Spending September As Bandelier’s Artist In Residency Ties Past And Future Together For Poet Sarah Colby

Sarah Colby, right, takes in the calm late fall afternoon in Frijoles Canyon at Bandelier National Monument with her husband, Cloyd, at the end of her month in the Canyon as artist in residence. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

Sarah Colby introduces various writing prompts to Bandelier National Monument visitors during her September residency at the park. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com


The Los Alamos Reporter first met Bandelier National Monument’s September artist in residence poet Sarah Colby in June 2019 when she brought her mother, Sonya Lovold Atkinson, to the park for a surprise visit.

Colby had come across a photo from the 1941 tourism brochure and thought she recognized her grandfather in it, which her Atkinson confirmed.  What transpired was a surprise mother-daughter trip to Bandelier that was a gift to both of them. All these years later, for Colby to end up at Bandelier as an artist in residence has tied everything together and after a month in Frijoles Canyon, walking in the footsteps of her mother and her grandmother, she seemed sad that her time there was over… for now.

Colby has a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Sierra Nevada University, which is now part of the University of Nevada system. As it was a low-residency program, was able to remain engaged even though being a military spouse required to move half-way through it. Colby’s husband, Cloyd, is a 40-year military veteran.

Earning that degree launched Colby as a serious writer, giving her the writing craft skills to add to the ideas she already had. Her emphasis was on poetry and one of her objectives had been to put together a manuscript of her homes that reflect on the military experience. When she was at Bandelier in 2019, she had looked into the artists in residence program and applied, but then COVID hit.

When the program opened up again, Colby thought it would be a perfect opportunity for her.

“A month in the canyon would be perfect. I could go immerse myself in writing and immerse myself in this place that my grandmother lived, where my mother spent time – and I would have time to write. So I applied,” she said.

The application process is pretty rigorous and is open to artists in all genres – studio artists, photographers, writers, dancers, and musicians.  Some programs are managed by the National Parks Association and other, like Bandelier’s, are managed by the park itself.  Because it’s a smaller park, Bandelier doesn’t offer a stipend like some parks, but Colby treasured the little casita provided for her in the heart of Frijoles Canyon.

Colby’s interaction with the Bandelier public throughout her residency involved a station she set up at the visitor’s center that included prompt cards to write a Haiku, an acrostic poem or a piece of flash fiction up to 500 words with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Colby’s prompts drew visitors to write descriptions of what they experienced during their Bandelier visit and included physical objects, colors, sounds, smells, feelings and more, allowing them to become in their own way part of the history of the park. Many of the cards were displayed on a board at the visitor’s center, but many people chose to take theirs home with them.

“The writing gives people another way to connect with their park. Everybody takes pictures, everybody grabs the brochure, they get something from the gift shop – this is a different medium for them.  For me it’s important because you think differently when you write, you respond to things differently when you write,” Colby said.

As Colby wandered around Frijoles Canyon with her husband towards evening on her last official day at the park, it seemed like she’s already planning  to come back to her home away from home sometime in the future.

Children and adults from all over took the opportunity to contribute their Haikus, acrostic poems and prose to Sarah Colby’s artist in residence September project at Bandelier National Monument. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

Some of the writing left behind by visitors to Bandelier National Monument in response to an artist in residence program put in place by poet Sarah Colby in September at the park. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

September’s artist in residence at Bandelier National Monument poet Sarah Colby at the visitor’s center in Frijoles Canyon. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com