An interest in writing about her family history inspires a local artist to complete a residency in Loretto.
In partnership with the Sisters of Loretto, the Kentucky Foundation for Women has created a residency program. During the program residents were provided housing, a food stipend and studio space and art tools and equipment, if needed.
Chaney Williams of Elizabethtown was one of the women chosen for the residency and recently finished completed it. A doula by trade, she also writes poetry, essays and works on other artistic endeavors.
For Williams, the residency had a personal connection.
“I wanted to participate as soon as I saw the application because of the incredible social justice work the Sisters of Loretto are committed to doing and because of my mother’s maternal ancestral connection to Loretto,” she said.
She had an ancestor who was one of the Catholic settlers in 1786.
“I knew it would be a life changing experience for me, and I wasn’t wrong,” she said. “It greatly positively impacted myself as a person, my creative process and the collection I’m working on that I started while there.”
The collection is a non-fiction and poetry collection about reckoning with her family history.
“I’m biracial and I have ancestors who were both enslaved, including my ancestor I’m named after, and ancestors who also fought on both union and confederate sides during the civil war,” she said.
She’s proud of her family, but she said there’s also a “duality of the grief and joy that coexists with being biracial.”
While there, she said she exceeded her expectations on the written work she produced while there.
“I was afraid at some point I would get writer’s block because that’s common, but it never happened, which surprised me,” she said. “Being at Loretto and learning about the history from the nuns who live there was so inspiring and important to creating my work along with family records I have of our ancestry.”
During her residency she revised five non-fiction essays and three poems writing at least 10,000 words while she was there. She also started planning embroidery and sewing projects that will accompany what she wrote while she was there.
During her experience she learned that her writing and creative work thrives when she can focus on it.
Most of the time she wrote while taking walks in the morning and evening and edited her work after lunch.
“Being in nature when I create is so vital to my work,” she said. “ It’s very grounding for me, so every day I would take a walk for several hours in the morning and evening exploring the almost 600 acres of land and stop periodically to write in my journal and read books about creating or writing and textile art.”
Loretto is where her mother’s ancestors settled during the 1780s as a part of the Catholic settlers from Maryland, she said.
“It was so inspiring and healing for my creative process and writing because I felt so connected to the land there,” she said.
The best part of her residency was having time set apart to write with no interruptions. She also was able to be in a community with the nuns who lived there.
“Every person I crossed paths with was so kind, encouraging and welcoming,” she said.
She also enjoyed learning more about the intersection of her family history in Kentucky that started in Loretto.
“It was so inspiring to be in the place that I was writing about, and I’m so lucky and grateful I was also able to talk with the resident historian and archivist of the Loretto community several times,” she said.
The historian was able to share not only the history of Loretto but also what the community is doing to move forward.
“It was such a privilege for her to share that knowledge and wisdom with me,” she said.
Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1416 firstname.lastname@example.org.