A space can tell you a lot about a person. Last year as the summer began tipping into the fall, we met with Rachel Schultz in her newly acquired space: a modest painting studio in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Rachel—warm, magnetic, bare faced, with feathery blonde hair cascading down her shoulders—greets us at the door. She is wearing a well-loved off-white linen button down with the sleeves loosely rolled up. A wide smile stretches across her face as she ushers us in.
The walls are adorned with a mix of her completed works and works in progress. Paint, brushes, sketchbooks, and various art supplies are sprawled across the floor. On the opposite end of the room, light spills in through two large windows. In the corner, by the entrance, a wall of wooden shelves functions as an altar of sorts. Spaced out on them are a collection of objects that hold importance to Rachel. A film camera. Dried flowers. Books, including a dog-eared copy of Rachel Cusk’s collection of essays, A Life’s Work.
Rachel’s space is as layered and multifaceted as she is. Artist. Creative for IDUN. Founder of the guesthouse and social enterprise Both,And. The common thread that runs through all of her creative endeavors is her gift for visual communication. She has the ability to distill intricate ideas and emotions into a singular expressive image. Whether it be a painting, a styling story, or a space, she is able to bring together a variety of elements in a cohesive, deliberate, and meaningful way, to offer a quiet commentary on the human psyche and the way we live and connect with one another.
This is not our first interview with Rachel. Many moons ago, we spoke with her while she was on the cusp of motherhood and had freshly moved back to New York to pursue an MPA in Social Impact, Innovation, and Investment. It’s not often that you get to revisit a conversation with someone in this manner. But in a way, the process of revisiting and revising is in itself what a journey is. A journey is something that keeps evolving, that requires care, attention, and constant check-ins.
This particular snapshot with Rachel is a gentle reminder of so many things: the circularity of life, the importance of taking inventory of how you spend your time, and the radical power of finding a room of one’s own.
7115: Hi Rachel, it's really lovely to be able to connect with you again and see how you're going along your journey through life. A lot has happened since we last spoke in 2018, both on a personal and global scale. How have the last few years been for you? Sorry, it’s a big question, but we’re all for diving straight into the deep end!
Rachel: I love these big questions because they force you to retrace your steps and reflect on all that has happened. I think the last we spoke I just had my first child (Henry, who is now 4 years old!), I was in the middle of my masters degree and at the start of my life/career in NYC. So many things have happened since then including a global pandemic and more recently my second child was born! The last few years have been some of the most meaningful yet; they have been both wondrous and stretching.
Becoming a mother and balancing work with personal life all while not losing self or creative passions has been a journey, one that I don’t think will ever be perfected. Overall, I would say the last few years have given me a deeper understanding and appreciation for many things. Firstly, for mothers and parenting in general; the sacrifice and selflessness of the act of parenting which I think, at times, gets overlooked. I gained a deeper sense of what is important and how I want to spend my time. Specifically, no longer looking outward at what others are doing or expecting of me but rather inward at what is personal and sacred, which directs how I spend hours in the day. And lastly, a profound appreciation for my community and support system which is a crucial aspect in surviving and flourishing in life!
Rachel is wearing her favorite pieces from our Signature Collection.
“it is often the raw and ugly experiences that refine one’s pursuit in life and creative endeavors. ”
7115: You now have a second child too, Soren. How does being a mother weave its way into your art?
Rachels: Being a mother is a raw experience. It stretches you beyond your physical and emotional capacities. There are countless beautiful and lovely moments, still it is often the raw and ugly experiences that refine one’s pursuit in life and creative endeavors. Through motherhood I found a new sense of endurance and confidence that poured into my art. Although, I’m sure I lost things, for instance the luxury of time, I gained a new priority: to be true to myself in my art. Being a mother weaves into my art by giving me a different set of eyes or way of seeing the world which is always beneficial for any creative act.
7115: On that note, your mother worked for a painting backdrop studio (Oliphant Studio) in Manhattan, when you were a child. How do you think her work has shaped who you are today?
Rachel: Yes! I have been thinking a lot about the circularity of life. My mother would bring all four of us kids to Oliphant Studio everyday where there were huge canvas paintings of fantastical subjects and colors. I have distinct memories even being so small of the smell of paint and climbing over rolled-up canvases. My mother, although worked on the operational side of things, has always been creative and my grandmother was a painter and singer. I think these realities and memories subconsciously shaped my passions and creative intuition.
