Artists’ Retreat at Silver Wattle, October 2022
Judith Pembleton, Queensland Regional Meeting, and participants
Travelling by car, train, and plane; around a dozen women and one man arrived at Silver Wattle Quaker Centre (Silver Wattle) to use their creative talents in grounded Godly play.
Our facilitator, Jen Newton of Tasmania RM, arrived by car from Hobart with every nook and cranny in her vehicle crammed with creative resources — fabric, sticks, twine, wire and untold other “bits and bobs”.
Even before the retreat, participants who had been before were reaching out to one another – there were emails after the style of “Can’t wait to see you all” and “Not long now. I’m arriving at Bungendore station on Wednesday”. Some participants have returned year after year, some were brand new and wondering what would be expected, but all found a welcome respite from whatever cares they may have left behind. Many had been starved of the deep, face-to-face conversations with Friends of the type that can only be offered by a residential week-long stay.
Facilitator Jen Newton (Tasmania RM) centre, supervising her bubbling pots in the Silver Wattle stables while Roberta Turner (Canberra RM, left) and Ann Howard (NSW right) prepare materials for the dyeing process.
For those who may not have been to Silver Wattle, the journey can be part of the adventure. From Canberra, participants can travel to Bungendore by car (half an hour), bus or train (limited services and a scenic journey). Bungendore, the nearest township to the Centre is an arts and crafts centre. Silver Wattle is another 20 minutes or so by car over a dirt road. On this visit, that road was bounded by water on both sides and had some spectacular bumps following recent heavy rainfall.
Lake George (Weereewaa in the local language) was a swollen inland sea during our stay with black swans gliding serenely. The maze, usually on-shore, was now completely submerged. The rain had also greened the lawns, which are cheerfully mowed weekly by Jonathan Benyei on his father-in-law’s tractor-mower. Shrubs, trees and kitchen gardens were abundant and that allowed our chef, Tara Cope, to add fresh green salads to each meal. Unfortunately, Tara is moving to Queensland so Silver Wattle has a vacancy for a flexible and cheerful chef for their retreat weeks.
Once arrived, we quickly adjusted to the Centre’s daily rhythms of worship and prayer. We gathered in a circle to give thanks (another creative experience with song, poetry and prayer) before eating, giving thanks for our food and then eating together allowed an opening of one to another with shared stories and laughter that quickly built community. The vegetarian, vegan and/or GF food for breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner was delicious and inclusive for all.
The open invitations and encouragement to ‘have a go’ at the many artistic opportunities quickly expanded the limits we may have placed on our abilities. Jen soon had her cauldrons bubbling with native cherry, privet, eucalyptus cordata and brown onion skins with iron, heated by the barbecue, an electric hot plate and an old urn in the cowshed. This became a challenge to reach over the last few days when the rain really poured, but raincoats, umbrellas and gumboots allowed work to continue!
Participants used watercolour paper to make cards or dyed strips of wool or shirts – stripping off white undershirts for colourful enhancement as we began to see what could be done.
The designs were created by placing seaweed and leaves and berries in patterns then crushing the cards between two square tiles the same size and binding them tightly before dropping them into a pot and waiting for several hours for the results (“Breathe” Jen advised to slow our impatience). The results from those bubbling pots brought cries of delight as the products revealed their colours and designs and were hung up to dry.
This was Jen’s third artists’ retreat as facilitator. She wrote: “I do believe that the light at Silver Wattle is different and holds a space for us to create community and seek deep spiritual connection and nurture. Being able to walk freely on country in the presence of Indigenous ancestors who have cared for the country, the waterways and all who lived there, is indeed a privilege.
“The Artist’s gathering encourages all to sink into Country, seeking that of the Divine in all and to explore the leading of their creativity in a safe space.
“I do nothing that is not Spirit led and with much music, dancing, singing, deep sharing, silence, laughter, playing and the joy of new creative discoveries we all embrace living in community together seeking that of God in each other.
“The excitement in those present as they unwrap their first bundle from the natural dye pot, create a small basket, paint a picture, write music, poetry or a story is contagious and is such a very nourishing experience for us all.
“With the generous and heartfelt support of Silver Wattle’s director, Brydget Barker-Hudson, our Friend in Residence Lisa Lister (from Colorado Springs) and Marion (Marnie) James, this year’s gathering was quite exceptional.”
For most of us, the experience of working in groups of three on the same sheet to create a collective work was quite new. We wondered how this would work, with groups of three moving from one table to the next and adding to what was already on the paper. However, as with all the shared activities of the week, the results exceeded our imaginations.
Above: Our collective work using some of the colours from the dyeing process plus some watercolours.
Below: Our collective painting, the vibrant colours reflecting our joy in the process.
Lisa Lister, from Colorado Springs Friends Meeting writes: “As an American Friend volunteering at Silver Wattle as Friend in Residence, it has been a joy to experience the embrace of souls gathered here for the Quaker Artist Retreat. I have been embraced in multiple ways, by laughter and levity, by encouragement and kind words, and by the passion of creating. Silver Wattle itself – its earth, lake and sky – is embracing as well, so here we are, all cocooned together in abundant nurturing layers of gentle magnificence!”
Other participants’ expressed similar experiences, confirming that each person found joy and enrichment within this delicious week:
Friend Renee Ellerton lives in Victoria some distance from Melbourne. She expressed her experience with poetic grace:
“In a rustic old stable, rolls of wool like ancient scrolls, are submerged in bubbling cauldrons full of dye.
The dye is all natural and earthy.
