Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'Tis the season to...?

When this season rolls around, we know it's time to be busy--I'm reminded of my third grade grammar lesson in superlatives: busy, busier, busiest.

All this hustle and bustle comes at just the time when the light and temperature (in the Northern hemisphere) beckon us to to slow down, bundle up, and brew pots of tea and tureens of soup.

Each year I'm challenged to find a way to keep my balance-not to get so busy that I neglect the beauty in gorgeous orange globes of pomegranates, the migrating birds, and the friendly faces of my family. This year, I noticed that if I just did what was in front of me, I was OK.

Of course that had me doing everything at the last minute: buying Hanukkah candles the final day the synagogue gift shop was open, wrapping my families' gifts the day I gave them, and waiting until the holidays were over to begin my cards.

I love getting holiday cards--the sense of that person's warmth from across state, elsewhere in the country, around the world, never ceases to move me. They take time to think about me and my family, to sustain our connection in spite of the urge to let go, because in these days of e-mail, facebook etc., it's all too much.

So I argue with myself--do I make the cards this year? Do I use Shutterfly to get one of those composite photographic documents of my family life? ( grown, still won't sit still.) I want to go be in the studio--so making the cards wins. I moan. Why can't I just keep it simple like most of the people I know who send cards? Then I realize that it's through their making that I feel  connected.

After a while, a rhythm and logic develop and a flotilla of delicate rice paper snowflakes emerges;  carefully glued on top of pieces of script.  I love pulling random pages from old books, foraged from library sales (an act which distresses my husband), and discovering some synchronistic pattern like Charles Dicken's ode to his Christmas tree from a 1920's book on elocution.

Snowflake flotilla, photo courtesy of Amelia McSweeny

I discover that in cutting and unfolding, the shape of a Jewish star emerges in the center of the flake, surrounded by a circle of tiny people reaching out towards each other.

The star reminds me of my Jewish grandmother's Christmas cards. These were cards that she sent out in the twenties and thirties to her non-Jewish friends and although they were sent as part of an attempt to assimilate into mainstream culture, I like to see them as a bridge between cultures, a way of creating and maintaining a connection.

My grandmother Caroline's Christmas card, circa 1925-1935

All of which takes me back the beginning; maintaining connection--and what better way to do this than through art?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Clear Sight

Bird of Paradise/Island studio
I’ve been doing some thinking on my vacation; going away is often a way of coming closer to myself, of discovering what’s been stored up inside me for lo these many months.

Landing in Kauai, I assumed I would magically relax into a state of being where one activity flowed into another--not the hurried hula I find myself performing on most working days.

While there were indeed many delicious activities; ocean walks, tropical flowers and rainbows, I was surprised to meet up with some of my oldest and most familiar demons; the ones that incessantly wish to compare myself to others who seem to be more, do more, achieve more.

Birds of Paradise in situ
A hold-over from childhood, these thought pests seemed more intense than usual, even creeping into my dreams. My sister, who had joined us, noted that sometimes in Hawaii, it seems that one’s stored up issues just seep out like lava--a kind of “detoxifying” if you will.

While the gremlins nibbled and morning doves cooed, I tried to set up a studio practice--sparer than my normal routine, but something to do in order to counter my inner detractors. I decided to sit down for an hour a day with watercolors and just paint something. I picked the simplest forms I could find; lemons and limes picked from trees  growing in the yard and tiny birds of paradise that grew by the outdoor shower.                                                                                                

Bird of Paradise
As I painted, I observed my initial antipathy to mixing the color green. It brought up memories of phthalocyanine blue and viridian green oil paint in undergraduate school and my messy complicated affair with oils. I persevered and, finally, loosened my association of mixing colors which matched my mood and began instead to evoke a feeling of relationship with the fruits I studied.

What I also observed, as the days peeled off, was that after painting I experienced a feeling of clairvoyance--clairvoyance in the French sense of the word, which literally means: “clear sight.” The fabulous leaf and flower forms that surrounded me seemed heightened, standing out as if I were staring at an intricate Indian miniature. I experienced an intensity of seeing similar to the high that practitioners of yoga describe. I felt loose and clear headed. I breathed effortlessly.

Lemon Thoughts
I’d like to claim, after this time away, that I’ve returned to normal life with no worries, sustained clear sight and a pack of good watercolors. But reality, like river water after a storm, is muddy. Spending time with transparent colors and resplendent foliage allowed me to see the landscape through the mist; there are always more layers--I understood again that we can never really remove ourselves from the complex relationships of people and situations, the endless rich entanglements of this world. However, like finding a blossom in the Hawaiian jungle, I can always locate something to focus on.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My 7 Links

Marriage Circa 2011, ©2011, H.Hunter, Collage: paper and acrylic paint
I recently accepted Donna Iona Drozda's invitation to participate in a project: My 7 Links Project. For this project, each blogger chooses 7 different posts to fit seven unique categories and then invites up to 5 more bloggers to do the same, and so on, as a way of uniting "bloggers from all sectors in an endeavor to share lessons learned create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts..."

A timely invitation and one that I thought about because it seemed to me a perfect chance to look over the year's post, to form in my mind a gestalt of what I'd written, a means of seeing the road I'd traveled and perhaps the road I might choose to take in the year ahead.

