Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Step Away From Peace

We are accustomed to thinking of progress as a step forward. But taking a conscious step back can lead to an abiding sense of peace.                                                                   
                                                                                                                            by John Ptacek

Imagine that you are standing under a waterfall. The water pounds down on your head and shoulders and pins your feet to the ground. The steady rush of water feels good. At times, it feels ecstatic.

But often the force of the water is too much. It hurts. You want it to stop. You tilt your body slightly, hoping to find a gap in the sheets of water cascading down on you. You do, and for a moment the pain lessens. But then the full force of the water finds you again. The pain is intense. You feel trapped.

Now imagine that one day, for no reason you can think of, you step back from the waterfall. You had no idea there was a space behind you the whole time, a cavern cut into the rock that easily accommodates your frame. The relief you feel is immense. Your body feels light. You witness the water pouring down inches from your nose. The inches seem like miles. Now the water begins to flow from you. Tears of joy are streaming down your cheeks. You have stepped away from the steady rush of water, from the endless cycle of pleasure and pain you’d been experiencing for as long as you can remember.

We spend our lives immersed in a flood of thoughts, unaware that another dimension of consciousness is available to us. It is a dimension in which we come to know ourselves as something other than thinkers. By taking a step back, we become the witness of our thoughts. Of the millions of steps we’ve taken in our lives, this subtle but radical step may be the most important because it leads to a profound sense of peace.

We cannot think our way into this witnessing dimension. It only emerges when thought subsides, appearing suddenly, like a bunny hopping from the bushes when the coast is clear. The thoughts that pleaded for our attention gradually recede in the presence of our steady witnessing gaze. In this transformative moment we have stepped back from the flow of thought into the serene space of our awareness.

This space is not as mystical as it might seem. Haven’t we all experienced moments when we’ve witnessed the thoughts flowing through our minds without getting dragged into their current?

Have you ever quarreled with someone and refrained from expressing a hurtful thought that surfaced in your mind? How were you able to perceive that thought? Was it illuminated by the light of your awareness?

Have you ever been on an airplane, minutes before takeoff, fearing that it was going to crash and that you’d never see your loved ones again? What stopped you from unbuckling your seat belt and bolting for the door? Was it because you were you aware, if only vaguely, that the thoughts parading through your mind were a bit far fetched?

We experience these brief but revealing glimpses of our witnessing capacity without recognizing their value. We move past them inattentively, the way we might a Rembrandt at a yard sale. But to spend one clear-eyed moment in this space is to observe that the territory of thought is limited, that it is easily contained within the greater space of our awareness. This flash of insight will awaken us to a new identity. By observing thought, we are born as its witness.

If we wish to dwell rather than dart in and out of in this vibrant dimension, we must do more than simply change the way we think; we must change our relationship with thought. We must become its ever-present witness to avoid being its ever-suffering accomplice. Helpful one moment and devious the next, thought is like a petulant child requiring our constant attention.

As thought’s witness, we are its master. We can summon it if we wish to bake a cake or split an atom, and dismiss it when it shows up uninvited. But for this cozy relationship with thought to last, we must keep it permanently in our sights. This will take every ounce of energy we have, and at first even that won’t be enough. We have been thought’s servant for so long that we’ll continue to obey it by sheer habit.

But in time our tolerance for suffering at the hands of thought will lessen. The pleasure will no longer seem worth the pain. And those isolated moments when we glimpse the chains and pulleys driving our thought process will begin to connect like stars in a constellation. As we step further and further back from the realm of thought, we will see it in its entirety and know that we exist beyond its borders.

We would like to thank John Ptacek for contributing his beautiful essay to our Blog.  If you would like to read more of his work, it appears on his website On Second ThoughtJohn's life has been enriched by the wisdom of great spiritual teachers.  His essays help to demystify their sometimes perplexing teachings to a wider audience.

Pacific Northwest Waterfall is by photographer Julie Magers Soulen.  Prints are available through her shop on Etsy.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

The Balance and Blessings of Autumn

I’m not sure what excites me about this time of year. On one hand, I feel a hesitative approach to fall, as the days grow colder and I know that soon I will need to order oil to heat the house, and (sigh) get the snow shovel out, and I almost wish I could slow the progress to the colder months of the year. But, on the other hand, my soul is stirred by the crispness of the air, the clearness of the sky, the urgency of the birds – I see more woodpeckers these days and hear more blue jays and crows in the trees. There is a wildness all about, as leaves begin to change their colors with sudden abandon, and are carried in circles by the wind, to the ground.

