Inaugural artist in Residence at Wild Rice Retreat: Joshua Cunningham

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Creating safe and authentic space for our creative communities to heal, restore and rejuvenate is a critical part of Wild Rice Retreat’s commitment to becoming a vibrant and contributing member of the arts and well-being community. As Maya Angelou reminds us, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. They forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” We have a responsibility to care for our modern day sages, our wisdom seekers, our cultural ambassadors and our creative placekeepers.

It is with great pleasure that we introduce Wild Rice Retreat’s multidisciplinary Artist in Residency program which highlights innovative artists, writers, thought leaders and movement ambassadors and allows them the opportunity to enjoy a weekend on our grounds – a combined gift of time and space which offers inspiration for their practice while receiving our full Retreat experience with integrated nourishment, spa services and movement as part of their stay.

While here, our Resident Artists will explore new locations, produce new work in their respective fields and connect with community as they offer an artist talk or demo at the conclusion of their stay so we get a glimpse into their creative process.

Read on for a first-hand account of our inaugural Artist in Residence, Joshua Cunningham who joined us in mid-June and who plans to return later this summer to teach a plein air Painting the Day Retreat, August 20-22, 2021.

We are so grateful for the gift of Joshua’s time and talent interpreting our unique colors and light in the Bayfield area and invite you to join us this year for an experience of your own.

Jenna Erickson, Curator of Content, Wild Rice Retreat


by Joshua Cunningham

Recently, I had the privilege of participating in an Artist in Residence Pilot Project at Wild Rice Retreat. Painting trips are usually go – go – go. I eat, paint, sleep, repeat until I am completely spent.

But I was here to get a feel for Wild Rice Retreat, scout locations for my August workshop, and paint. Everything about Wild Rice is an invitation to slow down and make time to nurture your whole self.

I checked in and was warmly greeted by Scott Pollock. After I was all set, I slipped out to paint a part of the Sioux River Estuary that I saw on my drive in.

A cool breeze off Lake Superior made for a very pleasant evening of painting. The next morning arrived soft and silvery with a quiet fog off the great lake after one of the best night sleeps in recent memory; I didn't so much fall asleep as dissolve into the bed. Being an Artist in Residence is different from a regular painting trip in that it is as much about participating in the host's world as it is about making new work. So rather than rushing out into the foggy morning, I attend a yoga class in the Peace Pod studio, instructed by Wild Rice Retreat Founder/Owner Heidi Zimmer. It gently wrung all the early painting trip jittery excitement out of me. I returned to my room refreshed and ready to find an incredible bag of breakfast and lunch Provisions from their restaurant NOVO waiting on the counter.

After breakfast, I waited out a few passing showers by using my room as a studio and finishing the painting from the night before. Jenna Erickson was my tour guide for the afternoon of surveying potential workshop locations. But this wasn't a random tour. Much like everyone at Wild Rice Retreat, Jenna had put a lot of thought into the locations and had made prior arrangements for special permission to get access.

After our tour, I ventured out, retraced our steps, and found one of the fabulous views that came and went with the mercurial fog. As a new front came in, I moved on, building on the mental map Jenna had created for me. That evening's dinner at NOVO was delicious, luxurious, and thoughtful in its pacing, pairings, and preparation.

The rest of my time as Artist in Residence was every bit as delightful as the first day. By the end of my brief stay, I had sipped a bit of all that Wild Rice Retreat had to offer. We held what was one of the most fun artist talks I'd done with a delightful group of guests, where we shared a meal and many stories. In addition, I had created four distinct paintings, each holding the light of the day from which they were made. I am looking forward to sharing the place with you.

On my drive back to St. Paul, I thought a lot about when I attended workshops as a student. I moved through them with a sense of urgency, falling prey to some scarcity driven narrative of making up for lost time or training. A workshop at Wild Rice Retreat will be different. Everything from the sheets on your bed to the aesthetics of the architecture to the remarkable meals, is a thoughtful invitation to slow down and savor the day. So often, it is easier for things to stick with us if we slow down, and a day spent connecting to the light and air of a place with your paints is something you will want to stay with you.