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More or less monthly posts about Transformative Healing Dolls
It feels like everyone is writing about the pandemic, racism and the protests against police brutality, so it feels like I have nothing new to say about it here. And yet, it feels wrong not to mention it here, to ignore what is affecting all of us every day. What I am doing is trying to educate myself, to read books, attend workshops, and to talk to people about what I am learning. There are so many resources out there. Beyond learning about the ways in which I have been blind to my own racism, and trying to figure out how to do things differently, I am learning how to support black owned businesses and figuring out what actions I can take to fight racism. It feels very small but I am learning and taking it a step at a time.
The other part of what I can try to do is to offer ways to be kind to ourselves during this trying time. In the face of such horrible news every day, it is hard not to get overwhelmed at times and to feel hopeless about the future. Yes, there are people out there on the front lines fighting every day, both against the coronavirus and against all the ways in which racism shows up in our society. We have to do what we can to witness them and support them and where possible, help them to take care of themselves. But even if we are not on the frontlines, we need to take care of ourselves, so that we can show up for those around us in the best way that we can.
Sneak peek at a new flip doll I am working on, along with the Befriending the Shadow class. This one is about the earth as a living being and the impact of human exploitation of resources. I'm working slowly on this doll, using meditative stitching....
In the Befriending Our Shadow class that is currently ongoing, I am blown away by the courage of this group of women as they confront various aspects of the shadow, both internal and in the world around us. And as always happens when I offer workshops, I learn so much from witnessing the growth of the participants. It’s not easy work-just like the shadow of racism in the world outside, internal shadows can be sneaky and slippery and hard to pin down. There is a sort of trickster quality to the shadow because in looking at the shadow, we are threatening its very existence. Self-care, self-compassion and kindness become paramount. And taking time to rest and just be.
So here are some small steps that I can suggest to help in being kind to yourself while dealing with the shadow aspects of the current world situation-whether you are on the front lines or at home trying to care for yourself and your loved ones.
1. Take time to do nothing, much harder than it sounds. Maybe that nothing is lying down on your yoga mat in savasana or “corpse” pose. Maybe it’s looking into your child’s eyes. Maybe it’s staring at the clouds in the sky, from a window or if you can get to a park safely, lying on a blanket on the ground.
2. “Visible mending” this is something I have learned from my friend Julie Booth, intrepid stitcher, fiber artist and teacher of all sorts of stitching methods. This can be quite simple, requiring just a torn pair of pants, a torn shirt or some other piece of clothing, a needle, scissors, some thread and patches of fabric that you have in the house. There are all sorts of stitches that you can use out there-look it up on You Tube and you will find a great variety. I tend to mostly do something called back-stitch. This kind of slow, mindful mending can be very soothing and meditative. And the benefit is you get to repurpose clothes that you might have otherwise given away or thrown out.
3. Listen to audible books. A few years ago, I discovered a free app called Libby, where you can download books to your phone from your local library. You can listen to books while walking, doing dishes, and any other task that might otherwise feel tedious. I have kind of gone overboard with this, and also have been able to listen to some books about racism (see my comments above) with this app. I just finished So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Very powerful and accessible. And I attended this townhall called REIMAGINING SMALL BUSINESS: A town hall to listen, learn & commit to building equitable, anti-racist organizations.
4. Interview a parent or grandparent about their story. I just finished interviewing my mom about her life and now am figuring out how to get it printed. This is just for our extended family. It has been a wonderful experience talking to my mother over the last year or so, in weekly calls on FaceTime and sometimes on the phone. I started with a list of questions from a resource about Oral Histories but then kind of just followed her lead as she talked about what meant the most to her about her life. I learned so many new things about her and we also deepened our relationship.
5. Make a simple flip doll (for yourself or for a child.) Sorry, I had to put that in here. It doesn’t have to be very complicated. I have a pattern available on my website, along with a brief history of flip dolls. But you don’t have to buy anything. You can make a flip doll out of a wooden spoon or a sturdy stick, and attach heads (made out of rubber balls with holes cut out, or stuffed socks, or sea shells-use your imagination!) to either end and then use found fabric cut in a circle to make a skirt. Consider simple themes such as light and dark, happy and sad, earth and sky. Do it quickly without a lot of thought. Or take your time.
Thanks for reading. After this Befriending Our Shadow course is over, I have to decide about next steps. I have missed being able to focus on being in my studio as much as I would like. I notice that when I am teaching a workshop, most of my energy seems to go there. But at the same time, my art is enriched and inspired by what I experience in teaching workshops. They do feed each other. I want to offer more on-line classes, that’s for sure. I feel like I have something to offer that is of interest and that can help people. But I also want to get back to a body of work that I had started last year and get it organized for a show. The dolls that I make are also a kind of service, but in a different way. I will keep you posted here. Stay tuned.
Gabrielle Motter, from Unsplash
“Wildness…it is perennially within us, dormant as a hard-shelled seed, awaiting the fire or flood that awakes it again.” Gary Snyder
I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience in times of difficulty, given the current situation that we are in. I’ve been trying to understand what resources we have to survive this time. Usually I write about and make dolls that reflect how outer circumstances affect our inner world. Being an introvert by nature, I tend to take whatever the external situation is, and bring it down into the cave of my imagination. There I mull over it until I can transform it into writing or into a doll. Lately I’ve been looking more directly at the dark state of the world. Here’s a question that I recently read, “what if, by chance, our time in evolution is a dark night time, a time of crisis and transition that must be understood if it is to be part of learning a new vision and harmony for the human species and for the planet?”
In Limbo, Goauche and stitched panel
Dark Night of the World?
Constance Fitzgerald, writes this question in her article, Impasse and the Dark Night. She suggests that we are currently experiencing a dark night of the world. This isn’t something that has suddenly come upon us, of course, with the current pandemic. She is referring to problems on a world-wide scale that have been building up over time. These include (you don’t need me to enumerate them) the state of our environment, our political situation, poverty and abuses in so many parts of the world, and more. These problems are all dark and scary. Yet there is something hopeful in her question. She challenges us to find a “new vision and harmony for the human species and for the planet.” What does that mean?
Fitzgerald mentions how, in a “genuine impasse,” our usual way of looking at the world is completely shut down. None of our usual routes to resolution are workable. We look to the left and it is a dead end. We look to the right. Another dead-end. And so forth. We are completely stuck. But what if there is a silver lining to this impasse situation? Our left-brain solutions don’t work any more and the impasse “forces the right side of the brain into gear, seeking intuitive, symbolic, unconventional answers so that action can be renewed eventually with greater purpose.” This is such a hopeful way of looking at our minds, believing that we are capable in extremis, of making a U turn. Really looking at our situation in a new way with the potential to bring lasting change.
