Creative collaboration via correspondence

Carla Jean Whitley

Their friendship began as many do: thanks to a mutual friend. Poet Rosemerry Trommer and visual artist Jill Sabella came together through Carbondale Arts’ 2015 show “12 by 2,” which selected 12 artists and 12 poets and then invited them to find a collaborative partner within the group. Barbara Reese of Snowmass suggested Sabella and Trommer would get along, and so they connected and collaborated via email. Nine months later, they met in person for the first time.

They created 13 pieces for “12 by 2,” and ultimately ended up with 45 works and a book, “Even Now.”

Now the pair of artists has reunited as part of “Correspondence,” a Carbondale Arts exhibit that again paired artists, this time through the postal system. The effort, curated by Reina Katzenberger, brought together more than a dozen artists to exchange work via mail.

We spoke to Sabella and Trommer about how their collaboration has shaped their individual work. This conversation has been lightly edited for length.

Post Independent: Tell me more about your first collaboration.

Rosemerry Trommer: The premise of our first collaboration was I would write a three-line poem and send it to Jill, and she’d do a three-line drawing that would go with it. Then we reversed the order.

Jill Sabella: We didn’t actually meet in person until all the work was done. We only knew each other through seeing each other’s work online. We were so moved by what each other did in the poetry and then in the drawings. It was really quite an experience for both of us. It was very inspired work. I would read one of Rosemerry’s poems and I would immediately see it in three lines.

RT: I would write many, many versions for each of Jill’s images and then select one to send her. It was definitely exciting to be working with an artist in another medium. It was thrilling.

JS: It was the first time I’d ever done that. What was wonderful was you would go to places you never would’ve gone to on your own. When you love the other person’s work, you’re willing to go with that and see where it leads.

PI: How did that compare to your work for “Correspondence”? What was this process like?

JS: When that ended, we thought, oh my gosh, what are we going to do next together? And then all of a sudden this “Correspondence” show started out. When you first start out you’re not sure where it’s going to go. We just started sending things back and forth. It has a different tone to it. I ventured into writing—not writing anything lengthy. But it was that same sort of brevity and thoughts and washes.

RT: The prompt they gave us was “what I most want to tell you today.” I thought (it was) really exciting because there’s a certain urgency about that prompt. The most important thing for me to tell you today is this. To know you’re going to be telling that person in a many-days way. Today this is the most important thing, the next day this is the most important thing. To know that these things you’re going to be sharing with this person aren’t necessarily like, ‘this is what happened with my son today’ or ‘this is what I’m struggling with politically today.’

JS: I never told you this, Rosemerry, but one day I was so upset politically that I wrote down the Gettysburg Address, but I never sent it (both laugh).

RT: Because we’re artistic partners, what seems the most important thing to tell Jill seems very different than what would be most important to tell an old friend or a work mate. There’s a sweetness that comes in having a relationship that’s really wholly based in making art.

PI: Tell me more about your experience of the work itself.

RT: I can say that the postmaster at my post office in Placerville loved our correspondence. She thrilled when I would come in and bring her something and also when she would say, ‘oh, you have something in your box.’ It was exciting for the postmistress to be part of this engagement also. I really wasn’t thinking about other people seeing it most of the time. It was really about me and Jill.

… I think what that showed me, anyway, was that there was a pleasure in something that can be very functional, the mail, especially now that we use emails and phones so much for most of our communication. … There’s a sweetness that comes from seeing something everyday—mail—elevated, or honored or engaged with in a new way.

PI: Did this project differ in any way than your first experience with such an effort?

RT: One thing I learned from it, although this wasn’t new, is that I never ever want to stop collaborating with Jill.

JS: Oh, Rosemerry. It’s so special. I have done one other collaboration, but with Rosemerry it was inspired. It changed the way I do art since then. It’s all because of how Rosemerry opened that up in me. It was a whole new experience and it was really a life-changing thing, really transforming in how I do my work.

RT: I don’t know where we’re going to go from here, but I do think what we found was a sense of increased playfulness as we went on. Jill moved into writing and I dabbled in—I think doodling might even be generous for what I was doing. So both of us were both playing around with what other ways we communicate with each other.

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