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Artist/writer Steven Lang works in Traveling Museum on shores of Silver Lake

Photo by Steven Lang
The Portable Museum

On the shores of Silver Lake in Silverwood Park in St. Anthony sits a little aluminum trailer that looks sort of like a beached ice fishing house. You can knock on the door. You should knock on the door; if the writer-in-residence is home, he’ll invite you in to check out the Traveling Museum. 

“This is my home for the season, and they thought of everything I’d need,” said writer and artist Steven Lang, showing off the Rural Arts Initiative’s portable, multipurpose art space. The neat, tiny room features a typewriter on a desk, work by local artists on the walls, and a nicely curated collection of books, including nature guides and a large number of Coffee House Press titles. A propane heater makes it possible to type without the distraction of frozen fingers. In fact, the opportunity to work without distractions — including work, family life and Internet — is a vital part of the experience.

“When someone takes a chance on you, offers you this type of unique opportunity, it isn’t just something for your résumé. It’s a milestone on your artistic journey,” said Lang, who has done a couple of other residencies in the past. He’s taking vacation time from his job at the Minneapolis Institute of Art to work on his own art at Silverwood. (Mia also included Lang’s writing in “The Art of Wonder” collection.) 

Working on fiction project

Lang took up residence in the trailer beginning in February, and he’s working on fiction that centers, as it so happens, on ice fishing. The Traveling Museum was originally supposed to be placed on the lake itself, as a proper ice fishing house would be, but warm weather made it too risky to do so. He did, however, get to try out ice fishing with a park naturalist (no bites that day), and he spent his first day of the residency trying to stay warm during this mild winter’s only semblance of a blizzard.

“I arrived in pretty difficult conditions, which got worse while I was there,” said Lang. “The propane heater and battery-powered electricity had some kinks that still needed to be worked out, so on that first day I was pretty cold and the lights didn’t last long. By 5 p.m. the sun had gone down, the lights were off, the heat was off, and I was not sure I’d survive the residency.”

As a multimedia artist, Lang was eager to experience as much of the arts-focused Three Rivers Park as possible, and many seasonal activities. He tried kick sledding and animal tracking before the snow melted. As the weather warmed, he tapped maple trees and processed syrup at the park. He photographed the fading winter and wildlife; his work can be seen on The Quaking Blog.

As for the writing, he says he did eventually settle into a productive work rhythm alone on the edge of the lake, but he thinks the biggest impact on his work is yet to come. The experience and the interactions were as important as the actual quiet work time. Coffee House Press is working to get writers in residence at parks and libraries throughout Minnesota. Its CHP in the Stacks program is designed to foster connections between artists and communities, and to encourage the public to think about these public spaces as creative spaces that anyone can use

Residency validates artists

“I think a lot of the impetus behind residencies is really just to validate artists as artists, and not necessarily to set expectations during that process. I felt very welcomed and very supported as an artist at Silverwood. It takes recognition and time for an artist to feel validated, which is why longer residencies are better,” said Lang, who — because the trailer doesn’t have to come off the lake by a certain date — will continue his residency for a few more weekends. He hopes to get some more work done, and welcomes visitors, human and otherwise.

“I had interactions with a muskrat, a pileated woodpecker, field mice, and, once it got warm, quite a few curious people,” he said. “Often I would hear park visitors outside the ice house talking about it, wondering what it was, and occasionally there would be a knock at the door. People were surprised when I opened it, and all were interested in hearing about the residency.”

In other words, it’s OK to interrupt the writer-in-residence. It’s all part of the experience, and who knows? The interaction you have could become part of the art.

Event

7 p.m. March 16, Silverwood Park visitors center, St. Anthony. Lang will share photos and stories from his residency, and naturalists will be available to talk about the residency and Silverwood’s role as an arts park.

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