interview with Squam creator, Elizabeth McCrellish
i had the lovely opportunity to connect with the wonderful and creative soul elizabeth maccrellish. many of you might know her from her beloved blog, blue poppy, and others might recognize her from attending one of the great squam art workshops. amidst this spring’s pre-squam craziness, she graciously took the time to answer my questions and give us all an inside peek at her inspiration behind SAW ~ a million thanks! i am always so inspired by the story, the evolution, and the process of artful and creative endeavors. it never ceases to amaze me how when you have a vision and the passion, anything is possible! elizabeth reminds us of this beautifully…here is what she shared:
have you always been creative, and do you remember where your creative journey began?
It’s my unwavering belief that people are, at their core, creative beings. We just manifest (or choose not to manifest) our creativity in different ways. As a kid, all my play was make-believe with a heavy emphasis on a game called “witches” that I made up. It was a big hit with the 5 – 7 year old crowd.
My bent has always been writing– although I secretly yearned to be “an artist.” I just never thought I could be one as I believed that you had to be born that way. In all honesty, I would say my creative journey began when I went to Artfest in 2006. That event cracked my world open.
what work did you do before you became a writer and the creative soul behind Squam?
Since college, I have been a French teacher and magazine writer, predominantly. I also spent seven years working in a corporate environment as a commercialization manager (fancy title, but all it means is that I oversaw the product development and product launch teams). Currently, I teach writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and am the director of Squam Art Workshops.
what pushed you to change paths? what was your initial inspiration and vision for Squam, and has your vision been realized?
Artfest was the catalyst. No doubt, there were many events leading up to Artfest, but that was truly the jumping off point for me. My original inspiration and vision for Squam was to be able to bring that magic from the west coast here to the parched, granite state. I really wanted someone else to have the awakening experience I did. So, I wrote to Teesha and Tracy Moore (founders of Artfest) and explained what I wanted to do and they were extraordinarily warm and supportive of my plans, which was a huge blessing. Then, off I went.
I think what is happening is that Squam is developing and growing into its best self and I am kind of on the side watching it happen. So much derives from the people who come, the spirit they bring, and what is created through them. I liken it to a night of theater in that I am just the stage manager making sure the props are there and the curtain works etc– the magic occurs between the audience and the actors on stage and it is ephemeral. You simply cannot bottle it or repeat it or try to share it– you have to be there and be a part of it.
what steps did you take to begin creating you dream?
Lots and lots (and LOTS) of daydreaming– which is now called “creative visualization.” But I prefer calling it daydreaming . . ha. I just had a vision of what it would look like in this neck of the woods. And then, one day, I walked into Rockywold-Deephaven camps and proposed my idea. At first, they were like, um– don’t think so. I left and was disappointed, but it also freed me up enormously because I didn’t want to spend any more time on a fantasy. I would move on to different daydreams.
Then, the next day, they called me back and said, “actually, yes! Let’s do it.”
So then, I had a venue– I began sending out emails to people I knew to see if they wanted to come teach. Once I had the teachers and the venue, I held my husband’s feet over the fire and forced him to create a website for it.
Then, we opened the doors and stood back to see if anyone would come– and they did!
what have been some of your biggest challenges in getting Squam off the ground? some of your biggest surprises and rewards?
Biggest challenge is just the sheer work. My favorite compliment ever was from a most lovely woman who said to me, “my god, I spent two weeks getting my son’s birthday party together and he only had four friends come over! How did you do this?” There are so many, many details and it truly took me ten months to get the first Squam up on its feet and this year we are having two sessions, so I would say– the day-to-day tasks do get wearying, sometimes.
Of course, that becomes utterly inconsequential in light of the SURPRISES and REWARDS, which are the cards and letters I receive from people. I will never, ever, be able to adequately express the emotion I experience through these connections and the feeling of helping another person tune into their creative spirit. It defies my vocabulary.
how do you tackle the business aspects of this creative endeavor?
Fortunately, those long seven years in corporate life (which at the time seemed like a prison sentence and made NO sense whatsoever to me– like, how/why the heck did I end up here?!) gave me an MBA of experience. In fact, at one point, my company sent me to a week’s training of Executive Management at the Harvard Business School, so I actually have some good skills. Of course, for me, business is pure common sense. I categorically reject those marketing/consulting types (sorry to all the marketing/consulting types out there– this has just been my experience) who want to muddy the water with garbage and make it complicated. (NOTE: this is the same for me with “professional educators” who make the educational system a nightmare for teachers).
It’s not complicated, people.
1. Have a product or service that you are passionate about. (if you wouldn’t do this for free, than don’t do it at all because if money is your primary motivation, then your foundation is sand).
2. Be honest. (Do not promise anything you cannot deliver. Make sure to set expectations clearly).
3. Be kind. (I don’t care if someone yells at me or needs me to be their punching bag for the day. It is my job to respond with kindness– that’s just a core belief that I have. Which is not to say I am a doormat. I can be firm, but I seek to always operate from a place of kindness).
4. If you are not an accountant by training, then HIRE a bookkeeper. At the end of the day, business is all about the numbers. (I personally suck at numbers. So, I pay for this service as part of doing business).
5. Share and celebrate. Do all you can to support other small businesses that inspire you. (Another personal belief: all ships rise on a rising tide. Happiness is best shared. I am never more happy than when the people around me are experiencing success and delight. Also? I love any occasion to have a party or celebrate so I focus on small details and toss them up to the sky!)
is there a memory or a moment that you realized your dream had become a reality as well as a huge success?
Oh, I don’t know about huge success. I much prefer small successes. The dream realization moment you are referring to, however, did occur the night of opening ceremony at Squam 2008 when I stood in front of 135 people who had come from 27 different states and were all beaming up at me and, I actually did lose it. Those who were there will tell you, I couldn’t even talk I was so overcome with emotion. (Getting a little teary right now just thinking about it– am hoping to keep myself together in the future– but we’ll see)
what is your vision for Squam in the future and how do you see it evolving?
Heee. Stay tuned.
what advice would you offer someone else trying to launch their creative dream?
Oh, I have no advice. I can offer support, encouragement, compassion– if anyone wants some of that– email me! I got buckets of it.
what are some of your current creative hobbies and resources etc. that help you stay focused and inspired?
Oh god— how much time have you got? Books, art, magazines that focus on showcasing creativity, second hand stores– and, it must be said, I am addicted to flowers. A fresh bouquet can feed me for days. And? Travel. Although right now I can’t seem to do as much of that as I would like– I love going to favorite cities and nooking about. I like to be around (and actively seek out) people who are passionate in their life.
what is in your future creatively? any projects you are working on?
Um, yes. Some very good things are in development, but it’s too early to share them. Again, stay tuned.