Evelyn Rensing Kochansky is the inspiration for the Rensing Center and mother of the director. She was born in Brooklyn, NY, the fifth generation of women in her family there, in 1920. Growing up in the depression, she learned resourcefulness. Living near the Brooklyn Museum, she practiced drawing there every weekend, and took the streetcar to check out the maximum allowable number of books from the local library, forming two life-long habits. She graduated from Pratt Institute in 1941, married Nicholas Kochansky the same year, and went on to work in mechanical drawing, raise two children, and teach art and science for 25 years at the King School in Stamford, CT. She served on the board of the Stamford Museum and Nature Center before retiring to Pickens SC. Her passions are world travel and gardening.
Board of Directors
Ellen Kochansky, Executive Director, Chair. In a career spanning over 40 years, Ellen Kochansky has actively promoted the arts, the preservation and extension of craft traditions, and environmentally responsible practices. She founded The Rensing Center to further these goals, and to connect the creative process to our need to live more gently on the earth. Her artistic practice is rooted in her experience as a textile artist, designer and quilter, and her work has always stretched those definitions to include experimental fiber and mixed-media art, public and private commissions as well as community-based and site-specific installations. For her company, EKO, she designed and manufactured custom quilts from 1989 to 2004. She has been an American Craft Council Trustee (1989-1993), a National Endowment for the Arts American Canvas Panelist (1997), and a founding Director of Ripple Effect Sustainable Design Group (1999-2001). She has twice been chosen Craft Fellow by the South Carolina Arts Commission. She currently sits on the Executive board of the SC ArtsAlliance, and the Artist Services Committee of the SC Arts Commission, and has served on the Pickens County Cultural Commission and on the City of Clemson’s Green Ribbon Commission. Ellen has shared her experience through teaching and workshops, including Penland, Arrowmont, and the Innovation Institute (McColl Center, Charlotte, NC), and as a juror for national art shows such as Cherry Creek, Evanston, and American Craft Council, as well as South Carolina’s Verner Awards. Her work is included in The Mint Museum, The American Museum of Art and Design in NY, and the White House Collection, and she has been cited in various book, articles, and television programs, notably CBS Sunday Morning and the book Six Continents of Quilts.
Nathan Koci, Vice-Chair is a Brooklyn-based musician, composer, and actor from Charleston, South Carolina, currently serving on the faculty at the New School. He relishes and instigates collaborative music-making as often as he can, be it folk songs, chamber music, jazz, or improvising in various styles. He enjoys a diverse career as a “quirky multi-instrumentalist” (TimeOut NY), performing on the horn and accordion, as well as other keyboard, brass, and strummed stringed instruments. Called a “new-music maven” by TimeOut NY, he has long been an advocate for music by living composers, premiering pieces by Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, and Yotam Haber, and working with ensembles Signal, Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble Modern, Bang on a Can, Beth Morrison Projects, Red Light New Music, Your Bad Self, Dance Heginbotham, Wordless Music and the New Music Collective. As a composer, Koci has composed for theatre (PURE Theatre, Eurydice), dance (Anneke Hansen Dance, Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance), and film (National Park Service, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art), as well as for his own instrumental trio The Opposite of a Train. He has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, National Sawdust, BAM, the LA Opera, the San Francisco Opera, and the Public Theater in New York City. His theater work has included serving as Music Director and Accordionist for Much Ado About Nothing in NYC’s Shakespeare in the Park 2014 Season (Music by David Yazbek, Directed by Jack O’Brien), working alongside Kathleen Turner in a 2014 production of Mother Courage and her Children, and co-performing the role of Songman in the 1st US National Tour of the Tony Award-winning play War Horse.
