PEABODY — How's this sound for a summer job? You live in a historic 1600s mansion on the most beautiful spot in Peabody and make art all day.
That's exactly how Meghan Wicks, 21, and Ashton Alba, 19, are spending their summer. The two Montserrat students — Wicks graduated this year, and Alba is an ascending sophomore — are the first artists in residence sponsored by the Peabody Historical Society.
"Their only job every day is to go out and paint," says society Executive Director Bill Power. The hope is that, by the end of the seven-week residency, the society will have a couple dozen new pieces of art to display in its galleries and around the city. The paintings will have a historical bent, but Wicks and Alba have freedom to pretty much paint whatever they choose. They receive $150 per week and get to live in the top floor of the Nathaniel Felton Jr. House at Brooksby Farm, surrounded by beautiful orchards, historic buildings and blooming flowers.
Both artists were informed of the opportunity in the spring and selected by Montserrat's internship director, Joan Milnes, for the job.
"It sounded excellent," said Alba, who grew up in Rhode Island and is an illustration major at the college. "I was looking for summer work and to be able to paint — I love it."
The society sees the artists program as a way to promote culture and expand its impact and role in the community.
This is kind of a new thing for us ... kind of a leap," Power said. "I'm a believer that if we are to be successful as an organization, we need to reach out to the community and bring people in; we need to get outside of our comfort zone and go out and do creative things in the community with a historical bent."
Power approached Milnes about the idea at the North Shore Business Expo in March, and she sent out a campuswide email. Students had to get reference letters from instructors and write a couple of paragraphs about why they would be a good choice. They also had to be willing to give most of what they produce to the society at the conclusion of the summer.
Alba wrote about her love of antiques, and Wicks wrote about growing up in a house in western Massachusetts built in 1753.
"I love charming old houses," Wicks said.
The personalities, the excellent references and their artistic chops made them perfect choices.
"They're both very talented students," Milnes said.
Both artists work in a variety of mediums including oil, watercolor, pen and pencil sketches, and mixed media. They arrived at their new home last Monday and immediately began exploring, taking pictures and gathering ideas.
"I've seen a bunch of different properties, looked at old photos and framed out work," Alba said. "You can find inspiration in a lot of different places."
"Sometimes it's whatever pops out at you," Wicks said. "You go out, take a lot of pictures and see what works."
Both artists think they can create about a dozen or so pieces by the time the residency ends July 25. Afterward, the society is planning on exhibiting the work for the general public for about a month at the barn at Brooksby Farm. Then the pieces will be added to the society's collection to be shown at the downtown gallery and in its various buildings, Power said.
The artist residency is something he envisions becoming an annual summer event and perhaps even expanding to include writers, poets, musicians and others in time.
"This is a place where they are free to tune out and do what they want to do," Power said.