Guardian of the Sacred Garden side of flip doll
Artists hold the key
I believe that the arts, writing, poetry, dance and art hold the key to a solution. Those who delve into any one of these creative pathways described above, know about those “intuitive, symbolic and unconventional answers.” And in doing so, the artist (and I mean this in a very inclusive way) comes to the place of wildness that is “perennially within us.” In doing so, the artist unlocks both, his or her own hard shell but also opens a window into the healing darkness of nature. By this I mean to emphasize the ways in which the creative process connects us to our inner wildness. And that wildness opens us to nature in all its forms, to wide open skies full of endless stars, to the deepest ocean and to the teeming world that lives under our earth.
The Shadow, from Inside Us to Outside in Nature
I’ve been really enjoying putting together a new e-course called “Befriending Our Shadow” and as I’ve been preparing, I’ve been thinking of the different meanings of the shadow. The shadow can have a very personal and individual meaning. Carl Jung thought of the shadow as the hidden side of one’s personality, holding the potential for the full realization of the self. But the world, the living earth can also have its own shadow. For the e-course I am planning to make an alter ego flip doll along with the participants. For this doll, I am thinking of making a doll that reflects the state of the world. I have no idea how it will look yet or exactly how I am going to make it. I haven’t cracked the “hard shell” of the seed of this idea yet. But there is something about this early stage of an idea that is enjoyable. The not-yet-knowing. The dreaming.
Befriending Our Shadow starts next Tuesday
There are one or two spots left in the Befriending Our Shadow e-course. I want it to be an intimate experience where participants can share their process as they work on their alter ego flip doll. So, after next week I will be closing the doors for this e-course. If you are interested in diving into your own doll-making experience or if you want to learn more, take a look here. And if you feel ready to sign up take a look here.
Here’s my little spiel: I'm so excited to share with you a brand new doll-making e-course about befriending our shadow, using tenderness and compassion to connect with all parts of ourselves. Flip dolls are two sided dolls connected at the waist. I have been fascinated for years with their capacity to capture divergent views of reality, dark vs light, joy vs sorrow, love vs alienation. In this course you will have the chance to explore and befriend your shadow, through making your own doll. And at the end of the course, your doll will represent and unite both shadow and light. And, important note, you do not know how to sew beforehand. This class is open to those at all levels of sewing ability.
Does everything feel magnified in this strange time?
Suddenly personal quirks and habits in yourself can seem exaggerated and if you live with others, you might see their quirks magnified as well. It can feel like everything is under a microscope. That can leave you feeling isolated and lonely. You may feel drawn to escapes like binge-watching Netflix or silly animal videos on YouTube. Or you might feel tempted to blow up the next time your partner questions your cooking methods or when that family member in a Zoom call monopolizes the conversation one too many times.
Annoying as it may seem, there may be something here for us to learn
Maybe this is a time to learn to befriend our shadows. By this I mean those feelings that come up in those frustrating situations like that Zoom call. But not all at once and not without a lot of self-kindness and compassion. It takes a while to develop the patience and self-compassion that is needed to tolerate what comes up. All I am saying is that if we treat ourselves with the utmost care and kindness, there may be a silver lining to all this time of the pandemic. This is not to diminish the experiences of all those on the front lines or without basic necessities. There are many whose situations are dire and in need of our help and attention. But for those of us who have our basic needs met, perhaps this pandemic can be a gentle nudge to do some compassionate self-exploration.
Mary Miseracordia/Hell Mouth Alter ego flip doll about facing the shadow...
Pema Chodron and her struggle with a nun who hated her
One of my mentors, Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron talks about a particular nun, who seemed to hate Pema for reasons she didn’t understand. I think this is in one of my favorite of her books, When Things Fall Apart. Living in close quarters in a monastery, similar to our lives now in quarantine, she had nowhere to escape from the situation. She had to work closely with everyone in the monastery, including this nun who seemed to hate her. Pema would have to interact with this nun several times a day. In any other world, even a traditional work world, she would have been able to ask for a transfer or even get a new job. But like us now in this pandemic, these options were just not available. She just had to live with it.
Releasing into the struggle
So what did she do? In typical Pema-style, honest and direct, she describes feeling sorry for herself, being down on herself and wishing she could escape the situation. And yet at the same time, she turned to prayer and tried to figure out how to release the situation to a larger power than herself. She knew that she couldn’t face this challenge alone. Ultimately, after many months, she finally had a sort of breakdown, a release into surrender. She was able to come to terms with the difficult feelings in herself that this situation aroused in her. Because the struggle in its essence didn’t have to do with this other person, but with parts of herself that she couldn’t accept.
Dragging the burden, goauche drawing with collage
Upside down world
I hope I’m not coming across as too preachy. I’m not trying to say that you have to be spiritual or find religion in order to benefit from this story. But what I get from Pema’s story is that, in a no-exit situation like this, sometimes the only thing we can do, even kicking and screaming, is to finally face and befriend those parts of ourselves that we don’t like.
I’ve been really interested in this sort of no-exit scenario lately, as it is kind of what we are facing right now, both during this pandemic but also in the world situation at large. I’ve been interested in the question; what remains when it seems like there are only dead ends? Because sometimes when all seems hopeless, we are forced to dig into the deep soil of our inner life. When we start poking around in there, we can begin to unearth some unexpected treasures. This is the realm of the shadow, an upside down, Alice in Wonderland kind of world, where nothing is as it seems.
The upside down tree
In the shamanic tradition there is a story of an inverted tree, whose roots become branches and branches become roots. The image of that upside down tree fascinates me. It has stayed in my mind for a lot of reasons, but I want to mention one of them. The upside down tree shows how when we turn a problem on its head, sometimes we can start to see strengths where we may have only seen problems. Following the rules of magic, the branches of the tree, having received nourishment from the light of the stars and sun, can bring that star/sun energy deep into the earth. And the roots, having soaked up food and water from the ground, can release those into the air. If we can imagine ourselves a bit like these uprooted trees, we can begin to see those quirks and annoying qualities in ourselves and loved ones as unexpected strengths. And the shadow becomes light.
Tree of Life, felted panel and The Importance of Trees: Topsy Turvy, felted panel
Befriending the demon
There are so many books out there now about the idea of accepting and befriending our darker side. If you’ve been reading me for a while now, you will know that this is a fascination of mine. In an earlier blog post I mentioned one of these books, Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict by Tsultrim Allione and an article that summarizes this technique.
A very brief example so you can try it out if you want…
Here is a brief meditation adapted from the first two steps of the process of feeding your demon in case you would like to try it. I'm calling it "befriending your demon," though in the original meditation it is called "feeding your demon." The first step of the process is to “find the demon in your body.” And the second is to envision it as a living being. I am going to use an example of a meditation that I did recently on this topic.
Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take some deep breaths until you feel a bit more relaxed. Then when you are ready, scan your body to see if there is any point of pain and discomfort that you want to focus on.
I noticed an uncomfortable tightness in my left shoulder. It comes up during times of stress and even during yoga, this spot doesn’t seem to relax.