It’s like a prayer you put out to Spirit.
Time passes, grace happens and miracles of colour emerge.
It feels like you are only partly responsible for the result.
Like a prayer, you prepare your wool with openness and intention.
The whole thing is hilarious.
There is dancing, joking and a bunch of quirky Quakers being creative together.”
”As we turned from the highway into the road to Bungendore, I felt very excited. Excited to be coming back to Silver Wattle, excited to be meeting up with dear friends again, excited to have a week of art and spirit together. Being with others on a similar journey of art making and spiritual exploration is always surprising, affirming and exciting.”
Ann Howard, NSW (left), Freya (holding up her card) Judith Pembleton (QQ), Eileen Catanzariti, Canberra, Siobhan Harpur, TRM, and Roberta Turner, CRM (front left).
Textile artist Freya Paton says:
“This is my second Artists Retreat at Silver Wattle. I have come back because I really enjoy the friendship, depth of sharing, creativity and relaxed days, These are soothing for my soul.
“There’s no TV, radio, or talk of the outside world, just the sister-hood of women of all ages, praying, playing and enjoying the time in this lovely retreat space.
“This morning, I watched the sunrise over Lake George and that added another blessing to. my retreat.”
Matt Pearse, VRM, was the only man and younger by decades than most of the participants. He writes: “Thanks again everyone for a lovely week.
“I found a natural dyed woollen scarf … for $200 on the Wednesday as I was going home — and it wasn’t even close to being as nice as the things we dyed!
“I bumped into [Presiding Clerk] Bruce [Henry] at Meeting this morning and we joked about being in the minority at our Artist Retreats.
The token male, Matt”
Merino wool from local farmer Shaun dyed in eucalyptus cordata (red) and native cherry (green).
Barbara Huntington, a weaver of Mid North Coast Meeting, New South Wales, wove twigs into creations of beauty.
Canberra Friend and artist Nancy Tingey writes: “
To spend time with like-minded friends is a gift. To connect with like-minded Friends is a double pleasure.
“I remember that on the artists’ retreat held in May last year I felt exhilarated by the way ten people who hardly knew one another before meeting in Silver Wattle bonded so lovingly. We happily agreed to keep in touch afterwards – by email or zooming. It was such a joy to reconnect with many of them again this year.
“There has been much sharing of skills and stories, singing and laughter. We have been guided and inspired by Jen’s imaginative program, held in the light by Marni [Marian James], embraced by Brydget [Barker-Hudson] and comforted by one another.
“I have been working on a series of watercolour studies about this mystical part of the world for several years. For me it resonates with the Morecambe Bay area of northwest England where I lived many years ago. Every visit deepens my understanding of the landscape and I marvel at the opportunity to be embraced by this deeply spiritual place.
“I live in Canberra – near a popular suburban cafe run by Tara who hails from Goulburn. I asked her how she felt about having to travel long distances each working day. She replied that she enjoyed the route, particularly the stretch along Lake George/Weereewa. She went on to say she had another job along the lake’s shoreline, at Silver Wattle. I explained my connection and it turned out that she would be catering for our artists retreat!
“She also said that when she arrived for the interview she experienced an overwhelming sense of peace as she entered the property. How lucky were we! Tara’s sympathetic vegetarian cuisine, catering for special diets was a highlight of the week.”
Author and historian Ann Howard is rather isolated, living on Dangar Island in the Hawkesbury River where she writes her books (and now, scripts for Netflix) as well as running a B & B. She writes of the retreat: “My first experience of communal silence. I found it very powerful.”
Brenda Roy shows one of her creations to Jen Newton while other participants look on – note the warm clothing and beanies! It can be very chilly at Silver Wattle Quaker Centre.
Eileen Catanzariti was a non-Quaker at the retreat. She writes: “After a day of silence we walk down to the sacred fire. The fire is lit and as the wood burns, a gritty earthy smell is released. The wind sweeps down and picks up a cloud of whitish, grey smoke. I am engulfed in a melancholy wind that drifts towards me. Out of the depths of sadness, new growth emerges. Energy, Movement, Direction, Regeneration.”
And the joy continued as we reached home and shared our treasures. Brenda Roy, WARM, writes: “My granddaughter, Abby, loved her wrist band. … My dyeing efforts were much admired, especially the colour from the native cherry.”
And expressing the thanks in all of us, Brenda writes: “Thank you, Jen, for all the work you put into the planning and to everyone for your companionship and sharing over the week.”
Helen Gould played piano most days, providing enjoyment to the listeners and creating new songs and musical works for her choir and for singing at our evening epilogues.
Above, a floral mandala made by Freya Paton, NSW RM and redistributed by the winds and rain.
Some references to some of the deepening meditations and prayers of the week that Friends may wish to visit:
- Neil Douglas Klot: Prayers of the Cosmos (a translation of The Lord’s Prayer from the Aramaic)
Meditation from Sandtalk by Tyson Yunkaporta (caution, some Friends found they had to switch off to protect themselves, others found it profound)
1. John Coleman
Shade Tree Place
Heard a Rumour
2. Monk in the World: Songs for Contemplative living
By Abbey of the Arts
3. The Soul’s Slow Ripening: Songs for Celtic Seekers
By Abbey of the Arts
4. Earth, Our Original Monastery: Singing our way to the Sacred
By Abbey of the Arts
5. Follow the Sun from Spirit Bird album by Xavier Rudd
6. Circle of Life The Lion King album
1-4 can be bought and downloaded to your phone or iPad from Bandcamp
5 + 6 are available on Spotify.
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