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The Quilt Of Community

Essay: What makes Oxbow school of Art special

By Arts & Culture, Featured, SAIC

Illustration by Aditi Singh

On a little patch of land nestled between Lake Michigan and the Kalamazoo River, and in the dead and cold of winter, one may stumble upon a group of people in the woods who are glowing with warmth. These people are here because they want to be here, they are happy to be here, and they have come together to create not just art, but long-lasting memories and friendships. 

 When I signed up for the Printed and Patterned Textiles course at Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency, I did not know what I was getting myself into. It was a questionable decision to choose to spend a portion of the winter season taking classes in the middle of the woods. Yet, I had no question it would be an interesting time. What I had expected to be an opportunity to enhance my technical skills and expand my art practice turned out to be exactly that, and much more. 

The drive to the campus stretches along the river and is lined by the colorful life of Saugatuck on one side. The street is decorated with quaint little houses, trees, and the animals that live among them. The deer wander and weave through the buildings and cabins on campus. They may even join a class critique if it happens to be taking place outside. If you come across these deer, and I’m sure you will, I encourage you to exchange some kind words with them, but from a safe distance. 

“Why do these people seem so warm and alive in the middle of winter?” these gentle creatures might wonder. 

And artists might answer: “What we are doing, my deer, is warming ourselves with creativity.” 

We also warm ourselves by the fireplace at the Inn, which seemingly never dwindles or dies out. We love to embrace the warmth and the Inn is where we do that. The Inn is the heart of Ox-Bow; it is where the fire is always burning and often complemented by the tantalizing aromas flowing out from the kitchen. It is where the amazing kitchen staff cook and serve delicious and fulfilling meals, and curate the tasteful soundtrack that keeps the Inn alive. 

The Inn is where people gather to share food and conversation, and it’s where we take our coffee breaks after spending hours in the studio. It’s comforting to know that there is almost always going to be someone at the Inn to talk to, or a group of people to play Spoons or a game of Uno with. But if you come across an empty Inn take a moment to appreciate the silence. 

Finding that silence can be important when everyday is filled with new twists and turns, it can be easy to spend your time talking through projects and thinking things through with other residents to understand new perspectives and appreciate new ideas. It can be exhausting as much as it can be exciting. But we keep going because we have fun doing it together, and because we enjoy learning together. 

There is a lot to experience at Ox-Bow and it is difficult to fit it all into two weeks. There are many people to talk to, places to explore, chickens with “Fraggle Rock” hairdos that you might say hi to, and potential ghosts on the top floor of the Inn that may ask for company. There are also experiences and memories that cannot be put into words, for they exist solely between the people who formed them.

Imagine a tapestry of colorful strings stretching from far distances, and in the center of all space and time these strings weave together in beautifully intricate ways to form a quilt of unspeakable comfort. Now imagine wrapping that quilt around you, while you are sitting by the fireplace with friends it seems you’ve known for years, though it’s only been two days. If I remember correctly, that quilt is at Ox-Bow, on the couch of the Inn. And if not a quilt on the couch, it’s the people, it’s the conversation, and the times we shared. 

I left Ox-Bow with not only newfound friendships, but also a deeper understanding of myself and my artistic journey. So if you ever find the opportunity to venture out into the Tallmadge Woods Nature Preserve in Saugatuck, MI, no matter the time of year, take the chance. It’s very likely you’ll find these wacky people making art, and have a time like no other.

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