Conversation and inspiration at Willow House’s first Black artist residency

“Double Vision Double Cactus” by Jonathan Jackson. Photo courtesy of the artist

TERLINGUA — Suitcases, toiletries and hiking boots. This is what usually accompanies the guests that stay in the Willow House — a desert-draped luxury getaway in Terlingua, Texas. But for two weeks during the dog days of summer, these suitcases were accompanied by canvases, and boots were swapped for brushes as the hotel became home to an art residency that was designed to highlight and support the works of several Black artists.

John Paul Jackson, a former West Texas resident and painter, was one of those artists, and he said that his return to the desert brought immediate inspiration as he detailed his routine of morning hikes and afternoon painting. Another thing Jackson was able to find in the desert was peace.

“I don’t know if it is West Texas, or if it’s nature in general, but it makes you put things in a different light … I think it’s the peacefulness that exists with nature, there is so much noise going on in a city landscape and it just causes a lot of static in our brains. But in the desert it is so quiet, and it just allows our imaginations to be so much louder.” said Jackson.

Jackson said the increased inspiration from the quiet landscape was something that other artists experienced too, noting that they even had conversations about why they felt the roaming mountainsides of West Texas were so inspiring. Jackson said one of the reasons they came up with was perspective.

One of Jackson’s goals during the residency was to “start a conversation” with his art, especially in a time when perspective is so important. Jackson said the trip, by this measurement, was certainly a success as he recounted various conversations that he had with the other artists as well as West Texas residents saying it really reminded him of “the importance of conversation.”

Lauren Werner, owner of the Willow House, made the decision to have a Black artist residency earlier this summer as a response to the ongoing racial unrest that was and still is being seen via countless demonstrations across the country.

Werner spoke about how the residency allowed her and others to have great conversations with so many creatives from different backgrounds and parts of the country about their experiences as Black artists and Americans.

And as a purely creative exploration, Werner said that having so many talented people at the Willow House was an experience in itself.

“We have never had the entire property occupied by just creatives, so that experience alone was great to be able to have, especially when everyone has a different artistic focus and you get to witness so many things come together at once,” said Werner.

Werner alluded to the unrest in the country, saying that she felt blessed to be able to be surrounded by such positive and creative people. Werner went on to say that it was great to see all of the artists embrace West Texas and see the work that emerged.

Werner hinted at wanting to do another artist residency at the Willow House but said that only time will tell whether or not that will become a reality, especially with the increased unpredictability that COVID-19 has brought.