Kelli Foret Richard is an artist, gardener and teacher. And she seems to manage to combine all of these roles in everything she does.
She works in the talented visual arts program at five area high schools, passing on both her love of art and how it connects to the world.
Kelli recently received an Artspark Fellowship (from the Acadiana Center for the Arts and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority) for her current project, Drawn to Grow. It’s a project rooted in Kelli’s love for nature and the disarming fact that some scientists believe that unless we change our conventional farming methods, our planet has about 57 years of harvest left before it reaches desertification. total.
To draw attention and focus on this, Kelli will create 57 drawings of plants that are easy to grow at home, and as she illustrates each of them, she sends out a meditation for healing. Everything will be presented to the public later in the year.
I walked away from our meeting holding a dill plant and knowing that I had a whole new awareness of nature, art and the fact that they are the same thing.
What was your first job? I worked in my father’s wholesale tree nursery, pulling weeds, setting up irrigation. I think I only lasted one summer.
Describe a typical day in your life. I wake up at 5 a.m., feed my dogs, get coffee, put on my teacher’s uniform and take it to whatever school I’m at that day. After teaching, I run to my dogs and into my garden. I usually water the plants by hand and give the garden and yard a good look over with my husband, Troy. We tackle a few odds and then we decide to have dinner. Somewhere in those little moments, I manage to draw for a few minutes at a time and maybe take a walk.
What advice would you give to younger people? Go further for what you want. I think I’ve given up too easily in the past. Maybe it’s because I sometimes had trouble understanding what it was.
What event in your life most shaped who you are now? When I was 27-28, things really changed for me. I think I was starting to find out who I really was and what I really wanted in life. I had checked all the “should do” boxes like going to college and getting that awesome job and that awesome house with the awesome husband. All of those boxes were wonderful and were good things, but not really what I wanted and needed. I needed to be free to adventure, to create and to really live. I feel like this is the life I created for myself and live now. It’s not perfect all the time, but I’m freer to make rich choices for myself.
What values do you live? Be grateful, eat real food, be with real people, get out there and get moving. But above all, love yourself, love others, and love the natural world.
What do you appreciate the most? When I make my gratitude list, I title it, “Happy, Thank You, More Please!” There are always a few items on this list that pop up over and over again: my family, my friends, my amazing husband, our dogs, our home, yard and garden, our health, our travels and adventures, and the real food that we eat.
What is your favorite trip? Every summer the hubs and I load up the dogs and head west with no plans. We escape the Louisiana heat and enjoy the dry air and high altitude backcountry adventures. We live in our truck and our backpacks all summer, meet amazing people and become dirty bags for a few months. As summer ends, we miss what we have in Louisiana and are ready to return to our beloved homeland. These summers are vital to our existence. They give us renewed energy to carry on and continue living. It’s really what motivates us to work hard all year to be able to do what we love.
What’s your favorite place to be alone? My house, my yard, my garden. It may sound sad, but everything I love is here. It really is my sanctuary.
Which living figure inspires you the most? I think now I’ve started to really admire young people. Young people have yet to embrace all the negative talk that we older people seem to have in our heads. They are going there.
What was the best advice you ever received? Show up, be present, enjoy the journey and don’t be attached to the outcome. I learned that from Fran Clark.
What book would you tell everyone to read? “Nurturing Traditions” by Sally Fallon. I learned so much about real food when I read this book.
What’s the best thing about where you live? I live on a dead end street in Sunset. I know most of the merchants in my small town and most of the people who live on my street. When someone needs something, we take care of each other. We share fresh eggs and garden produce as well as game and fish. It’s a real community. I think that’s probably the case for most rural communities as well as some pockets of urban communities.
How do you “let the good times roll”? I’m laughing right now because I feel like I’ve become a maw-maw. I love to read, draw, garden, cook, sew and travel. If I can sit in the yard and have a glass of wine with someone I love, then that’s a party for me.
What did you want to be growing up? I imagined myself carrying a briefcase and walking the streets of New York. I couldn’t even imagine this life now. How far I have come from that! Now I drag art supplies from school to school and play in the dirt.
What is your motto? KISS – keep it simple, stupid.
How would you like to be remembered? I hope to die an old woman so when I finally leave I guess there aren’t many people left that I know. I hope to age gracefully with silver hair and laugh lines and all exhausted after doing all the things I wanted to do. So I guess I’d like to be remembered as someone who really got going, who really lived.
What do you tell yourself when you doubt yourself? One day at a time. That’s what my Maw Maw Julia always said.
What are the three essential things to BE YOU? My family and friends who encourage and support me, being outside and eating real food.
What words or phrases do you overuse the most? I misuse the word “great”. I really wish I could come up with a new word, but nothing else really seems to fit when I’m excited about something or someone.
What do you collect? Seeds, art, outdoor gear
What food could you live on for a month? Gruyere
What would you change about yourself? I wish I didn’t worry too much about the money.
Which character from literature, film or comics do you most identify with? I don’t know, but my favorite actor is Paul Rudd. He makes me laugh so much in every movie. He’s so clumsy and I love that. I’m pretty clumsy too.
Describe yourself in five words. Idealistic, stubborn, straightforward, driven, true
What is your idea of happiness? My idea of perfect happiness is to do what I want when I want. However, I think happiness is different because happiness is when life is not in perfect bliss and you accept whatever is currently and you have made peace with it and you don’t what to enjoy the moment. When you can get to this place more often than not, that’s bliss.
What is your favorite movie? “Under the Tuscan sun.”
What music defines who you are? I love so many different types and styles of music. But I think the music rooted in South Louisiana defines me the most because that’s what was playing throughout my childhood. I am Cajun at heart. Often I forget this until I travel to a different place. Then I realize how Cajun I am. The music, the traditions, the jokes, the food – all of it.
Who is your style icon? I have a hard time with that because I wear black almost every day as an art teacher, and when I’m home I’m covered in garden soil. The only time I really dress up is when Richard Revue is doing a show or it’s during a festival. At that time, I just pull everything I have from my closet. Sometimes I ask one of my nieces if it looks OK.
What do you regret the most? I guess there are some things I regret, but most of the time these days I learn that life is about learning. If that wasn’t one thing I would regret, it would be another. At this point in life, I really have to let it all go.
What question would you like me to ask you? What is currently growing in your garden? The 3 sisters corn, beans, squash; peanuts and melon; okra and peppers, tomatoes and basil; radishes, carrots and garlic; onions and carrots; asparagus and strawberries; pollinating flowers, leftover broccoli from the winter and all the herbs you can think of.
What do you do with your garden when you leave in the summer? Our neighbors tend and harvest it. They love our garden as much as we do because it always produces more than we can eat and everything is shared. By the way, we only use regenerative practices, so the value of the products they receive are high quality compared to what you’ll find in any grocery store. The closest comparison would be to a local farmer’s market.
Lots of information about the Drawn to Grow project on my site kelliforetartwork.com