JULIA SALINGER / ARTIST, WRITER & ACTOR / WELLFLEET
When she was in New York City, Julia Salinger worked in art galleries and the music business. She produced records and managed other artists’ creative lives. Then, she began making her own art. Here, in Wellfleet, she lives in an old Cape by the highway that she’s named “The Mermaid’s Grange.” Salinger paints, draws, sculpts, writes poetry, acts, gardens, and is working on a play. She has been wearing magical stuff in her hair since she was a child. Here’s Julia in her own words.
Acting, being on the stage, is so different from being a visual artist. It’s a totally different energy. I started two years ago. I had acted a little bit in college, a little bit in high school and elementary school, but not like this. I did seven plays in one year. I basically exhausted my system, but it was all so new and exciting that I just wanted to keep doing it.
I’m hoping that the world changes, that something happens so we actually could really congregate again in groups and feel safe. I’m older now. So, my roles are limited, but I hope that there’s a really, really juicy role that I can just fall into and love and touch people. I would adore that. I can’t imagine if I had to say bye-bye to acting, having had a delicious taste of it. I’ll perform on the lawn. I’ll invite five people, and they can spread out all over the place. I would have to find a way to do it.
I grew up in New York. I loved it and had a lot of freedom. My parents divorced when I was really young. So, I was just out and about, and, somehow, my mom trusted me.
It was an incredible time to be in New York, because it was small neighborhoods, and it was such a great time for the arts. It was such a melding of different cultures. At that time, it really was a black and white city. People got along.
I worked at a gallery that showed a lot of cutting-edge people. And then, after that, I was in the music business. I managed performers, produced record albums. For 20 years, I was nourishing the careers of a lot of very creative people. So, it was very, very satisfying.
And then, in 1995, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and she and I were very close. And when my mom was ill, I was pretty much the sole caregiver with my sister. When she passed away, for about a year, I went into a very dark place, into a deep depression, because she really was the rock of the three of us.
There’s nothing like losing your mother. It’s a very, very primal event in your life. There’s this cord that bound you together. I just felt like there was this enormous amount of emptiness. You feel like you’re just a kite flying aimlessly. Where is your anchor? Where do I belong?
I knew that there was something inside of me that needed to create, that needed to come out. I was 35 years old and feeling like if I don’t make this change now, when am I going to make it?
The Cape was always a very big part of my DNA. When my parents were together, they rented places in Truro and in Wellfleet and basically brought me here in a basket as a baby. Even when I wasn’t living on the Cape, I always came to the Cape.
So, I got back here in 2004. It just felt peaceful. It felt like what I kind of needed at the time. After several years of moving between here and New York, I started to feel that this was really becoming my home.
The first time I came to this house, we pulled in. The shutters were painted this green color that I absolutely love. I kind of fell in love with the shutters, and then, the barn! I loved the barn so much, and I knew that it would be a great place to work.
My life isn’t really that different with the pandemic. Most of what I do is in solitude. The hard part is not really being able to have the close social interaction with people. The quiet and the space and the solitude, that has been wonderful in terms of creating. The prolonged silence and quiet, it just stirs up so many things inside of you. You start to think maybe in a more spacious way. You start to make more connections.
As a kid, I loved puzzles. I still love puzzles. I love putting things together. And I still see that I work in that way. It’s always making order from chaos. I pull from life’s experience — of joy, of grief, of pain, of exhilaration. And it just is all combined into one piece. For me, it could be an installation, a painting. It could be a print, a collage, or a sculpture. It could be a poem.
Actually, I’m loving this moment right now. I’m sitting inside the barn, and I’m looking at the frame of the beautiful trees and the different greens. I’m talking about all the things that I love to talk about. And then, at the same time, I’m looking at all of these objects, and I’m thinking about putting various things together.