A slice of heaven at Haystack

Posted by on Oct 13, 2017 in Drawing, Travels | 16 comments

Haystack Mountain School of Craft’s legendary Open Door has been on my radar for awhile. This was the year I threw my name into the lottery aimed exclusively at Mainers for a three-day intensive of creative immersion and GOT IN, hallelujah! I gleefully made the 4 hour drive from Portland to Deer Isle last Friday.

I’ve visited Haystack before, just to marvel at the steep spine of stairs down to the ocean’s edge. Now I could actually stay.

Everything is rustic, with striking architecture and slanting light. I was the first to check into my cabin. I found out later in the evening that RISD President Rosanne Somerson designed the new beds, which were perfect for dreaming.

I followed a nearby trail through piney woods to the rocky shore. While the light slipped away, I sketched this boulder that looked like a frog.

The food is fabled to be the best ever. And it’s true! Every meal was like a Thanksgiving table of plenty.

During a welcome session after dinner, I learned about the founder, Mary Beasom Bishop, and the influence other schools of craft, such as Penland, Black Mountain School, and Cranbrook, had on her strong belief in creative community.

We headed to our respective studios, where this sweet stash of supplies awaited students in Christine Mauersberger’s Mindful Stitching workshop.

We made introductions, and heard what brought each of us to the table. Among us were textile artists, knitters, a middle school teacher, a potter, a painter, a therapist. All of us drawn to the word mindful.

Christine quoted the poet Mary Oliver, inviting us to “tap into the wild silky part of ourselves.” This is one of Christine’s stunning works in progress in the foreground below.

Under bright moonlight, we headed to our cabins, eager for the next day. Saturday’s studio session began with a simple drawing prompt: draw a spiral with lines as close as possible.

That opened our focus to stitch a circle. Next we drew lines that were the length of our breath. Many lines on paper, inhale and exhales, which were then transferred to cloth. Slow stitching began. As the early morning fog burned off, the sun emerged, drawing us outside. Christine led us down, down, down the steps.

Past my cabin 24.

Through the shadowy forest to the sparkling shore.

Kyra’s stretch seems to hold up the sky.

Christina read a quote by Agnes Martin: “It is so hard to slow down to the pace where it is possible to explore one’s mind.”

Walking back for lunch, I noticed a circle of moss, like a moon on the forest floor.

Maybe Pettina saw it, too. I love the striking contrast here!

This is Christina’s graceful lettering of a Rumi quote. We all slipped into our intuitive marks.

Here’s another translation of the drawn to the stitched by Christina. She said, “Let drawings crafted by your senses shape your meandering thoughts.”

Here is the magnificent evidence of Susan’s breath.

The weather changed quickly, kicking up a sudden shower.

Saturday night’s dessert was like birthday cake to infinity.

We gathered for presentations from three of the teaching artists, Holly Walker, Dietlind Vander Schaaf, and Annie Finch. All of them spoke in ideas that overlapped. Holly talked about the “tempo fluctuating” in her ceramics, and she uses “cursive surfaces” to create her playful forms. Dietlind talked about “seeking stillness” with yoga and finding the meditative state of her interior landscapes, using line and pattern to discover natural beauty amid decay. Annie performed several poems, one fragment of which I jotted down: Point your fire like a flower.

That line still rang in my head on Sunday morning when Christine gave us another drawing prompt. She asked us to draw the outline of our fingertips, then remove our hand from the paper and keep drawing whatever came to mind. The drawing on the right became the stitching on the left, as the day moved on.

Here is a bold collage with shape and pattern by Jess.

Chris stitched over gorgeous fabric she had hand-dyed previously so that her circle floats dreamily in space.

Even the gong in the dining hall was speaking to me!

Christine was ever vivacious, full of stories, inspiring words, and demonstrations of her methods. Here she is talking salt: how spilling salt on black paper can trigger intuitive marks, too.

Like on this black wool skirt she stitched after drawing with her finger in a pile of salt.

This is Andrea’s salt stitching, like comets soaring across the sky over swirling seas


The wind was wild that day. Talk about swirly seas! I visited the rocks when the high tide surged into every crevice.

Bobbi tore some white fabric, creating positive shapes against black linen. Everyone was amazing me with their responses to the materials!

Ginger used her nature studies as inspiration.

