Lee Oldford Churchill, Canada

Residency Period: Sept 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017


Bio

Born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, Lee began her formal training at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, NL. In 1998 she transferred to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, majoring first in sculpture, then switching to painting and printmaking. At U of A she earned her BFA with Distinction in 2000 and then went on to earn a M.A. (Art Conservation) and M.A. (Art History) from Queen’s University, Kingston, ON in 2000 and 2006 respectively. She currently resides in Calgary, AB, Canada, where she works as the Paper Conservator at the Glenbow Museum and as an instructor at Wildflower Art Centre, City of Calgary. Her current work utilizes watercolour, pastel, acrylic, pen, and other media.

leeoldfordchurchill.weebly.com


On-hiatus Proposal Summary

Working full time and parenting, Lee has struggled to maintain her “professional artist” status as designated by Canada Council for the Arts and other public institutions, which also qualifies her to apply for funding to sustain an artist career. She feels trapped in the circle of “not enough work=not enough sales and exposure=not enough money=having to be employed=not enough time=not enough work”.

While making art has been part of who she is, the pressure and stress of “being engaged” with her practice has driven her to the point where she feels her whole life may be happier if she just stopped, if she gave up defining herself as an artist-who-does-other-work-to-support-themselves and embraced being solely an arts-industry-employee.

Through her participation in RFAOH, she wants to give herself permission not to produce art, to ultimately examine if letting go of “being an artist” will make her feel less pressure and stress, and return some joy to this aspect of her life. Her requested residency period overlaps with her son’s school year during which time she may participate in some activities without the guilt of her inner voice screaming ‘if I have any time I should be making art’.

Although she is hesitant to set out too detailed a plan for fear of creating a high pressure situation similar to the one that she is in now as an artist, one of her on-hiatus activities may be taking a class in clay. It is an area that has no association to her past art practice, and she wants to see if she can engage meaningfully with the process of creating, or whether it has become so entwined with stress/anxiety that any attempt to create is a trigger for feelings of failure, anxiety and inadequacy about her self-identification as an artist.

She hopes this hiatus would give her time and clarity to make a decision whether defining herself as an artist is worth it, or if not being an artist is better for her mental health, family life, and relationships. If she decides to return to art, she hopes it would bring fresh inspiration and perspective.


Final Report

My experience as an RFAOH resident has been amazing. It is a cause for ongoing and future reflection that having an external, and thereby legitimizing, force say it was 'ok' not to make art, I let go of an immense amount of stress and gut-wrenching anxiety. I am not entirely comfortable with the idea that I need an outside agency validate my thoughts and actions.

I did the clay class I set out in my proposal and as I hoped it showed me that I am still in love with artmaking and am so very happy when I give myself over to the process. I had thought I would review Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" as well but I decided (after a few months of seriously avoiding getting it off the shelf) that my reluctance was something I should listen to. If I was dragging my heels, forcing myself to re-read it was against the spirit of my hiatus.

With my mother-in-law passing away and then my father being incredibly ill, my hiatus ended up looking very different than anyone could have thought. I spent a full two months of it away from everything focusing on the people who truly matter rather than immersed in the 'daily grind'. Both the hiatus and these events have drastically altered my perceptions and goals.

I still feel battered and broken. But there's been a release - like when you have a bad tooth and once the dentist fills it you realize how miserable it was and now you're a bit boneless.

I'm on the mend.

I'm human and I have bad habits.

I feel like my hiatus had changed me and that I won't try to shoehorn myself and my work into a mold we don't fit. But I know it is going to take constant vigilence to not fall into anxiety and let it push me into areas I'm not happy with. Whether my hiatus will change the look of my work, I don't know yet. But it will certainly change the spirt behind it.


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recent comments

On Jun 21 2017, Lee Churchill commented on June 20: If I knew where I wasn't supposed to be, I wouldn't go!! :-P If you've got some idea of how I can be[...]

On Jun 21 2017, co-director (s) commented on June 20: Happy (fairly) big Birthday Lee! (: Twack on, all year! I think it's the matter of what is "everyt[...]

On Jun 12 2017, Lee Churchill commented on June 8: :-) It definitely sounds like a fascinating talk. With the idea of going for an MFA, S's situation[...]

On Jun 9 2017, co-director (m) commented on June 8: I wish we had a recording of Tehching's panel discussion in Venice last month where the convergence [...]

On May 25 2017, co-directors (s) commented on May 8: Family emergency sucks... Hope things are alright with yours![...]


Dec 13

Dec 13

I had a cold last week. I hate being sick.

I find it offensive, as though the germs are deliberately attacking my ability to get stuff done.

At first I thought it was nothing major, some dry coughing, runny nose. Enough to keep me home from my day job. When I couldn’t go into work on Tuesday morning, I thought “well at least I can get things done around the house.” I walked downstairs put in a load of laundry, walked back up and that was all the energy I had for the day. Zilch accomplished.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, three days later, on Friday, I laid down to take a “short nap” at 9 am and must have turned off my alarm. Because I woke at 1:23pm.

Five days.

Five days of being flat out and getting nothing done.

The rational part of my brain says I obviously needed the rest to heal. The rest of my brain is jumping up and down with clenched hands throwing a temper tantrum of epic proportions. All. That. Time. WASTED!

Sigh.

