Wellspring’s Director, Preston Browning, Jr., co-founded Wellspring Retreat in 1999 with his late wife, Ann Hutt Browning, whose spirit and vision made Wellspring the refuge for artists it is today. After Ann’s death, Preston continued to direct the running of the retreat in her stead. Find out more about Wellspring House here.
Ann Hutt Browning
Ann Hutt Browning lived as an architect, a published poet, the mother of four grown children, and the grandmother of five. She held a Bachelor’s Degree in English literature from Radcliffe College, and two Master’s degrees, one in psychology from the Claremont Graduate School, and one in architecture from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She designed houses in Virginia in the 1980s, using passive solar technology, as well as created many designs for additions and renovations on homes, often working on 18th century houses. She also supervised the repair and restoration of a one-hundred-year old church. Throughout the 1990s, Ann worked with many other architects, mainly renovating apartment homes. It was this experience which prepared Ann for the restorations she would later plan for Wellspring.
Throughout her career, Ann maintained a number of architectural and service projects. In the 1970’s, she served for eight years on the board of directors of a Montessori school and was on the vestry of her Episcopal church. In the 1990’s she worked with community groups on appropriate architectural designs for an urban setting and on a co-housing project. In fact, she was one of the key creators of an inner-city “small school” funded by the Chicago Board of Education. In the winter of 1999, Ann started working on a housing project in Ocotal, Nicaragua, to benefit over 300 families who had been made homeless by Hurricane Mitch. She spent another two weeks in the winter of 2000 working on this project, returning to the Solentiname Islands virtually every year thereafter to work on a number of projects: she designed a large workshop for the local artists and artisans there, which now serves as a focal point for the community, as well as oversaw the repairs on seven schools.
In Ashfield, Ann was an active member of the community. She served as warden in the local Episcopal church, and she was a member of the town Finance Committee. She served on the Town Center Planning Committee, and was in charge of raising funds for buying privately held open land, now the Town Common. Ann was also a published poet whose work has appeared in the Carolina Quarterly, the Dalhousie Review, Salamander, Out of Line, and many other journals. She also published a book of poems, Deep Landscape TurningDeep Landscape Turning in (2009).
Preston Browning, Jr.
Preston Browning, Jr is the current Director ofWellspring House. He holds several degrees, including a Ph.D. in Religion and Literature from the University of Chicago. For almost thirty-five years he taught twentieth-century American fiction at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Preston is the author of Flannery O’Connor:The Coincidence of the Holy and the Demonic in O’Connor’s Fiction (1975, 2009), and Affection and Estrangement: A Southern Family Memoir (2009). Poetry writer too, his poetry has also been published in Phase & Cycle, Poetry East, The Lyric, Collision, Pikestaff Forum, Thorny Locust and Mother Earth News. His translations of Guatemalan and Nicaraguan poetry have appeared in several journals, as well, including Mother Earth News. In 2003, he published an essay titled, “American Global Hegemony Versus the Quest for a New Humanity“ in The Ecozoic Reader and in 2005, the essay, “Struggling for the Soul of One’s Country: American Pathologies and the Response of Faith” in Cross/Currents.
Like Ann, Preston has also traveled to Nicaragua, also visiting Guatemala on numerous occasions since 1999. In the early seventies, Preston and his wife, Ann, spent an academic year in a small village in the southwest of France, where their two older daughters attended the local school. During the academic year 1977-78, their entire family (three daughters and a son) spent time in Macedonia, then a part of Yugoslavia, where Preston was a Fulbright lecturer in American literature at the university in Skopje.
Preston is assisted in the running of Wellspring house by his Resident Writers, as well as by Judie Isabella, Wellspring’s beloved housekeeper of 13 years. As Preston noted in the Acknowledgments section of his Struggling for the Soul of Our Country, “[Judie] keeps the dust kittens and cobwebs at bay,” and is treasured for her role in keeping Wellspring the welcoming and lovely home that it is.
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Praise for Affection and Estrangement
“‘Fierce with reality’: The phrase comes from Florida Scott Maxwell’s The Measure of My Days, a journal she published in her eighties about laying claim to the events of her life. Preston Browning’s Virginia memoir appears late in his life and it, too, achieves much of that lovely ferocity. Reading Affection and Estrangement makes us, too, ‘fierce with reality,’ thanks to the memoirist and his stunning stories.” – Janet Varner Gunn, author of Autobiography: Toward a Poetics of Experience and Second Life: A West Bank Memoir.
“Preston Browning’s family memoir is warm and evocative. The heart of it lies in Browning’s reflections on that vanished way of life, and on his mother and father. When the author is actively present on the page, either in characterizing himself in those days, or in probing the mystery of his parents’ relationship (that ultimate mystery for us all) or explicitly interpreting Southern culture–that’s when the book really comes alive. The final chapter, ‘Legacy: The Land That Formed Me,’ is noteworthy for its nuance in examining that culture–more than nuance, complexity, a willingness not to discount the force of either side of a paradox.” – Richard Todd, author of The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity.
“I was immediately engrossed by Preston Browning’s Affection and Estrangement. It is beautifully written, compelling, full of the wonder of old times, childhood horrors, the lasting/perpetual crisis of human life. From the final chapter, ‘Legacy: The Land That Formed Me,’ I learned a great deal about the South, about my mother’s family, and about myself.” – Elaine Neil Orr, teacher in the MFA Program in Writing at North Carolina State in Raleigh and author of Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life.