Ragdale: An Appointment with the Muse

Ragdale House

I have just returned from the most amazing 2 weeks at Ragdale in Lake Forest, an artist's retreat. Never having participated in an artist residency, I did not know what to expect. This blog is an attempt to share some small part of the experience. (I say this because 3/4 of the artists I befriended at the residency were writers and poets, and I don't pretend to be one.)

Beach Room

When I drove into the estate, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and awe. It was a beautiful fall day with the trees showing off their full glory. The environment had the feel of a monastery, with signs scattered about saying “Quiet Please, Artists At Work.” There was no person to be found but an envelope in a basket by the front door with my name on it. I quickly learned that my bedroom and studio were located in the converted barn. My studio had been the work place of Howard Van Doren Shaw, the prominent Chicago architect and owner of the Ragdale house. The Shaw properties overlook 60 acres of prairie.

My Studio

I walked into my studio, a beautiful room with 3 skylights, a desk, table, cabinets and a sink. The walls revealed evidence of other artists being there by the walls pockmarked condition. On the far wall was a single leaf, spotted and folded in on itself. It was truly beautiful. I thought it was curious that the former tenant had left it behind.

After unpacking and before the sunset, I went out into the prairie. It was magnificent. The grasses swayed in the wind as I strolled by so many plants native to the Midwest. A sense of peace and calm pervaded.


It was an amazing 2 weeks. After the initial adjustment, I found myself in a continual state of creative flow. Never before have I had the luxury of 2 uninterrupted weeks to explore my art. What started as a curiosity about my environment became an obsession. I fell into a state of continual excitement as I investigated the world around me. I began my Leaf Studies series, which have been endlessly fascinating. Every time I looked deeper into the essence of a leaf, I am reminded of repetition of form between the macro and micro worlds. What resulted was a body of work that further explores my interest in life cycles and the quality of light.

Leaf Studies

The creative process needs time and space to develop. It feeds the soul in a way that nothing else can. I am so grateful to Ragdale for the two weeks in which I reconnected with the magical feeling that anything is possible.

Oalk Leaf Waave

All images are courtesy of Jane Fulton Alt.

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