OxTales Newsletter - April 2020 View in your Browser
Around the Bend

Dear Oxbow community,

I woke up early last week to the sound of truck tires hissing through the rain-soaked pavement outside my window and I couldn’t help but question, “Who is driving this truck and where is it going?” You would think that Napa is a sleepy town, but life along Third Street suggests otherwise. Even as I shelter quietly in place, I am attuned to the business of the world outside my window. A jackhammer growls in the distance, a leaf blower buzzes next door, and the city bus gasps with timely predictability at the stop sign below. An occasional siren shrieks with urgency, bringing any luxurious reverie into the stark reality of what it means to dwell in the midst of a pandemic.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself obsessively reading the news, checking the latest updates from CSSE, and anxiously wondering what the future holds. It can be a disarming spiral. I frequently remind myself that—while it is human to remain vulnerable to a shifting state of ambivalence…fear intertwined with hope—it is paramount to curate uninterrupted time and space to simply be and express gratitude for small, fleeting moments and the people around me. What better way to experience that than through the portal of art? During times of turmoil and uncertainty, art allows us to step outside of ourselves to imagine new ways of being in the world. Art is a universal language -- a source of healing, expression, and discovery. Art has the ability to transport us into fantastical worlds and, perhaps more important, into each other’s heart. Think about the last time you were transfixed by an image or a performance or a song. Better yet, think about the last time you altered someone else’s perspective by making and sharing your own work. As we collectively wait out the coronavirus, I hope you have the ability to seek refuge in your own practice. And if you need a prompt...

Drawing inspiration from daily lived experience, our current students were asked to consider the narrative taking place outside of their own window: “Choose one or more windows of the room, house, or apartment you are now inhabiting. Spend some time observing the view out the window. What is happening within its frame of view? What is the scene? Take 100-150 frames from your window. Try this exercise several times, improving and refining your imagery each time.” You can find the compilation of the student work on YouTube below. Enjoy!

With gratitude,

Jennifer Jordan

Head of School


Projects showing OS42's creativity, grace and grit have been compiled into the Quaranzine V.1 and Quaranzine V.2 magazines by Oxbow's Dean of The Arts, Chris Thorson. Please enjoy this magazine with student works that include selections from OS42's distance learning art projects, materials lists, and "Who are you?" projects.

“The Road from Oxbow Alum to Oxbow Instructor”: An Interview with Larissa Gilbert

Larissa Gilbert grew up in Nevada City, California and is an OS27 Oxbow alum. After spending her adolescence in rural communities, Larissa relocated to New York City where she received a BFA from The Cooper Union School of Art. Her work has been included in exhibitions at EFA Project Space (New York, NY), the Nakanojo Biennale (Shima, Japan), and Anthology Film Archives (New York, NY). Larissa is currently the English teacher and a dorm head at Oxbow.

What is one of your most crystallizing moments when you were a student at Oxbow?

Socially, I felt like a crystallizing moment occurred between me and my friend Mikhaila. I have a distinct memory when we went to Gott’s Roadside for milkshakes. As we walked, we dreamt about what our futures held for us. As a student immersed in a genuine arts collective, Oxbow was inspiring in us thoughts about going into education. Here I am years later as an interdisciplinary humanities teacher, forging connections between art and academics. Also of note, Mikhaila teaches sculpture at the Oxbow summer art camp.

What was your biggest takeaway from being an Oxbow student?

The biggest takeaway was the emphasis on a research-based practice. That completely opened up my practice entirely. I wouldn’t have continued on the path I went on had I not been exposed to the importance of research. I could invest in learning about multiple disciplines and topics while also being an artist. All of my work is rooted in some form of research-based inquiry.

Describe your educational path after your semester at Oxbow.

I homeschooled myself before Oxbow. When I finished Oxbow, I concluded my high school experience early and never thought about art school as an option, but I ended up at Cooper Union. At Cooper, I became more invested in video and performance work and delved deeply in developing programs for performance. I was very interested in organizing and organizing space for artists. That’s when I was opened up to social practice and how teaching can be a form of social practice. I taught for the Saturday high school program offered at Cooper and it solidified my interest in teaching adolescents.

What kind of work were you doing before joining the Oxbow team?

