Follow Your Art

Artist enclaves offer a retreat where scenic wonders of the natural world inspire creativity. Here are a few of our favorites.
By Paulette Perhach

From the earliest days of art―cave etchings and clay pots―the sea has served as a prominent muse to those who interpret and express the world around them. Painters can't help but be stirred by the blazing shades of the setting sun over the sea, composers by the constant rhythms of the surf on the sand.

Sitka Center for Art and Ecology: Otis, OR
Named for the tree that shades its campus, Sitka offers workshops such as Botanical Drawing, Nature Journaling with Watercolor and Pen, Cedar-bark Basket Making, and Mushroom Hunting on the Oregon Coast. "A big part of exploring the relationship of ecology and art is creating an atmosphere where they seem to be working together," says executive director Randall Koch. "If you have a beautiful, natural place to practice your art, it helps the discovery process." Much of this discovery happens in the Pacific Ocean. During a workshop called Kayaking in the Estuaries, artists get an intimate view of the life of the sea. "The whole climate here is highly influenced by the ocean," says Koch. "It beckons people." Every November, Sitka sells works by Northwest artists in their three-day Art Invitational, held at the World Forestry Center in Portland. For more information, call 541/994-5485 or visit sitkacenter.org.

Haystack Mountain School of Crafts: Deer Isle, ME
On a cliff overlooking Jericho Bay, this retreat draws students who want to advance their skills in a variety of crafts. They work in media such as clay, glass, metals, and paper, and take blacksmithing, weaving, and woodworking in classes ranging from Bamboo Basketry to Expressive Sculpture in Iron. "Folks who typically only get to dabble in these crafts get to concentrate with no distractions: no television, no cell phones ringing," says Lesley Lichko, development director. Artisans travel from all over the world to the quiet campus set on 40 acres, where waves lap against Maine's speckled granite shores. The foggy sunrise illuminates the islands of Merchants Row. At the end of each session, students sell their crafts in a public auction held in the school's auditorium. Haystack also offers free tours and evening lectures. For more information, call 207/348-2307 or visit haystack-mtn.org.

The Hermitage Artist Retreat: Englewood, FL
In 1999, the Sarasota County Arts Council received permission from the city to turn one of southwest Florida's last undeveloped gulf-front properties into an artists' community. Now, artisans working in a variety of media escape to the restored 1907 homestead to be inspired by the seemingly endless stretch of beach and to enjoy the Florida weather. "The water has played an important role," says Bruce Rodgers, acting executive director. "Many of the artists have told me they have been much more productive than they thought they would be. Feeling the power of the gulf, of that water, has released a lot of their own creative energies." The Hermitage requires each resident to perform works for the community. Poets might read to children, painters teach workshops, writers give lectures. The program also has an open house in July and January. For more information, call 941/475-2098 or visit hermitage-fl.org.

The Yard: Chilmark, MA
In the hills and meadows on Martha's Vineyard, three houses and a barn serve as the setting for the only artist community in the United States dedicated exclusively to the art of choreography. Dancers live steps from the beach, and The Yard's creators believe their quiet coastal setting contributes to the life of the colony. "It's very much a part of what we have to offer," says DiAnn Ray, executive director. "It affects people." During the summer months, dancers from the Yard entertain vacationers. For show times, tickets, and information, call 508/645-9662 or visit dancetheyard.org.

Headlands Center for the Arts: Sausalito, CA
Located in a national park in a valley of the Marin Headlands, the Headlands Center offers workspace with a Pacific view. "Certainly the coastal light is amazing. The total environment is pretty profound," says Kathryn Reasoner, executive director. "The artists are invariably affected by the sight." Headlands attracts artists not only with its setting, but also with a chance to share with the larger community. The center facilitates communication between artists and local professionals in architecture, education, urban planning, and environmental work, as well as encouraging a dialogue between artists. Kathryn says the goal is to bring art and creativity into every corner of life to help solve problems. The solution could be something as simple as using art to help children learn math, she says. A schedule of public events is available. For more information, call 415/331-2787 or visit headlands.org.

To find an artistic enclave near your home or favorite vacation spot, visit the Alliance of Artists Communities at www.artistcommunities.org.