Starry Road – A New Studio in the Works

April 7, 2013 , In: General

Ever wonder where “Starry Road Studio” is? Well the physical site lies in the hills of Southwestern NY, also known as the Southern Tier. My husband Don and I have spent the better part of the past decade building our little getaway cabin and are now preparing to add a new building for a dedicated studio. “Starry Road” is more than a physical site. The name also represents the creative life – the exploration of mythos, spirit, dreams, and of course, STARS. But I will leave that aspect for another time. For now, I thought I’d share a little background about the location and our plans for the studio.

First, to set the stage, here are a few images of the Totten farm (I’ve also heard it referred to as “Tottenshire”), where Don grew up and where his family have farmed for generations. As an Air Force brat with little notion of “roots”, the deep generational attachment of Don’s family to this place is both astonishing and wonderful to me.

The area where we have our cabin is very rural. We don’t see any neighbors or lights from our place up on the hill, and on clear nights the stars are brilliant. One of my favorite memories is of one summer night when the fields out front were full of fireflies and the sky above full of stars, it was as though we were sitting in an imax theatre with the universe all around us, the fireflies like twinkling stars below, and the milky way soaring overhead. Pretty cool.

The picture on the lower left is a spot known as the “old sheep barn” – it is a tumble of rugged old stones that once supported a barn for sheep. The lower right photo is the view from our cabin looking downhill toward the next hill in the distance where the farm house and barns are located, the main part of the farm. Looks pretty nice huh? This is summer. Winter is a WHOLE other story – very rugged and downright cruel at times.

Here we are building our cabin – we had some of the lumber milled from local trees. That’s me in the upper left photo (no I don’t look like this anymore – this was about 10 years ago when I was SO skinny). That’s Don and his nephew Drew in the lower right photo (Don STILL looks like this…grrr). And yes that is an african drum in the lower left photo – we did a lot of drumming back then.

A few views of the surrounding woodlands and hills… This part of the Totten farm – where our cabin is located – has always been known as “The Johnson Lots”. Nobody seems to remember why – maybe the name goes back to a family who lived there long ago. An old foundation of a house is located halfway down the hill next to freshwater springs. Who knows how long ago that house was occupied…? The spot where Don is walking uphill (lower right photo) is approximately where the foundation is located.

Okay now that we have the history and setting out of the way, here are the plans for the studio building.  
The ground floor will house the clay and glaze part of the studio, along with a small garage for a tractor. What is the tractor for you say? Um, snow removal for one, LOTS of snow to remove (you have no idea!). And also to keep the road up to the cabin clear of brush. 
Just outside the door we’ll set up a small shed for the gas kiln. My electric kilns will need to be located on another part of the farm where we have access to electric (grid) power. 
Oh! I did I mention that this cabin and future studio are ENTIRELY OFF-GRID??? We have solar panels and a battery house that powers all our basic needs. We have propane for hot water and a small furnace, but mostly depend on a wood stove for heat in winter. In summer it is generally nice and cool but when it does get warm we have ceiling fans that do the job of keeping us cool. We currently use our cell phones for internet but are planning to install satellite access.
Here’s the ground level layout. Off to the right out of the picture is the cabin. Can you spot our dogs Casey and Sierra?
Here’s the upper floor where I will be working most of the time. There is extra space for a spare bedroom or office for Don. Initially however, we will use this space for storage.
That’s it in a nutshell. These plans are in development and changing even as I type this. We have yet to price out construction costs, etc. I’m certain there will be modifications as we evolve the project. Stay tuned as I document our progress – there will be updates over the coming months!

Karen Totten

Karen has worked professionally as an artist and designer for over 30 years in a variety of creative disciplines: architectural design, illustration, art direction, mixed media art, interaction design. She currently works full time as a User Experience (UX) Design Principal for an international consultancy. When not flying to work every week, her other passions are ceramic art, sketching, and occasionally, jewelry design. โ€œFor me, the creative life, from UX to fine art, has always been one of exploration and adventure. As the daughter of an air force navigator, I grew up a traveler. To this day I am intrigued by stories and motifs that transcend time, culture, and geography.โ€œ
  1. Reply

    Wow, Karen, this is beyond awesome. Have you ever entertained the idea of a jewelry retreat center? What a gorgeous setting!

  2. Reply

    Far out! This looks amazing and so exciting! (And is that you with the caulking gun, Karen?! I swear if you can caulk, you can do ANYTHING!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Reply

    Ah yes, reread the entire thing again…more slowly. Says right there that is you with that caulking gun! I was just so excited the first time, I think I skipped that part!

  4. Reply

    Well that makes my little studio plan pale in comparison…look utterly fantastic Karen!

    • Reply

      we'll have to plan an international retreat exchange some day ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Reply

    Oh my goodness, that is totally awesome. I'd love to be out in the wilds like that!!! Congratulations Karen you lucky girl!!

  6. Congrats that is exciting!!!

  7. Reply

    how lucky you'll be to have that dream studio. The amazing energy that's going into it will surely come back out of it in force with your creativity.

  8. Reply

    This AJE member would be willing to bring a tent. I am enchanted! It looks so wonderful! And the dogs seem to approve!

    • Reply

      hmm we'll have to set up a mini tent city – plenty of room for that! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Reply

    What a beautiful setting for a studio, and one that has a special place in the hearts of your family. I can imagine this studio will bring only the best inspiration to whatever you create. I really can't wait to see it finished.

    • Reply

      thank you – it IS special for many reason. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Reply

    What fantastic plans! I especially love that you'll be off grid-very cool. I didn't realize you lived in the southern tier. I grew up in a suburb of Buffalo and am familiar with the area, especially Jamestown as my brother lived there for a year. Good luck with your new studio! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Reply

    How exciting it is to know there will be such a great studio right and talented artist working right here in the Southern Tier!

  12. Reply

    what a fantastic setting Karen ! And exciting to see your new studio plans – all the best and keep us tuned ๐Ÿ™‚

    ps – I had no clue you worked with more than 1 kiln !


  13. Reply

    Before my husband passed away, this was his dream spot to build a house…on a hill with open views. I would love to have your workspace.. this looks awesome and actually having the hands on experience is really cool!

  14. Reply

    Amazing! You are on an incredible journey. Keep the pictures coming. Thanks for an inspirational post!

  15. Reply

    Nothing like something new to stimulate the juices, and it helps get you out of the same mind thought you had been in… sounds like new and exciting karma coming your way! Congrats ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. Reply

    Wow and wow again! So cool, Karen–what an amazing area to live in and what fabulous plans. Even better is that you're off-grid…the way to go for the future for sure! Keep us posted on your progress. <3

  17. Reply

    Your cabin will be in my neck of the woods! I live outside of Buffalo…and the idea of an artist's retreat would be awesome! We definitely need something like that in our area! Good luck with the building and thanks for sharing your process! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Reply

    Congratulations Karen. I am so envious, but inspired too!

  19. Reply

    So exciting! It's been so cool to hear about your studio's progress. I can even imagine you inside your new space creating and enjoying all that nature has to offer!

    xo Genea

  20. Reply

    Brilliant! And so amazingly gorgeous. Although I can't imagine being there in the winter. I love that you are off-grid and what amazing views and spaces. Very envious!

  21. Reply

    You are living my off grid dream! Keep us posted and all the best on this future project!

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