With the autumnal equinox (or Mabon, as many pagans call it), light begins to die, as the days become shorter and darkness grows. But with these shortening, cooling days, we are provided with sustenance and security. Pumpkins and apples, corn stalks and hay bales – these symbols of fall offer comfort, as do the rich fall hues of orange, gold, red, and brown, the delicious aromas of slowly baked and roasted foods, and the warmth of ovens and wood-fires. We are nourished with deep goodness, to face the dimming days, to accept and understand darker aspects of the natural cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

The autumnal equinox is a harvest holiday in pagan traditions, and as such, is a wonderful time to put on a feast featuring locally grown foods, expressive of thanks for the abundance we have been given. It is also a great time to allow balance in one’s life – as day and night are equal on this day, so might we find equilibrium within.

If you are interested in reading more about the autumnal equinox as a holiday, you may enjoy these books:

Autumn Equinox: The Enchantment of Mabon by Ellen Dugan

Mabon: Celebrating the Autumn Equinox by Kristin Madden

~ Nellie Levine

Nellie's beautiful image, Pumpkins and Red Mums, is available in her shop on Etsy.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Road to Enlightenment

I've been fortunate enough to visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Beaux-Arts de Montreal) quite a few times over the years and the one sculpture that invariably captures my complete attention every time is  "The Road To Enlightenment" by British Sculptor Marc Quinn.  It's not just the startling appearance of the yoga-like figure that always draws me in, but also how the sculpture radiates a complete sense of peace and calm.  The Road to Enlightenment is a really good study in juxtaposition.

The Road to Enlightenment was one in a series of bronze sculptures that was originally created as part of the series, "Sphinx", that premiered at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York in 1997.  If the figure in the piece looks familiar, it's supermodel Kate Moss.  Quinn often depicted the images of real, recognizable people his sculptures.  He was interested in using their images to help him convey various ideas and emotions that he wanted to explore.

Coincidentally, a few months ago, I ran across another an image of Kate Moss enshrined in a hologram at the Alexander McQueen Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Seeing her image used by two different artists, in two different exhibits, within a few months time was pretty interesting. And reflecting back on Moss as a central figure in fashion almost 15 years later, I think the general public tends to forget the muse she played for so many important artists and designers.

As with all artwork, the Quinn sculpture leaves itself open to a number of different interpretations depending on the viewer.  I wanted more information about the piece and after some research found an interview that Quinn had given Jason Shulman in 2009.  He discussed some of his ideas and how they worked their way into this particular series. Copied below is an small excerpt from Quinn's interview which pertains specifically to "The Road to Enlightenment". 
"JS:  Your sculptures often depict real people, such as Kate Moss, Alison Lapper, Thomas Beatie, your wife, your son and so on.  Do you want to depict the subjects as they really are, or do they symbolize an abstract idea?

MQ:  Is is not only Kate Moss who is a real person and an image, everyone has both qualities as well.  Although they may not be articulated in a public way, in a sense my job is to find people who can represent ideas and emotions which can make sense in my art, and be themselves and somehow refract something about the world as I see it....  So they are about both, and people are both the real and conceptual representation, it depends on the person, how far away from the real person the image is.  For instance, in the case of Kate Moss, the image I would say has a completely autonomous and complex life.

JS:  So Siren is a continuation of this idea of mapping people and their images?

MQ:  Yes, the continuation and the extreme......... 

JS:  You made a series of sculptures of Kate Moss in the past few years which seem to culminate in Siren.

MQ:  Yes I suppose because you had this image which could be anything at all, which moulded by our collective device, and yet moulds us too.  It's very interesting to explore it properly.....
.... In The Golden Road to Enlightenment  you have the other ascetic extreme where the body is withering but the face is unchanging, that idea that people live in the fourth dimension of time, where images are out of time.  In the Buddha life story there is a part where the Buddha to be joins a group of Ascetics and renounces food to the point almost of death but then rejects this as a road to enlightenment and chooses the middle way.
My sculpture is based on a fabulous Gandharan period sculpture of the same subject in the Lahore Museum, however in a modern, fucked up sort of way, that ascetic impulse has been corrupted into the idea of being thin and extreme anorexia, which is an addiction to control really and of course our bodies and lives are really out of our control.  In that way we can't stop time, we have to roll with it".

