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Thoughts on Camphill

abby rose's picture

It was our final afternoon at Camphill and I was seated in Rose Hall adding some last minute details to my portrait of Johannah. Only I and a couple others from the 360 were in the Hall working. After a long week’s attempt at representing a woman who I had just met, I finally was starting to feel alright about the way Johannah came across on the page. 

The whole week I had been struggling to communicate verbally with her, which was slightly bewildering for an overly-articulate, classroom-minded, Bryn Mawr College student. After overcoming my oral-centric means of communication, I began to learn how to listen to Johannah without needing constant speech. As I worked with her and accompanied her throughout our stay, I slowly became more comfortable with our shared silences and very brief conversations. Instead of relying on the questions that I had initially come up with in order to get to know Johannah (which she and I never ended up using), I realized that I could learn so much about Johannah from the way that she carried herself, the activities she loved/responded to the most, the interactions she had with others. However, even after a few days of spending time with her, I was at a loss as to whether or not she enjoyed being a part of the portrait project. Self-consciously, I also wondered whether or not she even liked me as her partner. For some reason, these were details I could grasp just by observation (Johannah can be a very closed book!). 

So, even as I was adding some finishing touches and becoming more satisfied with Johannah’s portrait, I still couldn’t tell how Johannah was feeling about the whole process, or even just about being the subject of a portrait. Eventually, villagers and other members of the 360 started trickling in as their jobs ended for the morning. Michael, Bridget, Charlene, Niki, and Johannah all joined me at our end of the table, a space in which we had all gotten comfortable hanging out and drawing with each other. Over the course of the week, having this meeting place to chat and focus on drawing created a low pressure environment where us students could get to know our partners better. As the open house had begun and people walked around to gaze at others’ pieces, Johannah would occasionally pull friends over to show them the portrait I had drawn of her. “That’s me!” she explained happily, and her friend would respond graciously in turn. While I was walking around and looking at all the portraits, Johannah came up to me and stood closer than she ever had before. She leaned her head on my shoulder and said to me, “I’m gonna miss you.”  

Until that final showing in Rose Hall, I was unsure where Johannah and I stood in our friendship. What that afternoon brings to mind is Riva’s prompt about how our experience with our partners would have changed had we not been creating portraits of them. That afternoon when we shared our portraits, I saw a bit of every relationship that had formed between our 360 and the villagers. For me, the portrait portion of our visit to Camphill allowed me to connect with other villagers in a safe, friendly space while I was simultaneously able to bond with my own partner. Additionally, I felt like creating a portrait of Johannah allowed me to look at her in a different, more observational light than if I had simply been shadowing her during her work day.