A few weeks ago, I had the absolute pleasure and honor of conducting my very first post-college interview. I got to cozy up to one of Brattleboro’s finest and most unique individuals, Shanta Lee. She welcome me to her home and even made me tea. It was the perfect environment to really dig in and get to know what makes a prolific and wildly creative person tick.
Shanta is a majorly multifaceted professional, writer, photographer, and dancer, is the President of the Arts Council of Windham County, writer at Wildly Creative, co-creator of Perfect Imperfection, and so much more. Please take some time to explore some of the true gems that Shanta offers the world through her wild creativity.
Our interview was amazing, but it was also long, so I’ve broken it up into smaller “episodes,” for ease of my busy mom fingers to manually transcribe the powerful content, and all for the ease of the reader to digest said content. I hope you enjoy learning about Shanta, reading her words, and imagining the world through her lens!
Also, all photos in these episodes were taken by me, as I wandered around her magical and enchanting apartment.
♥ Angel Mackinnon– Alright, let’s start with number one, with a question that I think is pertinent at this very moment, which is, How do you live your creative life?
♥ Shanta Lee– I try to live it in every piece of myself. I’m one of those people that likes to be surrounded by beauty, and while I think that there is… there seems to be a lot of social commentary on referring to people as beautiful and things like that, and I think for me, a part of my creative is also environment and space and beauty. That being said, in the way I dress, and the way I do my hair…sometimes I like to put jewelry and feathers in my hair, I like to make hair jewelry…
Any way I possibly can. You know, whether I try to get some space in writing. I don’t always get to write everyday, but then there are moments where I carry around a sketchbook and I pull it out and I’m writing something.
It comes from the inspiration of the people around me, so there are lots of conversations that I have with a lot of different people, and it gives me a lot more material to write about. I guess I live my creative, it’s just in everything that I do. There’s no disconnection. So, whether I’m writing a grant, whether I have to do a media or marketing pitch for a client, whether I have to think about what I’m wearing for the next day… Now, it’s not always…Sometimes I’m like, is this something that I don’t have to iron? Great, I’m putting it on, this is awesome. I notice when I fall too much into that, I start to feel dull.
So I like to live my creative through space, through body, through a lot of things. I also got back to my dance recently, so that’s also something that’s greatly helping.
♥ AM– Tell me about your love and/or fascination with exploring abandoned places.
♥ SL– Oooh! Oh my god…
♥ AM– Because it’s a mutual love.
♥ SL– Yeah, it is a mutual love. Let’s see. This is the funny thing. When I get into something, I’m almost like, “Why didn’t I know about this before? Where was this before?”
I was working with Liz Lavorgna on “Perfect Imperfection,” which we’re still working on it, but it’s on kinda a little break. And we went to Elgin Springs in Vergennes. Elgin used to be, I don’t know, an Inn of some sort I think, and that’s in Northern Vermont. We were doing a shoot. First we were shooting ourselves for “Perfect Imperfection,” to think about some of the issues and things that might come up with the project. And so, not only was I in love with the place, I don’t know why I searched it, I just started looking one day.
(( CLICK HERE to visit the Obscure Vermont blog and to learn more about Elgin Springs in Vergennes ))
♥ AM– How long ago?
♥ SL– This was back in 2013. Yea, I think 2013, around the springtime, cuz we’ve been working on it for a while. And we started shooting. Or, it might have been 2014. It was spring though, I remember, and I remember going there, and after we shot ourselves, I sorta was like, “Can we stay, and can we just have a moment to shoot some more?” And so as I’m shooting around, I notice this doll, who was face down in the dirt…
♥ AM– How quintessential!
♥ SL– Right! Her arms are torn off, she was like an old kewpie doll or something. I thought she was the most beautiful thing, and I told one of my friends once. I showed one of my friends that photo, it was a great photo, and I said, “That’s me.” And she said, “What do you mean that’s you.” I said that’s me. I was like, I think that that is the most beautiful…
Abandoned things are beautiful, or they were beautiful at some point, and useful and utilitarian at some point, to someone or a group of somebodies. What I find fascinating is that over time they become forgotten, mistreated, abused… They fall in despair, or disrepair, right? And I, as someone who’s had a troubled childhood, and a sorta crazyish life, misunderstood, abused growing up… And so I have a kinship with things that are forgotten or abandoned. I have abandonment issues, who doesn’t? And so it’s like those abandoned things and I, we have a lot in common And I like to find something, just like people, when there’s something in them that’s so imperfect, it’s just so lovable to me. So how could you not see something right, and not love on it. Cuz it’s like the most beautiful…
And also seeing the process of nature taking it back. And I remember seeing, there was a structure that I saw in Sudbury Vermont, I’m trying to remember the name of it. That it was once a premier resort in New England in the 1800s, and I remember looking at it… I think it was Hyde Manner or something like that.
(( CLICK HERE to visit the Obscure Vermont blog yet again, to learn about the Fall of Hyde Manner ))
It’s tall, it wraps around itself, and I said, “Wow, this was something. Well actually, wait a minute, it is something.” It still is. There is a beauty and a rawness. I think that’s what gets me, it just is, and it unapologetically is, but of course part of that is because of the neglect. And so there is a personal kinship, and also just like the wild. Wild untamed beauty, because we all in this culture, myself included, do so much to package things, and don’t leave them as they are.
And I like when I can see something just as it is, unapologetically just there. These places are falling apart out in the open, they’re not apologizing for it.
♥ AM– I just learned that one of the places that I used to have a really amazing time exploring, a really abandoned old hospital where they actually cured TB on Staten Island, finally after years and years of wondering what’s gonna happen, they’re spending like $71,000,000 to turn it into like a retirement home. Which is like- I saw it yesterday and it brought up all kinds of feelings for me. Like how do I feel about that? I feel kinda great about it, that they’re using this space, but I feel so sad for like, the next generation of highschoolers who won’t have that space to get to know that side of themselves that you got to know in those areas.
♥ SL– I agree with you, there’s almost like a… just before I go to an abandoned place, I always have to do checks on social media, see what the latest articles were, see if they tore it down, and there’s always a sadness. Even though, some of these places, like asylums is Mass, they’re sprawling, several acres right, that could be housing for so many. And on one hand, I’m like “Yea, that’s great.” But on the other hand, I’m like, “Oh, but that HISTORY!” That history for people to be able to explore it and find it.
♥ AM– Right, But then the truth is that the history stays there. It stays in the land. Like the land remembers that kind of thing.
♥ SL– That’s a very good point.
♥ AM– Like the college that I went to on Staten Island was put on the site of the old Willowbrook School that Geraldo Rivera came in and did an exposé of the horrible treatment of these in…patients. And my college was put in that space. So when I went there and I was feeling like, “Wow, I am not enjoying my college experience,” I thought daily about how that space was remembering all kinds of things. Like there were ghosts everywhere…
♥ SL– We have a haunted landscape. I went on a plantation tour years ago, I guess you could say I’ve sought out old things for a while in different iterations, and it came back strong. Years ago, I went on a plantation tour to go see some of the plantations, some of them were turned into museums and things like that, so there were mixed feelings about that. But the land… And I used to think, well of course, yeah, slavery was heavy in the South, it’s haunted. And I’m like wait a minute, it’s all over. You have New Orleans, California, Winchester Mansion, you have all these places and you have histories, and they just remain haunted. So yeah, you’re right, the land does not forget.
…To Be Continued…
Big-Massive-Huge-Unending-Exploding Thank You to Shanta for being so open, so honest, and so real! So happy to share the world with you!
Until next time,