Williamsburg Reflections

Last week I reflected on my time at William & Mary and all the ways it has benefitted me. The program itself, however, constitutes only part of our lives from the past six years. A major reason why my experiences in the PhD program have been so positive is because of where we lived during that time, Williamsburg. Today then, I’d like to reflect on our time in this city and the things I was able to do while we were here.

One of our annual traditions in Williamsburg was to look at the wreaths in the Historic Area every holiday season.

Williamsburg and a New Sense of Place

When Brandon and I came to Williamsburg we were looking for something different. While both of us appreciated New Mexico as a whole, our feelings about Roswell were always complicated. Don’t get me wrong, we liked the Museum and we had the best landlords in the world. Yet we never fully warmed up to the actual city’s sense of place. It was just too isolated, too far away from our friends and family on the East Coast.

Williamsburg provided a much-needed and welcome change from Roswell. Its lush, verdant landscape seemed the polar opposite of Roswell’s spare, high desert environs. It reminded us of our respective homes in New England and the Gulf Coast while still being its own thing. And with Richmond and Norfolk only an hour away, and DC three hours by train, it had none of Roswell’s isolation. It was a good place to regain our bearings on the East Coast after spending several years thousands of miles away in the desert.

Expanding My Art Practice in Williamsburg

Every time I’ve moved to a new place, I’ve challenged myself to expand or evolve my creative practice. In Vermont, I took printmaking classes at Burlington City Arts. I took ceramics classes at the Roswell Museum, learning to throw on the wheel. Roswell was also where I learned to make cyanotypes.

Williamsburg was somewhat different. Due to the pandemic, I had little to no access to shared studio spaces. As a result, I took no art classes and made everything at home. Rather than learn new mediums, I found new applications for the techniques I’d already learned. I explored the potential of working on a small scale, and using my house as a canvas. Applying my cyanotyping and printmaking to new formats, I made jewelry. To keep up with my intaglio printing, I ordered a tiny press. I painted murals on the walls of my house for the first time since college. And since 2023, I’ve been exploring the potential of creating larger compositions through multiple small prints, with each impression forming part of a larger whole.

My work will undoubtedly continue to change in Norfolk. As a vibrant art scene with a particular strength in glass, I’ll find myself in new studio settings expanding into new mediums and techniques. But even though I made almost all of my art in Williamsburg at home, it was nevertheless a time of ongoing experimentation.

New Hobbies

In addition to continuing my artistic practice, I also began pursuing new hobbies and interests in Williamsburg. After we bought our house, I took up container gardening by growing vegetables on our patio. Over the next two summers, I grew cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and more on our patio, providing Brandon with fodder for salsa and pickles. Now that we’ve got a house with a yard, I’ll be able to expand into raised beds, but Williamsburg is where I really got started with growing my own food.

Arguably the most consuming hobby I’ve taken up while living in Williamsburg, however, is knitting. During the pandemic, I learned how to knit by ordering kits from online vendors like Knit Picks and watching free tutorials on YouTube. Beginning with simple dishcloths, I’ve knitted scarves, shawls, blankets, and sweaters for myself and the people in my life. And I have no intention of stopping. Earlier this year I completed my first cabled sweater, and have started a matching one for Brandon (more on those in a future post).

Williamsburg and Personal Milestones

Above all, Williamsburg has been a place of milestones for Brandon and me. We lived through a global pandemic here. It’s where we bought our first house. During the years we lived there, we turned it into a home by painting it with the colors we liked, updating appliances, and more. We also got married at that house, taking inspiration from one of the domestic displays at Colonial Williamsburg. Roswell may have initially brought us together, but Williamsburg is where we cemented our shared lives as a couple.

For these reasons, our memories of Williamsburg will always be largely positive ones. We may have sold the house and set down roots someplace else, but Williamsburg will always hold aan honored place in our lives.

Closing Thoughts

As with last week, I want to reiterate that Williamsburg is not perfect. There’s a severe lack of affordable housing here. Colonial Williamsburg’s history with the community, particularly its Black residents, is fraught, though it’s striving to improve how it presents history. For residents accustomed to diverse metropolitan settings, Williamsburg can be stifling. Believe me, I understand why so many graduate students move to Richmond after finishing comps.

After six years in Williamsburg, I will always associate the holiday season with wreaths hanging on historic doorways. Image: a collage of 18th-century facades covered with wreaths.

For Brandon and me though, Williamsburg was a good place to spend a few years while I worked on my PhD. While we’re happy that we’ve moved to the more urban Norfolk, Williamsburg will always hold a special place in our life story.

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