Bring your attention to that place and see if you can visualize more of the shape of whatever it is that is bothering you. You can use images or physical sensations or just colors to try to describe what is there.
I saw that the tightness was sort of horizontal, with two flat parts and a sort of lump in the middle
Next, try to imagine that shape or color or tense sensation as a sort of demon. What would it look like if you could imagine it as a living being?
When I looked closely, I saw that it was a figure lying down, a male figure, with stick legs and arms and a big protruding belly.
Stay with this image for a few breaths, just allowing it to be, and then release it
It was interesting to see this figure lying down. It seemed less uncomfortable somehow, because it was kind of helpless in the lying down position. Later it occurred to me that it could represent a family member with whom I have sometimes had a difficult relationship.
That is enough for now. But in the further steps of this exercise you would then begin to learn what your “demon” is asking for. You “feed” it until it is satiated. And finally though the process of accepting the demon, giving it what it needs, it often changes form into a sort of ally. This ally can be revisited and can even offer you guidance and assistance in future meditations.
Here is an article that gives a quick summary of this the whole process of feeding your demon. You can try it now if you are interested. https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-feeding-your-demons/
Offer: Befriending Our Shadow: A Doll Making online workshop
If you found the stories of Pema’s release into acceptance or the upside down tree intriguing, I want to tell you about a workshop that I have coming up, where you can meet and explore your own shadow. This online workshop should be available by the end of May. It will encompass some of the themes that I talked about in this post. I am excited to share these techniques with you, both how to befriend your shadow and how to make an alter ego flip doll that can help you uncover your inner star/sun energy.
There is something about the process of envisioning and then bringing into reality a creation of your own that can be very nourishing. The stitching process itself can be meditative. The weaving together of your own story into a doll of your own can feel empowering, And once you are done, you have a reminder of the process that you went through in the form of your finished doll. You can put this doll on your altar if you have one or some other place in your house where you will see it and remember what you have learned.
Click here or onto the above image to learn more about the workshop. Stay Tuned!
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” from the Gospel of Thomas
Your life is a unique creation
Whatever it is that you do that brings you alive, is of value, especially in these times of upheaval and confusion. I am here to encourage you in whatever that new path might be. It might be changing something about how you wear your clothes, or how you arrange the furniture in your living room or it might be making up a song and performing it in a video It’s all good.
A little bit about my own path…
When working as an art therapist in a Harvard affiliated hospital in a big New England city, I used to sit in team meetings, feeling frustrated. What I was thinking didn’t seem to fit with what was being discussed in the meetings. Too often I would sit mute, listening to all the words but not adding to the dialogue. Or if I spoke, I felt like I had to use my patients’ art as examples of pathology. The clinical language of finding their pathology, labeling it and then figuring out how to fix it felt wrong. In those discussions, learned as they were, and as compassionate as many of the other therapists in the room were, it didn’t seem to me that they were listening for the true voices of the patients.
Nowadays, the narrative in the world of therapy seems much more positive and patient focused.
Art school, pregnancy and then exploration…
As I felt more and more that art therapy wasn’t my path, I returned to art school. I got pregnant, then moved several times to different states, following my husband’s work. After that many years of inner exploration followed: writing, experimenting with all kinds of healing methods, art making and, almost a decade ago, doll making. When I first started making dolls, I experienced truth and resonance in what the dolls were expressing. And when I showed my dolls to others, it seemed they too felt witnessed by my dolls. Even though a lot of what was being expressed in my dolls came out of a deep place inside of me, it seemed to also connect to something deep in others.
Can doll making save your life?
Can doll making save your life? I make this provocative statement, believing it is true, as doll making saved mine. They gave me a voice nothing in my life before had ever done. When I started leading workshops, participants often developed their own voice as they made their dolls.
Creating something new can feel scary, (like a path forward in the time of this pandemic)
Many of us are scrambling to try to find a path forward in this crazy time. We are all challenged to create our lives anew. Recently, a post on Facebook I read about a lecture by a Native American wise woman said, and I am paraphrasing, that we have a choice of either sinking into the void of fear or rising to the challenge and using it to grow. This is a lot like the creative process.
Sometimes when starting a new doll, I can at first have that feeling of muteness that I remember from those clinical meetings. What is trying to come out is different from anything out in the world and at the birthing stage just feels alien and strange. But that is because it is alien. It is something alien and new and there is not, as yet, something in the world that exactly matches it.
Just because it feels alien, doesn’t mean it isn’t of value
Creating something new, whether it be a work of art, a new recipe, a new career path, a different path in life than your childhood and upbringing has led you to, can feel scary and threatening. It can feel like there is no path forward, like you are going to fall off the edge of a cliff. But that isn’t true. Just because something hasn’t existed before, doesn’t mean it isn’t a viable being. It’s just new. And though new can feel scary, it doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. That isn’t known until it is out in the world and gets a chance to speak its voice.
New offer on my website, flip dolls…
And if you would like to experiment with doll making, I am putting some offers on line, starting with a mini book about flip dolls to get you started. This would be the first in a series of mini books and teachings about flip dolls. Flip dolls are uniquely suited to the theme of this article because of their capacity to hold opposites. Those therapists back then were not wrong in trying to understand what the patients suffered. What was missing was the ability to see the patients’ strengths in balance with what might have been wrong. The magic of flip dolls is that they are uniquely suited to hold both the pain of an experience and the hidden strengths that experience might reveal.
If you have some extra time, are not out on the frontlines, having to care for children home from school, or otherwise committed, and this sounds compelling to you, please take a look at the offer and stay tuned for more.
This image came up recently in an intuitive painting and it looked to me like a monk standing below a snake, possibly an animal guide. I don't know yet who he is or why he is talking to the snake. Maybe you have an idea. In any case, he seemed to connect with the theme of monks and saints that I talk about below...
This can be a time alternately of contemplation and relaxation…
Hello again. I hope you have been able to find ways to stay centered during this crazy time we find ourselves in around the world. For me, it continues to be an up and down time. I am grateful that I am still able to make it to my studio and that all of my family is safe. (Making it to my studio, which is a quick walk up the block, may change over the next couple weeks if a more severe quarantine goes into effect.) But at times, especially at night I do find myself falling into a rabbit hole of worry about all the uncertainties and possible dangers that may be ahead of us. I am amazed at the variety of resources that have cropped up in my in-box from all of the wonderful healers and guides that I have been following.
Many of them have been helping me to cope and so, I picked a few of them to share with you below. Maybe some of them will resonate with you too. In addition to guidance that directly addresses ways to cope with the current crisis, I also decided to share some fun resources that I have also been enjoying. This externally imposed retreat can be a time of reflection and contemplation, but there is also time for fun and relaxation. I know that there are still some of you, like my husband who is working directly on a response to the corona virus, who aren’t really in retreat mode and still have to go to work. Yet maybe there are some elements of retreat that you can use to balance the stress of having to navigate this strange situation.