7115: You’ve talked in the past about how the writer Rachel Cusk’s work resonates deeply with you. I want to talk about a quote from her writing which you shared to your Instagram.
“To have both motherhood and work was to have two lives instead of one, was a stunning refinement of historical female experience, and to the people who complained that having it all meant doing it all I would have said, yes, of course it does. You don’t get ‘all’ for nothing.”
Can you speak a little on why you shared this?
Rachel: Rachel Cusk has been one of the only authors I have come across that aptly and poetically portrays motherhood (read her book A Life’s Work). This quote from a collection of her essays titled, Coventry, poignantly and without façade explains that being a mother and having a career or personal creative venture is hard work. That to “have it all” you literally have to “carry it all”. That you “...don’t get ‘all’ for nothing” and there will always be sacrifices made. I think I came across this quote when I was feeling bad for myself…that I had too much work and too much stress within the domestic sphere all the while being stubborn, not wanting to give up time with my babies. I think this is a conundrum so many parents face. Cusk’s brutal honesty reminded me that “having it all” takes hard work. It’s never as easy as it looks and it will always require you to, as Cusk says, “…adopt the heroic mode of being”. There is constant difficult decision making that only you or you and your partner together can make. You have to decide what’s important and how you want/need to allocate your precious time. As we know, balancing will always be more difficult than standing still on solid ground. I think this is what Cusk is commenting on here...
7115: In 2020, you opened a guesthouse and social enterprise in Pennsylvania called Both,And. It’s a multi-use creative space and a guesthouse that gives back to the community. Tell us more about how this initiative came to be and what you hope to achieve through it?
Rachel: After my graduate program at NYU and receiving my MPA in social impact, innovation, and investment I knew I wanted to create a small enterprise with a community-conscious closed loop model. Meaning the operations of the business itself fed directly into the benefit of a group of people in need. This is why Both,And partners with a local 501 c3 called Bloom, to employ women who are healing from addiction. Each stay at the guest house benefits the women at Bloom directly through both employment and financing educational opportunities. 5% of every stay goes directly to the Bloom Education Fund. The creation of the Education Fund is important because I wanted to ensure the business model wouldn’t plateau opportunities of growth for the women participating but would offer an upward trajectory. Through our partnership with Bloom, and our commitment to the Education Fund several of our employees have been able to start programs at the local community college. The vision is to create small yet sustainable impact. Additionally, my hope is for the guesthouse to be a place for each person staying to remember who they are and give space to things that personally bring them joy and aliveness. Time to paint, draw, stretch, write a poem, play music, dance, read, breathe. To bring forth a creative or reflective venture that satisfies something inside them. Space and time to replenish one’s soul!
7115: You also recently got a painting studio. Can you walk us through the space a little? What does it look like? And more importantly, how does it feel for you to have this spot?
Rachel: My studio is a tiny 200 sq ft space just two blocks past Canal street and it gives me so much life. It’s small but with high ceilings and two large front-facing windows for natural light to pour in. The feeling when I walk into the studio is the feeling one gets after they’ve been inside for far too long and they walk outside, take a deep breath of fresh crisp air…there is something invigorating and healing about it.
7115: What have been some ways that you’ve been practicing self-care lately?
Rachel: This may sound simple and strange but walking from my apartment to my studio whilst listening to music has been how I personally practice self-care. It’s a 25-30 minute walk each way and it goes through several neighborhoods in Manhattan. I love feeling the vibrancy of the city, watching so many individual lives go by. Time is of the essence, especially with children, so taking time to walk alone feels so luxurious to me.
7115: To end, I wanted to return to where we began this conversation. Thinking back to where you were in 2018 and then looking at where you are now, what has been one valuable lesson that you’ll carry with you after experiencing the shifts in your life?
Rachel: I don’t think I can say just one! Here are three:
1. Search yourself and discover what’s most important and sacred to you in life; live in a way that helps those things flourish.
2. Be flexible and willing to adapt because life is change.
3. Honor your existence by giving and sharing your unique gifts and personality with the world / honor your existence by taking care of yourself so you are able to continue sharing with and loving those around you.