Betsy Andrews, Secretary is an award-winning poet, essayist, and journalist who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her book New Jersey (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007) received the Brittingham Prize in Poetry, and her book The Bottom (42 Miles Press, 2014) won the 42 Miles Press Poetry Prize. She is also the author of four chapbooks: SuperCollider, with artist Peter Fox, created for the show “Push Me, Pull You: Ellisions, Incision and Collisions in Collaboration” at the I.S.E. Foundation (New York, NY, 2006); In Trouble/C3, with Bruce Andrews (Boog Press, 2004); She Devil (Sardines Press, 2004); and New Jersey (Furniture Press, 2004). Betsy’s poems have been appeared widely in publications including Fence, Matter, Ocean Review, Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-a-Day,” and in translation in the Yemeni newspaper Culture. Her essays appear in anthologies including Fierce: Essays by and About Strong Women. (Nauset Press, forthcoming 2018); Best Food Writing (Da Capo Press, 2016); Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House, 2005); Dangerous Families: Queer Writing on Surviving (Routledge, 2004); and Before and After: Stories from New York (Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, 2002), as well as widely in literary journals and magazines. She is the recipient of two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships, an Astraea Foundation Award in Poetry, the Philadelphia City Paper Poetry Prize, and a Folger Library Lannan Fellowship, as well as numerous residencies in poetry and creative non-fiction. She has been a visiting writer at Franklin & Marshall College, University of Rhode Island, Carlton College, Indiana State University, George Mason University, and Georgetown University. She makes her living as a journalist. She is the former executive editor of Saveur magazine, a former New York Times dining critic, and has been nominated for writing awards by the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Matt Macauley, Treasurer, is associate professor of mathematical sciences at Clemson University. His road to Clemson included doctoral work at University of California, Santa Barbara, and summers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and at Virginia Tech. He is also the recent recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation and the Simons Foundation.
Susan Perry has over thirty years of non-profit management and arts administration experience. Susan Perry is the executive director emeritus of the Southeastern Museums Conference, a nonprofit membership organization that serves museums and museum professionals in twelve states throughout the Southeast. She received a B.A. in Art and English from Agnes Scott College, a M.A. in English from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a M.F.A. in Drawing and Painting from California State University, Long Beach. Her artistic work focuses on handmade paper installations and mixed media sculpture. For five years, she served as the Grants Director of the Alabama Humanities Foundation and advised the development of public programs for the Southern Literary Trail. As the Adult Programs Coordinator at the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, N.C., she contributed to the IMLS Smart Connections and True Needs, True Partners: Museums and Schools Transforming Education grants and several North Carolina Arts Council grant projects. For the past twenty years, she was an instructor of art history and fine art at numerous universities. As a lecturer and conference speaker, she has conducted grant writing/fundraising workshops and served as an advisor on grant projects.
Merrie Koester Ph.D. is the author of the nationally implemented Agnes Pflumm science education novels, the product of twenty five years of teaching and research on bringing students to science through the creative arts. A practicing painter and poet, she is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Furman University in biology and received her masters’ degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she researched and developed curriculum for teaching science through the visual arts, creative writing and drama, music and movement. She earned her Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning from the University of South Carolina. Her book, Science Teachers Who Draw: The Red Is Always There narrates the research and stories of the academic turnarounds of previously struggling science students, whose teachers learned to use arts practices to communicate meaning. Merrie directs the Center for Science STEAM program, and is currently facilitating two participatory action research initiatives: Project Draw for Science and Kids Teaching Flood Resilience . Her current community outreach initiative positions middle and high school students in low income, flood prone schools as resources of knowledge and action for their families and neighbors. At the heart of this work is a focus on place-based learning conducted through an ethic of care as well as the public sharing of resilience artifacts. Merrie serves on the advisory council of the Innovation Collaborative, a national forum to foster creativity, innovation, and lifelong learning.
Ken Marsh is a consultant and Executive Director of the Woodstock Institute for Science & the Humanities. He has worked to reduce world hunger by cutting food losses since 1992 and was awarded the 2015 Elisabeth Fleming Stier Award for humanitarian contributions for that work. He held the first endowed professorship in packaging science in the US and is a Fellow of the Institute of Packaging Professionals and the Institute of Food Technologists, a Certified Packaging Professional and Certified Food Scientist. He co-edited the Wiley Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology, 2nd edition. He presented aspects of packaging and food security at six World Food Congresses, two World Packaging Congresses, 1st Save Food Congress, and other forums. He represented IFT at the World Food Summit:five years later. He helped develop High-Energy, Nutrient-Dense Emergency Relief Food Product with the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. He also served as chair of Clemson’s Green Ribbon Committee, which helped to implement environmental programs in town.