If you would like more information about artist Marc Quinn and his work you can visit his website.
And if you are ever visiting Montreal please visit their wonderful art museums.  They are well worth a few hours of your time.

~ diane fergurson

Interview "link"

You might also enjoy:
Beaux-Arts de Montreal and the Folkert de Jong Sculpture

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

An Unintentional Life

 Ten years after losing her husband Arron Dack on 911, author Abigail Carter reflects on her "unintentional" life.                                                    

An Unintentional Life
by Abigail Carter

On that sunny September morning as I was stuffing our daughter Olivia’s lunch into her backpack and getting ready to leave the house to put her on the school bus for her second day of first grade, our son Carter clinging to my hip, my husband Arron called explaining carefully that he was at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center. His voice was urgent but not panicked. He asked me to call 9-1-1 because he thought there’d been a bomb. I didn’t ask if he was OK. I didn’t tell him I loved him. I didn’t know that I would never speak to him again.

Just two weeks before, I had watched six-year old Olivia flip-flop her way down a peaty forest path, peeping into an old stump pocked with moss looking for the fairies her grandmother convincingly assured her lived there. Carter, pillowy knees clasped around my waist, pushed away from me determined to hop down and get a look at the sleeping fairies for himself. As we continued down the path, I warned the kids’ away from the long line of frayed extension cords that were snaking their way down to the dock from the house, my grandfather’s genius at work. From the flimsy bridge, a gap-toothed smile across a tiny stream, I heard Arron running up the path from the beach toward us, warning us of the electric cords.

“Seriously?” I said to him.

“Don’t say anything, Ab. You know your Grandfather.” He was right. I did know my grandfather, a product of the depression when nothing, not even a dangerous and frayed extension cord was ever thrown away. Perhaps the danger was real, or perhaps Arron just sensed the danger that loomed ahead, a danger I could not yet fathom. I just shook my head and followed him and the kids to the water’s edge and the partially constructed dock.

I handed Arron a beer, his dark hair and bare chest peppered with sawdust, a leather tool belt slung loosely around his hips. I gave another beer to my grandfather, a spry eighty-eight year-old in a pale blue cap, clearly the director of the construction operation. He and Arron had spent the last two days building the new dock at our tiny lake in Quebec a replacement for the relic of splintered wood and dangerous rusty nails that had preceded it. “The dock’s looking good,” I said sitting on the freshly cut floor, its piney smell pungent as Arron helped Carter hammer a nail into it while Olivia peered over its edge looking for frogs. Across the lake I watched a solitary loon dip noiselessly under the water and I inhaled the moment – a perfect peacefulness. Less than two weeks later that perfect moment would become a memory that I cherished like a well-thumbed photograph.

How to explain to a two-year old the death of his father? I spoke of “big boo-boos” and “buildings falling down” until he began pointing at tall buildings asking if daddy was there. Each new developmental milestone required a renewed explanation of his father’s death. What I told him at two needed to be explained again at four and with each new piece of information came new fears. Fear of flying, fear of losing his mom. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight and I had to unhook his hands from around my waist each morning when I dropped him off at school.

Our daughter refused to speak of her dad, asking when we could go back to being “happy people.” She told friends who asked about her dad that he was at a meeting in Florida. If I cried when I tucked her into bed at night, she would look at me with horror, as if my face had just turned purple, a condition that might be contagious. Over the years, I’ve battled my kids’ out of control temper tantrums, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, learning issues – conditions that other, non-grieving families face, but that I had to handle alone as a grieving single mom, constantly questioning what was normal child behavior and what was grief. At times I longed to run away or have a night off when my only option was to sit in a heap on the floor and cry. I forgot what it was like to have someone else to take the garbage out, or to talk to about my day over dinner. I was lonely. I too wondered if we would ever be those “happy people” again. I couldn’t see how it would ever be possible.

