By Sarah Merrill
Providence artist Margaret Owen has an adventurous mind. Those who’ve joined her for a painting, drawing or collage workshop have observed that even when she is teaching, Owen is always exploring and considering. She doesn’t pretend to know things, and in faithfully not knowing, she is a wonderful teacher. In a recent interview with blogger Sofia Amarchi, Owen was asked about the traits that make her a successful artist. She responded, “To continue to inhabit an attitude of playful inquiry despite the cacophony of voices in your head—and the dishes in the sink.”
In keeping with her exploratory nature, this spring Owen is leaving those dirty dishes far behind to journey to Marrakesh, Morocco. In March, she and a colleague (fellow graduate of the New York Academy of Art, Elizabeth Hutchinson) will be teaching a drawing/painting workshop as part of the Moroccan Sketchbook retreat. For seven nights guests will inhabit a luxurious and soothing spot called Peacock Pavilions, complete with its own olive grove. Owen came across the retreat while following a blog called My Marrakesh, written by renowned designer Maryam Montague. The blog has something of a cult following, perhaps unsurprising since Marrakesh has is among today’s most hip destinations. The city was recently called “an obligatory stop for jet-setters” (Charlie Wilder, New York Times, 12/26/2010).
How fitting that Owen is headed for the Pavilions, since Montague created the retreat in hopes of attracting “talented” and “creative spirits.” The 12 (incredibly lucky) guests who participate in the Moroccan Sketchbook (March 11-18) will enjoy fresh, local Moroccan cuisine, tours of Marrakesh, belly dancing, pilates classes, spa treatments, and a visit to an ancient seaside town. There will of course be daily drawing and painting, although Owen stresses that experience and skill are not necessary.
Owen has told novice students that learning to put paint on paper in an appealing way “isn’t rocket science,” although it does require learning to look at things in a certain way. Through Owen’s eyes, for example, the most common objects take on a vibrant complexity; things like lemons on a table or birds on a branch become irresistibly colorful and dynamic. Her daily painting blog, offers a tour of her colorful style and has won her many devoted fans.
It’s important to note that Owen didn’t just get up one morning and decide to go to Morocco. In addition to nourishing her art career, she parents a 6-year-old boy and runs a household. Her husband, Michael Owen is an installer at the RISD museum and also a painter. Although this existence sounds romantic, Margaret’s life is cluttered with the same urgent and unromantic matters that tether most of us to the ground: a mortgage to pay; the rising costs of living; a child to (gulp) guide through life. The difficultly of navigating around such practicalities has kept exotic travel squarely in the realm of day dream. Owen explains that her Moroccan vision was fanned to life when she read Elizabeth Gilbert’s inspiring travel memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love” (Viking, 2006). Gilbert’s journey made her ask, “Why shouldn’t I go exactly where I want, just because it’s an inarticulate yearning?’”
In truth, Owen’s yearning to travel to Morocco was quite articulate. She says that in 2009, her “inspiration journal” began to fill up with images of Islamic architecture, and textiles and ornamentation. Further, as an adolescent she loved carpets, suzanis and tile work. And she was raised by “a couple of Francophiles”: her father a Proust scholar, her mother a master of French cooking. Owen and her sister were fluent in French as preschoolers, and she’s been brushing up on her language skills in preparation for her adventure. Come March, she’ll be more than ready to find her adventurous self (pencils and journal in hand) exploring the vibrant colors of a Moroccan market. Ready to embrace your own adventurous self? Visit http://www.moroccansketchbook.com/morocco_sketchbook_04.pdf for more details.
Visit www.margaretmowen.com to take a look at Margaret’s art and learn more about her classes. Be on the lookout this week for a casapinka post to see the results of another family’s travel sketch project.
Sarah J. Merrill is a personal historian who works with individuals and families to gather their life stories. She lives with her husband and two sons in North Smithfield, RI.