by Kris Vagner
Jenny Valloric arrived in Virginia City Monday with a traveler’s perspective, a cleared calendar, and a weaving loom in the back of her SUV.
Jenny’s an Artist in Residence at St. Mary’s Art & Retreat Center, the historic-hospital-turned-art-center a few blocks down the hill from the town’s main drag.
Artists-in-residence programs are hosted by museums, festivals, experimental art spaces, schools, retreats, and other types of arts venues worldwide. They vary in scope, but generally they offer artists time and studio space, a fresh environment, and a reprieve from the distractions of everyday life.
St. Mary’s provides a bedroom for a month or two, kitchen access, studio space, and gallery walls to show artwork on. Artists pay a fee and go through a jurying process. They come from around the country and around the globe. Jenny is from Fort Collins, Colorado.
I gave her a call a few days post-arrival to ask how things were going.
She half-joked, “My first thought was, ‘What am I getting myself into?'”
The wide-open schedule was quite a transition from her usual routine. At home she has to fit in studio time along with a full-time job as a landscaper and horticulturist with the Fort Collins Parks Department. So was the solitude of working in a rural studio: “I was here by myself for a few days. That was a little weird.” And the sagebrush-dotted hills were a bit of a switch from the pines and aspens (and, as of 2013, flood-ravaged mountains) of her Rocky Mountain environs.
Virginia City’s system of historic trash management was new to her too. “I was surprised by the giant pile of junk on the cliff over there,” she said.
She did as the locals do, collected old square nails and assorted rusty detritus use as art supplies.
Jenny’s no stranger to the idea of sourcing materials from her environment. When she deadheads flowers on the job in the parks, she takes the dried blooms home to make dyes with.
“Most of my work is pretty centered around landscape,” she says. “It’s all about places and spaces. I try to make a recreation of a place I’ve been in another place.”
During her first few days settling in, Jenny exchanged a giggle or two with friends from home about Virginia City really does look like “Bonanza.”
By Thursday she’d tried a few different studio-set-up configurations, visited Carson City and Reno, taken a printmaking workshop from Nolan Preece, made some drawings, collected materials from the landscape, and set some sagebrush and copper objects soaking in jars to make dyes with.
Now she’s working on weaving several large panels that’ll incorporate those dyes — and also possibly some plant material as threads. Her color palette will be noticeably high-desert, but she’s not about making purist renditions of the Comstock. She’s more into weaving together different kinds of materials, using them to represent old and new perspectives. She’s including some clear, plastic monofilament, which will make the panels semi-translucent. She added, “I might cheat. I found some saffron at the store, which makes a really nice red dye.”
Her approach to materials sounds just like her approach to the residency. The wide-open schedule and new surroundings open up new horizons while the two-month time limit, new materials, and borrowed studio create new limits.
St. Mary’s hosts an exhibit of Jenny’s new work, with a reception April 25, 1-4 pm. Jenny is also intermittently available to meet visitors during St. Mary’s open hours.