I have been asked the question over and over, “so how ARE you ten years on?” It’s a difficult question to answer. My life is nothing like I imagined it would be when I married Arron almost 21 years ago, thinking we would raise our kids in tandem and grow old and crotchety together. My life is nothing like I thought it might be the day he died and I wondered if I would have to sell the house. And yet here I sit in a beautiful home that overlooks Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains, a published book under my belt, 3,000 miles from New Jersey on a sunny Seattle day, two beautiful children upstairs hunched over computers, a tiny Boston Terrier on my lap and I think, “whose life is this?”

Ten years later I’m baffled that in many ways our lives are better now than when Arron was alive – what I have come to think of as my “unintentional life.” If Arron strode through our door today he would walk into a beautiful house in Seattle instead of New Jersey. It was a move I felt was essential – to escape New Jersey and what I was sure would be the persistent recognition of my kids and me throughout Montclair as “that 9/11 family.” How could he not marvel that his beautiful daughter now drives, has his knack for languages, his giggle? Or that his son looks like him, is kind and generous and can play Taps on the trumpet? I would laugh at his astonishment that my memoir was published in four countries. He would admire his happy-again family, living their unintentional lives.

There is a heavy debt of guilt whenever I realize that our new life wouldn’t exist had Arron not died. Through the pain of our grief, we discovered strength we didn’t know we possessed, learned to appreciate the gifts of life and have empathy for others who were themselves in pain. We were awakened into life by death. Experiencing death head-on opened the door to new opportunities in our lives. In my longing to be with Arron, willing him to exist in some new form, I lost my fear of death – something I’ve come to see as the unexpected gift of grief – a lack of fear that unmasks an entirely new universe of possibility – move across the country alone with two kids? No problem. Write a book? Why not? Teach a class on grief? A fulfilling experience. I stopped worrying what people thought and began thinking almost magically, realizing that the only person standing in the way of, say, writing a book, was myself. I learned to be brave enough to trust my intuition, get help when we needed it, find allies and live with no expectations – a flexibility that invited what I can only express as mindful evolution. Some might call it a growing spiritualism, though I don’t want to get all new age-y about it. Certainly, I began to question fate and faith in my quest to make peace with Arron’s death.

I muddled through “dad” experiences, like starting the lawn mower, knotting Carter’s necktie for a band recital and teaching our daughter to drive. The kids in turn have developed a sense of compassion beyond their years. Olivia, during a trip to Rwanda to help girls affected by the Genocide also learned about the power of forgiveness. Still, we have all had to learn to live with an un-namable absence, always wondering what life would be like if Arron were still a part of it.

This summer at the lake in Quebec, I watched that once pudgy-legged two-year old, now a lanky, tanned twelve-year old, hold the hand of his younger cousin pointing out the fairy’s stump, bestowing its magic upon a new generation. Our daughter, a lithe sixteen-year old enthralled the family who were gathered for my grandfather’s memorial with her effortless beauty and wit. The snake of extension cords no longer posed any threat as I stood again on the dock that Arron and my grandfather built that August in 2001, now adorned with a carved wooden plaque bearing Arron’s name. The family watched quietly as my mother and uncle peddled the paddle boat into the middle of the lake and sprinkled my grandfather’s ashes onto the water’s glassy surface, a ceremony whose dignity my grandfather would have appreciated. Arron too felt present in the breeze that caressed our hair. Just beyond the boat, a lone loon skimmed majestically across the water until I blinked and he was gone.

Abigail Carter's book "The Alchemy of Loss" is available on Amazon.  You can also visit her website.

The Mind Body Spirit Odyssey also interviewed Abby last year for our blog.  You can read that interview here. 

Thank you to photographer Karen Casey Smith for allowing us to use her photograph "Dandelion Clock".  Prints are available in her Etsy and Artfire Shops.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mind Body Spirit Artist Interview: PattyMara Gourley

Many of us first became introduced to the world of artist PattyMara Gourley through the Mind Body Spirit Marketplace when it was located on the now defunct 1000 Markets.  To me, her mixed media artwork has always possessed a certain je ne sais quoi- that indescribable magical something which sets her apart from the pack.  Is it her personal style?  Her immense knowledge base on indigenous cultures and spirituality?  Or maybe it's just her invaluable accumulated knowledge and wisdom as an older woman.  Whatever it is, PattyMara is PattyMara, and the world is a much more vibrant, positive place by having her and her wonderful art in it!
                                                                                                                ~ diane fergurson

Skeleton Day of the Dead Platter
MBS:  How old are you and when did you become a full time artist?