Like the doors on an advent calendar, I invite you to open up one or more of these links and see what you discover.

Most helpful: Young Adult Bereavement Art Group/Art Therapy in Action: This post proved to be helpful in two ways; one for me, because the post reflects how much I learned about the grief process of young adults, but also because this information is useful to those people who wish to start an art therapy based bereavement support group in their own community.

Where I Live, ©2000, H. Hunter, 15" x 18", Acrylic &Caran d'ache
Most popular: Finding Sanctuary: addresses our universal need to find a safe and sacred space. Nature + art = one of the most effective ways to find it.

Didn't quite get the attention it deserved: Timing is Everything: There's a lot packed into this little post with M.S. Merwin's poem. Spring opens our eyes with its fleeting beauty and we're reminded, once again, of the transience and beauty of life.

Most proud of: Art Therapy 101: No questions here. Art Therapy 101, about my daughter who was my first teacher in art therapy, wrote itself.

Peonies at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Most beautiful: Accidental Journey: Places of the soul--all of us have them and I accidentally traveled back to mine in this trip to Maine. Here I share images and thoughts of this magical journey, especially one gorgeous blush colored peony.

Surprising Success: A Different Kind of Summer: I had no idea when I wrote about spending the summer in the studio that it would elicit so many responses. At the hospital, when I'm asked what I did on the weekend, my answer is always the same: "I was in my studio." (And it's always a pleasure.)

Most controversial: New Beginnings: The controversy here is subjective within the quilting world--I suddenly felt confronted by an entirely different way of seeing the quilting process, one I hadn't considered and which challenged me to re-examine my approach to the aesthestics of art quilts.

And now some nominations--4 blogs with entirely different focuses--something to satisfy different parts of my personality.

From the Scattergood Farm: written by two teachers at Scattergood Friends School (my daughter's high school alma mater) where students both study and work a living farm. In this new blog, they present some radical new ideas for school lunch. Check this out!

Patricia Scarborough: I love Patty's posts--witty and wry and half a continent away, I love to read her observations and see her plein air plainscapes. 

Dwelling Here Now: One of the first blogs I discovered, Anthony Lawlor takes a spiritual approach to architecture and the architecture of thought. 

Blue Sky Dreaming: Blue Sky's open minded approach to her subject matter and materials intrigues and inspires lots of us in the mixed media world.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Process of Trial and Multicolored Error

Pomegranate: alizarine crimson/napthol red/burnt umber
I arrived at my friend Stacey's last week with a lot of questions. I wanted to hear where she stood on the matter of staining and non staining pigments, her thoughts on hot vs cold press paper and if there was a better pigment or paper to use.

Stacey obligingly pulled out a reference book, The Wilcox Guide to the Best Watercolor Paints by Michael Wilcox and showed it to me. On each page there was a precis of every shade of watercolor known to mankind. She offered to loan me the book but the sheer weight of the information was daunting.

When I pressed her for the essential facts on these issues, I could feel her resistance. She explained that rather than reading about pigments, she prefers to work with the colors herself, testing one, then another with a whole cadre of colors. She opened a black notebook to a two page spread with the most mouthwatering series of colors I've seen in a while.

Pomegranate: alizarine crimson/napthol red/burnt umber
What was most interesting about the samples she had painted was that there was no uniformity. You could see crystallization in some of the colors and in others, like viridian, there were speckles of plum and rust. "So, is that sedimentary?" I asked, pointing to the viridian wash. She told me that the paint water had remnants of many colors suspended in it--or, as she put it, "it's dirty water."

It was apparent to me that once again, I was facing the creative continuum of choice, trying to decide between two ways of approaching a painting or drawing. When I arrived that at her studio that morning, looking for answers, Stacey was telling me to experiment, to work by trial and error, always heading in the direction that that elicits energy and joy, rather than the road marked "I really should...."

Simply put," she said,  "avoid the 'shoulds'!!
"If it seems like you have a choice and one way is going to bring joy, go that way."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Circles Within Circles

Multicolored Circles, ©2011, H. Hunter
When I last wrote about painting persimmons with Stacey Vetter, a number of people asked me to keep them "posted." I had the best of intentions but my production took a sharp downturn high up in the hills of Carmel Valley.

While my son Ben played golf on the tiered greens of Saint Lucia Preserve, I hid myself behind a Valley Oak and began to paint acorns and oak leaves. The sun was hot and rather than creating distinct layers,  the walnut ink pooled on paper. After an hour, I had only a few clusters to show for my efforts. Discouraged, I decided to report my findings to Stacey the next week.

Stacey took a survey of my results and prescribed painting circles. "Circles??" I asked. Not one to stand on ceremony, she picked up her brush and began to demonstrate what she meant. As I watched her, I noticed that she handled the brush with a deftness born of deep practice. The brush seemed to swirl around with no hesitation.

I took up my brush, discovering that it intended design on its own--and performed the opposite of hers. Frustrated, I reminded myself of the revered book by Shunryu Suzuki: "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind." "It's O.K." I assured myself. I have to work against my own grain when I put myself in a place where I know very little and I need to have a high tolerance for mistakes.

