Artists often look to nature for inspiration.
On New Orleans West Bank last month, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Rebecca Snedeker met her muse at A Studio in the Woods, an artists’ retreat hidden within a forest preserve at the far end of River Road.
|Lucianne and Joe|
This sanctuary for creative expression has been the home of potter Lucianne Carmichael and wood/metal artist Joe Carmichael for 30 years. In 2000, the couple transformed the property into a nonprofit community to share with likeminded artists so that visual, literary and performing work could develop uninterrupted.
Snedeker is one of six artists selected from dozens of applicants to explore the concept of water and interpret its meaning within the studio’s current series, “Ebb & Flow.” The theme of these residencies is based on the premise that Southern Louisiana is a microcosm of the global environment, exposing both the challenges and possibilities inherent in human interaction with urban and natural ecosystems.
Snedeker spent her residency creating concepts for various maps, reaching out to potential collaborators and working on one specific map to be incorporated into an unconventional, “imaginative” atlas of New Orleans – one part of a trilogy of maps of U.S. port cities. The Bay Area prototype, “Infinite City,” which made its debut in 2010, identifies butterfly habitats, queer sites, murder locales, WWII shipyards, blues clubs and Zen Buddhist to paint a portrait of that unique city.
Rebecca Solnit, producer of the San Francisco book, approached Snedeker to head the New Orleans project. “Immortal City: A New Orleans Atlas” will incorporate alternative “landmarks and treasures,” pairing unusual aspects of New Orleans’ culture and geography that “spark the imagination,” Snedeker said.
During a recent artist’s dinner at the Studio, guests were asked to brainstorm and pinpoint favorite places where they emotionally connect with water sources, using thumbtacks on a local map.
Snedeker is collaborating with cartographers, artists, creative nonfiction writers and a research specialist. She will interview diverse professionals who work closely with water, including a riverboat captain and a pumping station engineer for the “unfathomable” essay.
“Water is inherent in the maps,” Snedeker said of the two-dozen proposed illustrated designs. Even the title of her essay is watery since fathom is a nautical depth.
The experience of being at A Studio in the Woods gave Snedeker “time for quiet, introspective work.” She drove daily along the levee from her home in Carrollton, taking in the full breadth of the Mississippi. Writing in a journal, practicing yoga, daydreaming and taking long, meditative walks along “dark, black earth,” she was able to discover new contexts for the atlas.
“I spent a lot of time offline, away from my phone, reflecting on the map ideas and content as a whole,” she said.
The studio is located on a peninsula of bottomland covered with hardwood forest that was clear-cut in the late 1700s to make way for a sugar cane plantation. The Carmichaels hope to eventually return the property to its original natural state with the help of Tulane University botanist David Baker who has managed the forest over the past five years.
“I thought a lot about who worked the land in another time period and felt a real connection to its history,” Snedeker said.
The secluded peaceful environment is conducive to creative work.
“I have a deep belief that that’s where the quality of the work came,” Snedeker said.