Whiteley Scholars Véronique Robigou, Artist and Geologist from Seattle and Bruce Nelson, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences and Associate Dean for Research at the College of the Environment

For Véronique Robigou and Bruce Nelson, spending time at the Whitleley Center scratches the same itch: to get out of the city and into the country, to go someplace quiet and beautiful, to be surrounded by thinkers and doers of all ages from all over the country and world. Based in Seattle, the couple looks for opportunities to head to the Center whenever they can to slow down, even if just for a short while.

But slowing down can have a counterintuitive side-effect, and for Robigou and Nelson it’s that their productivity is sky-high when they visit. Turns out that stripping away the distractions of everyday city life allows them to focus on what matters at that moment.

“The pressures of the outside world are left at the door,” says Robigou. “At the Whiteley Center, you breathe your work within your life and vice versa, and render both experiences more intense, pleasurable and often more productive.”

Robigou and Nelson go about reaping that productivity in different ways. Robigou is a marine geologist by training who now spends most of her time as an artist. When at the Center, she retreats to the Macfarlane Art Studio, focusing on painting and drawing, and preparing for exhibits. “Much of my art comes from the sea,” she says. Nelson is a professor of Earth and Space Sciences at UW and Associate Dean of Research at the College of the Environment. He spends his time at the Center pursuing grants, writing scientific papers and proposals, and planning class field trips and course outlines.

St. Francis Cemetery, San Juan Island, by Véronique Robigou

While Nelson’s use of the Center is often work he could do in other places, like on the UW campus in Seattle or at home, visiting the center still unlocks a creativity that’s harder to come by elsewhere. He begins each day by strolling the campus, perusing the stacks of books in the library, talking with students and researchers from the UW and across the country and world.

“You don’t know who will be in the desk nearby or around campus or in the dining hall,” says Nelson. “The randomness of who you run into and what you might talk about often feed into what I am working on. The randomness does not distract, but it adds to my productivity. All this serendipitous stuff happens, and it's just fabulous.”

Robigou echoes these sentiments. “Being surrounded by nature is important, and even more now that I go with artistic ideas in mind. I love being in the studio because I am totally focused on that. People come by and wonder what an artist is doing there and there is a dialogue that happens, bringing art and science together.”

A trip to the dining hall often holds the biggest surprises for Nelson and Robigou. “I love the interactions with folks there, love the chance encounters. You meet all these other researchers, often from other countries, all in this little microcosm. Even though it's this tiny spot, all these people gather in a way that you can’t elsewhere,” says Robigou.

Nelson also serves on the Center’s Administrative Committee and he recently revisited the charter and vision as stated by the founder Arthur Whiteley. “I’ve looked back at why this Center exists, why Arthur did this. The sense of interdisciplinary interaction, being more relaxed and having better thinking in a relaxed place, the randomness of interaction…this is exactly what he envisioned. I think it's amazing that that’s what FHL and the Center have achieved.”

Nelson and Robigou both acknowledge the Whiteley Center would not be the place it is without the tireless dedication and support of staff, which upholds the legacy of Arthur and Helen Whiteley. “The community that is created is all of these people, and without the excellent staff it would be impossible to create such an inspiring community.”

Learn more about Robigou at her website and Nelson on the UW webpage.

Dancing Octopus by Véronique Robigou

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