Banana Paper Dots, ©2011, H. Hunter
I decided to persevere. As I did, I began to notice little things: how as I came around the bend of the curve and the brush seemed to be running out of ink, it would disperse just enough ink to easily close the circle. Slowly, as I repeated the circles, I began to feel the delight I experienced as a child on ice skates when I figured out how to spin. Soon I was spinning the ink. Circles and more circles. On hot press. On cold press. On rice paper. On banana paper.  

Alizarine Crimson and Amethyst Genuine Drops, ©2011, H. Hunter
My next challenge was to create a shading in the circle. Stacey explained that I would need to paint a piece of the circle and then stop; making sure to leave an organic shape, quickly rinse my brush and then, with precisely the amount of water as I had just shed of pigment, finish off the circle. 

A few days later at a studio time with my friend Linda, a landscape water colorist, I decided to try my hand at it. She sat down to complete a gorgeous landscape of Lake Tahoe and I brought out my circles. She glanced over after a while and noted that how boring it must be. Her comment caught me by surprise. I had become completely involved in the act of touching paint to paper and watching it react.

In its own way, it was as fascinating as observing a patient in her hospital room. How did the first stroke lay down? (Is the patient alone in her room?) What kind of organic shape should I leave? (What kind of expression does the patient have? What is the tone of their speech?) Does the paint granulate as it begins to dry? Is it a staining or non staining pigment? (Does she want to cover the entire paper or work in just a tiny corner?)

Like the beginning of William Blake's poem, "Auguries of Innocence," it seemed that I'd discovered "a world in a grain of sand." 
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Amethyst and Pthalo Blue Dots, ©2011,  H. Hunter

After I explained to Linda what I was seeing, she too got caught up and soon we were both exploring the depths of her vast collection of colors. They were seductive, those circles, and she couldn't resist trying her hand at a few.

I'm not sure where these circles will lead and I'm sure a few of them will land in collage works. In the meantime, I'm taking time to relish the turn of the brush.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sitting on My Hands

©2011, Hannah Klaus Hunter, Ceramic Cat Grief Mask
I like to imagine that there are as many ways to say good bye as stars in the sky. Like stars, each goodbye is unique, with its own distinct light. This was the last week in our bi-annual Young Adult Bereavement Art Group that we affectionately call "YABAG." Perhaps its me, perhaps it's time passing, but it seems that each group gets better and better.

In the first week we ask what brings each person to the group. One young woman's response, "Art, Bereavement, Support," formed the personality of our present group. That's what we did.

Aside from piloting my way through my own childrens' teenage years, facilitating through the 8 weeks is one of the most difficult things I do, and, at the same time, the most subtle. The knowledge of when to speak and when to refrain from speaking, when to lean on someone just a bit so that they'll speak even without feeling pressured is as delicate a process as inserting an IV needle.

For 8 weeks these young adults came week after week to sit with us and wind their way through their dark tunnels of grief. Each week, after the evening was over, my co-facilitator and I told each other that we wanted to adopt each one of them. Certainly, I wanted to rescue them from their pain. And, since that wasn't possible, I spent a lot of time figuratively sitting on my hands.

During the last two weeks, group members paint clay masks that they've made several weeks earlier and construct a memory box containing images and symbols that speak to their memories of the person who died. Often these are not literal pictures of the person, but images they've found in magazines or pictures they've painted inside and outside of the box.

I think of this box as a tool kit. Alongside the memories residing invisibly inside the box, there is also the knowledge of the coping tools they've learned in the group; how to address the non-grievers, how to approach a holiday without feeling you're about to fall off a cliff and how there are others like you with whom you can travel. Going it alone becomes an option rather than a necessity.

As the group ended that night we sat quietly. My co-facilitator and I had said our goodbyes. Group members expressed their wishes that the sessions could continue longer ("I could paint for hours"), but I thought that as usual, they would take off quickly, disappearing into the darkness of night. But they sat. And sat. 

I'm one of those people who have to take it on faith that sometimes the most important thing I can do as a therapist is to listen and be present. An old mentor used to caution me over and over: "Don't rush the river." But I've always found so much comfort in doing.  It makes me feel better. But as I pondered these young people the next morning, I realized why they continued to sit for so long. There was  comfort in simply being together. No words, not even images were necessary. They and their memories could dwell comfortably in the half-light.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Persimmons on Parade

©2011, H. Hunter, Persimmon study, walnut ink on paper
I began a new chapter of my life last week. Like many people pursuing a career, it's necessary sometimes to take matters into my own hands and sharpen my saw. For a while now, I've wanted to focus my attention on drawing--to begin as it were, a drawing practice. I decided to talk to my friend Stacey Vetter, botanical painter, illustrator and draftswoman extraordinaire. I'd taken a class with her a year ago through our local arts center and had loved it.

This time, I wanted to go a little further, so I asked her if she'd be open to a series of private lessons.

She asked what I'd like to focus on  and I told her I wanted to reclaim my practice of journaling and use plants rather than words.  And I wanted to turn the effort into a kind of meditation.

