Bunny and Paul Mellon’s passion for art and the environment is evident in their lifelong philanthropic support of these two fields. We are continuing this legacy through a new Artists in Residence (AiR) program that we have been piloting this summer.
You may have seen some recent press about the historic 440-acre Rokeby property, which is now part of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation. Many have asked us what we plan to do on Rokeby, and for four weeks in July and August, we explored these opportunities by having had the honor of hosting four artists on Rokeby as part of a trial run of an Artists in Residence (AiR) program.
Our AiR program supports artists who are influenced by a sense of place, including the natural world and humankind’s place in it. As you’ll see below, the four artists that we hosted carry this passion for place in their works. During the last week of their residency, our staff was invited into the artists’ studios to view and engage with the works that they created on-site.
“It has been enlivening to see artists creating new works in such historic places,” says Marguerite Harden, our Program Officer. “And we have learned so much from this group, which will inform our programming for future residencies.”
In 2019, we will award eight artists through reputable nomination and selection panels of artists, curators, arts administrators, and academics. By continuing to grow this program, we will carry on the Mellons’ legacy of generous support for the arts and the environment.
Andrew Myers is a visual artist whose work incorporates the environment, conservation and preservation. A native Oregonian, Myers also works extensively with the idea of place.
Myers’ work is often both very sculptural and very active. He creates his art in pieces and rearranges them while fine-tuning the placement of drawings, producing figures and gesturing at landscape. While working at Oak Spring, Myers noticed his art molding to the space he created in, an instinct that he leaned into. His studio was once the firehouse of the Oak Spring airstrip, and still contains a maze of pipes, the old firehose, and other rustic features from the early 1960’s. During the program, Myers played with these features and nurtured a symbiosis of architectural detail and careful, artful craft. Inspired by Virginia’s hunt country, Myers incorporated a fox into one of his works.
See more of Andrew Myers’ work here.
Annie Varnot is a painter and sculptor living in Brooklyn, New York, with experience in a variety of mediums. Her sculptures often deal with both personal and environmental trauma, and have included just about anything––from chicken eggs to repurposed drinking straws. When Varnot came to Oak Spring, however, she focused instead on non-traditional landscape painting.
Fresh off of a five-month expedition on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Varnot sought to create art that was as vibrant, daring, and challenging as her experience. Her studio––once Oak Spring’s airstrip waiting room––offered bright, open windows with a full view of the landscape. Varnot’s PCT paintings have an innate sense of place on the West Coast, but part of her art also involved Oak Spring. Stencils used in her painting process made their way into another project after use: Varnot arranged her stencils on the windows of the studio––another way in which her creativity worked to interact with the outside.
See more of Annie Varnot’s work here.
Donna Cooper Hurt
Donna Cooper Hurt is a photographer living in Charleston, South Carolina, working with performance and movement in nature. In her artwork, Cooper Hurt choreographs solo, often nude performances in photos, a process that keeps her active behind and in front of the camera. The nudity in these performances represents a closeness with the environment. In order to create, Cooper Hurt takes hundreds of photos a session and spends countless hours editing––noting which elements work best and layering them to craft a single image encapsulating her time in front of the lens.
While at Oak Spring, Cooper Hurt explored the area and its spirit. As an artist focusing on places and their passing histories, her work spoke to the land in a broader sense. She also incorporated elements of Oak Spring in her photography––Cooper Hurt played with scraps of Bunny Mellon’s fabric to make streaks of color in her art. These colors can be seen in the “sketches” she showed staff in her last week at Oak Spring.
See more of Donna Cooper Hurt’s work here.
Maxim Loskutoff is a writer from Montana with work steeped in the American West and its beautiful, often tumultuous scenery. His most recent work, a book of 12 short stories entitled Come West and See (Norton, 2018), encounters characters and their startling accounts backdropped by the fierce occupation of a wildlife refuge in the Redoubt––an area encompassing remote parts of Montana, Idaho, and eastern Oregon. The book is a New York Times Editor’s Pick, An Amazon Best Book, and was featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
While at Oak Spring, Loskutoff worked on a draft of his upcoming novel, Spirits. Like his other work, Loskutoff’s novel is based in the rural West and deals with the juxtaposition of humanity and wilderness, the imprint of humankind’s habitation of the land, and the idea of family, among other things. He read an excerpt from Spirits to staff and fellow artists during his last week at Oak Spring.