Habitable Spaces: Exploring big sky country


Island artist duo Danielle Mulcahy and Walker Roman hit the road at the beginning of October, armed with a renovated fifth-wheel trailer, all of their possessions, and art-making materials. Their goal is to make art, sell art at different venues and pop-ups, educate about art making, and live more simply, responsibly, and in the present. See more at barnyardsaintsart.com. They last wrote on March 1 from Texas, where they learned the two-step.

I have always heard of and wondered about “big sky country.” Seeing it dominate the landscape while rolling through rural Texas was worth every moment. Entering the rusty blue gate that said “Habitable Spaces,” I didn’t know what to expect. Walker remarked how the dirt road and the short trees looked like somewhere on Martha’s Vineyard. This would be our landing place for the next few weeks, through a short artists’ residency.

Habitable Spaces is a small, grassroots sustainable farm and artist community in Kingsbury, Texas. It was founded five years ago by artists and farmers Alison Ward and Shane Heinemeier. As we took the corner around the driveway, we saw all of the little buildings, the community house/kitchen, the bathhouse/tool shed, the Woofers yurt, a tiny pallet house, Shane and Alison’s tiny house, and numerous works in progress. Utilizing almost exclusively salvaged and recycled materials, everything there was built by the hands of folks who live and work at Habitable Spaces or its local community.

When we pulled into our parking spot, we managed to get the trailer stuck. After a quick call to a neighbor, Sam came by to help. An older gentlemen with a kind face and polite tone, he and his son Jeremy saved the the day. Sam got his trucker’s license at 16 years old, and he moved us out of the tight spot with grace and ease, and forded a thick patch of Texas mud. We thanked him profusely, and he told us he would be seeing us again at the fiber workshop Walker and I were leading the following week.

Alison and Shane are both talented artists who now put their creative energy into the farm and surrounding town. With goats, rabbits, chickens, quail, ducks, a couple of very loud guard geese, multiple gardens, an orchard, and monthly events, their hands are full. After spearheading Kingsbury’s incorporation a few years ago to protect its taxpayers from the encroaching city of Seguin, Habitable Spaces became a hub of the community. As a result, they have cultivated a fantastic relationship with the locals. We admired their dedication to their town and the folks they share it with.

On the farm was the inner network of the permanent and visiting residents. There was always something being worked on, someone making bread for the shared dinners every night, and usually an artist in residence working away. This month, Eleanor Scholz was working on intricate patterned wood panels to be permanently installed in the ceiling of the common house. If the farm was quiet, you could always count on the company of a dog, or five. Whenever I decided to take a walk or a bike ride along the paths twisting among the 190 acres of forest, old cotton fields, and cactus, I could count on a dog chauffeur.

During our stay we gave a fiber workshop where people made, assembled, and decorated their own drop spindles (a simple device used by the ancients to spin yarn, long before the invention of a spinning wheel), then learned to spin yarn. Sam and his wife Joan have a beautiful farm down the road, and offered a couple of sheep yet to be shorn. I anticipated a shearer coming, but once we arrived, Joan had the shears out, and we all took turns attempting to give that sheep a close shave. Our cut job was far from perfect — it’s a good thing the sheep didn’t have a mirror; it looked like it got run over by a lawnmower. It was fun working with different material, but I have never worked with Texas sheep, and found myself picking cactus spines out of my fingers now and then.

The workshop was a success; we were pleased to see how many locals came out to participate. Young, old, men and women were all focused and spinning at one point. Tricky at first, hand-spinning can be very relaxing once you get the hang of it. After we spun and worked up an appetite, Shane smoked some local venison, and the group feasted on the homemade products of the farm and veggies from neighbors. I remember Alison telling me how important it was for them to have something like Habitable Spaces available to rural communities such as Kingsbury. The space is not just a fertile gathering place for connecting and socializing, but also a place of education on sustainability, a safe place where visitors can build bridges of better understanding into their own creativity. Our visit was a inspiration, and a window into our own future of building community, sustainable lifestyles, and making art along the way.