Stacey turned out to be my go-to-gal.  I arrived at her studio to find a simple wooden table covered with a linen print cloth. On top of the cloth were placed a clutch of green persimmons. (They'll ripen steadily until December, when they'll hang on the tree like tiny orange globes, dangling miniature pumpkins.)            

Next to the persimmons sat a flask of walnut ink which, Stacey explained, was created by a man named Tom Norton, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had formulated a lightfast ink resembling the ink of the old masters. At the time of Rembrandt, artists used real walnut ink which faded over time, becoming a lovely rich, dark umber that we see today.  Now it's reinvented for all of us to use in perpetuity.

I discovered after just a short time, how similar the art of ink painting is to life. After explaining some possibilities, Stacey suggested that we start simply--and like any good builders, that we work on the foundation. (These were wise words, because already, as she spoke, I found myself lost in the crenellations of the persimmons' crown. )

Mu Qi, 13th century Chinese painter

She gave me three instructions: Slow down and surrender, accept what the ink is going to do and keep it simple. I've been immersing myself in persimmons and pomegranates since then, fascinated by how difficult keeping it simple truly is.

Several days after my first lesson, Stacey sent me a link to the picture above, a gorgeous study of persimmons by the 13th century Chinese master, MuQi. She also included this quote:

"Since birth we get accustomed to seeing and thinking at the same time. But I think that if you can turn off the mind and look at things only with your eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract."   Ellsworth Kelly from Drawn from Nature

Friday, October 14, 2011

8 Women's Visions and 1 Woman's Details

Dialogue with Red, ©2011, H. Hunter, 29" x 29"
As the Jewish New Year passed last week with all the speed of a French TGV train,  I spent ellipses of that time "wondering" my way back over the year. And I do mean wondering.

This past year,  my goal was to create work for an art quilt show I'd been invited to participate in. Never mind the fact that prior to this, I had done very little quilting, when I dive into something, I'm passionate about it. I try to inhale as much knowledge as I can, trusting that if I do, it will carry me to a place that I can equally trust.

In the spirit of that quest, I gave myself  the challenge of creating six 36" quilts in the space of six months. I liked the multiple of six and I thought that the time I'd allotted would be more than adequate. For traditional quilt patterns, this would be ample time, but because I was approaching quilting like collage, the time passed in the blink of an eye. 

Junebug, detail, ©2011, H. Hunter, 27" x 27"
That's how the other week I came to find myself with six quilts, all needing to be bound and sleeves for hanging added as well. In some ways this might seem like the easy part of the process: choose a binding and off you go. But instead, using the collage process (cut out that piece, put it in, see if it fits, take it out, try another place, moving it until it fits and so on), it turns out that the binding is an integral part of the piece, and is much more than a quick intuitive decision.

After cutting the first round of bindings, I began to attach them and found myself making faces. "Yuck! What's going on here?" I asked myself. As I unstitched bindings and studied the quilts, I discovered that actually, the binding seemed to serve the same function as the final strokes of a drawing.

I also understood that I was facing my one of my own oft repeated laws of art: whenever I begin a painting, a drawing, or a collage, the choices are limitless, or, limited only by my own personality and imagination. With each step, the choices narrow because of the actions already chosen. When I get down to these last strokes--the challenge is to be concise, to choose the exact combination of colors that will allow my format to sing like Isaac Stern playing a Bach partita.
Quintessence, detail, ©2011 H. Hunter, 30" x 30"
At the same time, it's the place of greatest risk. If I make the wrong decision, I stand to lose everything.

Early the next morning I grabbed my dilemma by its horns and headed up to the studio in my nightgown (that way, the quilt is taken by surprise, it's not sure whether you're serious or not...)

I began to cut and sew. After an hour had past, I'd past the test and made it through the rough spots.

I'd taken a risk and allowed the work, not my head to tell me what kind of fabrics were needed. A revelation indeed because at the eleventh hour, I often want to depend on my head not my eyes or my heart.

A week has passed since I wrote this. The new bindings are now sewn on, the show is up and I'm just about ready to head out the door to the opening. And like the bindings, I've learned that even though I may want to shortcut the evening (the biggest challenge of the whole process is showing up for the event) I'm thinking that by completing the circle and taking a risk, I just might learn something that will help the evening to sing.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Beginnings

Summer Palimpsest, detail, ©2011, H.Hunter, 28" x 27"
Every day, like most everyone, I find a flock of e-mails waiting in my in-box. Yesterday, one of them stood out, catching my notice, the words evoked a turning, an awareness that something new might be on the way.

My friend Sara had written a description for a class she calls "Art Makers," a class for people who are curious about the process of being and becoming an artist. The class has been going on for a couple years now and each season, she changes the theme to correspond with her observations on the previous class.

She noted that this fall class would focus on process, "--on taking apart our work and putting it back together, on looking and seeing with "art" awareness, on re-affirming how we work best."

I'm taking those 5 little words "re-affirming how we work best," to heart.

All summer, I've climbed the stairs to my studio, a space where I cocoon myself and spin out my threads, watching them acrete until a small but perfect quilt emerges on the wall.

