Peggy Cloy, the heart that drives Willowtail

by David Holub

Peggy rolled into Mancos 25 years ago from Seattle, having experienced the spoils of a successful career as an artist, with hundreds of pieces housed across the country in private, corporate, and public collections. She purchased 60 acres of pristine land with varied ecosystems a few miles northeast of town. This was her new home, a place that had beckoned her and told her to stay. Her friends thought she was crazy.

About eight years later, she convinced her friend, Lee Cloy, a tai chi teacher with a vast background in property management to join her. They were married and began to build what now is Willowtail Springs, a bed and breakfast, but also – and most important to them – an artist residency program. Working with the Durango Arts Center, along with funding through their nonprofit organization, Willowtail hosts more than 12 artist residents a year, providing them space, time, and encouragement to further themselves as artists.

While Lee brings the linear logic, management expertise, and pragmatism, anyone who knows Willowtail knows that Peggy brings the intangible heart, the unexplainable magic of an indelible creative, nurturing spirit.

I wanted to know where this spirit came from. I asked Peggy when she knew she wanted to be an artist. The question spawned a story that showed the dynamic support, encouragement, and empowerment she received from her parents from an early age, the kind of upbringing that doesn’t seem normal for a person born in the early 1940s. Here is her story:

It was partly – and this sounds a little airy-fairy – I wanted to ask the questions I wanted to ask and I wanted to speak directly. I wanted to name the elephant in the room, artistically. I wanted to call out the dark side, whatever you call it, which is, to me, depth and part of the double language. And I knew this really early on. I didn’t name it as conscious and unconscious at that age, but part of what I sensed was that there’s two things going on and I had both of them. It wasn’t like I did one and then I did the other, which is what a lot of artists talk about. It’s like you do them both at once. You speak, you think, you verbalize in two separate languages. I was not told that I was weird, ever. As I got older, I always mentored a lot, even when I was very young. I never knew why people would ask me things and tell me all this stuff about them and want to talk. It’s part of what has carried through into (Willowtail).

I had enormous support from my family. My mother thought I should start kindergarten early because, she said, “I got tired of your questions. I don’t know where your questions come from. Your mind kind of scares me, honey.” Whereas my father thought it was really wonderful. He was a musician, he was a physician, he was an old druid.

My mother (was) a great gardener; my dad had small planes. That was his only real luxury … We went and took off and landed every Thursday, which was his day off. He taught me how to fly because I have a strong inner ear so I could do loop-to-loops and not throw up. My mother and my sister couldn’t. So he said, “You gotta know how to fly. What if I have a heart attack?”

(My dad) was the one who said, “It’s alright if your dreams come true.”

When he died [in 2011] there were lines around three blocks for his memorial. He was so encouraging. He said, “You are so good at what you do with your art. Just do it. That’s what you do best; that’s what you sell the best.” I can remember him saying things like, “You don’t ever have to explain yourself to somebody … you pound the streets and you support your children and you work harder than any woman I’ve ever seen.” He said “Do not ever apologize for what you are or what you do.”

My mother was 95 when she died. And (my parents) were very much in love. I can remember going and seeing (the D.H. Lawrence book) “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in their bedroom. One of the reasons I felt so secure – and this is so interesting to me – is that I never felt guilty for my erotic part, the juicy, female part. I knew as a child that you did not open the door to their bedroom if it was closed. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. And it came with a real, huge feeling of security. And my friends would talk to my mother and my father about stuff they couldn’t talk to their own parents about. That also was an interesting thing: My mother talked about sex in marriage … (that) it’s not just to make babies. So I got that kind of stuff from her.

David Holub is a former Willowtail resident and currently an active board member.


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