I was living in Los Angeles where I was a “teaching artist” working with public school students who didn’t have access to art. I worked in many different school settings and was very energized by that. Most schools in south and east Los Angeles lack funding for the arts, and it was an honor to bring art to students who otherwise didn’t have access to materials and instruction. It was very gratifying to see students working with their hands.

Now that you are an Oxbow faculty member, what do you hope to impart in your work with your own students?

I am so excited when students are leading and following their interests. I hope to bring out their creativity by asking a good question or creating a safe space to explore an idea that they haven’t had the opportunity to explore in the past. I like to build on their own thought process. I feel strongly that students should develop their own social and political responsibility to the world.

Describe your current art practice. What are you working on?

In the quarantine, I have had a lot of realizations about what is important and what really matters. I was previously trained to prioritize products and physical things. Before the quarantine, I was working on a sculpture that involved using spray foam and material objects. I began second guessing my use of materials as they relate to my own values. What message was I sending with my choice of materials that were either consumer-driven or toxic to the environment? My work has shifted. I am currently writing a book, accessing the personal experience as a political statement. I am also working on a video that incorporates performance; it is about the relationship between a character and their television. It’s a love story based on Roland Barthe’s “The Lover’s Discourse.” I am also weaving a rug out of the sheets that students left behind when they departed the campus.

What are some unexpected surprises you have discovered as a result of living through a pandemic?

I am very aware of my daily privileges -- I am safe; I have food. I have slowed down a lot. I am working in the garden and learning the value of digging in the dirt. I am surprised by how much my daily mood has improved. I am thinking a lot about affordable health-care and access to food. Perhaps this crisis will actually bring about systemic change. I am interacting directly with the Oxbow community more often and learning the value of nurturing those relationships.

What is something about Oxbow that isn’t clearly visible to an outsider?

I don’t think a lot of people understand how much work and care factors into creating a program like this. We dedicate our lives to the student experience. It’s not visible unless you are living in the community. The students, faculty, and staff create a deep sense of community within a short timespan. This community continues past the Oxbow semester.

“No Social Distancing Here! The Importance of Bees” - An Interview with Alex Keilty

There is a new bee colony in the 643 garden! Environmental science teacher, sustainable farmer, garden enthusiast, climate change activist, and keeper of the Oxbow bees has been a busy guy during the pandemic. Not only is he leading gardening and chicken coop tutorials for those who live on campus, he is collaborating with a group of students at Alameda High School in the East Bay. In partnership with Richard Bunker, a special education teacher who works with students with mild to moderate disabilities, Alex is teaching them all about bees. Here is their interview with him:

Where did the bees come from?

This hive comes from Earl Flewellen, the owner of the Burlington Hotel and Bull Valley Roadhouse in Port Costa down on the peninsula. As a steward of the land, Earl started the Bull Valley Agricultural Center, a nonprofit center designed to promote land preservation and connect people to nature.

Who is the queen?

She is a virgin queen. She was raised early this spring and I met her last Saturday. From looking at her, I could tell she had never done a mating flight, but now that she’s here, she should have done that within the last couple of days.

Why are you wearing white?

Bees navigate to food based on color. The flower species and bees have grown up together over thousands of years. Yellow, pink, and blue are very bright to them. They see a bright flower and it’s like seeing a giant chocolate cake. I am wearing white to be invisible to them.

How do you make the beehive?

The first thing you need is to find a beekeeper who has a bunch of colonies. The older colonies raise new queens. The beekeeper will scoop up bees from the bee yard and put them with the newly raised queen to see if the colony will accept the new queen. That’s what we are doing here in this garden.

Do bee stings have venom?

Bee stings are venomous. Bees detach part of their body to sting and then they die. Honey bees don’t like to sting if they don’t have to. In fact, there are not that many bees that live in a colony. Most bees live in solitary lives like a hermit. In California, there are 400 species of bees who live by themselves. They are very docile and don’t really sting. You would have to put one on your mouth for them to really sting you. You have to watch out for hornets or wasps; they will sting or bite.

Do bees get upset when you take honey from their home?