I like to cut quirky rectangles which can be only be matched up with persistence. When I finish, the last thing I want to do is to quilt the layers together.  I decided to take the pieces to a professional quilter whose work I admire. After they were quilted, I showed them to an artist friend. As I laid them out, she cleared her throat. "Hmm...I think I should just say that I really like to exercise total artistic control. " That small pebble of feedback caused a landslide of insight.

Rather than seeing the quilting as a necessary step that needs to be added to properly finish the process (and God knows why I thought that since I'd already broken a slew of quilter's rules.)--I began to see the stitches on the top as a layer of drawing. That in fact there were four layers: the backing, the batting, the quilted pieces of fabric and the thread quilting on top. I saw it like an architect's model in which layers of drawings were placed on top of each other to convey the finished building.

Artmaking involves skills that can be learned.  The conventional wisdom here is that while "craft" can be taught, "art" remains a magical gift bestowed only by the Gods.  Not so. In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive. --Art and Fear

While I can't say that I became a sudden convert to this notion of quilting as drawing (in fact I even took the last two quilts, Miss August and Miss September, right back to the pro), I've tucked the knowledge away for a time that doesn't have a limit on it, a time when I can ponder these layers and find a way to connect them in a way that leaves my own mark, one of acceptance.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Art: Worth An Ounce of Prevention

Still Quadrant, ©2011, H. Hunter, 18" x 18," Monoprint and Collage
I'm sitting at my desk at the Children's Hospital here in Sacramento. When I'm here, I'm firmly in my role as an art therapist, but every so often this role gets mixed up with my role as an artist.

I often feel like I lead a kind of double life, shifting internally between the person who keeps a curious eye open to composition and the way colors play against one another, and the person whose job it is to keep watch with another; one whose life has been compromised by illness, accident or abuse. I offer them the time and space, safety and support so that they can use the art materials and allow whatever wants to emerge to appear. We welcome the result as just right, true to itself, perfect.

Every so often, my roles get jumbled--like this week. I had been asked by our director of Patient Care Services to participate in an art benefit to help raise money for a local chapter of the Child Abuse Prevention Center. She wanted to create an event filled with art and combined with California vintners, to help support this worthy cause. For anyone unfamiliar with the impact of this issue, the Center's site posts an astonishing list of statistics:

Every minute in America a child is reported abused or neglected...One in five is sexually abused. Half a million children are reported abused in California each year. Every day in California at least one child dies as a result of abuse or neglect.

Each one is one too many.

These are startling and disturbing statistics and what brings these numbers home to me is the entry of one of these small "ones" into our playroom,  carried in the arms of a nurse. The care and treatment that these children receive is superb and beyond that, the love that surrounds them is priceless. So many arms are there to soothe, protect and hold them as their injuries heal and the natural resilience of each child takes hold once again.

I didn't think twice before I said yes, because the request touched my heart. I knew that here was a way to give back.

I'll be showing my artwork with a number of excellent artists: Chris Beer, Mark Bowles, Beth Rommel, Andrew Maurer, Jane Mikacich, Wendy Nugent, Diane Poinski, and Stacey Vetter. I hope you'll take a moment to reflect upon this issue and consider what you might do in your own area to help. If you're going to be around the Sacramento area, I warmly invite you to the Pour for Prevention event on Saturday, August 27th from 6-9 p.m. For more information and details, click here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Different Kind of Summer

Still Life With Orange, 2011, H. Hunter, 28" x 32," quilted fabric
It's been a different kind of summer so far. Though
it's been many years since the summer was mine to fashion as I wish, the illusion that I can do so stays with me.

Part of what makes this summer different was a decision I made to focus my energies on an art quilt show taking place in October at our local art center.  Accepting the invitation was big; prior to this, my forays into the quilting world have been few. I've taken inspiration from quilt patterns, but to put pins into cloth and stitch one piece of fabric to another--now that is another feat altogether.

All of the normal fears and then some attended me (and I know that you know them well enough from your own work that I don't have to detail them here) but despite all of that, the process has been amazing. I made a goal of creating one quilted piece per month for six months. These are works in which I can exercise my love for detail and create small areas of fascination while working at a pace I can sustain with my art therapy practice.

I'm aided by the sheer hypnotic flow of long weekend afternoons accompanied by the sound of the fan and audio books: Ape House, The Coral Thief, The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo to name a few. While my mind is captured by a good story line, my eye is free to wander and choose patterns that the more critical part of me would probably veto. My focus is also sharpened by my long time partner in art crime, Beth Rommel. We met over a year ago in Alyson Stanfield's Blog Triage class and have become fast friends, going on take part in the Artist Conspiracy. It surprises me that sharing a goal with someone over the phone (Beth lives in Georgia, I in CA) creates such a strong degree of accountability, but there it is and I'm delighted by it.

Hallie, lending gravitas to our home

In the same vein, earlier in the year, I made a goal of creating a new website; one that I could fashion and refashion according to my artwork at the time. Spurred on by an art and wine event in August, Pour for Prevention, I decided to nudge my visual ducks in a row and explore WordPress. Re-writing my artist's statement and bio was challenging (I mean how many ways can I say where I went to school? And, since my children are grown, is it too much to add cat to the description: "She lives and works in Davis, CA with her husband and ?...")

