Emily Schiebal’s redbrown hair falls straight against her green floral print blouse. Rain pounds on the single-wide trailer converted into an art studio. We sit at the kitchen table, Emily sipping on some hot chocolate while I take a taste of water. A beekeeper’s suit hangs on a wooden mannequin next to an old upright piano. She’s nervous. “I’m used to hiding behind my husband,” she tells me. “He’s such a prolific artist. It’s easier to hide behind him.”
“I get it,” I reply. “Completely.”
She smiles, and her face brightens. “But I’ll try to talk about me,” she says, then dives in.
Emily and her husband Quinn came to Lake County two years ago. Pushed out by the increasing cost of housing in Healdsburg, they ended up on two acres just outside of Middletown. “We didn’t really decide to move here as much as surrender to it,” she says as she takes another sip of hot chocolate. “We love it up here. I feel like we joined the winning team.”
Since then, they have begun to transform it into an artists’ haven. Art pieces stud the acerage; sculptures stand under the trees near the seasonal creek. Quinn’s artwork sits stacked in corners. It feels like the property itself has become a studio, two acres dedicated to the creative process.
Emily began started creating art in 2011, and works in plaster and concrete primarily. “I began by creating totem pieces,” she tells me, her hands close in, molding a piece. “But then I the totem began to open up.” Her arms reach upward and outward, moving into a soaring motion. “Like that. I was trying to get the movement of a flower blooming, or the upward motion of life.” She pauses. “That piece didn’t turn out. I was going to send it to the dump, but Quinn rescued it. I’m glad.”
“Where is it?” I ask.
“It’s holding open the chicken coop door.” She smiles. “At least it’s serving a useful purpose.”
“Well, that was the first of those type of pieces. Then I began the Nike piece. I was so inspired by the upward motion, like it was taking flight. That moved into the Valkyries, and pieces like that.” She pauses, almost worried she’s talking too much. I try a different direction.
“So what are you up to now?” I ask.
Her eyes light up. “I’m obsessed with bees,” she says. I just started beekeeping, and I can’t get enough of it. I go to the library and check out all the beekeeping books. I look online.” She pauses, thinking. “I’ve got these masonry bees I ordered in the fridge. I can’t wait to put them out.”
“In the fridge?”
“They’re hibernating now. Do you want to see?” She looks at me questioningly, not sure how I’ll respond.
She hops out of her chair, takes two or three large steps to the kitchen refrigerator, and opens the door. Inside are several tubes.
“They keep them in reeds,” she says as she hands me a bunch.
“That’s amazing! So, they’re just hanging out in there?”
“Until Spring. I created a piece I call a pollinator pole for the Sculpture Walk. It’s about seven feet tall and has holes for the pollinator bees. Most people think bees are for honey, but the really important thing they do is pollinate everything.” I hand her back the tubes of sleeping bees, which she places in the fridge door.
“I completed the metal base for it at one of Middletown Art Center’s workshops they had at Woodland College. Do you want to go see?” She pauses, reevaluating her words. The rain thrums down on the trailer. “You probably don’t want to go outside, do you?”
“Doesn’t bother me,” I said. “Let’s go.”
We step outside into the wind and chill rain. Emily shows me the base, then the mesh she used to build the pollinator pole. “But there’s more stuff. We just set up a greenhouse. I’m really getting into gardening.”
We walk over to the large, plastic-lined greenhouse and step inside. Several trays filled with tiny plants popping out of the dirt line the benches. “Would you like an artichoke start?” she asks. I gladly accept, then set it down to write some notes. After a few minutes of looking, we move out of the greenhouse.
“Don’t forget your artichoke,” Emily smiles as she hands it to me. I set it on a chair to grab when I leave.
We move out onto the acreage, Emily showing me her pieces placed around the property. It’s cold; there’s no doubt of that, but every time she speaks of her art, her eyes light up and she talks faster, caught up in the moment.
“It’s the process,” She tells me as we look at a piece in a corner of one of the sheds, “It’s not about what it says or looks like.” She touches the piece, feeling the work of making it once again in her mind. “It’s really all about the process. That’s my happy place.”
We move to the chicken coop. The smell of hay and chickens fills the air. “There it is,” she says, wedging a chunk of shaped concrete back into place against the coop door.
“Is that your first piece?” I ask, curiously looking at the doorstop/work of art.
“You can see what I was going for with it. I’m glad it didn’t go to the dump.”
“That isn’t so bad,” I say. I can see how it served as a transitional piece that moved her from totems to soaring pieces. It swoops and opens like a tulip. Before I can look at it too long, she moves me back outside to see a tall piece standing near the roadway.
“Is this somewhat of the idea that you are looking for with your pollinator pole?” I ask, intrigued by the thin-shaped piece climbing upward.
“Something like that,” she replies. The temperature is rapidly dropping. I can feel the front moving down Mt. Saint Helena and through the trees. Snow is in the air. I smell the damp, clean smell of winter days and cool weather, and see the grass just beginning to stick through the oak leaves. That’s how Emily’s
Slowly, looking at some of the other pieces she made with her husband, we meander back to the single-wide studio.
“Thank you so much for your time, Emily,” I tell her as we reach the studio. I make sure I have my notebook and coat with me, then shake her hand.
As I start to walk to the car, Emily stops me. “Don’t forget your artichoke,” she says, smiling, handing me the start.
“Thanks!” I say. “That’s twice you’ve remembered it for me. I’ll be glad when we get to harvest some this summer.”
Then I step back outside into the wind and sideways blowing rain, and head home.
This article first appeared in The Bloom on February 7, 2019.