Peregrinatio, contemplative pilgrimage…
I am going to refer often to one of the resources that an artist friend of mine directed me to, a series of talks called a Novena, that address these difficult times. In the Novena talk that I listened to today, Christine Valters Painter describes the Celtic tradition of Peregrinatio. Monks and mystics are celebrated as having taken pilgrimages in small boats called coracles, boats without oars or any form of navigation. The idea is that they were to let the current take them, and that wherever they ended up would be their place to set down roots and establish their ministry. Valters Painter connected the journey of these early saints to our journey right now, trying to navigate the daily uncertainties of life in the time of coronavirus.
One of my favorite stories was the one about St. Brendan, who was guided to take a trip in a coracle. He received guidance that his trip would take one day. Instead it took seven years and took him and his small crew in a series of circles across the Atlantic Ocean. According to the story, on one Easter day, he and his crew landed on a small island, celebrated Easter, only to discover as they were leaving that what they thought was an island was actually the back of a whale!
Over the past week I have been creating a series of painted cards, possibly oracle cards or possibly mini paintings. In a few of them, an image of a small boat showed up, or an image of a waterfall or river and it seemed connected to the story that Valters Painter was telling. Could it be that my unconscious was trying to remind me to let go of control of the things I can’t control right now? (and there are many) It helps me to think that this time could also be an opportunity. Once we are able to take care of the basic needs of having enough food and emergency supplies (not to overdo it!) and that everyone in our family is safe, then there is nothing left to do but just rest in place. And potentially turn inward to our own source of strength, however we would describe it. Valters Painter shared the following poem.
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
List of resources:
Stuff to help deal with the current time of uncertainty:
All free and accessible on-line.
Novena for Times of Unravelling-I didn't know what a novena was before a friend referred me to this wonderful series hosted by the Abbey of the Arts. Wonderful contemplative series of talks on coping with the current crisis.
Tara Brach, Buddhist meditation teacher and scholar. I had been volunteering at her weekly live meditations near where I live but they are of course not happening now. A link to her series of free web-streamed talks and meditations:
Rick Hanson, another Buddhist scholar and wonderful resource: Fear in the Time of the Corona Virus.
Fun stuff if you need a break from reading about coronavirus:
I apologize for some of this only being available on streaming services. But if you have these services, they are definitely worth looking up. True confession, I do spend a lot of time watching movies on-line as a way of relaxing! A guilty pleasure. But there are some other resources here that are easy to access and are free.
Visit 2,500 museums around the world, from the comfort of your sofa. Google has partnered with multiple shuttered museums around to give you an on-line tour of their exhibits.
Podcast, Finding Fred- about Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood by Carvell Wallace. Wallace explores the way Fred Rogers has had an impact on many of his younger generation friends and colleagues, in a series of interviews. Also the two movies about Fred Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (on Prime Video, even though it just came out!) and Won't You Be My Neighbor (HBO). I've seen them both and they are both great.
Podcast, Reply All, especially “The Case of the Missing Hit”-this one is just a fun diversion if you love puzzles and solving mysteries, The hosts of this podcast, PJ Vogt and Alex Goodman, are approached by Tyler Gilette, who has been searching everywhere for a song from the late 90's that cannot get out of his head. The search, documented in this podcast, had me laughing out loud, something much needed these days.
Movie The Freedom Writers on Netflix with Hilary Swank, as a beginning high school English teacher at a public school in Los Angeles after the riots. Based on a true story of a teacher who inspired her students and transformed their lives.
Movie The Intouchables. It’s on iTunes now but I know I saw it somewhere else. Much better than the American remake that just came out. Here is the description: “A Parisian aristocrat, quadriplegic since a paragliding accident, hires a young man to be his live-in caretaker. Although very different the two men bond and develop a close friendship.”
Series Outlander on Starz, (sorry if you don’t have this streaming service. The first seasons are also on Netflix now.) I am obsessed with this series about a World War II nurse who somehow falls into mid 1700’s Scotland before the Scottish rebellion. She discovers her true love and has all sorts of adventures. Based on the book series by Diane Gabaldon.
Joyful side of alter ego flip doll, with image of myself at age seven-ish. Doll at left has a girl riding a sea turtle on the skirt. Doll at right has altered image of me with sisters and a family friend.
Greetings all! What surreal times we are living in, at least in the US right now. I wonder how you are all doing? Every day seems to bring new challenges, new opportunites to either collapse into fear or frustration or to rise to the challenge. I have found myself in both places off and on over the last days.
The last post here was about a flip doll workshop that I was excited to share with local followers. Last Thursday afternoon, I was sitting in my studio ready to sort through the wonderful fabrics, embroidery threads, and some enticing new fabrics I had ordered from India to get ready for my alter ego flip doll workshop. Then I got a call from Erin at Halcyon, saying, "hey, Erika, I just came out of a planning meeting and we have decided to put off all events for at least the next month. Do you want to reschedule your workshop to May?" Well, I had just come from a meeting at the Jackson Art Center, where I have my studio and we had decided to put everything off until the fall. No Spring Open Studios, no talks, of which I was going to give one on Flip Dolls, none of that until the fall.
So I said, let's switch it to September. The new date for the Alter Ego Flip Doll workshop is the weekend of September 12 and 13, a Saturday and Sunday. We didn't decide anything about the April self compassion wrap doll workshop but I have a strong feeling that one will be put off as well. Halcyon, as many institutions including schools and art centers are doing, is addressing this one month at a time.
What are you doing with this unexpected time?
Instead of putting the final touches to my handouts for the Saturday workshop and getting supplies together, here I was on Friday, making a video of myself painting in an altered book. This has become a daily practice as of late. Below are a couple videos, showing some of the pages I have done so far and also the beginnings of one of the altered pages in process. The videos are a bit rough as of yet. This is one of my missions lately-to learn videotaping and start to offer more videos here, mostly about doll-making but just as a way of trying something different, I am sharing this painting process here. Stay tuned for more videos, hopefully of doll making as well.
After I finished this painting, I finished the flip dolls, shown above.
There is something very therapeutic about this way of painting intuitively. It seems to tap into whatever is hovering or maybe lurking under the surface emotionally, waiting to be expressed.
What got me started on this process is an online class I took in January with Fonda Clark Haight called The Down Deep. I strongly recommend this class as a way to get your creative juices flowing. She only offers it in the beginning of the year but you can get on the mailing list for next year.
Here's the second video. It's already about 14 minutes long. Sorry so long. And it stops abruptly. Below is the finished image. This just gives you an idea of my process.
The finished and as yet, untitled image. I am amazed at how this process is like the Rohrschach, which is a psychological testing technique in which someone is asked to view a series of ink blot images and name this images that they see within the ink blots. Supposedly the answers reveal all sorts of truths about what is going on with that person psychologically.
So, what's this about? This image probably has a lot to do with the fears that are coming up for me around the corona virus, the uncertainty and all the media coverage of the dangers that we are facing. Perhaps this is an image of the lurking virus? Curious to hear what you see here?
