Enriching our community by building a creative network of practitioners in the arts and ecology through inspiration and place.
The Evolution of the Willowtail Springs' Vision and Operations
Today, with a strong Board and staff, the future of Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center to accomplish its mission looks positive: "Enriching our community by building a creative network of practitioners in the arts and ecology through inspiration and place." We got here through the hard work of two dedicated individuals and assistance from the SW Colorado community. This is how we arrived at this happy place:
In 1992, Peggy Conklin, a successful Seattle visionary artist, purchased 40 secluded acres of picturesque property outside Mancos, Colorado, repaired and renovated historical buildings, transforming the property into an inspirational oasis of natural beauty and creation. To finance her vision, she renovated the three cabins to rent them for creative retreats and hands-on study. In 1999, Peggy's friend Lee Cloy left his Property Management position at the Archdiocese of Seattle to join Peggy and teach Tai Chi classes, which they offered on-site to the local community. The two soon married and Lee took over management of Willowtail's vast resources.
By 2011, the Cloys had further enhanced the three cabins, barn and an artist studio and built a second barn and a Gallery/Meeting space. They also purchased twenty additional acres to extend the property and water systems. Small business loans and grants from the state and federal sources enabled them to send irrigation water throughout the 60 acres and create wildlife ponds, enhancing habitat for large raptors. Lee stocked the main lake with local fish. With help from scientists, Lee initiated a four-year program to save 7500 pinion and ponderosa trees from infestation by the IPS beetle. Now over 150 bird species either live on the property or migrate through. Willowtail now holds a special appeal for working scientists and artists of all disciplines; natural scientists as a site to study what the rich environment offers; and visual and performance artists for creative inspiration. The idea of supporting Residencies in the Arts and Natural Sciences soon emerged to increase accessibility to the grounds and its buildings for artists and scientists who could not afford extended stays.
2012-2019: Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center sought and gained nonprofit tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization and formed a Board to oversee it. Peggy and Lee worked hard to form partnerships with local arts groups and obtained funding from local resources and foundations to help support a program of subsidized Residencies for the Arts and Natural Sciences, which began to grow and attract both candidates and funding sources from well outside the area, both national and international. Importantly, as part of their commitment, each studio resident agrees to share their process and work with the local community via presentations, demonstrations, workshops and/or classes.
Despite these encouraging programmatic successes, various economic challenges led to a need to change how Willowtail is managed in the future. Fortunately, in 2018, long-time supporter and Board member, Margi Gaddis, stepped in to buy the property and lease it back to Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center. Terms of the agreement stipulate that the Cloys remain on the premises to continue operations. This enabled the Board and Staff to reorganize the business model into one combined entity, operating under a 501(c)(3) umbrella, which provides increased operational efficiencies and an ability to expand educational programs focused on the environment.
Now in 2020, with a strong Board and staff we are fully confident in our enhanced capability to grow our mission. The environmental focus of Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center definitely looks promising. We feel that we can confidently and truly "enrich our community by building a creative network of practitioners in the arts and ecology through inspiration and place."
"Much of my life experience and writing have been intimately connected to specific places in the natural world. Willowtail's entire environment -- my encounters with deer and waterfowl and ancient trees -- connected me to the land in a way that proved especially productive.
The visibly caring staff and caretakers at Willowtail created the kind of welcoming environment that encouraged both of us to make the most of our working time. There was absolute respect for our privacy and our time there.
As a Mvskoke person, my blood memories are often enriched by time spent on and near water. I was able to find that connection to my own experience in ways that surprised and satisfied me. Willowtail led me easily into a creative mindset that energized my Indigenous purpose."
Michael Thompson, Writer 2020 Willowtail Resident
"Our Willowtail Art Residency was a lovely gift of time and space, in the Garden Cottage, the Studio and the entire environment. My relaxed and happy soul fueled creativity and energy.
With time to reflect, I found it healing to revisit and to begin to write about trauma that I had previously dismissed. Exploring different poetic devices challenged my usual writing style. It was rejuvenating to paint, and cut and glue down collages, as I had plenty of inspiration.