So, as the current idiom goes, it's "good stuff," a rather rough way of saying that although this summer is different; no trips to the beach or lazy afternoons reading almost a whole book, it has been wonderful, and, and at this time of my life, a dream come true.

Friday, June 24, 2011

An Accidental Journey

Peonies at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art
When I was a small child of five, my family moved to Maine. My dad was finishing his PhD and got his first teaching assignment at Bowdoin College. I was just beginning kindergarten.

Is it possible to fall in love at the age of five? Because if it is, I did. I loved so much about Maine, beginning at the edge of our backyard. Behind our brown plank house, in a yard with clumps of birch trees whose bark made perfect "paper," lay a bog. It was a magical place where I discovered peepers, tasted my first cranberries and stood peering into the depths of the murky pond. I marveled at the frogs' eggs gathered in gelatinous blobs, the beginnings of my education in biology and reproduction.

We didn't live in Maine for long; just three years, but enough for the landscape of the place to imprint itself on my consciousness; stretches of land with rocky outcroppings, white steepled churches, docks and piers heaped with lobster pots and fishing nets, the smell of ocean and the clack of clamshells.

Rocky Coastal Beach, Hampton, N
The car-sweep of these images wove itself into my consciousness, so that even now, fifty years later, I dream of traveling back to Maine. In my dreams, I swim up a river banded by ferns and rimmed with pine trees; there is the promise of blueberries hiding within the woods. The dream is so vivid that I believe I am there and awaken with the sensation of just having returned from this faraway place.

Dogwood in the yard of a older home in Kittery, ME
It didn't seem so strange then, when I accidentally ended up in Maine last week. My family and I flew out to a wedding in Vermont and, wishing to make a small vacation out of it, I suggested we stop off at the coast for a day; in New Hampshire to be exact. Arriving at dinner time, we set off in search of sustenance other than McDonald's. After getting turned around on a round about, we crossed a bridge and came upon what looked to be an excellent taqueria. A man whom I asked in the parking lot noted that it was the best Mexican food in Maine outside of Southern California. We were in Maine, not New Hampshire!

Boats like clamshells at Kittery Point, ME
The feeling of delight that rose up in me was exquisite. We all looked at each other and began to laugh. Imagine that!! We had arrived in Maine by accident. What followed was a day and a half of intense exploration; of inhaling smells and remembering once familiar sights. I could tell you that we lingered at a dock, wandered through an art museum  and mixed with the locals in a general store, but that wouldn't quite capture it. Throughout the hours we spent there, I felt that I had returned to something quite precious that I don't want to lose again.

Weehawken Sequence, John Marin, circa 1916, 10" x 12.5," oil on canvas

Is there a place in your life that calls to your soul, appears in your dreams, a place to which you've made a secret promise to return?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Home: Our Foundation

"Tempting Fate," ©2004, H.K.Hunter, 3.5" x 5", Collage: acrylic and magazine images on paper, Collection of Diana Connolly
Recently, I've pondered home as a symbol and a reality. In the wake of Japan's earthquake/tsunami and the rash of virulent tornadoes over middle America, the fact that one's hearth can be destroyed in seconds made me think about the various values held by the place where we reside.

"Many Chambered House," ©2004, 3' x 5", Collage: acrylic, colored pencil, calendar imagery and ink on paper, Collection of Virginia Shubert
Across our country, home prices have tumbled, particularly in areas deeply connected to me: California where I live, Florida where my son resides and Michigan, where half of my family originated. We've been lucky enough to maintain our home for many years but it has come home to me how quickly that privilege can be taken away. 

As children, we moved frequently from state to state, house to house, apartment to apartment. While many kids dream about what they want to be when they grow up, I fantasized about having a home of my own (think:Virginia Woolf's A Room of her Own.)

Even as that vision took shape, my desire must have remained sublimated, because I also ended up making art about homes. Recently, I saw a message on my facebook fanpage from a collector, who bought one of my paintings nearly 20 years ago. The woman was kind enough to take a picture of the work and when I saw it, I recognized an early "home" piece.

"Piecing the Night," ©1992, H.K. Hunter, 8.5" x 7", watercolor on paper, collection of Michelle Heinz

That made me curious. I pored over my i-photo files and pulled out the "homes" I'd made in recent years. I've selected a few to share with you here.

"Katrina," ©2005, 11" x15", Collage: acrylic, ink, calendar imagery on paper, Collection of the University of Iowa Hospitals
I'm curious to hear your thoughts on home as you've watched the images of devastation flash across your television screen or heard the news about another small town leveled.  Has your art been affected by these current and timeless events? Are images of home on alert in your imagination?

Flood, ©2009, H.K. Hunter, 11" x 17", Collage: acrylic, ink, caran d'ache, foil and calendar imagery on paper, Collection: Anonymous       

I'll be posting intermittently this summer; I want to take advantage of long days and cool evenings in the studio and finish working on a chapter for Cathy Malchiodi's upcoming book, "The Arts in Healthcare." 