PattyMara:  I'm 62 and I became a full time artist after my children started high school and college, at age 50.  Before that I worked as a freelance graphics designer/illustrator and assisted homebirth midwives (five years of being on call 24/7!).  I'm never going to retire...I'll just keep making art until it's time for me to go. 

MBS:    Can you tell us a little about your background?  How you got started in art?

PattyMara:  I have clear memories of my mother smoothing out the white paper that came from the butcher, then giving me and my brothers rulers and pencils to make geometric designs to color with crayons.  I might have been four or five years old then...and through my early childhood, I have many memories of using the simple art supplies, like colored paper, magazines and paste to make mosaics and collages. She taught me to sew and cook and bake.   I went to Catholic grade school, high school and two years of college, where art took a back seat to academics.  By the time I transferred to UC Santa Cruz in my junior year, I found a whole new world of art opportunities.  I wandered into a pottery studio and learned to throw functional stoneware pots, and fell in love with clay.  I continued with my academic major of anthropology, but minored in art.  After college I pursued pottery on and off through the years until I became a full time artist when my children were in high school and college.  I gave my children the same opportunities to play with simple art projects all through their childhood, like my mother gave me.   Her gift of creative encouragement planted many seeds within me, and I harvest them every day now.  I have never doubted my talents, because she believed in me and gave me all that I needed to express myself freely.

Frida & Diego Skull Travel Mug
MBS:  It's interesting that you mention your major in anthropology because I've always noticed that the belief systems of different cultures are predominately reflected in your work.  For example your pottery is not just functional pottery.  It's much more then that. The same with your Day of the Dead work.  What are your thoughts on that?

PattyMara:  Anthropology came into my life through a wonderful teacher, who worked in Guatemala. My first class with her in college hooked me to the mesmerizing study of other cultures.  What galvanized my attention was the shared role of ceremony, story and art.  From Inuit shaman masks to Spiro Mound clay effigy pipes to rock art petroglyphs, all of them were connected to ceremony and story.  I romped through anthropology classes at UC Santa Cruz, concurrent with learning to be a potter.  Perhaps that is the first connection of the two strands in my life.  Later I learned that pottery shards last for centuries and remain to tell the story of their people, long gone.  My love for anthropology and pottery has remained entwined.

Ceremony plays a big part in my life, and I found its source in the early matriarchal cultures, when the Great Mother, the divine feminine, reigned, long before the patriarchal Father God(s).  My work reflects the celebration of the turning wheel of the seasons and the remembering ceremonies, like Day of the Dead.  My teapots made of New Mexican mica clay mirror the Yixing teapots of the Sung Dynasty (also made of burnished mica clay).  My painted silks are gilded with words from Rumi, O'Donohue and the Dalai Lama.  All of it nourishes my soul and hopefully will nourish others as well.

Mica Clay Blessing Bowl
MBS:  You really do have an intense love for mica clay. How and when did you discover it?
As a material, how does it differ from working with clays, such as stoneware or porcelain for example?

PattyMara:  You are right.  I do have an intense love for mica clay.  I discovered it in 2008, when I traveled to New Mexico and stayed at Felipe Ortega's Owl Peak Pottery and B & B (found on a random internet search, what good fortune! While staying there, I watched Felipe make a mica cook pot by hand and he cautioned me about the clay, saying "Once you touch this clay, you will never want to work with any other."  He spoke the truth.  I ordered a hundred pounds of his clay to be mailed back to my home in California.  Most mica clay artist handbuild, using the coil and scrape method of the traditional pueblo pottery traditions.  But I've been a wheel potter for forty years, and even though folks here are surprised that I use my wheel, it is just what comes naturally for me.

Micaceous clay differs from other clays in that it is "shorter", less plastic, and it just feels so good to work with energetically.  This clay emerged from ancient clay deposits here in northern New Mexico, was dug with reverent, respectful prayers and it resonates with Mother Earth's song.  Throwing it on my wheel and burnishing the surfaces for hours with a stone is like entering a spirit-infused meditation with an old wise Grandmother. What's not to like? 

