Artist in Residency / Internship
Cassy Brown 21, WWU, Summer 2016
The value of interning or spending an extended amount of time out at River’s Wish is immeasurable. I feel so honored to have been able to do a summer internship at the sanctuary. I am a recreation major from Western Washington University, specifically focusing on outdoor and community recreation, with a focus in eco-psychology. I am interested in the ways in which outdoor, experiential learning and holistic models bring about balance in people by re-igniting, or healing the human spirit. Aside from my university studies, I am a freelance artist, and I thrive on finding ways to integrate art into all that I do. I also believe in compassionate living, and the idea that all systems are connected and influencing one another on micro and macro levels. As an educator, I strive to raise up generations of visionaries who believe in the power of their imaginations and dreams to create better realities for all beings through systems thinking and finding solutions to the world’s problems.
A Day in the Life
A typical day at River’s Wish would start with me waking up to the silhouettes of wildflowers decorating the sunlit walls of my tent, and the morning-breaking sounds of the resident roosters anointing the sanctuary with the possibilities of the new day. I walk by Georgia’s equine herd and say “good-morning” to many curious stares; and then the senior goats who are soaking up gold light in sun patches and smiling their toothy, bearded goat grins. In the bunkhouse, I have a space to make art, a bathroom, and a small kitchen area. I make my coffee and breakfast and splash my face with water.
Outside, Bernie the ranch dog is already making his morning rounds, greeting all with youthful enthusiasm. I walk to the bountiful Rabbit’s garden. At times ripe strawberries decorate ruffled patches of plants; other times its plump tomatoes with fragrant leaves; tall, vibrant sunflowers with infinite middles; or long, spindled green-beans stretching further every day. I spend time weeding or harvesting lettuce and kale for the rabbits. The less idyllic, but ultra-important work is cleaning out the bunny barn with Kit. Fresh water, hay, lettuce, and bunny feed make for happy rabbits. Much of the time is spent sweeping up rabbit pellets and hay, and cleaning litter boxes and dishes. Everything that gets swept from the bunny barn goes directly to Rabbit’s garden to be composted and later used as vital nutrients for plants to grow- a full cycle of death and rebirth the way nature teaches.
I like to eat my lunch in the garden, or in the outside area of the cathouse where Jasper and the other kitties welcome me with pleas for ear-scratches, and Flower the turkey greets me on the other side of the fence to tell me all about her day and catch me up on bird gossip. After, I like to spend time with the goats, pigs, and sheep. There is a natural leisurely way that the animals behave that is contagious to those who take time to settle into the flow that the animals know. Being at a sanctuary, the animals do not have worried minds or aggressive demeanors. Even animals from cruel, neglected, or traumatic pasts have been re-opened to trust and love. Vincent VanPiglet grows more into a Vincent VanPig every day; it has been exciting to watch him grow up. I like to pour water into his mud hole and watch him prance over, big floppy ears bouncing with every step. Vegan and Valentine, the two Yorkshire pigs, love to get sprayed by the hose on hot days, and Vegan even loves to open her mouth to drink straight from the hose water!
The rest of my hot summer afternoons I try to spend indoors where it’s a bit cooler. I work on designing curriculums for Art, Animals, and Garden classes, painting a mural for the sanctuary, logging internship experience, and working on other art projects. I spent a lot of time in conversation with Kit and Pete, the founders of the sanctuary: both artists and educators themselves. I appreciated the humbleness, gentle nature, insight, and compassion of these two.
Art, Animals, and Gardens Summer Classes
I had the pleasure of teaching summer art classes at the sanctuary through River’s Wish and Spokane Art School. For years, I have dreamed of ways to use art, co-creation, conversations, plants, animals, and leisure services to nourish minds and spirits- to heal and to spark flames inside of one another. I designed curriculums where the students and I spent time working with different mediums, learning art techniques, creating from observation and imagination, and spending time amongst the animal residents as well as in the garden.
The beauty of being in a primarily outdoor, hands-on environment is the immersion and natural stimulation, less influenced by technological stimuli, and more influenced by the intrinsic value of the Earth and nature’s lessons. There is room for discovery, curiosity, exploration, imagination, play, and freedom in making art- in being outside. Kids get to experience (often for the first time) what is it like to touch a pig’s wiry hair and rough-skinned back. They experience pulling a carrot out of the Earth: washing it, tasting it. They are close enough to get licked by a cow’s rough, slimy tongue and see it bat its long, pretty eyelashes. They use clay and natural materials to mold, shape, and put together their own animalistic creations, and they are told that the possibilities are endless- that they are the artists and they have choice, autonomy, and respect. I see something click within these students’ minds. Their spirits grow and enliven. I feel it too. Teaching in this type of holistic environment has given me peace, joy, and inspiration as an educator, activist, and artist. I hope to continue this work of art-based, compassionate, outdoor education.
Artist in Residency
My personal artwork has blossomed in this truly sanctioned environment. My soul-fire has been re-lit, and I am pulling inspiration from an abundance of sources. The work here is large enough for my spirit. It feeds me with life-force, and leaves me hungry for more soul-food. The art classes are in part what started this beautiful frenzy. In being in an environment where I was expected to make art with the students every day, I was able to sink back into the space inside of myself where the channel for creative energy is opened. I taught lessons on step-by-step acrylic paintings, which resulted in me having four finished paintings of animal residents. The pieces accentuate the sentience of the animals and their full capacity for life and love.
I found joy, style, and confidence in my artwork through creating a mural to be displayed on-site at River’s Wish. The mural includes portraits of past and present sanctuary residents, as well as some of the native and garden plants at the sanctuary. The hours spent on the mural allowed me to sink into an artistic flow where time ceases to exist, and I become one with the art forms. These projects dedicated and inspired by the sanctuary have influenced my art outside of the sanctuary as well.
While being an artist in residency, I had the opportunity to hold my first art show in Spokane – an opportunity presented by the parent and business owner of one of the art students I taught. I sought out the guidance of local experts in the field: art directors, framers, print-makers, skilled artisans, art educators, and artist marketing organizations. I began to trust myself enough to try out new mediums. I started working with watercolours (a medium I previously feared) and the addition of ink and gel pens. My pen and ink work found a bolder voice of transcendent quality, deepened by the connection to my environment and this community (plants and animals included).
As I move forward in my life as an artist, I feel I will always come back to this space in my heart. I will remember the ingredients to a healthy soul; the types of environments, people, work, and play that keep my spirit lively and keep my creativity flowing.
Thank you Kit and Peter for welcoming me into the lives of yourselves and the animals at the sanctuary. I am so appreciative of your kindness, expertise, ethics, activism, passion, love, openness, dedication, and wisdom. Thank you to the volunteers, students, and community members who I had the pleasure of connecting with, and for making my experience in Spokane so meaningful. I wish for all the best as the sanctuary continues the mission of animal rescue and outreach. I will be visiting as often as I can!
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