AIGA Austin started up Design Ranch about 12 years ago and typically runs every other year. It was a small local conference and unless you were a designer in the Austin area, or serving on a chapter board, you probably hadn’t heard of it. I first discovered it just a few years after its inception while attending an AIGA Leadership Retreat. Needless to say my curiosity was piqued but years, conferences and jobs went by and Design Ranch fell from memory. Then last year a good friend and former board member of mine attended. OMG! I forgot all about Design Ranch! Then I saw another fellow AIGA’r had attended, and another. Shit! I’m going next year!
On Wednesday, April 13th, Bonnie Sampson, Juliette Oliva, myself along with two other Richmond designers embarked on our journey. Flying in to San Antonio, we stayed on the river walk that night preparing for our hour and a half drive Thursday morning to Hunt, Texas. When we signed up for Design Ranch, we were given access to a Facebook group. There we were able to chat with other designers that would be attending. In comes Megan from New York City. She needed a ride from San Antonio to the Ranch on Thursday. I was already renting a minivan and we had an extra seat. We all met for dinner at John Besh’s Lüke just off the riverwalk.
The next morning we headed to a local favorite, El Mirador. Family owned and operated since 1967. They served up some of the best TexMex breakfast you can find. Then it was off to the Ranch. An hour and half drive through the Texas hills, we arrived at Camp Waldemar. Built in 1927 as a girls’ finishing school, Camp Waldemar now serves primarily as a Girl Scout ranch. A two month camp retreat runs about $10,000 with an 8 year waiting list. Girls must be 9 years old to attend so needless to say parents sign them up at birth. All the buildings on the ranch are constructed from local stone. Staff lives on the ranch year round, maintaining the nearly 700 acres and over 100 horses. Most of the staff have been with the ranch for over 30 years. A gourmet chef serves up amazing meals three times a day from breakfast enchiladas and fish tacos to fried chicken, brisket and pork tenderloin. I had the best Brussel sprouts ever during my stay!
After being directed to our parking spot, we were greeting by a volunteer armed with a golf cart to take us, and our luggage to check in and then off to our lodging (running into Helen Holmes along the way). We chose a four person bunk house. After getting settled, we had lunch and went off to our first workshop. Attendees signed up for 5 to 6 workshops that focused on a variety of media such as typography, book making, woodworking, letterpress and more.
The Mess Call announced lunch and dinner. In between workshops and meals we had yoga, horseback riding, massage, archery, rope making, canoeing, tubing, paddle boating and the water slide. Flat Track coffee kept us caffeinated, the bar kept us intoxicated and the bands kept us grooving. At night we sat around the camp fire cooking up hot dogs and smores. We created during the day and hung out with new friends at night.
If you were fortunate to attend summer camp as a kid, this is a million times better. And if you didn’t attend but always wanted to, this will more than fulfill that summer camp dream you’ve been holding onto.
Folks have been going 5, 6, 7+ times and I can see why. I’ll be heading back for the next round and the next. For more pics visit the Design Ranch 2016 Facebook page.