Linda Hanley-Thomas is a local mental health provider who came to the Pickens area by way of Rensing Center. As a child and family therapist, Linda could not resist relocating from New Hampshire when her first grandchild was born in nearby Greenville. By luck, the pottery at Rensing Center had become available for long term rentals. Linda applied, fell in love with Ellen, Evelyn, the land, the lifestyle, and all who are associated with Rensing. Ellen graciously taught Linda to make a baby quilt. Little Ben will hopefully join the flow of children who visit Rensing enjoying fellowship and sustainable living within this very creative community. Linda has improved her “material mindfulness”, learned organic gardening strategies, dyed cloth with local indigo, and savored weekly farm to table dinners. The gentle conversation at these amazing meals can go on for hours, sparking creative endeavors that continuously meet whatever need presents itself. Sometimes there are musicians playing or guest artists describing their projects. After a hard day at work, there is nothing better than driving MIle Creek Road to home – passing the Oreo cows, horses, sheep and pigs, with the occasional dog lolling in the road and maybe a glimpse of the sunset over the mountains. A walk down the waterfall path across from the pottery’s front door will soothe the senses. A look up at the star filled night always brings a sense of peace. It is hard to imagine an environment more welcoming than Rensing. As a board member, Linda hopes to continue to support this community as it moves forward in maintaining these fine qualities we experience here today.
Catherine Cross Tsintzos is an interdisciplinary artist focusing onenvironmental and social issues, traditional fine craft, and sustainability. She teaches, speaks, and exhibits extensively at museums and universities in the Southeast, and is the founder of the Art and Agriculture Project.
Lauren Holmes Willis is a devoted resident of Pickens, SC and works diligently to help others see it’s significance as a hub for the arts, natural wonder and social opportunity. She is the co-owner of the Appalachian Ale House in downtown Pickens, the assistant director of the Preschool at Holly Springs Center and the enthusiastic member of several city and non profit boards that share her mission. Lauren has a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Clemson University.
Michael Ellison is a professor emeritus in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Clemson University, in Clemson South Carolina, USA. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees in Physics and a Ph.D. in Polymer Fiber Physics (1982) from the Davis campus of the University of California. After remaining at UC Davis as a research scientist, he joined the Clemson University (CU) faculty in 1984. He advanced to full professor in 1998 and served as Interim Department Chair from August 2003 until January 2005. While in academia, his research embraced both natural and synthetic polymer fibers, as used in textile structures. Ellison’s most active research area upon retirement was in biologically-inspired materials: the study of natural systems for inspiration in new materials development. With colleagues in the School of Architecture at CU, he worked on developing unique architectural materials for robotics applications. He taught courses in physical properties of fibers and in melt extrusion production of synthetic fibers.
When not holding forth as a professor, Michael plays traditional Irish and American fiddle music, as well as other genres. It is this interest that attracted him, and attaches him, to the Rensing Center. He would like to help enhance the existing presence of the musical arts at Rensing. Finally, with his partner Jennifer Ruth, he has become a gentleman farmer, thoughtfully raising beef cattle, swine, and truly free-range chickens.
Brad Wyche, Upstate Forever Exec. Director, Greenville, SC
Brent Skidmore, Assistant Professor of Art and Gallery Director at UNC Asheville, Asheville, NC
Lori Bacigalupi, Director of Kiss of the Wolf Clothing, Norman, OK
Jan Kochansky, Retired Chemist of US Department of Agriculture, Keedysville, MD
Toni Sikes, Co-Founder and CEO at CODAworx, Madison, WI
Barbara Heifferon, Author and Professor at Lousiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Amalia Culp, London, England
Victoria Taylor, Consultant and Facilitator for McColl Center for Art +Innovation, Charlotte, NC
Ken May, Director of the South Carolina Arts Commission, Columbia, SC
Gerald Sweitzer, Non-Profit Consultant, Easley, SC
Kay Barrett, Attorney, Clemson, SC
Owen Riley, Photographer, Greenville, SC