Gratification at Arrowmont’s 2022 Spring Pentaculum
by Carolyn Servid
Eight eager and excited women writers attended Arrowmont’s May 2022 Spring Pentaculum. Seven of us had worked together online for three years, under the guidance of the eighth writer, Katey Schultz, who brought us to Arrowmont. We would sorely miss two others who couldn’t attend. We’d met in 2019 through Katey’s Monthly Mentorship program. None of us knew then that we would sign on for two years of intensive assignments, creativity and writer’s labs, and live writing sessions and the become founding members of a Literary Guild. Nor did we imagine how well we would come to know each other over Zoom through our writing.
It was a reunion more than a first meeting.
Staff House became our haven, our private rooms solo studios, the Lounge our gathering place for writerly conversations and raucous laughter.
As writers we were among more than sixty creative minds on campus for the 2022 Spring Pentaculum, a six-day retreat from an attention-demanding world. The other artists worked in ceramics, fibers, metals, 2D, wood and sculpture, sharing open studios dedicated to their medium. We worked in solitude and privacy, needing to go solo to our words. Everyone was free to create, rest, play, ponder, dare.
Two early evenings, our reclusive group took center stage to read to the broader Arrowmont audience. We listened with pride as our strong voices dared to try out new fiction and nonfiction on an unknown audience. Warmed by their comments, we retreated to our rooms to hone in on further pages waiting to be filled.
Even a quick visit to one of the studios provided a sense of the electrical current of imagination animating the campus. Ideas sparked, new possibilities lit up, studios hummed with focused energy. The cafeteria chefs’ delicious meals recharged us three times a day.
On a visit to the woodworking studio, I watched Leah Woods turn a burled cherry bowl on a lathe. She tightly gripped a wood-handled turning tool with both hands, easing its sharp edge onto the inner surface of the bowl. The tool’s bite, mostly smooth, was sometimes jerky, shaking Leah’s strong hands and forearms. She paused to tell me about her project, how much she enjoyed working the lathe. The wood takes shape quickly and satisfaction is equally quick to follow.
Turning is a source of instant gratification, she said, suggesting there were likely parallels in other artistic disciplines.
I took her observation as a provocation. Was there instant gratification for me in writing? Yes, I thought: the moment when exactly the right words emerge on the page. A sentence or phrase, they sometimes come through me, are not even my own. The gratification feels instantaneous in the moment, knowing the words are precisely right. Unlike a finished turned bowl, they are integral to the development of something bigger. They keep me writing.
I posed Leah’s provocation to a couple artists in other studios. One 2D artist said she’d recently felt such gratification in the item she was stroking in her hand—a soft, well-worn jeans pocket. To her surprise, it was the perfect element for a new composition underway. Pink paint turned out to be a parallel companion element. Together they offered instant gratification, an Aha! essential to a fresh work of art.
Embroiderers in the textile studio scoffed politely at instant gratification. Embroidery is meticulous, repetitive, time-consuming. Determination and patience are key. Gratification comes slowly as an image or pattern gets filled out. The protracted, steady mindfulness of embroidery is about sustaining the artist’s attention. Yes, there are gratifying Aha! moments in conception, but they thread themselves silently through a time-consuming process.
Leah Woods understands the necessity of sustained and detailed attention. Her elegant, complex sculptural wood pieces offer abundant testimony. I kept returning to her work “Breast Plate,” on display in Arrowmont’s [Sandra J. Blain Galleries]. A woman’s wooden armor, it is exquisite in conception, design, detail, and finishing. Leah later told me that even in her time-intensive work, intuitive moments of instant gratification appear as she experiments, making forms and responding to them. Moving her final conception forward, working in earnest with proper woodworking techniques, the trick is to keep the intuitive sparks fresh and alive.
On day four of Pentaculum, I joined some of my writing cohorts at work on a collage project in the Lounge. Snippets of paper spread over the coffee table, each printed with a fragment from the collective fiction and nonfiction of our group. The container for our words and several photographs was a 3” square accordion book made by an Arrowmont artist. My friends were combining random paper snippets to see what might emerge. Outbursts of laughter or “Oh wow!” suggested instant gratification. “Whispers of discontent | draped over a blue nightgown | So what be my crimes?” Or “reached into my pocket and took out | a sailor’s knot | molded with lemon Jell-O”. Or “like a soothing rattle | my written words will speak for me, even if I am unable.” Pieces fell together, capturing something fresh every time as the book’s finished form evolved.
Those unpredictable fusions became a delightful miracle of art. Non sequitur holds the talent, respect, and affection of our whole writers’ group. A testimony to Arrowmont’s abundant inspiration, it marks the particular joy of our time there together during the Spring 2022 Pentaculum.
Writer and book designer Carolyn Servid recently moved to Colorado’s Western Slope (homeland of the Northern Ute Indians) after living in Sitka, Alaska for thirty-seven years (homeland of the Tlingit Indians). During that time, she co-founded and directed The Island Institute, a nonprofit whose programs focused on the nexus of story, place, and community. She was honored for that work with an Alaska Governor’s Humanities Award and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Alaska Southeast. Her books include a memoir, Of Landscape and Longing, and three anthologies. Her essays have also appeared in various collections and literary journals. She first came to Arrowmont for the 2019 Winter Pentaculum. sitkawillow.com