I’ve dreamed about participating in an art residency and feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to live this dream on Mallard Island. If you are like me, you are probably curious about the nitty gritty details about how one’s life plays out during a residency. So let me tell you about how meals and lodging were organized for our Individual Artists’ Week.
The week was well organized by our two caretakers. There was no fee to apply for the residency, but each artist paid $250 for a “shared island” donation. The Oberholtzer Foundation limits visitors to the island, with a maximum of 12 guests at a time. That way the stress on the island’s composting toilets, waste management systems, etc. is kept under control.
Mallard Island is a unique environment in that it is quite rustic — no plumbing or hot water (there was a pump to get lake water, which we heated for washing dishes, etc.), no wifi or internet, no flush toilets (there were three composting toilets), and indoor heating was by wood-burning fireplaces or stoves.
Beth sent us a list of things to bring, including swimsuit and thermal underwear (the weather in northern Minnesota in September can be summer-like or quite cold), rain gear, mosquito repellent, flashlights, and sturdy shoes for walking on the rocky grounds. Thankfully we were actually blessed with nice weather, so I did not use my rain gear nor any insect repellent.
We were responsible for bringing our own bed linens — I brought a sleeping bag, pillow cases, a flannel sheet, and a quilt.
Each artist had a private room in one of the larger houses (Front House and Ober’s Big House and Winter House) or else shared accommodations in one of the other buildings. I shared the Cedar Bark House with Cecilia, a sculptor who carved moveable, wooden figures. My bed was in a little nook that jutted over the water.
The Cedar Bark House was where Oberholtzer’s mother stayed when she was in residence on Mallard Island. The structure had an interesting history: it was formerly an “old floating whorehouse and gambling den that had serviced the lumberjacks, pulling up anchor to cross the border whenever police arrived either from Canada or from Minnesota” (description from Bill Holm, Eccentric Islands). Its interior, a long open rectangle, was anchored by a fireplace on one end and a wood-burning stove on the other. It also housed one of the island’s two pianos and its wind-up gramophone. Cecilia was often sitting in the enclosed porch on her end of the house, carving her little wooden sculptures. The Cedar Bark House also had a deck overlooking the water.
Each individual was responsible for his or her own breakfasts and lunches. I kept it very simple and generally had a hard-boiled egg, cherry tomatoes, a slice of toast, and coffee for breakfast. Lunches were sometimes leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, or a light meal from my stock of canned tuna, sardines, and peanut butter.
The dinners on Mallard were extraordinary. We were paired up with a fellow artist and were each responsible for cooking one dinner during the week. (The two caretakers made dinner the first night.) My partner, Cecilia, and I planned our meal via email before we arrived. We divvied up the parts of the meal, shopped for the ingredients, and brought them with us. The kitchen (also a former barge) had an electric stove and oven and almost any utensil you might need.
An old bell was rung to gather us for dinnertime. Here is how Louise Erdrich described dinner time on Mallard Island: “We convene to eat in an old early twentieth-century cook’s barge used by lumber companies to feed their crews as they ravaged the northern old-growth trees and floated the logs down to the sawmill. Ober had this cook’s barge hauled onto his island. An old bell signals meals. Original plates and dishes of every charm — Depression glass, porcelains, and sweet old flowery unmatched Royal Doulton china dishes — crowd the open shelves” (from Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country).
Every single dinner was worth raving about. Lots of healthy food. Delicious, too. Let me list the meals here:
Sunday — homemade tomato soup, chicken, and fresh salad
Monday — pezole (traditional hominy soup/pork stew from Mexico), tortillas, chips, salsa, hot cheesy bean dip, and apple crisp with whipped cream for dessert
Tuesday — hard and soft tacos with all the toppings you could ever wish for and lots of chopped vegetables
Wednesday — cheese and crackers and wine to start us off, then creamy wild rice soup with chicken, fresh salad, and warm blueberry pie for dessert
Thursday — fried and breaded walleye fillets, mashed potatoes, abundant and assorted raw vegetables, and Nut Goody bars for dessert
Friday — challah baked from scratch, salad nicoise, squash soup, venison brats, and cashew bars for dessert
Nobody ever lost weight on Mallard Island!
My next blog post will be about work and play during Artists’ Week. Stay tuned!