collaboration plans almost instantly, all three of us overflowing with ideas to combine our over-the-top handspun yarns into Stefania’s designs. We felt right at home. Scheming with another artist and cooking up plans in the midst of a very intentional setting felt very Vineyard, much like late nights at Pathways or the Yard. These are our favorite spaces, the places where community pops up and surrounds a creative drive — I just didn’t ever expect to feel that way in a bank.

 artist Stefania Amore of Stefania Amore Designs

artist Stefania Amore of Stefania Amore Designs

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 The Zanetti School Choir performs in Springfield.

The Zanetti School Choir performs in Springfield.

 

As we travel and find more creative communities, I’ve been tempted to draw comparisons between them, and understand what makes them tick. What makes them different from one another? Do they share some unseen combination of geographic location, population density, economic standing, tourism, or history? We’ve seen many intentional communities develop around these qualities, like Darkside, the indie rap label established out of the Samuel Porter House, Hadley’s oldest home. Or the Shops at Marketplace, which grew from a unique blend of economic opportunity and vacant space. The Vineyard has many of these factors in its favor, but what seems to tie them all together is the people. It seems all that’s needed is a few creative (and perhaps stubborn) individuals to plant their feet and insist on building something new. It could be a new market, performance venue, workshop, safe space, afterschool program, or theological space. They all require that one or two tenacious people push in a new direction and not worry how many people will show up. If you build it, they will come. Even if it’s just a few at first.

Emery Farm New Hampshire

We talk about the Martha’s Vineyard outdoor market community a lot. Every fair we vend at on the mainland, we find ourselves reminiscing about the Chilmark Flea, the Artisans Festival, and the Featherstone Flea. Other vendors we’ve met are impressed by our setup and break-down speeds, a practice honed doing five shows a week on-Island. Our booth setup became a science. The other artisans became close friends, and repeat customers became familiar faces. Once we started shows throughout Massachusetts and across New Hampshire, the game abruptly changed. New places, new politics, and new social artisan bubbles emerged. We were the new kids on the block every time, and our house was parked in the back lot.

 

We’ve had good fairs and bad when it comes to sales. The bad included freak mountain windstorms and unfriendly booth neighbors. No matter what, the most valuable experiences have always come from the individuals we meet.

On a particularly hot and sticky day this past August at the Chilmark Flea, Walker and I were just starting to pack up when a middle-aged couple came into our booth. We sparked a conversation immediately, and soon we were exchanging cards and emails. Their names were David and Catherine, the owners of Emery Farm in Durham, N.H. David explained how he was looking for more art and innovation for their quickly expanding farmstand. They extended an invitation to come and stay whenever. Trying not to sound overly excited, we explained that we were hitting the road with our mobile art studio, and coincidentally were looking for places to land.

 

Three months later, we were towing our trailer through the middle of New Hampshire. “I can’t believe we met these folks once and talked with them for 10 minutes, and now we are heading to their house,” I said to Walker as he fumbled with his phone, trying to get service for the GPS. Cell service never exists when you need it most. He gave a “well, here we go anyway” shrug, and I gripped the wheel tighter. I had a feeling they would have a complicated driveway I’d have to back into once we arrived.

 Catherine McLaughlin Hills

Catherine McLaughlin Hills

 

We finally arrived at Emery Farm, and to my dismay there was a curving driveway on a steep incline that I had to back the trailer into. The farmhouse was perched on a hill surrounded by old glowing maples and a massive barn. The farmstand was next door, bustling with customers, and had a full parking lot. Catherine came out to greet us, and again my anxiety evaporated. She was happy to see us, and emanated kindness with a laid-back nature. She must have seen my nervousness when showing us where to park, and said she wouldn’t watch. After I backed into the space (and patched up the tire marks in the yard), we got the tour of the farm, and met the family.

 

Even though we stayed for only a couple of days, the experience was inspiring. One of the oldest farms in the country, it has been in David’s family since 1660. Their beautiful home is adorned with art from their travels and painted portraits of past family members gazing out from behind old frames. The barn was open, and the wind blew through its creaking beams. The light had a particular way of leaning against the dusty walls as the massive spruces and maples scattered shadows outside. The farmstand was alive with customers ordering coffee and hot apple-cider doughnuts, while kids in school programs waited for hayrides and farm tours. The store was filled with local goodies from veggies, cheese, and yogurt to artwork. Its location on Route 4, outside Portsmouth, N.H., provided a perfect combination of bucolic scenery and accessibility. It was so humbling to be warmly welcomed by David and Catherine’s family and the farm staff. It was also inspiring to see the amount of passion they had for their home and the land it stood on.

 

We left them some prints for the farm store before we moved onto our next destination. The next couple of fairs, we began to feel a part of the off-Island market scene. We began to recognize vendors and booths from other shows. After setting up, I’d browse up and down the rows of other makers, waving to the lantern lady, chatting with the basket-weaving guy. Maybe our next show in Springfield will gift new invitations, new destinations, and new friendships.

www.emeryfarm.com

 Owner David Hills

Owner David Hills