On January 23, 2019

My studio: a creative, spiritual retreat

By Marguerite Jill Dye

Virginia Woolf wrote an extended essay in 1929 entitled “A Room of One’s Own,” based on her lectures, that stressed the importance of a quiet place for a woman to write and think. Women were expected to carry out household duties unless they could afford servants, and education was for men. She imagined a fictitious sister of Shakespeare, Judith, who wanted to study and write but was forced into marriage. Judith fled to London and gave up her dreams, killing herself (as Virginia Woolf later did).

We all need that quiet retreat from chaos in the world and at home: a sanctuary, where creative thoughts flow, without distraction and uninterrupted. The room in my home I now seek to rearrange is my art studio and creative, spiritual retreat.

I’ve saved it for last. It can be overwhelming, but really, it’s filled with possibilities. I’ve made a “mind map” of its functions and needs as an inspiring place to meditate and dream, study, visualize, and read; a mat on the floor to exercise on; work space to paint, draw, and do paper cutting, frame and shrink wrap in preparation for exhibits and open studios; store drafts, art, and resources for my books (most piles of papers relate to my manuscript on the Camino pilgrimage across Spain which I plan to complete fairly soon); papercuts for a series of children’s books with a spiritual theme; global resources and mementos from study, work, and travel; and mounds of material from my magical fabric stash.

The blue wicker trunk holds treasures galore: curtains, saris, a Tunisian mosquito net, Egyptian cottons in luscious colors I couldn’t resist in the Cairo souk, fabric remains from the Austrian dirndl my friend Christine’s mother made for me, and gorgeous materials for dress designs with butterflies, flowers, or a delicate shimmer; fabric scroll paintings by China’s Dai minority and assorted Chinese hand embroideries; intricate San Blas Island molas; a Guatemalan weaving; Victorian tassels; a patchwork baby quilt; and bits of lace from my grandmothers’ collections. I was vindicated when we visited New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to admire the exhibit of Henri Matisse’s Material Collection. He arranged his fabrics as backdrops and tablecloths in many portraits and still life paintings. I do too, but also display cloth and objets d’art home vignettes.

Assorted art crowds my walls and inspires creativity: Henri Matisse’s woman in “Purple Robe and Anemones” (with a backdrop from the artist’s collection) painted in his Cimiez studio high above Nice; Raoul Dufy’s view from the Swiss Hotel overlooking Nice’s Promenade des Anglais; and a print by Van Gogh of the bridge outside Arles where I came to appreciate his genius brush strokes; plein air oils, acrylics, and watercolors I’ve painted in many places I love – Provence and the Collioure along the Vermillion Coast in the south of France; inside our friends’ Valence dream home where, once upon a time, Napoleon danced; evening in the countryside outside Soest where my German “brother” Hans grew up; West Lake, Shi Hu, in China’s Hangzhou where I studied watercolor wood block with Professor Lu Fang; and Mary’s Chapel at Sarasota’s Spanish Point to honor a child who once perished there. Other precious pieces include a pastel of Mom in her prime by artist Helen Arnold, who gave me portrait lessons and a box of her own pastels at a young age; a monoprint angel; Colombian appliqué; and magnificent etchings by Croatian friends who fled to Paris as refugees years ago. A colorful thangka we bought in Tibet while traveling from Lhasa to Xigatze blesses my studio with serenity and peace.

Every object brings me joy and a wealth of memories. Books on spirituality, languages, travel, and artists’ lives and gifts for loved ones are scattered about and boxes for our next migration north. My laptop is atop the antique oak flat file; in front of a window, my Christmas gift awaits. Other than mending, I’ve not sewn in years, but Duane surprised me on Christmas morn with a snazzy Singer sewing machine (on special at Aldi’s for $85!). I’ve made a stack of sewing projects: duck canvas to replace torn outdoor swing seats, unhemmed napkins from a Provençal market, two skirts that are frayed or too large that need to be re-seamed, and new sewing adventures. I’m excited to begin sewing up a storm!

With studios in Florida and Vermont, I’m constantly juggling art supplies. Duane just turned 70 (I’m two years behind), and we’re finding the moves to be quite a challenge. I’ve tried to minimize what gets packed by stocking both studios with certain things, but some equipment I must transport in order to do my work. It’s difficult to keep track of what is where and to develop an organizational plan. I wonder how my parents managed to migrate, spring and fall, well into their 80s. So I’m striving to organize and simplify, to fully enjoy, as Mom and Dad did.

Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between Vermont and Florida.

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