Taking Up Residence

Michigan-based fiber artist, painter and sculptor Ellie Anderson is used to fitting her artistic pursuits into the gaps of her busy schedule. Before her residency at Peninsula School of Art (PenArt), she had “never had the opportunity to just focus on art,” so she wasn’t expecting the outpouring of ideas that came to her during the first few days of the program.

During her residency, Anderson wrapped up a project she had previously put on the back burner: a sculpture that holds rows of jars, each containing objects such as pine needles, sea shells and stones.
“I grab small things when I go on walks and put them in little jars to document different places I’ve gone to,” Anderson said. “It encourages me to look at things slowly.”

“I didn’t realize how much work and life were clouding these ideas from coming forward,” Anderson said. “It was surprising how much clarity [I gained.]”

She was one of six participants in the first full-fledged season of PenArt’s new artist-in-residence program, an early version of which went on an indefinite hiatus around the 1970s, according to PenArt artistic director Elysia Michaelson. 

Anderson’s six-week session as PenArt’s artist-in-residence ended in May, but by that time, PenArt was already busy choosing artists for its next three sessions.

The selection process is an in-depth one, Michaelson said. After artists apply for one of the six artist-in-residence positions available per year, a committee made up of other practicing artists, educators and curators scores applications with a rubric that takes into account factors such as the quality and craftsmanship of the art and the artists’ commitment to their work and potential for career development.

“Committee members all do that on their own time; then we do a Zoom meeting where we look at where all of the rankings fell,” Michaelson said. “It helps them check each other’s biases. Last year, I didn’t expect so much conversation, but they really rearranged their list.”

During last year’s selection process, the committee, which switches out members every year, had about 50 applications to sort through – a good number for such a young program, Michaelson said.

Those 50-or-so applicants were whittled down to six artists-in-residence, who were split into pairs. Each pair completed its residency during one of three six-week sessions, which were held through the winter and spring.

Artists choose how to spend their time during their residency – though the schedules they have in mind going into the program don’t always pan out. For example, Wendi Turchan-Martin – a painter and fiber artist based in Sheboygan who had previously taught summer art workshops at PenArt – planned for a relaxed residency in early 2022 when PenArt ran two pilot sessions to tweak the program and get feedback from participants. Instead, she found herself too eager to take things slowly. 

“I would usually wake up and get into the studio as quickly as possible because I was so excited,” Turchan-Martin said. “I really thought I would practice a lot of self-care and go slow, but the space was so incredible that I was constantly like, ‘I gotta get in there.’”

Part of Turchan-Martin’s excitement was thanks to the novelty of having a designated work space. At home, she does most of her art in her bedroom, but at PenArt, she had a studio of her own, as do all other PenArt artists-in-residence.

“I loved the privacy,” Turchan-Martin said. “You can work at your own pace because nobody’s poking around or asking questions, unless you’re scheduled with a visiting critic.” (These critics, like the members of the selection committee, are working artists, educators or curators who drop in to give artists feedback and support during their residency, Michaelson said.)

Supporting working artists such as Turchan-Martin and Anderson is the crux of the residency program, according to Michaelson. 

“We have lots of opportunities to support working artists through exhibits, lectures, things like that, but we don’t have as many opportunities to support artists in the creation of their work,” Michaelson said. “We wouldn’t have those quality exhibitions without artists being able to really dive into their practice and challenge themselves.”