A day in the life of an artist-in-residence at Pine Needles

Time spent at the historic river cabin is a combination of inspiration, exploration, and relaxation.




3 minute read

Ryan Rodgers, a photographer and writer from Osceola, WI, is currently in his second week as an artist-in-residence at Pine NeedlesHe sent the following report on his stay, and a couple lovely photos.

Pine Needles Property
Pine Needles Property (Photo by Ryan Rodgers)

Pine Needles is a simple cabin, perched as it has been for nearly a century atop a small white cliff, so near the river a person could take a running leap from the mossy patio pavers and almost make water. Almost.

I’m staying here for seventeen days, photographing the river and working on a writing project. The Saint Croix Watershed Research Station opens the cabin for two or three artists during summer. This season there’s been a painter (briefly), a potter and now me.

Inside, the cabin smells of wood aged brittle, of nooks hiding dust that will never be cleaned. This cabin is little like the grander, newer dwellings that line the lower Saint Croix, cabins the first owner of Pine Needles, John Dunn, would have probably described as, “rather pretentious.” Dunn was, though, one of the first to build on the Saint Croix, for the sake of being on the river.

His son, James Taylor Dunn, later donated the cabin and the 20 or so surrounding acres to the Science Museum of Minnesota (which runs the Saint Croix Watershed Research Station).

Few have the integrity and commitment to preservation necessary for giving away a property that surely could have netted the Dunns millions, had they broken it up into residential lots for neo-colonial monstrosities.

Dunn (both John and JT) would be pleased with Pine Needles these days—the pines are growing fatter, the spring stream still flows cold, and occasionally someone enjoys the cabin’s simple comforts. At least I think they’d be pleased, and if not, if it’s any consolation, I sure am having a good time. A day goes something like this:

6am. Quit hitting snooze. Paddle downriver to Crunchberry Island. Find a spot in the shallows with good leading lines and the east behind. Wait for the sun and hope for the light that keeps you up at night wondering where to find.

9am. Sit on the pavers of the patio and watch the river. Glass the birds squawking in the trees. Glass the paddlers and pontoons. Try to read. If too tired go to hammock until lunch.

Noon. Fry chorizo and eggs in the tiny kitchen on the tiny electric stove. Dump onto flour tortilla with cheese, avocado and salsa. Gorge.

1pm. Try to write. Get distracted. Stand to inspect a large white pine. Go for a walk to remember what you are supposed to be doing.

2pm. Try to write. First make another pot of coffee. Stand on the cliff edge looking into the water for fish.

2:30pm. Write!

5pm. Drink a beer to celebrate.

5:15pm. Unlock gate off highway for visitors.

6pm. Hint to visitors you need to go photograph.

6:15pm. With visitors refusing to leave, load gear into canoe and paddle to the spot you think might work for that shot you can almost imagine.

8pm. Return to empty cabin, a light glowing inside that someone thought to leave for you, along with dinner. Feel very good. Eat. Drink more beer. Listen to music. Build fire on patio if night is cool and calm.

10:30pm. Take book to bed. Observe clock and realize it’s time to sleep if you’re going to get up for that morning sun.

River Reflections
River Reflections (Photo by Ryan Rodgers)


2 responses to “A day in the life of an artist-in-residence at Pine Needles”

  1. Ryan Rodgers Avatar

    Reading what I wrote, I probably got a little carried away in claiming the
    Dunns could have made “millions” from selling the property instead of donating it. Maybe it would have fetched a million, I don’t know, I’m not a real estate agent.

    Also, my claiming John Dunn was “one of the first” to build a river home is pressing history a bit. A more accurate way of stating this would have been to describe him an early Saint Croix aficionado.

  2. Brendan Kennealy Avatar

    Great to hear what you’re up to. Hope you’re enjoying it, and if not, go drink a beer. Good luck, Ryan!


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A day in the life of an artist-in-residence at Pine Needles