Peggy Cloy rolled into Mancos 25 years ago from Seattle, having raised three children mostly on her own – two whom she had adopted at age 24 after both their parents died; the other she had at age 32. She purchased 60 acres of pristine land with varied ecosystems a few miles northeast of town. This was her new home, a place that had beckoned her and told her to stay. Her friends thought she was crazy.
About eight years later, she convinced her friend, Lee Cloy, a tai chi teacher with a vast background in property management, to join her. They were married and began to build what now is Willowtail Springs, a bed and breakfast, but also – and most important to them – an artist residency program, providing artists space, time and encouragement to further their creative pursuits.
While Lee brings the linear logic, management expertise and pragmatism, anyone who knows Willowtail knows that Peggy brings the intangible heart and an indelible creative, nurturing spirit. She also brings decades of experience as a working artist, having shown alongside the likes of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg (“before they were famous,” she said), with hundreds of pieces housed across the country in private, corporate, and public collections.
I wanted to know what it was like being a progressive, successful woman artist in the second half of the 20th century and the events that shaped her remarkable career.
Here is her story:
“(Out of graduate school), I’m starting to do my artwork ... I’m starting to show all over; I’m showing with these guys who later become very famous icons – men. The women I knew were just beginning to make some sort of statement. But women were still not shown in a lot of the museums ... But I went ahead and did it anyway. I had galleries; I sold the work (myself).
I was doing painting and sculpture. It was very sensual, full of color. But the thing that changed my work completely, I think ... was after I adopted those kids. The other thing is, I had a baby and that was the biggest experience for me as far as my art. I was finally able to accept the female part of me. And I don’t think I had (before). I have a very strong male component.
When we moved from (Spokane, Washington), it was a military move and they came to take the stuff. I had a show ready to go to New York and it was two years’ worth of work I’d done. It was really good work ... And it went to the warehouse. Truck didn’t come back the next day. I called the warehouse; it had burned that night. So that entire body of work was gone, two years of work that was ready to go to New York. It was huge. That’s all I can say. It was huge.
What I ultimately found was, I couldn’t reproduce that work. It was not the end product I got the rush from, it was the process. It was the creating and that was still there ... I had a studio (afterward), I did not do any artwork. I couldn’t. I was just like ... numb ... I was processing this whole thing. So when that was done, then I started doing different work.
(Years later, living in Seattle) I started doing the hand-cast paper and fiber. ... I had a friend who was already well-known. He said, ‘OK, Peggy, you need to support your children. You’re very good at what you do. You need to drop your gallery connection and don’t worry about what people say. You need to just work. You need to ask for what you need. Your pieces are worth a lot of money.’ So I started. I did drop my gallery connection after several years. Everybody said I’d be blackballed; they’d never show my work again in Seattle. And within three weeks ... I doubled my prices, tripled my sales. So then, of course, everybody wants to show you because you have the mailing list.
I was happy to be paid for (my work) because it paid for a lot of the support for my kids. It paid for a lot of their college. It was a lot (of money) for the time, but once you take expenses out, it wasn’t huge. But, it felt good.
It’s like, you’ve sold a piece and you can let it go. I’ve had the reputation, I’ve had the name, I’ve had whatever all that stuff is, and now I can let it – I don’t need any more of it. Now I can create a place that’s bigger than that, that encourages other artists.
I would love to be free to do more of my own work before I die. Because I know if I do it, whatever I do will reflect what’s going on. If I put myself in a studio that I’m comfortable with, with enough time and enough permission – I don’t know what I’ll produce, but I’ll produce something. And here (at Willowtail) I’m producing interiors and gardens and spaces for other people to do that. And I think that’s hugely important. I’m really, really passionate about that. But I don’t feel like I have to be a star.”
David Holub is a former Willowtail resident and currently an active board member. He’s also editor of DGO magazine.