A Two-Month Residency at Red Lodge Clay Center

By UG teaching artist Seana Higgins

Greetings! My name is Seana (pron. SHAW-na) Higgins, and I am a teaching artist with Urban Gateways. For the past two months, I was fortunate to participate in a short-term residency at Red Lodge Clay Center in Red Lodge, Montana. Red Lodge is a small ski town of a little over two thousand people near Yellowstone National Park. It seems topographically opposite to Chicago and, for that, I was both excited and quite anxious.

Since my primary media in my studio practice is ceramics, I am member of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), Crafthaus, and other media-specific networks. It is through these, and word of mouth from colleagues that I was able to find the opportunity to spend some time in Red Lodge.

The initial application was like that of a job or any other position; portfolio, artist statement, resume, project proposal, and references. Once accepted, I was given a time frame of eight weeks to fulfill the proposal submitted which, for me, was to create seven works of ceramic sculpture. In the time allotted, I was able to accomplish my proposal, and then some.

Some residencies grant you a stipend for time spent in a given studio but I paid for room and board, materials, and firing fees at the Red Lodge Clay Center. At first, I was worried whether or not it would be worthwhile to leave my jobs and move from Chicago for two months. Many of us know how it is to do the juggle of multiple ‘gigs’ as an artist, and I felt it was a risky move on my part. That said, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Not only did I get dedicated time in my own shared studio space, but I also formed what I hope will become lasting friendships with my fellow residents. I have always been accustomed to the group studio atmosphere, so it didn’t take long for me to feel at home within the extremely efficient and accommodating set up out at Fox Studio.

This was not a residency where I was required to teach a class, but I did need to give a slide presentation toward the end of my time in Red Lodge. Admittedly, I was nervous to speak to a room of friends and community members about something as dear as my work, but it was worthwhile. I found that, for this challenge, my experience teaching with Urban Gateways for the past two years served me well. When it came down to it, I was prepared not only to organize my presentation in a way that was informative and possibly entertaining, but I was also able to overcome my anxieties with the reminder that I do this in front of groups of students all the time.

Now that I’ve returned to Chicago, where mountains are replaced with viaducts and traffic, I have the benefit of perspective propelling me forward. Time away from teaching and all the aforementioned juggling that accompanies life in the big city reminded me how it feels to be present and live with intention. This can’t be a bad thing. I only hope that I can preserve some of the pace from my Montana adventure and share it with my students in upcoming Urban Gateways residencies. Perhaps I speak only for myself but too often, in the classroom, we try to accomplish a list of goals rather than savoring the exchange of teaching and learning. I’d like to do that this upcoming year with Red Lodge in mind.