The video cuts off just when I am starting to talk about these flip dolls. What I was about to say was that the "petulant" side of the flip doll shows two different aspects of one of my inner demons.. Dark times can trigger inner demons, for instance, that greedy, grasping place of not enough. On the left, a hungry, angry mouth swallows up the joyful image of me, my sisters and a family friend. Someone on my Instagram where I shared this image said, "it looks like she is so jealous of that happy group that she decides to eat them up." Sometimes that demon of not enough can be so strong that even joy is swallowed up. On the right is that same greedy, grasping mood, this time shown in the figure at the top grabbing at the bottom figure's heart, while also grasping at some gifts with her other hand.
This side of the doll is counteracted by the joyful side, seen in the above images of the other side of the doll. There, in one of the dolls, the little girl on the skirt rides joyfully on her sea turtle companion. On the skirt of the other doll, she participates fully in the companionship and joy of her sisters and friend.
In this crazy corona virus time, as I was saying above, we have the choice of collapsing into ourselves with worry and fear or of rising above it and seeing whatever joy there is available. Joy in having extra time with family members, being home together. Time to rest. Time to experience nature. But not at all to judge the scary feelings and the fears, just to let them coexist with the good.
Sorry, this was kind of rambly today. Next time I will go back hopefully to my normal kinds of newsletters. I think today I just wanted to say, I am here. I am thinking of all of you. To those of you who were going to come to the workshop today, I am thinking of you too. I hope you consider rejoining in September but I understand if that doesn't fit into your schedule. Hopefully these videos are of interest and maybe they inspire you to do some explorations of your own,
I'd like to hear what you are up to during these challenging times. What is helping you to stay calm? What are you finding to be therapeutic?
Love to all!
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.”
If only there were a way to hold onto the bliss of spiritual connection…
This winter I took an enlightening on-line class with shamanic guide, Sandra Ingerman called Healing with Spiritual Light. There was one exercise in the class that she called “transfiguring” in which one meditates on being filled with spiritual light. I’ve been practicing this exercise on and off since then. It’s a very simple practice that you can do almost anywhere. Sometimes I would meditate on light and feel completely transported and sometimes I wouldn’t feel it as strongly.
But what I noticed most of all, is how hard it was to hold onto that feeling once I got caught up in my daily life. For instance, I would come out of my moments of blissful morning meditation, only to feel like yelling at a family member for leaving dishes in the sink for me to clean up. Poof! There goes all that beautiful light! Or I would get upset at someone honking his horn at a pedestrian slowly crossing the street and the bliss would feel like it was gone.
If you are a member of my email list, I am pretty sure that you also want to live a life guided by spiritual ideals and probably have some sort of spiritual practices that you follow like yoga or meditation. And maybe, like me, you often find that you are distracted in daily life from those intentions. What to do?
Beyond wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field…
What is Rumi talking about here?
We all know on some level that there really is a place, where we are all connected by a web of love and where we aren’t affected by distractions like ego struggles. I don’t presume to be able explain Rumi’s words, but his words have stayed in my head for a long time since I first heard them. They resonate with someplace deep inside of me, a place that knows that when we let go of judgments and critical thoughts, we begin to find peace.
What does this have to do with making alter ego flip dolls?
Flip dolls have two sides, so there is always an element of opposites in them. And yet, the truth about these dolls is that however opposite one side is from the other, they are always connected at the waist. An alter ego is basically an alternate or opposite self. The alter ego might be that light-filled place that we come to when we meditate on spiritual connection. So that would be one side of the doll. The other side might be that place we go to when we are distracted by the daily challenges of life, where we fall into feelings of jealousy or rage, or maybe just discomfort. You can experience in a visceral way by flipping the skirt from one side to the other, how both sides are connected. This reminds us not to feel self-judgment when we are caught up in an emotional reaction. This also shows how just by an action as simple as flipping a skirt, we can return to our natural state of peace.
There is something about taking the time to carefully stitch, sew, and craft a doll, which represents ourselves from two different perspectives, and that helps to bring understanding and self awareness. The process of making the doll is meditative. And once the doll is finished, one has a mirror, a reflection of who we are in that moment. Or in this case, in those two moments.
Maybe that is why I am so obsessed with flip dolls...
And when I teach this process to others, the participants in my workshops seem to have similar insights and discoveries. I remember a while back when I was teaching the alter ego flip doll in a paper doll format, that one of the participants made a doll about the way she presents herself in professional situations. On one side of the doll was her quieter, politically correct even, self that seemed to conform to the requirements of her work environment. But on the other side, she discovered a powerful, even fierce self that revealed the deeper self that advocated for and protected her.
I’ve been working on two flip dolls in preparation for the workshop this Saturday with two faces of myself as a child. One is a joyful, full-of-life face. The other is petulant and sad. I’ve been playing with the ways that I can accept both sides equally. Though it is harder for me to allow that petulant face, I know that allowing both petulant and joyful is a way towards fuller self-acceptance. A way towards that place beyond right or wrong doing that Rumi speaks of.
Reminder-Alter Ego Flip dolls this weekend at Halcyon:
The alter ego flip doll workshop starts this Saturday, the 14th from 10-3, with a second session the following Saturday. There is still room in the workshop for one or two more participants. So if you have been considering whether you want to take part in this workshop, it’s not too late. I would really love to have you there!
For more information or to sign up, go to the link above or click on the photo above. You can also read answers to commonly asked questions about this workshop on my offers page.
the latest version-two sides-of the prototype flip doll I have been working on for the alter ego flip doll workshop, still in process: "Sin eater"/Guardian of the Sacred Garden
I have a fear of sewing machines (!) but still use them….
Even though I have sewn a lot of dolls, I still don’t feel confident with sewing and especially not with sewing machines. (Needle felting is my go-to medium but I have been branching out lately.) Once, during one of the workshops with the homeless women at N. Street Village in DC, while demonstrating some sewing technique or another, I managed to break the needle on not just one but two sewing machines! Luckily I had some extra needles and was able to replace both. Somehow sewing machines and I don’t really get along and yet I seem to manage anyway. One of my flip dolls, Facing Fears/Transforming Fears has a series of what I call “pods” that have to do with my various fears and one of them is of sewing machines!
Images above are of the Facing Fears/Transforming Fears flip doll in progress. You can see the "pods" in two of the images, including the "fear of sewing machine" one! The idea of this doll, by the way, was that on one side, the pods revealed some of my fears, and on the other side, the fears were transformed by the healing energy which came out of the fingertip of one of my inspirations, Louise Bougeois.
