Art on The Rocks

No cell service. 

To some, that idea may be daunting. To others, like the artists at Craigardan, it can be a form of escape and can be used as a time to focus on their creativity. 

That’s exactly what Craigardan offers, a getaway for creative minds to put all their energy into their work. 

Since its founding in 2016, Craigardan — a play on the Scottish words for rocky garden — has hosted artists seeking residencies in areas like the North Country that are secluded and surrounded by forest. Residencies are opportunities for artists to focus completely on their work in solitude for periods of time. Usually, residencies host one type of artist at a time. 

Something co-founders Michele Drozd, Lance Stover and Barbara Tam did to set Craigardan apart from the rest, was to accept artists of all mediums into the program at the same time. Tam was the landowner of Craigardan’s first location and her husband had dreamed of having an organization just like this, so she set a plan in motion to make this dream a reality. 

“I thought it would be really interesting if our creative process at Craigardan included not just visual artists and ceramic artists, but also many disciplines that go well beyond,” Drozd says, “That actually includes farmers, chefs, scholars, philosophers and researchers… wouldn’t it be neat if around the table at any one time we had each of these different disciplines?”

Sitting on 315 acres, Craigardan’s new location in Elizabethtown provides the serenity and seclusion that creative artists might look for to work on projects. Writer Erica Berry, a recent graduate of an MFA program in non-fiction writing at the University of Minnesota, was certainly attracted to this aspect when she came to Craigardan. 

“I had heard it was really beautiful,” Berry says. “It definitely made me fall in love with the Adirondacks.” 

From October to February, Berry was able to spend time solely on her book while also participating in some of the optional farm chores, like feeding the sheep or chickens. During one particular episode of writer’s block, the chores helped usher Berry through the momentary lapse in creativity.

“While I was taking care of the chickens, I had these larger existential thoughts about taking care of other living things,” Berry says, explaining that after having these thoughts she was able to get through her writing block.

It isn’t unusual for residents to have their creativity flow more freely after chores, according to Drozd.

  “What I’ve heard, time and time again, is that those opportunities they didn’t expect, they  didn’t necessarily want or plan on,” Drozd says, “those seem to be the experiences that most inform their work and their process moving forward.”

Not only is the option of taking care of chickens and sheep a unique aspect of Craigardan, so is the diversity of artists. Having writers like Berry, ceramic artists, painters and sculptors in one place encourages everyone to open their minds. 

Artists stay for varying amounts of time depending on what they want to accomplish. For example, clay or ceramic artists might be at Craigardan for months at a time while writers might be there for only a couple of weeks. Because there is no start and end date for a set group of people, it creates an overlapping of artists in the farmhouse at one time, thus leading to an ever-changing group of creatives who interact differently. 

Over the past three years, the number of applications Craigardan has received from artists wanting to be a part of the program has reached the hundreds. Drozd looks at an applicant’s accomplishments, but she also looks at their character when considering who should be accepted into the program.

“We are not focused on whether you’re an emerging artist or an accomplished artist,” Drozd says. “But more important than that, for us it’s really about creating a sense of community. Creating a rich community within Craigardan, but also how our group of artists and residents really interact with the larger community in many ways.”

So, what’s in store for the gray farmhouse with the bright yellow door? 

“In the long-term view, what I hope Craigardan can accomplish in the more arts world or in the regional Adirondack landscape,” Drozd says, “is that I hope we can be a really good example for bringing multiple disciplines together and using that collective creativity to affect change.” 

Story by Annika Campbell

Leave a Reply