For the undergrad in an art department, the menu presents some savory bites to sharpen a palate before diving into the deep dish of a graduate degree. The total immersion of an MFA program provides more depth and guidance, cozily cloaked in the security of being a student. Then it’s out of the cocoon of community and into the cold, cruel world. How ideal it would be to transition to a profession the way you arrived, with freedom, mentors, fresh air—and meals! The Headlands Center for the Arts in California’s Marin County partners with the California College of the Arts, Mills College, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco State University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley and UC Davis to provide year-long fellowships where graduates receive private studio time, public presentation opportunities, participation in a curated exhibition and peer-to-peer activities with national, international and other local artists, all in artist-refurbished, high, tin ceilinged, sun-suffused, old military structures—nourished by a fabled Mess Hall. Woodshop, letterpress, and an artist’s library are some of the many resources in the long hallways of these historic buildings, standing like sturdy stalwarts among the grassy hills facing the San Francisco Bay.

I met artist-in-residence Jenna Meacham in her Headlands studio where she smiled about the influence of her dad and grandfather, “hobby photographers.” Starting with that emphasis as an undergrad, she described embracing a more disciplinary practice in graduate school where, “I found myself really missing a community and struggling to advance my art without mentorship and peer critique.” Coincidentally, she became fascinated with the culture of human relationships, their expectations and realities. “I found everything I was looking for in my graduate program at SF State. The program really helped focus my practice, giving me direction and purpose. Upon graduation, I was lucky enough to receive the Headlands Graduate Fellowship. I have studio space for a year and get to be part of an amazing community. I also work freelance as an art preparator and teach around the Bay Area.”

A study of the studio starts with two discarded wedding dresses, shredded, then braided into sculptures impaled on the wall like dreams crushed and coiled. Plaster molds of open self-help books, emblems of the “industry of relationships,” are laid out like the ten commandments of couple-ness. Experiments with electroplating, a new process for Jenna, hang by the windows of the Residency, clearly a place where artists have a room with a view and a lot more. See Jenna’s artwork on her website. —Gwynned Vitello

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue