When Peggy and Lee Cloy started an artist residency program at Willowtail Springs four years ago, they couldn’t get much traction or interest in the program.
Now, artists line up at their door to participate, and there aren’t enough residency openings to accommodate all of them, Peggy Cloy said.
“Artists come with a proposal, but then they get here and go totally outside that,” she said on March 16. “There’s something about this place that makes people do that.”
Willowtail Springs is a nature preserve and tranquil bed and breakfast tucked into the forest about four miles north of Mancos. Peggy and Lee maintain a 60-acre property and three cabins that can accommodate about two dozen guests.
In 2012, they started inviting artists to live on their property for 1-3 weeks and create work in the private studio on the site. They created a nonprofit organization that helps fund the stays, and the Durango Arts Center also provides funding for the residencies.
The Durango artists for 2017 residencies are painter Bronwyn Strickland, photographer Kit Frost, dance troupe Twenty Moons, printmaker Laura Schiavone and painter Bethany Bachmann.
A showcase at the Durango Arts Center in September will feature these artists, as well as the other artists who participated in the first three years of the residencies. About 25 creative people will be featured, including visual artists, musicians and writers, Peggy Cloy said.
Strickland started her first day of her artist residency on March 16, and she was planning to spend about two weeks on site. She said she was looking forward to the quiet, solitude and lack of distractions during her residency at Willowtail Springs.
“To say I’m excited is an understatement,” she said.
She was enjoying spending time in nature around the property, and she was impressed by the amount of care and time the Cloys put into maintaining Willowtail, she said.
Strickland said she was looking forward to spending an extended amount of time without distractions of daily live, as well as continuing her work and learning more about psychology.
“I’m absorbing the sounds of this place,” she said.
Peggy Cloy said she bought the property in 1993, so the artist residencies and nonprofit status at Willowtail is relatively new. Artists who stay for residencies are obligated to put on a class or program for the benefit of the community, she said.
“We’re interested in educating the community about the resource here,” she said.
Operating a nonprofit organization and raising funds has been difficult for Peggy, who had limited experience in fundraising before Willowtail, she said. However, they are experiencing growth and getting more interest in their programs, she said.
Peggy Cloy worked as a visual artist in Seattle for 20 years before buying Willowtail and moving to Southwest Colorado. Peggy and Lee built a home on the property that doubles as an art gallery where Peggy displays her own work.
Peggy and Lee said they hope to see the Willowtail land preserved for years to come. The area is at an elevation just between the high desert and the mountain foothills, so the vegetation is very diverse, Peggy said.
“We would love to be able to preserve the land and leave it open to creative people,” Peggy said. “We want to see it used, and this is the best use for the property.”