A Natural Connection // Artists Find Inspiration at Bloedel

By Erin Jennings

With entries from Texas to Taiwan, Bloedel Reserve’s guest book is a study in geography. Each year, close to 50,000 visitors come to experience a walk through the inspiring landscapes. And now, thanks to its Creative Residency program, a choice few have the opportunity to immerse themselves for weeks at a time in the 150-acre public garden on Bainbridge Island.

“Bloedel has always been a place of peace, contemplation and naturalistic beauty,” said David Lewis, board member and chairman of the residency program. “We’re giving artists, scholars and writers the gift to experience Bloedel for longer than a few-hour visit.

They have a unique opportunity to live, do their work and become one with the Reserve.” The program uses a nicely appointed and tucked-away cabin designed by famed Northwest architect, Jim Cutler. Originally built for Mr. Bloedel, the cabin was used as a weekend getaway after opening the grounds to the public.

Now, it’s a place where artists recharge their creative batteries and are granted unlimited access to the gardens. There is no cost to the residents, though in return for their stay, they’re asked to give back to the community in the form of a workshop, lecture, artist walk or reading.

“Our founders believed in the importance of nature in lives, and Mr. and Mrs. Bloedel highly regarded artists,” said Bloedel’s executive director, Ed Moydell. “The Creative Residency nicely blends nature and art in an organic way, and I’m thrilled we can provide artists with a place of inspiration.”

In 2015, the Creative Residency got its feet wet with two residents, a poet and a mixed-media artist. And last fall, unsure what to expect, Bloedel put out its first open call to artists. They estimated a successful call would garner 25 responses. Instead, more than 140 artists applied for the eight available slots.

“We were overjoyed by the quality of applications we received,” said Moydell. “And we’re ecstatic with the chosen artists. They will each bring tremendous talent and perspective to Bloedel.” The selected artists represent a wide range of disciplines such as painting, weaving and sculpting.

Some are from as near as Seattle, while others from as far as China. One thing they all have in common is the use of nature in their creative processes, an important tie-in to Bloedel’s mission. Unlike other residency programs, Bloedel doesn’t require artists to produce a piece of work or to complete a project.

Instead, they can use the time at the Reserve for rejuvenation and respite and let the creative process happen naturally. “I can’t wait to see what our residents do with this opportunity as they explore their personal journey and continue to create more beauty in our world,” said Lewis.

For author Karen Finneyfrock, her recent spring residency at Bloedel provided just what she needed. “I took two walks a day—afternoon and evening,” she said. “One evening, as I emptied my mind of story and filled it with the natural world, suddenly the end of my novel came to me. I’ve been looking for it for three years and found it on the trail at Bloedel.” Oh, the wonders of nature never cease! Know an artist who’d be a great fit for the program? Applications for the 2017 season will open in the fall. bloedelreserve.org.