Level Retreat in Chapel Hill is like a work of art. At first glance, its beauty and elegance are striking, and it seems impossible that it was ever anything but. Look a little bit longer and speak to the couple that run it and you begin to see the development of the art. Like a blank canvas, the 14-acre property was wanting, waiting for someone to see the brilliance of what it could be. It needed someone who could look past the overgrown woods, the abandoned boy scout cabin, and the broken shower, and see the potential. Marie Rossettie and BJ Warshaw were just what it needed.
Marie, a licensed medical illustrator, and BJ, a musician and web developer, moved to Carrboro from the Northeast in 2015. Soon after, they bought the Level property and spent the better part of 2016 fixing it up. The goal was for it to be a space where emerging artists from outside the area could visit, work, and engage with the local community.
When the couple moved to Orange County, they quickly recognized a niche that they could fill by supporting upcoming artists from outside North Carolina. “We thought that we could fill in a gap by trying to spur those dialogues and conversations between people from outside the community and within it,” BJ said.
Level is unique in more ways than one, all of which contribute to making it an ideal space to host various types of artists. One of the most enticing–and most challenging–elements was the old boy scout cabin.
A crucial checkbox that the property hit was that it had a separate dwelling for visiting artists to use. The cabin was exactly what they were looking for, aside from the fact that it needed to be completely gutted and renovated. When Marie and BJ moved in, they set to work on the cabin first, before even fixing the showers in their own home.
And now? The cabin is a colorful haven with a free-standing fireplace, turquoise walls, and an impressively vast VHS collection. It sits on the edge of a large open field next to a dilapidated tobacco barn from the early 1800s and is currently housing its third artist-in-residence.
Sculptor Nick Chatfield-Taylor was the first artist-in-residence at Level in March 2018. He brought a “Seussian igloo” and audio installation to Chapel Hill all the way from California. He was followed by another sculptor, Fafnir Adamites, in January 2019, who created an outdoor sculpture and gave an artist talk. Experimental filmmaker Kelly Sears is currently at Level working on writing a feature film.
Chatfield-Taylor and Adamites’ sculptures still remain on the property, nestled in the woods, which Marie said is a wonderful, unexpected bonus. “Over time, the more people leave artwork or little things hidden in the woods, it makes things more fun for future visitors.”
As of right now, future artists are by invite only, partly because Level is new and still developing. Additionally, Marie and BJ have a particular vision for the kinds of artists they hope to support through the residencies.
In the meantime, the couple will continue to move forward with making Level Retreat their dream space, a space that BJ hopes inspires people, helping them feel relaxed, calm, and free to experiment. Marie agreed, adding that Level is intended to bring a sense of balance to all who stay there.