It seems as though, for me, this hiatus is a lot about letting go. Letting go of self-imposed stress. Self-imposed expectations. Letting go of my ideas of what productivity means (more output, more checks on lists, more action!) and accepting that sometimes what seems to be unproductive is good. My jaw hurts just thinking that but I’m trying to get there.  

In the wee hours of the night when I was lying awake with hamsters running around my brain I started composing this post about the end of my clay class and the things I made and more importantly learned. I will get to that.

But then, like most trains of thought at 3 am, it took a left turn.

And I started thinking about the weather.

When I interned in England in 2002 my supervisor commented that Canadians are obsessed with the weather, she didn’t know of any other nationality who kept such a constant eye on what was happening outside and what was upcoming. At the time I was shocked and I realized it was true.  We are obsessed. But when Mother Nature is out to kill you 8+ months of the year, it’s important to pay attention. Last week it averaged about -30 C. One day, five of the coldest places ON EARTH were in my province. And everyone still has to get to work, buy groceries, and go on living, even if your skin can freeze in 10 minutes.

That internship made me fascinated with how people from other places view so-called mundane things – like distances. I discovered all the other interns, who were from countries around Europe, had a very condensed sense of distances. I had been looking into some side trips to Scotland, France, and the Netherlands. Living in Canada I see it as no big deal to drive 3 hours for a visit. I know lots of people who go that far for a daytrip. I told the other interns I was thinking of driving to Scotland for 3 days and they acted as if I were mad. One woman from the Czech Republic was flabbergasted – her family had a cottage three hours from Prague and they felt it too far to drive for less than a week. As an undergrad I’d drive 8-10 hours home for a 3-day weekend (similar to the trip I thought to take to Scotland). But a half-dozen interns is a small sample, do other people feel the same way? Distance is a set thing, a solid measurable number, but peoples’ perceptions of, and relationship to it, seem so different.

Another thing that interests me lately is peoples’ experience of wildlife – I wonder is it a ‘Canadian-thing’, ‘a Calgary-Thing’, or…what? I live inner city in a city of about 1.2 million people. I often joke to my husband that in the event of a ‘real zombie apocalypse’, at the rate we hike, it would take a week to get to the city limits. My son’s school is even further towards the downtown. But this is an email we received from his school yesterday:

Bobcat Sighting

Good Afternoon,

There has been a bobcat sighted just east of the school towards the big hill.  Please be cautious.

Seriously. Bobcats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobcat (It’s probably actually a Canadian Lynx but that’s mostly semantics, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_lynx ).

I had been wondering why we hadn’t had as many hares around the yard this year. There’s usually two-four who camp out on our front lawn, plus ones we see roaming the back alley. Now I guess I have my answer.

Bobcats.

And I was worried letting Arthur walk to school because of reckless drivers!  Ha!

Do people in other places/cities/countries have things like this happen? Bobcats this far into town are a new thing, but hares, deer, coyotes, cougars, and even the occasional bear are all normal-ish to have in the suburbs here. It seems to me that Calgary is unusual in having so much wildlife, or am I wrong?

 

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Dec 5

Dec 5

I love Christmas. Mostly.

I love lights, treat foods, music, the tree, the presents (to a degree…).

I love the preparations – cooking, and making, and visiting Christmas markets.

One of our biggest traditions is unpacking the tree and setting it up. We take out all the special ornaments and talk about where each one came from – these from Mommy’s Aunt for each of the boys’ first Christmas’s…this bell Mommy gave to Daddy…this was from Nanny and Poppy… each has a story and memory. This year it’s going to be melancholy. Over 20 years more than a few came from my mother-in-law. Telling those stories is going to be hard. I always want my boys to remember the joy and adoration she felt for them. But I know Ned at 4 will have no solid memories of her. Only shadow memories of the stories we’ve repeated so often he thinks he remembers. That hurts my heart in ways I can’t even articulate.

I thought this was going to be a cheerful post about the Christmas markets we went to this weekend and how we all loved it.

But apparently not.

treeanddish

Some of my clay came back, fortunately not too dark. The rest will hopefully go though the kiln this week.

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Nov 28

Nov 28

(and yes, I posted this Dec 5th. I seem to be making a habit of writing and then posting late.  😥 )

This has been a good week.

Despite lots of things going on I could feel anxious about I feel cheerful and marginally hopeful. Always a good feeling – and then my dark side says “We’ll see how long it lasts” – but whatever, today it is good.

I made several things – we did glazing in Clay class so that was kind of thrilling (last day sadly but yeah, I work there so I can keep doing more!) I had a lot of works to glaze and have never really done it before so it’s totally one big experiment.  I have a couple pieces I really want to turn out for Christmas presents but otherwise am just excited to see what happens in the kiln. We had the choice of staining some pieces under the glaze to bring out the texture – I was possibly a little too enthusiastic and may end up with very Nightmare before Christmas style decorations.

At my other job we have an ‘upcycled art’ charity auction each year, my colleagues and I decided to contribute. :’P

img_3964

Super silly but still fun. I made the ring and they made the stand from materials we found in the lab.

And I did a few press molded eggs from a porcelain sample a friend gave me. I’m super enjoying carving them.  I haven’t carved anything in at least a decade and had forgotten how wonderful it feels when a blade is slicing just perfectly through the material.

img_3947 eggs2 eggs1

 

We started putting up Christmas lights – they’re always my favorite part. Even without decorations, just sitting and seeing the lights on the tree feels cozy and relaxing.

Cheers!

Lee

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