I look forward to keeping up with you on your blogs and wish you a reflective Memorial Day weekend; visited by memories of the ones that have gone before you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Timing is Everything

Marriage Circa 2011, ©2011, H.Hunter, Collage: paper and acrylic paint

This poem by W.S. Merwin in a recent New Yorker caught my eye, mind and heart. Perfect for spring, when newborn leaves emerge suddenly while you're inside, retrieving a paintbrush you forgot.


going too fast for myself I missed
more than I think I can remember

almost everything it seems sometimes 
and yet there are chances that come back

that I did not notice when they stood
where I could have reached out and touched them

this morning the black shepherd dog
still young looking up and saying

Are you ready this time

Merwin ends the poem so abruptly--as if he's just turned his head to look down at his dog. Doesn't it often seem like this--that those chances to catch something very important pass by in the blink of an eye?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Art Therapy 101

Liz & Partner: Viennese Waltz, Photo: Jen Gross
Normally, I spend these posts focused on my explorations in art and art therapy. However, behind all of that lies the beauty and wonder of family. Family is my foundation.

This year, in celebration of Mother's Day, I was invited by Claudine Intner, an artist, blogger and mom extraordinaire to join a Mother's Day blog hop. I accepted and chose May 14, my daughter's birthday, as my post date. I couldn't think of a better way of honoring Mother's Day than to write about being Liz's mom.

One of the great delights of my life, Liz came into it twenty two years ago today. A young woman who has faced many challenges, she has overcome them one step at a time.

In fact, Lizzie helped inspire me to become an art therapist. Being with my own daughter, I understood the need to have compassion, to help my child as she met the inevitable challenges of growing up. What an awakening; to discover that no one was going to be a better advocate for her than I. And, it was this same experience of advocacy which spurred me on later, to work with children, who might or might not need an advocate of their own.

Liz & Partner: Nightclub Two Step, Photo: Jen Gross
Years have passed since Liz's elementary school days, but at the time, I poured everything that I knew as an artist into my mothering. When school was frustrating, Liz hunkered down at a small table piled with markers and paper and pounded hard on sheet after sheet of paper, producing a series of pointillist mandalas. Later on studying art therapy, I learned the theoretical underpinnings of catharsis but at the time, Lizzie blazed her own art therapy trail.

When she reached high school, and I learned about SoulCollage®, it was Liz who took it to new heights, carrying stacks of 5" x 8" cards and magazines up to her room and emerging several hours later with a fan of cards to share with me. (Before long, she began to assist me during workshops, adding her gentle presence and expertise.)

Together, her cards created the portrait of a passionate and deeply creative woman and I wondered what future form(s) this might take in the world. I didn't have long to wait. During her first year of college, Liz discovered ballroom dance. An incurable romantic, this art form fits her to a T. I've delighted in watching her emerge as a gorgeous woman, who continues to craft her life one step at a time. Today, on her birthday, she is performing with her dance team, "Spirit in Motion" and dancing a solo with her partner. I can't think of a more fitting way for her to enter her 22nd year: in motion.

To see more blogs on the hop, click on any of the links below:

5/1 - Claudine Intner
5/2 - Melissa Liban
5/3 - Lynn Krawczyk
5/4 - Ishita Bandyo
5/5 - Jeri Greenberg
5/6 - Kathleen Mattox
5/8- Amanda Ruth
5/9- Judi Hurwitt
5/10 - Kathleen Murphy
5/11 - Hannah Phelps
5/12 - Helen Hiebert
5/14 - Hannah Klaus Hunter
5/15 - Claudine Intner

Friday, May 6, 2011

Prelude to Mother's Day

Waters of Life, ©2003, H.Hunter, 11" x 15," Collage
It was Bring Your Child to Work Day last week, a day parents working at our hospital bring along their children, in order to explore careers in healthcare. We had speakers, tours and tables all set up to teach kids about a multitude of possible futures.

My assignment was clear: meet the oncoming wave of children, 50 or so, with a quick description of what it means to be an art therapist. A Twitter dilemma if I ever saw one. (Describe what I do in 140 characters or less.) In addition, I offered them an art therapy activity.

I wanted to engage the kids, find out what they might wish to do when they grew up, recognizing any answer is a work in progress.

To that end, I had a collection of muslin dolls, ready to be drawn upon in whatever way a child's dream might dictate. Most of the children wanted to grab the doll and go (and what would you want with a naked baby doll, I ask you?) I politely let them know the talk was part of the bargain. No art, no doll.

My invitation was often initially met with a blank stare, but when I motioned them over to join other kids at a table filled with fabric markers, more colored pens began to "tatoo" muslin skins, transforming the blank "canvas" of that doll into a future self.

It was marvelous and all types of dolls emerged--nurses and doctor dolls of course, but also singers, computer geeks and pharmacists. I was so happy that the children felt that they were able to supplement the ample information that they'd heard with a chance to internalize their knowledge. Perhaps some expressed a dormant desire, a curious inclination just waiting for the opportunity to emerge.