Finished mica clay pottery is sturdy and useful as cookware, ovenware and for everyday enjoyment.  I like to make functional pottery, elevating each meal to a feast of gratitude and communion.  I believe finding mica clay back at Felipe's studio is what started the magical journey for me and my husband to find a new home in New Mexico after he retired.  It cast a spell of enchantment, and I am so grateful!

Buddha Mica Teapot
MBS:  As you mentioned, you relocated to New Mexico fairly recently from being in California for many years.  How are you finding the creative community in NM and how has the move impacted your artwork?

PattyMara:  We just celebrated our first full year of living here in northern New Mexico.  I participated in the Pilar Studio Tour last year, three weeks after unloading our moving truck because one of my new neighbors encouraged me early on to do the tour.  Crazy, after the rigors of packing and moving, but the tour was a magnificent success for me.  This year I joined the team to organize the tour, and will be setting up my display in the next few days.  I have found the art community here to be numerous in numbers and warmly welcoming in attitude.  Within a few months of relocating, I found a gallery shop in Taos, Coyote Moon, which has actively promoting and selling my Day of the Dead ceramics.  Additionally, I've been included in two group shows of women artists, including one at Ghost Ranch (a great honor to me to see my fiber art hanging near the landscape where Georgia O'Keeffe painted).  Both shows were successful in sales, but more importantly, gave me the gift of new friendships with women. 

Mice Wedding Cake Topper
How has our move has impacted my art?  At first blush I would say:  red willow and nuno felting.  I signed up for a one day willow basket weaving class in a nearby town.  The baskets I made introduced me to red willow, which grows everywhere here ('Taos' translates in the pueblo language as 'people of the red willow').  Though I won't ever be a famous basket maker I did enjoy getting to know this native plant.   Then I took a felting class from a new woman friend and discovered how much I love working with wool fibers on silk.  My 20 years with silk painting has given me a familiarity with silk, but layering the wisps of wool, alpaca and cashmere rovings to a silk ground and then felting them to form a completely new fabric, well, that's just too wonderful for words.  I make frames from bound willow branches to stretch and stitch my nunofelted pieces, and what emerges is a feather light ethereal piece, born from this land and celebrating the sky.  

I have always worked in many media (often critiqued by the 'art world' experts as unfocussed).  I pay them no mind.  It's just how I feel the creative urge expressing itself.  A three or four week concentration on mica pottery production may be followed by two or three weeks of silk painting or nuno felting or beading or collaging or messing around with fabric. Each foray has its own gift of discovery and fulfillment.  I am excited to begin each project, and I learn something new each time.  And, to be honest, I just love the collection of art supplies that I *need* to have on hand.  The clay, silks, willow, handmade papers, fabric swatches, collage ephemera, dyes, paints and fibers sooth and infuse me with creative sparks.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Cherry Blossom Twilight NunoQuilted Silk Scarf
MBS:  There are a lot of people who might not be acquainted with nunofelting.  Can you explain what it is?

PattyMara:  Nuno felting is a fabric technique developed by Polly Stirling, a fiber artist from New South Wales, Australia, around 1992. The name is derived from the Japanese word "nuno" meaning cloth. The technique bonds loose fiber, usually carded unspun wool roving (it looks like a fluffy cloud) onto a sheer open weave fabric such as silk gauze, creating a completely new fabric that is bonded by the felting action of the wool. The fibers can completely cover the background silk, or they may be used as a decorative design that allows the silk to show. Nuno felting often incorporates several layers of loose fibers combined to build up color, texture, and/or design elements in the finished fabric.  I also like to add other elements between the layers of roving such as wild silk fibers, called tussah silk, mohair curls, cashmere and other elements like ribbons, yarns and torn recycled silk saris. 

I created a body of work which I called NunoNebulae for my group fiber arts show at Ghost Ranch last spring.  I found my inspiration in the amazing photographs of nebulae taken by the Hubble space telescope and other NASA sources.  I layered different colors of wool rovings over black silk guaze, leaving much of the black silk exposed to represent the far reaches of space.  Felting all of the layers involves wetting the whole shebang with warm soapy water, then rolling it up in textured layers of bubble wrap and  bamboo sushi mats (for big pieces I use a bamboo sun shade).  Then the work begins:  rolling (with hands, forearms, elbows and feet) unrolling, rolling in the opposite direction, and finally "throwing" or slamming the big wet mess of silk and wool down onto a hard surface like a deep sink.  Al of this aerobic exercise is done to encourage tiny hooks within the wook fibers to grab onto the silk gauze and marry itself permanently to create a whole new bonded fabric.  kind of like a relationship, eh?  After is felted my NunoNebulae, I sewed tiny beads and crystals in the places where the stars actually are, to catch sparkles of light, then stretched and stitched them onto the red willow frames.

