Jillian Youngbird worked as an artist-in-residence at Prairieside Outpost in August 2017, as part of the Tallgrass Artist Residency program. Jillian is based in Kansas City, where she was a 2017 artist-in-residence and received the 2018 Visual Art Award through Charlotte Street Foundation.
I traveled to Prairieside Cottage from Kansas City on a warm July day. Scattered wisps of clouds floated through the air like the prairie had joyful secrets to tell me. I was there for a residency for the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, and although the prairie was my ultimate destination, the cottage immediately felt like home. If I could dream up a home in my head and will it into existence, this was it. Down to the giant bookshelf full of art and history books, the tomato ceramics in the kitchen, the art, to the vintage children's toys in the office. I was absolutely giddy. I ran around like a child in a new tree house, in awe of all of the tiny details of the place. I had to keep reminding myself to work and not get distracted by the Cowboy Boot Book, or the tiny deer figurines on the shelves above the reading chairs. It was magical.
But I finally got settled in and started working on a bison head mask made from cardboard, fabric and sheep's wool. I worked on this throughout the next few days, while also going on treks in the Tallgrass preserve and around the cottage. I couldn't get over how pastel things were there in that part of Kansas. The sunrises and sunsets were vivid and muted all at the same time, with the most cotton candy colors you could imagine. The river rocks were stained pinks and light greens. This led me to watercolor paintings of rocks I had found in nearby streams and some that were on the shelves in the cottage.
I did some bird watching on the back deck one evening and saw what looked like a black iridescent bird with a white chest. I'm no expert bird watcher, but one of the native Kansas bird books told me it was a magpie. I wrote short stories about the magpie and did a couple of paintings of them.
Artistically, the environment the cottage provided was electric and as cozy all at once. When I wasn't working on art, I was reading, watching the grasses playfully sway out of the dining room window, and having lovely meals for one. Every day was warm and beautiful, but I was waiting for a storm. I so badly wanted to watch lighting out of those giant windows. Several times I was teased by some distant thunder, but it wasn't until my very last night there that I got the fireworks I was hoping for. A Summer storm rolled through around 10pm that night, and I sipped on a glass of whiskey on the front porch, smelling the sweet, damp air while cool droplets of rain hit my naked toes and thunder shook my wooden chair.
To say that I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to stay in such a magical place for 10 days is just silly, because I am much more than grateful. I feel like I got to experience something I might not ever again, and not only that, but it was mine. For those 10 days, I lived in my own fairy tale - the kind of thing a child dreams about - running away to your own magic house to play and create and imagine.