These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 5: “Holly Blake saved my life.”

If you ask anybody who has spent some time at Headlands about this place, they’re likely to talk about the fog, the sunsets over the lagoon, the shared meals, and, the heart of the organization, Senior Residency Manager Holly Blake. Holly has been with us at Headlands almost since the beginning. She manages the logistics of our Residency program but also so much more: she holds our history, our horoscopes, knows all the ghosts and all the gossip.

And, for Alumni Artist May Wilson, Holly is a literal lifesaver.


May Wilson ('13–'17)

“There’s the ocean, of course, and the brawling wind. The smoky fog that lasts for days and breaks occasionally in a heartrending sundown. The damp smell of eucalyptus; listening to bobcats fighting in trees—super-occasionally, of course. And I once saw a mountain lion at dusk. Whenever I tell anyone about that I have to describe the back porch at the top of the hill, and a distance that seems awe-striking but not horrific. But the actual national treasure of the Headlands is Holly Blake. And she saved my life once.”

Holly Blake and Rebecca Solnit, sitting beneath some trees talking with one another.

Holly Blake (right) chatting with Alumni Artist Rebecca Solnit.


“Holly holds the history of the place and puts up with all the hanky-panky, prissy, high falutin’ artists who come through—artists who need their studios just so. Holly will come to your house in the night to help catch the bats with sheets, or the errant mice. Well, you can’t really get the mice out; Powder would eat with them out of her bowl, for example, although I have it on good authority (from Holly) that Powder was once a skilled hunter and the mouse problem is relatively new. But Holly will listen to you bellyaching about the mice, too.”

May Wilson in a room, crouched on the floor, manipulating a tube-like form that hangs from the ceiling; other sculptures in pinka nd grey hang on the walls and from ceiling hooks.

May Wilson in the studio. Photo by Andria Lo.


“I was pouring concrete in long sleeves of fabric, using ocean water and sand from the beach. They sometimes (almost always) leaked, and every now and then the seams would rip under their own weight, as you can imagine they would. I did this because it was hard, or I thought it was important, or more likely I was completely distracted by the process and pushing out reality soothed me. Anyway, I did these things in these beautiful historic buildings, and one such time was in a Headlands gallery space (with hardwood floors, of course) in the middle of the night. The process didn’t necessarily start in the middle of the night, although, honestly, it could have—my brand of shyness and hubris dictates that I need no help and wouldn’t like an audience anyhow.

“The slumped sleeves of setting concrete were eight feet tall and held in some kind of matrix so they depended on the beautiful plaster-white columns in the iconic space. I was under them, adjusting them as I regularly did to ‘pose’ them correctly before they set.

“They began to fall.

“On me.

“All told I’d guess it was 250lbs of partially wet concrete. And I mentioned it was the middle of the night? I wriggled and stretched for a few seconds to see if I could save the sculpture and myself, stretching my arms, pulling out and up. After all, I’ve gotten out of these things before, the whole scenario was so familiar. When all seemed lost I started yelling. I wasn’t exactly prepared to die, but if there was anyone around at all: HELP!

“Who was still there late into the night, quietly arranging for the next day, but patron saint Holly Blake. She rushed in and saved me and my dumpy sculpture.

“Thanks, Holly, for all of the history you hold and all the ways you have supported the whims of scores of misanthropic artists like me.”

A sculpture of grey tube-like legs draped with pink and white material, leaning, held by a length of yellow strap attached off screen

May Wilson, Holder, 2014; vinyl, concrete, industrial felt, strapping; 4 x 4 x 15 ft. Photo by Andria Lo.

View These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 1

These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 1

View These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 2

These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 2

View These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 3

These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 3

View These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 4

These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 4

View These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 6

These Walls Tell Tales, pt. 6