Saturday, March 27, 2010

Isle Be Green for the Birds

Today was the fourth annual celebration of SWAN Day. A day set aside to honor the work and value of women in all facets of the arts. SWAN being an acronym for Support Women Artists Now. So to every woman who may read this, and to every woman who won't, I honor you and your creative soul and I am so happy that we are on this amazing planet at the same time. May we all continue to raise our creative voice in whatever way we may!
To honor the holiday (it is being called a holiday :-) I spent the last two weekends with a group of girls who gathered with me to make art from recyclables.

Isle Be Green is a plastic bag recycle
education project in Isle of Wight. I was invited by the fabulous Rachel, Director of the program, to come to the beautiful bright and colorful Smithfield Art Center to present a two part workshop in turning trash into treasure.
Our group of eager young girls each designed their piece of animal art during our first session. We had a lesson in breaking form down into simple shapes. A drawing was then created. After a demonstration the girls stuffed plastic bags and cut cereal boxes to 'sculpt' their animal. Masking tape holds everything together. A time honored and obvious next step is using recycled newspaper for a top layer of paper mache. Finally when all is dry we add a layer of gesso and... ta da the glorious paint.
Here you see Hunter the dog in his early and then in his finished stage...isn't he one handsome hound. His person sits in the center row beaming with joy. She explained to me how much she missed her dog. The real Hunter had been taken away from her over a year ago with no explanation.

A day like this reminds me of how very grateful I am for the teachers and mentors who nurtured my early love of nature and making things with my hands. My dad helped to form my character by taking me and my dog for walks in a nearby woods. I realize now that my dad was pretty tapped in. He set a great example for me because he always carried a folded paper bag in his back pocket for picking up trash as we walked among the trees. He also collected other peoples cast offs and so our home environment was rich in materials for building and experimenting. He made us stilts to walk with, brought huge wooden spools home that we could do 'circus acts' on and he allowed me to construct all sorts of obstacles and 'chutes and ladders' for my dog training experiments in the back yard. When I was really young he offered me a huge old spike and suggested that I carve pictures into the hot asphalt alley that we lived on during the summer afternoons. Now I love sharing this 'inventor and detective' aspect of life as artist in every workshop and studio I design.

When I work with a group of young ones I invariably sense the expanse of life challenges and adventures that lie before them. It reminds me to wrap my arms around the beauty that life has given me, embracing it all. After enduring extreme violence and trauma I discovered yoga and solitude. I 'went back to the land' planted a garden and went to work. I've been working in the studio for over 40 years. During that time I've owned and managed a saucy little gallery that focused on exhibiting the works of emerging artists in a teeming arts district. I had a mammoth studio space (more than 20 rooms!) in what had long been a high security lock up ward for women in an old psychiatric hospital. I started Creativity Salons held the first Saturday of the month open it to anyone in the community who wanted to come and be creative. A core group of about 12 of us met for 5 1/2 years and forged friendships that will last our lifetime. I've traveled to the top of the world and sipped yak butter tea with Tibetan monks. I've danced with the mask makers in Bali and snorkeled in the Java Sea. Now, in my sixth decade, I'm considering the value of leaving a 'trail of art studios' for young ones to follow. I design all my studios to bring attention to nature and our relationship with the environment so this two part adventure was a great fit. Thank you Rachel.

Don't you love when you can offer discovery, adventure and creative problem solving while inventing something never before seen? I adore sharing that experiment with young ones in an open studio/apprentice setting. It reminds me of a favorite line from Thoreau "To affect the quality of the day is the highest of arts." I'm so grateful I get to do that. I'm so happy I was able to do that today on a day that is being set aside each year to honor women making art no matter where, no matter with what. That reminds me of the women artists of great to honor them and their tradition on SWAN Day. I'll share images of the pieces I brought home from Nepal in an upcoming post.

~Sing the Day


  1. Thank you for your wonderful tribute to women and the contributions you have made to art over the years. You certainly have lived a fascinating life.

  2. What an excellent idea for this group to make art from recyclables. The project helps the children to learn on several levels.

  3. Happy SWAN celebration woman!! Your gals did some great stuff, and I just love the the colorful crab pictured at the Isle be Green site!!
    Reading through this brief description of your journey has me imagining about 100 lifetimes in this one, and I know there are at least 100 more to tell, with 100's more to come. You are richness my friend, thanks for sharing the wealth of you so freely,
    xo K

  4. How wonderful for these girls to have you come into their life, and how wonderful for the world that they will share what they have learned. There is hope yet.

  5. Wow-- you have such wonderful and varied and rich experiences-- travel and art related-- to share with young people.. so generous with your experiences and creativity.

  6. I'm liking that SWAN Day. It should be a National Holiday!

  7. absolutely wonderful....what a remarkable journey you have been on. i'm blown away and inspired by this post. ...thanks for sharing this. great stuff!

  8. What a darling dog and perfectly shaped for sitting on laps and couches. Such a fun workshop!
    You are an inspiration Donna.


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