Find Your Inner Donald Judd at Marfa’s New Art Camp for Adults

Scott Indrisek
Sep 13, 2017 9:02PM

It’s part of what the New Yorker calls the “Peter Pan market”: a vogue for youthful things (coloring books, summer camps, even faux pre-school classes) rebooted for an adult audience. And while some may bristle at the conceit—which, fair enough, can occasionally seem ripe for a Portlandia parody—it’s worth considering the merits. For some, it might even be a fast-track to recover a lost creative impulse, all over the course of a long weekend.

The latest concept in this vein is Creator Camp, co-founded by Margaret Williamson Bechtold and Shonagh Speirs (who bill themselves as a “creative consultant/futurist” and “designer/instructor,” respectively). From October 26th through 29th, they’ll kick off their first “art camp for adults” in Marfa, Texas. Future iterations, the duo say, could feasibly take place in Mexico City or Ojai, California, among other destinations. The four-day camp in Marfa will cost participants $875, which covers all activities, materials, and meals, but does not include travel or accomodations.

Part of the goal, as Bechtold explains it, is to bring back that “running-around-the-house-blindfolded-as-a-child feeling.” In other words: a sense of wonder, play, and unbridled creativity. Only for Bechtold and her partner, the target demographic isn’t kids—it’s grown-up artists and designers who need a quick recharge.

Bechtold and Speirs, who both work in the design and fashion worlds, met in Austin. They both know the freelance life well, and thought that Creator Camp might appeal to other creative workers, who lack the social sphere of an office. “We’re often in our own studio all day, alone,” Bechtold says. “We could benefit from the camaraderie of being in a camp, and thought that other designers could, too…as well as someone who’s still in the New York or L.A. grind, and needs a weekend to  clear their head, to think differently—but not on the beach with a drink.”


While some adult-geared summer camps more consciously appeal to nostalgia—with egg tosses, rafting, and relay races—Creator Camp aims to be more work-focused. All activities will take place at a centrally located house in Marfa that sports a hammock-filled patio. The centerpiece will be a day-long group session in which participants conceive and produce wearable “soft sculptures”—akin to a “Commes des Garçons-style garment,” Bechtold says. The sculptural clothing will have “a place to put your head, but it may have three arms,” she adds.

Speirs, who runs a fashion label called Being Apparel, will be leading that workshop. “It developed due to a way of working that changed my life as a designer,” she says. “When I realized that I could free myself from the mathematical headache that was pattern-cutting, and just work with my hands to create beautiful silhouettes—everything clicked into place. The freedom to just create, free of rules, was very liberating, and I wanted to share this.”

Creator Camp will also include group outings to important local institutions—like Ballroom Marfa and Marfa Contemporary—as well as that living shrine to Donald Judd, the Chinatsu Ban. “We’re of course inspired by Judd’s vision of Marfa and are drawn there for so many of the same reasons: wide open space, fresh air, blank canvases, beautiful light,” Bechtold says. “We’ll do a guided tour of The Block, the property that houses Judd’s personal home and libraries, and use what we learn of his personal, creative process as a touchpoint throughout the weekend as we discuss our own.”

Work by Donald Judd at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Photo by Paul Joseph, via Flickr.

Also on the schedule: fireside chats with a to-be-determined list of local creative luminaries; plenty of food; and a yoga component, albeit a populist one. “I want it to be yoga for creative people,” Bechtold says. “I want it to be silly.” And while artists and designers are clearly the focus of Creator Camp’s outreach, they don’t want a homogenous group. “I want people who are really going to take a leap,” Bechtold says, “someone who has been told they haven’t been creative since they were in kindergarten. People with open minds, ready to embrace the weirdness, to be hands-on and vulnerable. My husband is a CPA, and I hope we get half of his office there.”

“We see the process as more important than what is made,” Speirs adds, “so people don’t have to be the best at drawing or making to have an amazing time.”

The philosophy behind the various workshops and other events, Bechtold explains, is “akin to writing with your left hand instead of your right. Doing things that will strengthen your problem-solving and design skills, but in a really abstract way.”

Beyond the camaraderie, the scenery, and the Minimalist sightseeing, “the structure” is an important benefit of Creator Camp’s first edition, Bechtold says: “There’s something about getting away, but with a to-do list that’s not connected to your everyday life. It’s like a really organized vacation. It holds your feet to the fire and makes sure you’re going to follow through on all these things you’ve been meaning to do.”

Plenty of artists I’ve encountered have attested to the transformative powers of camp. “I don’t think a week goes by where I don’t think back to some foundational experience that occurred at camp and that affects almost everything I am,” says Jason Covert, reflecting on five years at a YMCA-sponsored camp in the Berkshires. “To say it influenced my artwork would be an understatement.” Painter Jen Hitchings cites pivotal day-camp experiences (plus outings with the Girl Scouts) as one of the inspirations behind an ongoing series of canvases that recast forest landscapes in a magical, quasi-psychedelic palette.

Jen Hitchings, Cabin Fever, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

But fond memories are one thing; adult life is another. Is reigniting the youthful energy of summer camp really possible when we’re older? Would an “art camp for adults” work for a stressed-out 35-year-old designer worrying about his healthcare plan and wondering why he hasn’t been paid for that sneaker logo he delivered two months ago?

I spoke to Molly Krause, an art-world publicist and camp aficionado. “It’s no Marfa, but I went to a Reform Jewish summer camp in Zionsville, Indiana, for 10 summers,” she tells me. “They say camp is the most magical place on earth, and I really believe that’s true. I don’t want to call camp a ‘cult,’ per se, but to an onlooker of any camp community…they might be confused.”

Krause contends that the camp experience can indeed inform and enlighten adults; she’s personally taken part in Offsite, a now-defunct grown-up summer camp with a focus on craft and food. “The camp experience is absolutely transferrable to adulthood,” she says. “In fact, having the same ingredients for creativity—minus the rules, plus 15 or so years of maturity—simply enhances the same experience, intention, and takeaway.”

Scott Indrisek