Local artist Gail Walters became involved with *culture is not optional and The Huss Project four years ago when Rob and Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma approached the Three Rivers Artists Guild to participate in the 2010 Huss Future Festival. Since then, she has made Huss School a second home for her artistic pursuits, renting out a space as her studio and coming in several times a week.
We’re sitting in a big, nearly empty room, what used to be an elementary school classroom. In one corner, Gail has set up her easel and a stool, with a paper folding screen for some privacy. When I ask her what she does there, she laughs.
“Well, I don’t do enough,” she says with a smile. “It’s been a slow process, but my personal artistic goal is to play at painting all summer long instead of doing my usual mixed-media art with fiber and fabric.”
Gail’s paintings are colorful and abstract, with swirls and shapes covering every blank spot on the sketch paper. She explains that she’s not trying to paint seriously, or even shoot for realism. Instead, her loose, freestyle technique is meant for her to rediscover her childlike side that creates spontaneously, and in the moment.
Gail was trained as a nurse, but here in Three Rivers, her involvement with the community ranges from sorting books in the library at St. Gregory’s Abbey to being a founding member of the Three Rivers Artists Guild, an organization of artists who promote and encourage the visual arts created within Three Rivers. When asked about her connection to the community at Huss, she says, “I care about Three Rivers, and The Huss Project is part of that, but it’s also deeper. I have really strong and deep feelings for what *cino is trying to do here. I’m so impressed with all of you, and what your goals and visions are.”
She says of *culture is not optional:
What all of you represent is a generation of individuals living out a grassroots vision of being in the world and being part of the world. We’re all on this planet, together, and we’re all connected. I see *cino as understanding that, and wanting to foster that view, supporting and encouraging each other to be as whole and healthy and awake as we can be. You don’t see that very often. The world has all kinds of individuals and groups that are trying to do this very same thing and I’m just thrilled that there is this lovely group in Three Rivers that is doing it.
Gail values what *culture is not optional upholds in its vision of hospitality, the idea that in living their values and sharing themselves with others, *cino can invite others in exactly as they are, and craft a unique place for them. Gail knows this well. She works quietly at Huss, creating, discovering and growing.
We’re looking around the room now. The sunlight streams in through the large windows, illuminating the fading wallpaper. I ask Gail where she sees *cino and The Huss Project in ten to fifteen years. She exhales. “Well,” she says, “as far as *cino goes, just keep doing what they’re doing and growing and absorbing into the hearts and minds of the community that they’re in. It’s going to take time. As for Huss, I’d love to see it rockin’ and rollin’!” Gail waves her hands to make her point clear. She can’t wait for it to become a community center, and wants a Huss Future Festival to happen every year.
I watch Gail finish up a sketch. Huss School has become a place of self-discovery for her, a place to step outside her comfort zone, where she can find herself awake to the creative life around her.
Come check out Gail’s work and the work of other area artists at Huss Future Festival on July 20, which will feature art vendors and an installation exhibit from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., in addition to a plethora of other activities for all ages throughout the day.