Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Memories, Dreams and Maps at the Maison

Our high season ended with a most extraordinary burst of creative energy at Maison Conti. Gail Rieke was in residence for two weeks, offering her workshop Terrain: Inner & Outer Maps/Charts/Journals. We had a group of four ladies the first week and six the second, with a weekend in between. It was busy and exciting, giving me, I'm quite sure, the fuel needed to take me through the long cold months of winter, with more than enough inspiration to keep me busy.

The women who came were an eclectic bunch of free spirits, gifted artists, dreamers and very productive individuals. 

Gail, from Santa Fe, is a internationally respected collage/book/installation artist. It is difficult to define her art or personality in a few words. Her method as a teacher/guide is also almost unique in my experience. She seeks to inspire and then draw out of you your own creative response to the spark she offers.

In the first week our group was exclusively from the U.S. Michelle is a South African artist who now lives in San Diego.

Leslie is a graphic artist living in New York City.

Linda, Leslie's mother, is from Taos, New Mexico

Gayle also lives in Taos. Both are very clever collage artists, and of course good friends.

The second group was a little more international. Gwenola is my dear friend Françoise's middle daughter. She lives west of us in Redon and is a photography restorer.

Carrol is from Albuquerque where she has just recently settled down and Sydney has just moved to British Columbia from Eastern Canada. She is a committed "dragon boater" and does an enviable bit of traveling.

Celeste is Portuguese, born in Mozambique, and now living in Madrid. She is a very talented painter.

Karen is a weaver living in Los Angeles.

Nelly lives in Paris and teaches art in Blois.

All these women are interesting, open, ready to go and contributed immensely to the atmosphere of fun and creative stimulation! What a privilege it was for us to host them. I even got to take part in the first week's activities.

We had breakfasts together then went into the studio in the morning. Each day Gail presented a different guided activity, idea, encouragement, incentive. We then worked in silence as everyone responded in their own personal way. At the end of the morning we discussed our results with one another. The combination of quiet and sharing suited my own rhythm very well indeed. We had lunch together and then spent the afternoon as we liked, working further on projects, exploring the neighborhood or sketching out ideas in our journals. At dinner we played games, talked and laughed a lot.

The first project we did was a memory map and it was inspired by a book by Warja Honegger-Lavater. She is a Swiss artist who created accordion fold fairy tale books using symbols or pictograms rather than illustrations to tell the stories. Gail brought us Little Red Riding Hood. The idea was to illustrate a memory from our childhood using only symbols which we would invent and manipulate to recreate our recollections on paper. I found this idea thrilling and Warja's book amazing.

Gwenola's memory map in progress:

Nelly's memory map completed. A walk to school.

Sydney's memory map as conceived in her journal:

I loved watching how differently people work and I very much appreciated finding a few new ways to sketch out my own ideas.

Our second project involved mapping a part or the whole of our bodies. During the first week several people traced their entire form onto a large piece of butcher paper. During the second week no one chose to do that.

Leslie traced her body onto sheet of paper and then cut it out. We all loved the way that made it flop around and curl up in interesting ways. She illustrated her insides with clever drawings and very amusing annotations.

Linda's body map was a beautiful detail of her hands and arms. It reminded me of a Tibetan art work, although the symbols were certainly entirely western.

Gayle used her body map as an entire autobiography, with profound meaning for her, which she generously shared.

Michelle's body map was full of fun, personal experience and whimsical questions.

Nelly's body map in progress:

Karen's body map focused on the senses.

Carrol's body map was a beautifully created collage, with strips of maps as veins.

Celeste's body map was a clever representation of some of the places her feet have taken her.

Gwenola's body map focused on her vision and eyes.

The final project which Gail offered us was a dream map. We were encouraged to think of a game board as a kind of map and to try to remember a significant dream we have had and turn it into a game.  The juxtaposition of these kinds of elements which Gail threw out to us were very enlivening.

Nelly's game:

Gwenola's game:

Carrol's game:

Celeste's game:

Karen's game:

Notes for my game, which I really hope to work on this winter:

Of course the discussions we had about all our ideas were a very integral part of the experience but unfortunately can not be recreated in a short blog post. I suppose that next time you will just have to attend yourself! And it is true we are already talking of next times. This short but intense few days together brought us all much more than is easily explained. I think we all felt that we had participated in something quite special.

Gail's husband Zack (and a few other husbands as well), participated in some of our meals. Zack himself is a wonderful abstract artist. Rick and I enjoyed talking to him very much. It was a jolly, magical time and I must say the house seems very quiet to me this week.

Gail worked on her own French journals while she was here, seeing magic and mystery in bits of ephemera she picked up along the way. She certainly knows how to see the world as a place of beauty and possibility. Thank you for sharing your happy vision and creative spirit with us Gail!

And thank you for sharing some of your photos too. Some of the images in this post were taken by Gail, some by me. I've lost track of which are which!


  1. What a whirlwind!
    And, serendipitously, I am trying to work through a mire of old family photos, memories, etc, to make a memory book. I think this will be further inspiration for me!
    Crazy-busy, of course, but I managed a short blog post here (in case you're still having trouble with my bookmark)

  2. Miss you all! A wonderful experience, fantastic group and clearly a great teacher. Maison Conti is so beautiful and the meals were yummy, yummy, yummy I was completely spoiled! Thank you!!
    Until we meet again--

  3. so nice projects and wonderful talents !

  4. Sounds as though a truly splendid time was had by all