The myth of the “right” way to sew (or do anything that really matters)
Anyway, what’s my point here? My point is, if you are thinking of joining one or both of the healing doll workshops coming up at Halcyon in March or April, and you are concerned that you don’t know enough about sewing, you don’t have to worry. There isn’t really “right” way to sew. Or, well, maybe some fiber artists wouldn’t agree with this. Many textile artists can create all sorts of beautiful hand stitches or can sew perfectly with a machine and when I look at their work on Pinterest, I find it hard not to feel envious and inadequate. I struggle with making seams that are neat and edges that hold togehter without bulging. I end up hiding a lot under a beautiful surface, to be honest! What I have come to realize is that, in order to sew well enough to put together a doll, you don’t have to be perfect.
The freedom that comes from being a beginner
One of the best moments in the series of workshops at N Street village two years ago was watching one of the women who had never sewn before, go about creating her flip doll (see above). She was fearless. Instead of worrying about technique or the right way to do things, she just went ahead and stitched in the way that felt right to her and her doll was amazingly powerful and expressive. This was a revelation also to some of the volunteers from the Potomac Fiber Arts Association who were assisting with the workshops. There was a freedom in the approach of the women we were supposedly teaching, that many of us didn’t feel ourselves. They ended up teaching us many things, including this freedom in approaching how to sew.
journal image I created in one of Fonda Clark Haight's classes recently, which inspired the "sin eater/guardian of the sacred garden flip doll.
What really matters…
In the words of one of my new mentors, Fonda Clark Haight, who was talking about painting, but the same idea applies for sewing, “it doesn’t matter about technique. That can be learned. But what matters is (I’m paraphrasing here) authenticity and truth. As long as you are expressing your truth, your authentic voice, the rest can be learned.” And this of course can be translated to all areas of life as well. What really matters is your mindset and willingness to try rather than already knowing what to do. For the first workshop I am offering in March, we will be exploring our alter egos. What are those parts of ourselves that we don't usually see or want to reveal? In the past when I have offered this kind of workshop, participants have discovered all sorts of hidden strengths in themselves, through the medium of doll making. There is something about making a doll that reflects self truths back to us. I look forward to what participants will learn in this upcoming workshop and also to what I will learn from them. I always learn right along with you all.
Here’s the information again…
So that’s my little pep talk. Thanks for reading this far! If you are thinking of joining, either the Alter Ego Flip doll workshop on March 14 and 21, 10-3 or the Self Compassion Wrap doll workshop on Saturday, April 18 to Sunday, April 19. also 10-3, just come ready to express yourself and the rest will come. Not that you won’t learn techniques and approaches, but that you don’t need to know them ahead of time. We will be hand sewing in the flip doll workshop (but I may bring my sewing machine if I am feeling brave, in case you want to go a little quicker with some of the steps). And for the self compassion wrap doll workshop in April, there isn’t as much sewing involved as we will be wrapping fabric around sticks. Though if you want, you can get more complicated with stitching there too. I really hope you join us. I would love to have you there. I think there are a couple spots left in each of the workshops.
Also for more information and some answers to commonly asked questions, see the workshops page of my website.
By the way, there are lots of other cool workshops being offered at Halcyon if you go check out their website! That’s it for now.
Oh and here are some flip dolls I recently saw at an amazing event at the Library of Congress, in the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series: "African American Dollmaking and Puppetry: Renegotiating Identity, Restoring Community." The talk which can be accessed on the website at the Library of Congress, was very moving and fascinating. I was glad to be able to meet and talk to many of the artists and to hear their stories during the lecture.
These two flip dolls are by exhibiting artists, Barbara Taylor Hunter and Imani Russell.
.Winter is here though it doesn't really feel like it in DC. It's been unusually warm here. I even saw forsythia and pussy willows this weekend! I've been doing some fun explorations in my studio lately. The image above is from a workshop I am taking called "The Down Deep" with the amazing Fonda Clark Haight. I highly recommend it. We are using a variety of techniques to tap into our deepest selves. This one came from a process of starting with an "ugly background" and finding images in it. Still exploring what this one is about though I'm calling it "Elven Fairy Solstice Ritual" for now. The Celtic symbol of the male elf's chest (which I added later, see left) has to do with the union of sky, earth and sea.
It's been fun getting back to painting and drawing and also fun to play around without the pressure of an end result. I've been posting about what is coming up on my Instagram page.
Some thoughts about transformation...
Recently I sold the last of the small versions of my Rhea: Shedding the Old doll. Greg Sandow wanted the doll as a holiday gift for his wife, Anne, who was retiring from a long-held position as classical music critic at the Washington Post. Greg reported that his wife found the doll to be inspirational during her time of transition and that she will be keeping it on her desk at home. Thank you to Greg and Anne for letting me share your story!
It turns out that making this doll was a pivotal experience for me as well. The larger version of this doll was one of the first dolls that I ever made. She was the doll that got me started with Transformative Healing Dolls. Fulfilling this request for the small Rhea doll got me thinking about the metaphor of shedding the old that this doll represents.
I was reading Buddhist healer and transformational speaker, Tara Brach's new book, Radical Compassion, that I mentioned in my last newsletter and she mentioned a wonderful story about shedding skin.
Here's the story, apparently a traditional story from Polynesia:
"In ancient times, a revered tribal leader went regularly to the river to shed her skin, each time returning to her village renewed and invigorated. But one day, things changed. Instead of floating away, her old skin got caught in a bit of driftwood. And when she returned home, her daughter ran away from her in fear, because this raw-skinned person no longer looked like her familiar self.
Finally, unable to comfort her daughter, the woman went back to the river, found her old skin, and put it back on. And from that time on, the story tells us, humans lost their power to rejuvenate, to live and love fully. They became mere mortals, entangled in fears of failure and the need to cover over their flaws." page 57, Radical Compassion.
I love this story! It reminds me to return to that place of newness whenever I can, instead of getting stuck in habits out of fear or just because of being used to a certain way of doing things. I guess that all of my dolls are about change in some way. Recently, the flip doll has become an important metaphor for me and I have a couple things to share about my recent adventures with flip dolls below.
Adventures with Flip dolls..
I'm offering another flip doll workshop at Halcyon in DC, this time about alter egos. This image is of the flip doll workshop last year that was about grandmothers and ancestors.
Upcoming flip doll workshop...Saturdays, March 14 and 21 at the Halcyon Center in DC. 10 to 3 pm each day. If you'd like to join us, you can sign up on the Halcyon site.
This is what I said about the workshop on the Halcyon website:
Alter Ego Flip Doll workshop. With their built in connection to one another, flip dolls are a perfect medium to explore our alter ego; the side of our personality that is usually hidden and can represent a hidden strength or a darker side of ourselves we may not be aware of. Participants will have the chance to represent the 'face' they present to the world and their alternative self in one doll. The workshop will start with a brief guided meditation and journaling before leaping into doll making.
This workshop promises to be a lot of fun and a chance for inner exploration through doll making. You don't have to know anything about doll making to come to the workshop-there will be lots of guidance and it's more about expressing yourself than making something perfect. If you came to the last one, this will build on what you did then.
Here's what some previous participants said about the flip doll workshop last year.