Ingrid made cool collages with fabric bits. And how about that skirt?

Jennifer made this exquisitely layered stitching on a vintage tablecloth.

Julie stitched this exuberant whimsy inspired by the fingertip drawing prompt. It pulses with joy.

Kyra was having a blast with her playful circles and looping lines.

Kelly’s stack of circles are like a goddess figure of spinning forms.

On Sunday night, we saw presentations from the remaining teaching artists: Tanya Crane, Jenna Goldberg, Aaron Beck, and Christine Mauersberger. I felt deeply full, from the last supper and their combined wisdom.

On Monday morning, we secretly made a collective stitching to offer our gratitude to Christine.

We cleared up our studio, pinned our works to the walls, and shared the highs, lows, and what we will take away from the workshop. I confess I got totally choked up by the revelations and joys shared.

At 11 AM, the open studios walk through began. Next door in Dietlind Vander Schaaf’s encaustic painting class, I saw tremendous simpatico with our class, particularly in this piece by Kimberly.

Loved this piece by Lori !

I ran into a former MECA student of mine, Erika. She was in a 2D design class many years ago, and is now the co-owner of Norway Brewing. She still has her pattern theory down, with these lovely odes to the hop in Tanya Crane’s Enamel Mosaics workshop.

These pieces by Lauren are like cairns of magic.

Clearly the clay folks had too much fun as well.

Rebecca’s plates make great use of pattern play.

I was dazzled by the Band Saw Boxes in Jenna Goldberg’s workshop. This interior by Sarah is divine.

The TA for the workshop, Aaron, made this swanky thing. I could efficiently store all my favorite pastels in here.

Even the writing students got into the visual with colorful mandalas of words!

The blacksmithing workshop focused on making chess sets, among other things. This is by Michael, a former Peaks Islander and founder of Sacred and Profane.

The whole class made a collective set, too.

The serenity of boulders and fragrant pines was hard to leave.

I went back to the fiber studio. This piece of mine began with that first circle, and kept my wandering thoughts on every stitch.

Christine’s words on the blackboard said it all.

Thank you, Haystack! Thank you, Christine! My soul feasted on your unforgettable beauty in the company of incredible artists. What good fortune to take away all the moments of play, new connections, and a swirl of inspiration.









  1. WOW! I have always wanted to go but…got a great taste of what it is like from your photos & descriptions. A million thanks for sharing this. My heart & soul are elevated and thinking ideas more readily. Loved hearing your experience with the photos & your impressions. Thanks Jamie. XO

    • Peg, you would love it. GO next year! Thanks for reading and your sweet comments. xo

  2. Went the last week of September with Mass Art alums. Will be processing the rich textures from the trees, lichen, moss and rocks in my work for some time to come.

    • Augusta, lucky you! Such a divine place. Thanks for reading.

  3. Thanks for filling our hearts, also, Jamie, with this beautiful rendering of your time at Haystack.

    • Nicole, thanks for reading. You should go do the writing retreat there. So inspiring.

  4. It is true, every last word. I brought home so much joy and enthusiasm.

    • We need to keep the thread going. Like find another stitching rendezvous before next year.

  5. Haystack is my most favorite place. Thank you for letting me see it through your eyes. It was a great treat to see everyone’s amazing work, and to let my mind wander to new and old places both.

  6. I love your post so much! You really captured the essance of the moments spent at Haystack. Your ‘mindfulness’ shows through every word, and it was a pure joy to share that time with you! Great photos, too!

    • Thanks for reading, Bobbi! I want to do it all over again, don’t you?

  7. Oh boy………this is beautiful and such a sweet description of Open Door. I have been going to Haystack for 30 years, in a variety of roles. Our workshop really filled my heart and soul. There was tremendous love and intention in our group as our stitching deepened. Thank you for documenting and being a lovely neighbor.

    • Chris, thanks for reading. It was truly beautiful, all the good vibes there. Feeling so blessed.

  8. Jamie, this is such a wonderful account of the weekend – so thoughtful and observant and sweet. Also, an undercurrent of joy and surprise. What a pleasure it was to sit and talk and work with all of you. Thank you for sharing this!

  9. What a perfectly wonderful reportage, Jamie! Drawings, photos , your descriptions taking us along on your fulfilling 3 day journey. Loved the creative embroidery also.

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