It's taken a long time for me to lean into my future. As a child on the playground, I was often stumped when we talked about what we wanted to be when we grew up. The presumed careers for girls, teaching and nursing, did not feel right. But sitting behind the table last week, wearing a bright pink sweater and sparkly earrings, I felt I was embodying the self that had been waiting all those years ago, an artist, who uses art as medicine.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where Inspiration Grows

I was reading one of my favorite blogs by Donna Watson, a post called The Search For Meaning: Self Awareness. The title alone called out to the mystic, the artist and the art therapist in me. As I read, I came to this question:

I eventually realized that there is more to a work of art. I wanted to find meaning in my work... I started making lists as I went deeper and identified my likes, my interests, and my strengths...Have you figured out your list? 

As I read and looked at her images, it struck me that images themselves are a form of sanctuary for many of us--not only the creating of images, but the consequent viewing of our own and those of other artists.

Donna's words spoke to me. I've made plenty of To Do lists, mapping out my day, but never an accounting of where I find visual meaning.  I wanted my list to include things that have inspired me through the years, things that fuel my work and which, I've discovered, help form my own inner strengths.

To that end, I'm making my list. I invite you to make your own and share it with us.
1. Quilts:

How I start to make a quilt, all I do is start sewing and it just comes to me. My daughter asked me the other day what I was making, and I said, "I don't know yet; I'm just sewing pieces together," and the quilt looked pretty good. No pattern. I usually don't use a pattern, only my mind.  Lorraine Pettway, quilter

Dancing Rings, ©2007, Hannah Hunter, 48" x 60," Cloth
2. Sheer, unbridaled color:

All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites. Mark Chagall

3. Mandalas:

When I began drawing the mandalas, however, I saw that everything, all the paths I had been following, all the steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point-namely, to the midpoint...It is the path to the center, to individuation.  C. G. Jung from Memories, Dreams and Reflections

Thangka painting of Vajradhatu Mandala

4. Tree of Life:

Oh, I who long to grow
I look outside myself, and the tree
inside me grows.  Ranier Marie Rilke

5. Indian gouache paintings:

The Goddess Shakti taking the form of a triangle brings forth the three worlds. Jnarnava, Chapter X

Rajasthan, c. 17th century, Gouache on paper

6. Ancient Manuscripts:

Without traditional wisdom, the language would be but a skeleton without flesh, a body without a soul.   Zulu proverb from South Africa

Hebrew manuscript from the Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Finding Sanctuary

Where I Live, ©2000, H. Hunter, 15" x 18", Acrylic, Caran d'ache on paper

Where do you find sanctuary?

I began to ask myself this question after a Trauma Informed Art Therapy Course I took last week in San Francisco.

When working with trauma victims, creating a sense of safety, or in other words, a sanctuary, becomes your top priority.

But how to do that? How to find safety in the midst of physical and/or emotional pain?

There are tried and true art therapy activities, but I wanted to go a bit deeper. The word "sanctuary" made me think of the Jewish practice of Shabbat. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a 20th century theologian, wrote about Shabbat as "a cathedral in time"--a "place" in time rather than space in which a person could could learn to rest.

In other words, sanctuary could be a state of mind rather than an actual place. I began to ask people how they find sanctuary. Some of their answers:

"Sanctuary is being with my family, watching Dad make spaghetti and then sitting around the table eating it together." 
"Sanctuary is when my whole family is home and I can close the blinds and we are together and the rest of the world is outside."
"Sanctuary is running." 
"Sanctuary is my new kitten."

I took advantage of the art groups I facilitated and asked people to make collages of their sanctuaries and the guardians of these places. What emerged surprised me:

A gorilla with wise eyes staring out of the picture surrounded by bits of colorful pieces of quilts.
The eye of a tiger surrounded by spring green fronds of leaves.
The plain of a desert with two yucca plants in bloom.
A home built on the foundation of chocolate chip cookies.

In almost all the images, nature played a central role. It didn't seem to matter whether someone had ready access to nature, it was the time spent imagining and creating the image of a place that evoked a sense of restfulness.

It seems that with the ever increasing pace and pressures of modern life, this kind of sanctuary is more important than ever--a pause we take that allows us to touch base with something more primal and tangible. I'm curious how many of you use art as a refuge?  If not, how do you find sanctuary?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Plant and Painting Share Common Roots

Amaranth, ©2011, Hannah Hunter, Collage (paper, fabric and watercolor on panel)
Amaranth. I was walking up the stairs to my studio, trying to come up with a name for a panel I'd just finished and this name came into my head. Curious to see what it meant, I looked it up.

Here's what I found: Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth, is a wide ranging genus of herbs. The root of the word comes from the Greek, "amarantos," or "unfading" and it combined, sometime in the word's history, with the the Greek work for flower, "anthos."

 A small purple flower, Amaranth provides a sturdy source of nutrition and serves to support sustainable land care in Africa. 

Unfading flower. I like that. At in this time in the world, when so much seems unsure in so many countries, the world, at least my world, needs some reassurance about those things that do not fade.

Amaranth, the flower
I think about the children with whom I work. Day after day this week, I ran my eyes down the census to see if anything had changed; a chance for a miracle cure. No, there were still too many children whose diagnoses were grim. (Isn't one too many?) I wanted to push against this--to create a moment of fun, a small space for healing. Although I am not a doctor or a nurse, I am an artist and the healing I can offer is moments of relief, spaces for joy, a dose of hope.

Into this space comes what does not fade: art, prayer, laughter and love. Amaranth.