The beautifully expressive flip doll below is from the previous "Ancestors and Grandmothers" flip doll workshop and is by art therapist, Julie Wood Merchant. The doll in a blue dress is her maternal grandmother and the doll in the purple dress is her paternal grandmother. Kudos to Julie and thank you for letting me share this doll (which she finished at home, giving her time to add more details.)
And on another front, one of my flip dolls was recently accepted to an exhibit at a venue where I also showed last year, the Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Art Center.
My doll, "Medusa and the Octopus" is going to be in a show called "SHE: An Expression of Womanhood," juried by Camy Clough, of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, from February 14th to September 27th. The reception is February 14th.
Here's what I said about the doll in my artist statement for the exhibit: "this two sided doll, in showing another side to the iconic Medusa figure, utilises her and the octopus as symbols of the source of woman's creativity. One on side "Medusa" swims free with the octopus at the bottom of the ocean. On the other side they sit drinking tea together. As women, we are boundless and free, yet at times we do like to sit and drink tea with an octopus."
The Annmarie Center is a wonderful place, located on Solomans Island and built on a beautiful wooded landscape. They even have a "Women's Walk,"...this lovely walk features a selection of bronze female figures intended as a celebration of the female form as well as an exploration of the experience of being female. From Gerhard Marcks' youthful Girl with Braids to Nelly Bar's shadow-like Standing Nude and Francisco Zuniga's grandmotherly Seated Woman, this evocative collection affords the opportunity to reflect upon significant women in your life. Benches along the walk allow for thoughtful contemplation." It's a beautiful place for a weekend excursion!
One last piece of inspiration on the theme of transformation. This poem was brought to my attention by one of my on-line friends and for me is a good reminder of the way transformation usually works in the real world.
You keep waiting for something to happen,
the thing that lifts you out of yourself,
catapults you into doing all the things you’ve put off
the great things you’re meant to do in your life,
but somehow never quite get to.
You keep waiting for the planets to shift
the new moon to bring news,
the universe to align, something to give.
Meanwhile, the pile of papers, the laundry, the dishes the job— it all stacks up while you keep hoping
for some miracle to blast down upon you,
scattering the piles to the winds.
Sometimes you lie in bed, terrified of your life.
Sometimes you laugh at the privilege of waking.
But all the while, life goes on in its messy way.
And then you turn forty. Or fifty. Or sixty…
and some part of you realizes you are not alone
and you find signs of this in the animal kingdom --
when a snake sheds its skin its eyes glaze over,
it slinks under a rock, not wanting to be touched,
and when caterpillar turns to butterfly
if the pupa is brushed, it will die --
and when the bird taps its beak hungrily against the egg
it’s because the thing is too small, too small,
and it needs to break out.
And midlife walks you into that wisdom
that this is what transformation looks like --
the mess of it, the tapping at the walls of your life,
the yearning and writhing and pushing,
until one day, one day
you emerge from the wreck
embracing both the immense dawn
and the dusk of the body,
just as you are.
- Leza Lowitz
So wonderful to be here and to have you all here too! I have lots of plans for the new year. New shows and hopefully more workshops. I look forward to sharing new developments with you here.
,Hello all! It’s been a while since I have written and I have missed you all. I hope this past few months have been treating you well. Life has pulled me in various directions that have distracted me from writing this newsletter, but as the year draws to a close I am inspired to write again. I wanted to share with you some resources and inspirations that I have come across over the past few months, including some artists that I have been following.
And I wanted to tell you about some upcoming events and workshops that I will be participating in. If you are local, I hope you can make it to the biannual Open Studios at the Jackson Art Center, on Sunday, December 8th. The building looks great inside with a brand new coat of paint on all the inner walls and also with structural reinforcement of the brick walls surrounding the perimeter of the building. And last weekend my husband Peter came to my studio to paint the inner doors that lead to my studio a beautiful bright blue.
I will be offering a couple workshops in the spring again at Halcyon, Alter Ego flip dolls, Saturdays, March 14 and 21, 10-3 PM and Self Compassion Wrap dolls, Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19, 10-3 PM. They will build on the ones I offered this spring but at the same time, if you are new to doll-making, you will still be able to participate without having been to the last ones. I’ll be posting more about these when it gets closer to the date. NOTE: corrected date, March workshop is the 14th and 21st, two consecutive Saturdays.
If you live anywhere Richmond, Virginia, I will be in a wonderful exhibit there called Black Doll Magic and will also be giving a talk, The History of the Topsy Turvy Doll at this venue on December 6th.
Antidotes to the Stresses of the Season
How to nourish one’s spirit during challenging times?
Lately I’ve been feeling the need to nourish my inner self, trying to find ways to manage the weirdness of the current state of the world. This can be particularly challenging because we live in DC. The last few months have been a time of exploration and expansion and I have been letting myself be open to a wide variety of methods of self-care. I don’t know about you but my life seems to be cyclical, with some times being more outward focused and some times being more inward. This past few months has been one of those inward times. What’s interesting too, is that these inward periods are a source, almost like the inner work becomes the compost that is the source of my ideas and my creativity. Seeds get planted and sometimes it can take many years to see the fruit of each particular seed.
It feels good to reach out to all of you and share some of the meditation and other self-nourishing methods I have been looking into these past few months. I hope that they prove to be useful to you and I would love to hear your thoughts.
1. Self Compassion: First is a new on-line class on meditation that I found at Sounds True, a wonderful website that offers tons of free healing resources and also sells books and on-line classes. I had heard about Kristin Neff, who is basically a guru of the self-compassion movement of the past ten or so years. Her new class is called The Yin and Yang Self Compassion: Cultivating Kindness and Strength in the Face of Difficulty, In this series, Neff addresses the ways in which self-compassion is sometimes misunderstood and discounted. She expands the definition of self-compassion to include a tougher, “mama bear” yang compassion, which is more active and forceful than the traditional gentler, yin compassion.
Yang is the compassion that helps firefighters to run into buildings to save people, that allows teachers to make sacrifices for their students, and parents to work long hours to provide for their children. She references some very interesting research that shows the power of yang compassion, and counteracts the criticism that compassion is “weak.” For instance, in a study that looked at the effects of trauma among Iraq war veterans, she discovered that the ability to have self-compassion actually was a more accurate predictor of PTSD symptoms as compared to exposure to traumatic combat experiences.
She makes an interesting point about yin compassion, as well, that in contrast to a commonly held belief that compassion is “selfish,” in fact self-compassion increases the ability to be there for others. In other studies, she and her colleagues found that those who have higher levels of self-compassion are more effective teachers, care-givers, health professionals and get higher marks from their partners on their ability to be present. My experience with this class has inspired me to offer a workshop in the spring centered on self-compassion, (click for Halcyon workshop schedule if you already know you'd like to sign up. Scroll down to April for the self compassion wrap dolls workshop) Neff talks about is how helpful it is to have a symbol that you can use as a reminder to connect with your own self-compassion. In the workshop we will be creating self-compassion wrap dolls, which can serve as such a reminder.
