Arts retreat program comes into its own

Arts retreat program comes into its own

Pikes Falls Visual Arts Residency offers a stipend and studio space — and chamber music in the background

JAMAICA — A two-week artist retreat that has been a component of the Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival has been blossoming into its own parallel program - “a residency in and of itself,” says its coordinator, Natasha Loewy.

The Pikes Falls Visual Arts Residency brings visual artists to Jamaica for two weeks of rural inspiration for their work, complete with a $250 stipend and room and board.

Loewy said visual art has been integrated with the music festival from the time it was founded by her sister, Susanna, but “this year we are expanding it and kind of solidifying it a bit more.”

A visual artist and public high-school teacher from Oakland, Calif., who is primed to begin her studies in a master of fine arts program at San Francisco State University this fall, Loewy writes in her biography on the site that “[m]uch of her artwork is comprised of pure geometric forms and figurative elements. Through this fusion, she aims to create sculptures and collages that are structurally spare and contribute to a conversation about the formal and theatrical qualities of minimalism.”

She studied painting and photography at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she received a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2008. She has shown her artwork at exhibition spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington State, Vermont, and Louisiana.

She said she will mainly be coordinating the residency but will also work on her own art as time permits.

“My main concern is just to make sure that the artists are happy and supported and I consider this a creative endeavor in and of itself,” Loewy said. “So I'm not hugely worried about getting work done. But I would like some time with ceramics equipment, because I haven't done a whole lot of that.”

A place to make art

The major difference this year is that the artists have full access to a building in town that includes a wood shop, ceramics studio, and an emerging metal shop, newly-owned and under renovation by blacksmith and sculptor Joshua Davis.

Davis is breathing new life into the stone building, which was built in 1950 by a close family friend, Jerry Goldman, an artist, who died in 2003.

“It was his dream for the house to be a haven for artists,” Loewy wrote on a blog at the residency's website (

In his bio, Davis describes most of his work as “process oriented” and notes that it “demonstrates the evolution of an ordinary piece of metal into something else. His work is strongly influenced by nature and the environment. Some sculptures are kinetic and move with wind, while others are static and sit delicately balanced.”

After taking a blacksmithing class, he left the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2010 after two years to attend a residency program at the Art Students League of New York, where he stayed as an artist-in-residence. He works on his art both in Vermont and New York.

Joining Loewy and Davis are Andrew Brehm and Jennifer Lauren Smith, who are married and hail from Brooklyn.

Smith, a visual artist working in sculpture, photography, and digital filmmaking who teaches at the Spence School in Manhattan, “frequently bases her projects on experiences of place: how a landscape and one's bodily experience within it generate raw material, and how that raw material can be transferred to craft an art experience,” she writes in her bio. “Her work ranges from performance works staged in non-gallery contexts, observational short films with and without narrative, photographic print editions and books, to sculptural objects created in bronze, wood, or paper.

The Reed College graduate holds an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and presents her work “in a variety of formats, each occupying comparable importance as venue: gallery exhibitions, film festivals, off-site installations, public speaking engagements and curatorial projects.”

In 2015, Smith founded P/H/A/O/N, a “presentation space for time-based art.”

Brehm, who originally studied furniture making, manages the fine art workshops at Columbia University and has a sculpture studio in Brooklyn, N.Y. He describes himself as “an artist and educator whose work is primarily three dimensional and video based.”

He describes his installations as “often interactive, manipulating viewers to become performers in the work. His sculpture is scaled to the body, facilitating an easy relationship between audience and the kinetic or performative qualities of the work.”

Also a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he earned an MFA in sculpture, Brehm “works in many mediums and most recently has focused on pulping paper for use as a casting and sculpting medium,” his bio continues. “The soft, nebulous qualities lends itself easily to absurdist and often humorous storytelling present in the work.”

Virtual tour

While the artists who participated in the more limited incarnation of the program at music festivals in previous seasons were expected to show completed works, one major change is that the artists will be able to create - or not create - with no pressure to show their progress. They will have the opportunity to interact with the musicians throughout the adjoining music festival, but not be compelled to do so.

“One of the things that's important is that artists who come here not feel a huge amount of pressure to come up with anything,” Loewy said. “And then you have the time and what maybe use equipment that they haven't used before or really be able to focus on their practice.”

The artists will offer informal public talks about their work and their progress.

A previously scheduled tour of their workspace - reported in The Commons last week in a story on the music festival - has been cancelled. Instead, the artists will offer what Loewy termed a “virtual tour” of the stone building. The talk takes place at the Town Hall on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

In addition to a slide show of the art, Davis will talk about the workspace and its history. Accompanying Davis will be Eugene Lepkoff, who has a long connection with the town in general and Davis's building in particular. Lepkoff is the widower of Rebecca Lepkoff, whose work accompanies and is the inspiration for a world premiere by Nathan Lincoln-deCusatis.

Loewy anticipates that the program will eventually accept applications for the residencies, but for now, while the program is in development, artists are recruited by invitation and word of mouth, in much the same way that the chamber music festival evolved from musicians who knew and worked with one another.

She points out with pride that this residency offers a stipend. “A lot of others charge artists to come,” she said. “Part of my mission is to offset the challenges of being an artist.”

Other public highlights

• The visual artists will lead an instrument making workshop for kids, though adults are welcome to join. This free event takes place at the Jamaica Town Hall on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

• Smith, will present AIRFLOWWW, a film screening featuring six “time-based works created over the past eight years” ranging in length from five to 15 minutes.

The residency website's description: “Focusing on the intersection of natural and fabricated auditory experience, Smith stages visual manifestations of sound. Whether documented on video or performed amidst a live audience, her work explores the physicality of the process of listening, and our ability to supply and invent sound information to fill in visual milieu.”

The screening, on Friday, Aug. 10, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., takes place at the Latchis Theatre at 50 Main St., Brattleboro, and will be followed by audience questions and a reception at Hermit Thrush Brewery, 29 High St., from 6 to 8 p.m. Free appetizers will be provided; a cash bar will be available.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates