Who am I? I'm Erika Cleveland. I'm an artist and writer, and former art therapist. My mission is to work with women at mid to late life transition whose roles and identities no longer fit and urgently want to connect to their true selves. I'm at that stage of life, just past 60, where priorities shift and what once seemed important has changed. To be perfectly honest, change terrifies me and so am living the phrase, "teach what you most need to learn."
I’ve had 13 years as a professional art therapist, working with hundreds of people. I conceived of and ran a Women’s Vision group, guiding women through change using art for a period of two years. Since moving to DC, I started Transformative Healing dolls and-for eight years, I’ve been making commissioned dolls, leading healing doll workshops for a total of 50 plus women. At the same time I have been making and exhibiting my own healing dolls in galleries and museums in the greater DC area and beyond.
I have a master’s degree in art therapy from New York University and have studied art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I have also attended multiple art workshops, including healing doll maker, Barb Kobe’s year-long healing doll making training course. I’ve also taken additional courses in shamanic healing, mindfulness and meditation.
Rhea III, Shedding the Old, Sculptural needle felted, 20 x 20 x 10, 2018.
Why do I make and teach others to make healing dolls? There’s an image that has stayed with me for over 30 years since I first finished graduate school in art therapy and was beginning my first art therapy job. At the time, when I was adjusting to my first full time professional experience, beginning a marriage, I saw an image of a large full-figured woman standing on a rock and holding what looked like a shed skin over a body of water. I didn’t really know what to make of it. Through the course of three moves after that, the birth of my two children, more work as an art therapist and then starting art school, that image stayed in the back of my mind.
To the left is the third version of this doll. To see the original, look at the Original Dolls page of the gallery section of this website.
At art school I studied a variety of art modalities but it wasn’t until my fourth and hopefully final move, to DC, that I really understood that image. I made a doll based on that original image, which had come out as a series of drawings and paintings and in seeing that doll in its three dimensions, I knew what it was about and what I wanted to do to heal both myself and others.
Her name, she told me is Rhea and she is shedding her skin, representing the paradox of change, how we are vulnerable and strong at the same time when we are going through change. I made that doll and she reflected back to me all the feelings of vulnerability, loss, fear, joy and triumph that had accompanied me during all those transitions. She represented that part of me that was going to stay with me and comfort me throughout whatever came next. I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, make healing dolls.
Me at the newly painted front door to my studio at the Jackson Art Center, where I am concentrating on making my dolls now. This was just before the December 2019 Open Studios.
We have Open Studios twice a year, once in late November or early December and once in early May. But you are also welcome to come and make a studio visit by arrangement. Send me a message to arrange a visit.
You can also find me on Instagram and on Facebook. I tend to post daily on Instagram with updates about my dolls, posting progress photos and notes about what I am thinking about in my studio.
Black Doll Magic Exhibit, Brown Studio, Richmond, VA November 29-December 21, 2019. I exhibited some of my flip dolls at this exhibit and then gave a talk on flip dolls. Below are some photos from this exhibit. This was one of the last exhibits I participated in before the pandemic. These days I am gradually transitioning back into exhibiting my work.