2. Living with Uncertainty and Managing Difficult Emotions: Pema Chodron, Tara Brach and Tsultrim Allione, mindfulness and Buddhist meditation.
I don’t think of myself as a Buddhist and yet I am drawn to many of the tenets of this approach to spirituality. I’ve loved Pema Chodron and Tara Brach, both Buddhist meditation teachers, for so long. Tsultrim Allione is someone I have discovered more recently. I have this year been developing a daily meditation practice and have used Pema Chodron’s books link as inspiration. My favorites right now are: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times and Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change and I must have read and reread both of these books at least 5 or 6 times! Chodron has an amazing ability to wake me up to the reality of what is important in life. It’s not the outer world with its ups and downs that matter-in fact what is most certain in life is that there is no certainty at all. The more I can let go of the need for control and instead rest in the flow of life, the more I can begin to find stillness and peace.
I have known also about Tara Brach for a long time, ever since we lived in Boston back in the beginning of the 1990’s. When we moved to DC I knew she had a meditation center here but never went to it. So finally this fall I have begun to go to her meditation center. a wonderful, healing space for a weekly sangha or communal meditation and inspirational talks. She has free resources such as videos and writings on her website link and has also published a couple books that focus on her unique method of witnessing and accepting ones own difficult emotions. She has a new book coming out soon, Radical Compassion, see her website to preorder. It's also about compassion!
Tsultrim Allione comes at Buddhism from a different perspective and I have just begun listening to a book that has to do with a particular form of healing from inner pain called (I often listen to, rather than read books these days. I find I absorb the material better and also I can do this while driving or working in my studio.) Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict. Whew, this is a powerful book and it might not appeal to everyone. But her method of transforming difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions into “demons” with detailed imagined physical presences that you then work with through an interactive meditational conversation really piqued my interest. If you know my work, you might understand this. Many of my dolls have to do with demons of sorts, for instance, my Taming the Dragon Within.
Allione came to this method as a way of healing from some painful experiences of her own and the book is her adaptation of an ancient meditation technique, called Chöd, first developed by an eleventh century female Buddhist teacher named Machig Labdrön (1055–1145.) She simplified this technique, which involved the use of ancient musical instruments, elaborate traditional meditation images, into a series of steps through which you visualize, ask questions of, “feed” and then transform your “demon.” I look forward to exploring this one more and using it as an inspiration for doll making.
Click on the above image for an interesting article in Lion's Roar that summarizes how her technique works.
3. Expanding Your Capacity for Joy and Connecting to Nature and the World of Spirits:
I just started taking another on-line class, also at Sounds True, with shaman and teacher, Sandra Ingerman, called Healing with Spiritual Light. I first heard about Sandra Ingerman from an amazing boss that I had in my first job as an art therapist. She took me and a colleague on a trip to the town of Woodstock, New York. We stopped on the way and Linda, my boss, had me and my colleague lie down on blankets in the grass while she led us on a shamanic journey. All I can remember now is that I saw a deer as my power animal. Linda told me about Sandra Ingerman and ever since I have been following her work. The Healing with Spiritual Light class is wonderful! So far we are into the third week, you could still join! and were are connecting with nature spirits, learning to “transfigure” into beings of light as a way to remember our capacity for joy. Through informal talks, journeys and journaling we are inspired to remember how we are all connected to each other and to nature.
Inspiration from other artists:
Some artists I have been following, please take a look:
Sybil Archibald: I don’t know how I first heard about Sybil Archibald, but I have been following her work on Instagram and Facebook and find her very inspiring, things like the fact that she studied medieval mysticism in college and then soon after graduation was diagnosed with a scleredoma, an autoimmune disease that made it difficult for her to walk and impossible to sleep because of the pain. She was given five years to live. She turned to art to help heal herself and it was some of these earlier sculptures of medieval figures all with openings in their heads or backs to allow the light of God to enter them, that combined her interest in medieval mysticism and her need to heal that first drew my interest. Though her disease makes it difficult to work, she has an incredible drive and enthusiasm and it is now 25 years later and she is still working and thriving. For instance she has been making a monotype a day for almost two years now, even bringing the printmaking materials into the hospital during complications in her disease, so that she could continue to work. I have never met her but I just love her!
The image is of St Theresa: The Interior Castle, acrylic paint on wood and clay,
Kathy Ruttenberg: I think I have written about Kathy Ruttenberg before but she is another one of my inspirations. Her large-scale figurative and fantastical ceramic sculptures are difficult to describe but truly blow me away. Recently she had a series of sculptures, In Dreams Awake, commissioned for various parks and plazas throughout New York City. The other cool thing about her is that she lives on a farm in upstate New York with the pigs, dogs and other animals that inspire her and often show up in her work.
The image above is Overgrown, ceramic sculpture, 2010.
Chris Roberts Antieau: at Antieau Gallery in New Orleans and now also New Mexico. When I was at the Torpedo Factory, another artist at the factory told me about this artist and her gallery, thinking that my work would fit in there. Well, that hasn’t happened yet but I love this self-taught fiber artist’s work and find her inspirational as well. It was wonderful to be able to see her works in person recently at the Superfine Arts Show in DC. Her humorous and dream-inspired stitched “paintings” are full of the joy of living!
Image is The Physics of Sunken Ships, fabric applique and embroidery.
The above four images are from the Kalili series: Kaili on Flootnern Mountain, Kalili's story in Twelve books, Books Five and Six from a series of twelve tritychs from the Kalili story
What I’ve been working on in my studio:
I’ve been in my studio over these last months, working on one or the other of two themes, Kalili’s Journey (see above images) and my ancestor series (see below images.) I think I’ve written about these in past newsletters but will write more in the future. I have been posting about these on Instagram so if you want to get a glimpse of this, please visit my Instagram page, my tag name is erikacleve.
Above are a couple of the dolls from my on-going ancestor series. Both are flip dolls about my grandmothers. The one on the left is a family tree of my maternal grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The one on the right has both my maternal and paternal grandmothers-one on each side.
Flip Doll Book in the works…some day:
Whenever people write to me at my website, it is most often related to the flip dolls that I make, teach workshops about and write about. I am thinking about writing a book about them, based on what I have done with them so far. I could use some feedback about this so if you are interested in hearing more, let me know. I will give you updates and will be looking for someone to test out chapters as I write them.
One of the people who contacted me about flip dolls was an artist, Priyah Bhagat and she was interested in having me give a talk about flip dolls for a show she is organizing called Black Doll Magic in Richmond Virginia. I said yes and so will be giving a talk, and also showing some of my dolls in her show. See above for more information about this show.
Image is Transforming Fear side of Facing Fear/Transforming Fear flip doll, soft sculpture, sculptural needle felted and mixed media.
I've been making dolls for about five years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am exited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!