Rural retreat

Resident Artist Program in Silver City

Frances Melhop photographs Comstock residents inside the historical Silver City School House.

Frances Melhop photographs Comstock residents inside the historical Silver City School House.

Photo/courtesy resident Artist program

To learn more about the Resident Artist Program in Silver City, visit or follow “Resident Artist Program in Silver City Nevada” on Facebook.

Quest Lakes and her family moved out of their house in Silver City after a mining operation posed threats of noise and air pollution, but she’s still pretty attached to the place. It’s a DIY assemblage of geodesic domes at the end of a steep, dirt road in this historic town of about 200 residents.

“This was originally at the UNR campus,” Lakes said of the oldest dome. “The art students had built this.” It originally belonged to her father-in-law, retired University of Nevada, Reno art professor Jim McCormick.

A library nook is stocked with books on Nevada, and the view out a south-ish facing window seems to go forever.

Comfortable and welcoming as the house is, a guest of Lakes wasn’t getting enough sleep, and it wasn’t the mid-August heat keeping her awake. The guest was Frances Melhop, a New Zealander and fashion photographer who lives in Reno. She was one of a string of artists, performers and writers who’ve stayed in the house, which Lakes uses as the living quarters and studio for the Resident Artist Program in Silver City, which she runs.

Melhop was there for a six-day photo shoot. Because her lighting and backdrop equipment is far too large for the dome house, she was working in the historic Silver City School House a few blocks down the road.

She was adding to her series of portraits of Comstock residents. She said she wanted to let her subjects’ personalities shine through. Compared with shooting for fashion magazines, she said, “It’s like a whole different headspace.” She sounded downright humbled as she talked about hearing and seeing “super amazing stories, super amazing faces. It’s kind of a mine of amazingness.”

Hence the sleepless nights. Her subjects, after being photographed, were interviewed by filmmaker Mary Works Covington. Melhop plans to include the recordings along with her photos in a 2017 gallery exhibit. After each day of shooting, she’d been listening to them late into the night.

“It’s like another whole eight-hour day of recordings, so I’m listening to them, and it’s just brilliant stuff. The first women who were the firefighters—and some woman who ran herself over with her own car. … I’m laughing my pants off, and I’m crying, and I don’t even know half of these people.”

Visiting artists structure their projects however they like. In Melhop’s case, she was planning to do some mentoring once her shoot wrapped up.

“Tomorrow I’m handing it over to the interns,” she said. “They’re going to work on projects that they want to do. I’m going to teach them lighting skills, how to measure light, how to do a portrait, different ways of lighting.”

Participants have come from places such as Michigan and London. Each artist is asked to do a public presentation, whether an exhibit, workshop or performance.

“Scott McClough from Oakland, he built three enormous ships out of found objects,” said Lakes. “One is on display at St. Mary’s [Art Center in Virginia City] right now.”

Later in August, a new resident arrived, Dr. David Lee, the poet laureate of Utah. He plans to stay through December to write poetry and teach workshops.

“There’s something about this space that helps people be creative and produce things,” said Lakes.