Bees make plenty of honey. They like to plan for the future. Honey is their food for the future, like a dry season. When we go in, we only take a small portion. We don’t take it all so that they have enough to make it through the winter. A good beekeeper knows how much to take. The bees have a good system for storing their honey. We are going into their city...into their storage locker. They don’t typically notice or get upset. They have more important things to do -- raising babies, taking care of their queen, making sure there aren’t any intruders like beetles or wasps. When you approach a hive, it’s important to move slowly and keep your heart rate down because they can detect movement or fear.


The Oxbow School changed the direction of my daughter’s life.

I have seen first-hand the positive transformation that can happen in a young person’s life as a result of the Oxbow experience. Before Oxbow my daughter lacked self-confidence; she was shy and uncomfortable around her peers and adults. Her grades and peer group began to slip as her self-confidence waned. After attending the Oxbow summer camp she was at a crossroads in her life and knew spending a semester at Oxbow was where she needed to be. Being shy, stepping outside of our small town was challenging but she was determined to try something new. Although it was hard for her to open up to new people, she found a warm and welcoming community among the students and staff from different backgrounds. For the first time in her life she could be exactly who she is. She felt accepted and was truly joyful. She returned from her Oxbow semester a poised, self-reliant person and resolute student. As a result of this new-found confidence her grades improved and she became a leader in her community.

When I first told my now 25 year-old that I was joining the team at The Oxbow School her reaction was, “Oxbow changed my life!” While attending her semester at Oxbow she gained a sense of self-worth and the realization that she was “enough.” She went on to major in art from a prestigious university, followed by earning a master's degree in education and receiving a California teaching certificate. She is now a 5th grade teacher in Oakland, CA. The positive impact Oxbow had creating a path in her teenage years has carried through to her adult life and will always be a part of her. For this I express my gratitude.

I started as Director of Advancement and Communications for The Oxbow School in January of this year. Little did anyone know that the world would be thrown into such chaos one month later.

Historically, the Oxbow School holds two major fundraising initiatives, an Annual Fund campaign; and a celebratory gala to conclude the school year. This year we planned a series of small intimate fundraising events "Oxbow on the Go," in cities where many families, friends and supporters of Oxbow reside -- Seattle, New York City, Atlanta and the Bay Area.

When we asked for help in planning these events, the supportive response was overwhelming. Alumni parents, alumni, friends and local vintners graciously agreed to donate their time, open up their homes or provide delicious food and wine, in celebration of the Oxbow program and in support of future Oxbow students. While these receptions have been temporarily suspended because of COVID-19, I look forward to meeting up with our extended Oxbow family to raise a glass of Napa Valley wine in support of The Oxbow School! For this, I express my gratitude.

I have watched the incredible staff and faculty step-up to continue the program excellence that is Oxbow. As OS42 students departed campus, the faculty quickly re-calibrated into distance learning mode. They continue to teach and mentor students across the country, keeping solid educational and artistic lessons in place. I have watched Head of School Jennifer Jordan’s strength and leadership steer the Oxbow community through this unprecedented chapter in the school’s history. Her calm demeanor and grace through this situation gives me confidence that The Oxbow School will not only survive this pandemic but it will come out stronger and bolder than ever! For this, I express my gratitude.

I hope you will consider making a donation to The Oxbow School as an expression of your own gratitude. As a small non-profit organization, we need your help to continue offering a transformative experience for our students. As an alum parent, I personally know what The Oxbow School can do for students and families and ask you to join me in supporting the school during this challenging time.

You can donate to the school by clicking on the link below or going to the Oxbow website at www.oxbowschool.org. You can also send a check to 440 Third Street, Napa CA 94559. All donations are tax deductible. Please contact me at kbitzer@oxbowschool.org if you have any questions or need further information.

Together, we are grateful.

Kelly Bitzer,

Director of Advancement and Communications

Give Today

Malia Seva, OS40

Fall '20 and Spring '21

Oxbow is accepting applications for the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 Semesters. Students interested in attending Oxbow for either of these semesters should begin their applications ASAP. We will continue to accept applications on a rolling basis until each semester is full.

Please reach out to us if you’d like to talk with an admissions representative by emailing us at admissions@oxbowschool.org.

To learn more about Oxbow check out the virtual Q&A with Oxbow Faculty!

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