Really, I didn't realize how much I needed this residency until I was in the middle of it. This was the first artist residency I had ever taken. The self-care and focus on my art will surely help to free up a bit more of my confidence as an artist. "
Tina Deschenie, Poet and Artist 2020 Willowtail Resident
"As a lifelong lover of Nature, trained forester/entomologist, avid birder and devotee of the Arts, I see Willowtail Springs as important in myriad ways. Ecologically, its spring, umbilical to an invisible aquifer in the midst of an arid pinyon-juniper forest, breeds life. The structures and plantings exist in harmony with, and in some cases enhance, the native landscape. Perhaps its strongest asset in this age of increasing human disconnection from "wildness" and over-obsession with technology is its celebration of two things: our proper oneness with the environment and the resultant creativity that reunion ignites. Education, perhaps our species' most noble enterprise, is rampant at Willowtail Springs. The place, together with its creative owners and adoring visitors, deserves to reach its boundless potential."
David Leatherman, CO State Entomologist
Unlike other residencies, Willowtail is not about a place-name recognition, or personal Cloy résumé. It is about sharing the aesthetically abundant and rich life of Peggy and Lee.They generously hold the deep, vast, warm and wide open space and time for those most fortunate to work within their land and life-setting. Thank you so very much for this gift.
My own work needed a private boost of professionalism in a trusted space where I didn't have to explain and justify, over and over again, the worth of my work.
Willowtail Springs, the place, was patient with us. Its beauty and strength lingered beside us, just beyond our peripheral vision, just beyond our tasks-at-hand. The studio environment swelled the impact of the generosity we received. We were struck by the gentility of the internal heart-value which was organized around our work for us. Thank you for that, as well.
Sonja Horoshko, Artist and Writer 2020 Willowtail Resident
"It is important to honor and preserve the creative nature that we are all born with, particularly artists, and particularly in this busy world that tends to lead us to believe that all answers come from the "outside", like cell phones and Siri and television. Willowtail provides a peaceful natural setting in which an artist can reconnect with his or her own creative muse, and in turn, pass that gift along to the rest of us, that we so badly need, whether we are aware of this or not."
Margi Johnson-Goddis, New Owner of Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center
I have two bodies of work relevant to its southwest Colorado environment - an eleven-year series of large paintings of individual burned trees and a three-year series of artist books about bark beetles, using the wood and bark of their target trees as medium. Since these are preoccupations for much of the region, I found not only a personal welcome but professional interest in the work. Something I have experienced in every Willowtail residency is some surprise I could not have predicted. Two years ago, Willowtail received a Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation grant to foster a collaboration. I was paired together with Durango author and wild land firefighter Lorena Williams, enriching and deepening the burned tree body of work. Her stories, together with my paintings, have resulted in several exhibitions not only in traditional art venues, like galleries and museums, but also in downtown storefronts and community centers.
Suze Woolf, visual artist, three-time WIllowtail Springs Studio Resident
"Willowtail is a space of great intention. The founder's care and vision are ever present-from the framing of the landscape through the windows, to the wending through the woods, to the picturesque accommodations. My days at Willowtail were balanced between reading next to the fireplace, drawing in the studio, and snowshoeing around the property. Even though the views were expansive, I was deeply focused and without distraction during my residency. I had set very ambitious goals, and I not only met them, but exceeded them and became deeply enchanted with the land and logic of Willowtail!"
Nina Elder, Artist and Activist
My Willowtail experience - from conceiving a proposal to the actual residency to executing and realizing my project - was a catalyst for so many creative endeavors that did not exist nor would have been possible otherwise. It was not simply the physical space of Willowtail, for all its beauty, I can write anywhere. It was Willowtail's Energetic creative power, which showed me what I needed to write."
David Holub, founder, DGO magazine, writer, playwright, actor
"I have watched Willowtail almost 10 years become a cultural and environmental hub for artists, ecologists and the community. The activities have created a synergy and awareness of the importance of the arts and nature in our small rural community. The amazing ways it enriches, impacts and brings other activities together has been a true positive change-maker, a treasured resource."
Mary Marks, writer and member of Mancos/Durango/Cortez/Dolores community
The Student Artist-In-Residence program at Willowtail allows my art students to be recognized for their artistic thinking and the artworks they create. It helps them understand that they are a part of the greater art world community and that their artistic ideas and work have value beyond the walls of the classroom."
Roxie Mitchell, artist, art teacher Durango High School
"Only poetry can best describe this place. To some it may feel sacred, to others it is a connection that has been lost and reclaimed when the quiet and stillness are loudest."
Margy Dudley, writer, Photographer, former owner, Open Shutter Gallery, Durango
"The energetic make-up of Willowtail forms a protective container of protection, freedom and inspiration for artists to create in ways they have not done before, filled with unimaginable calm and the intensity to work. Only after the residency do you realize the giant leaps which have been made in your artistic development and career."
Carol Meckling, painter, sculptor