MBS:  I enjoy working with a variety of mixed media materials too in my work, so I understand and appreciate the discovery and exploration you described.  In working in a variety of mediums what have you discovered about yourself, both as a person and an artist?

Quan Yin Silk Meditation Banner

PattyMara:  It reveals my Aries nature!  Always looking for a new adventure, a new learning experience.  I like to think that I integrate each learning curve that a new technique requires into the accumulated knowledge from my past.  But really, I just like exploring unknown territory.  I don't mind making mistakes, because they hold big rewards as I learn how to correct and apply what I know to what I didn't know before I made the 'mistake'.  Also, I get to gather new materials, and that brings me such delight.  I probably won't ever just work in one medium, but who knows?  Anything can happen.

MBS:   How does spirituality play a role in your work and as an artist?

PattyMara:  Spirituality is nothing complicated for me.  It is who I am, how I navigate in the multileveled worlds of body (the physical), mind (the mental) and spirit (my Soul essence, the multifaceted being that is both me and All that Is).  I can't separate spirituality out of anything I am or I do.  It permeates, infuses and surrounds.  No separation, no distinction.  So when I take a walk up the dirt road beyond our land, and happen upon a basalt boulder covered with old petroglyphs (800 - 4000 years old!) pecked into the rock surface, I can sense the presence of the original artists who made them, the sagebrush still growing nearby which may have spread its fragrance to them as it does to me as I stand in the warming air.  I recognize without words or knowing the meaning of these symbols that they are numinous artifacts, still brimming with energy.     Mica clay has its own energy signature too, in addition to being sturdy, practical and beautiful.  It is infused with an angelic presence for me, who seems to like the name Micah...and this angelic being comes when asked and brings deep healing and other gifts.  I don't know how I know these things, they just appear naturally, and I simply breathe it all into my my heart with appreciation and awe.  I'm reminded of the Van Morrison album (best played loudly) "No Guru, no Method, no Teacher..."

Silk Wall Hanging
MBS:  What is a typical work day like for you?

PattyMara:  I wake up early, always have...I love the silence of dawn.  I've found that the first things I do in the morning are precious, important.  When I'm just fresh out of my dreaming time, I can access all that non-physical information more fully if I pay attention then.  So I make coffee and sit in silence, a sort of meditation, and a sprinkling of Reiki distant healing that I send out to my tribe around the country.  The images and emotions and perceptions that come through are different then, than any other time of my day.  I'll often open my journal to write or sketch.  All the while I'm mostly looking out the window watching the birds at the feeders nearby, the hummingbirds at their nectar bottles, the light changing on the Sangre de Cristos.  then I walk with my yearling pup Rio, either around our land and orchard to check in with the trees and the clouds, or up the road into the wild places.  Often my husband and I go fishing early too.  The Rio Grande flows just down the road, and that big mama river is always fun to fish or swim or walk along, full of heart rocks too. 

Next I check my online shops (I have four) for sales, and write down the orders on a running list I keep on a clipboard next to my desk calendar.  Read my email and Facebook.  I try to spend no more than an hour doing this morning check-in, otherwise "screen time" devours my day. 

Whatever orders I have to fill, I take care of them right away, packaging and labeling and printing postage.  Then I continue working on whatever project is in process.  One trick I've learned over the years is that when I am working on a piece, I leave a fun part undone the night before, so that I can jump right in with vigor the next morning to keep the ball of energy rolling...otherwise pieces get stuck, unfinished.  For example, I left the final embellishment of some silk banners I was working on last night, unfinished, so this morning, I was enthusiastic about finishing them with ribbons, bells, beads.  It's the fun part. 

I work until I get hungry, then make a meal usually from my greenhouse garden of lettuce and basil and tomatoes.  It gets me outside again and into the air.  I love hanging laundry outside on my clothesline, so often I'll do that too.  I have to mix up my indoor art making with being outside.  I have to, or I get antsy.  My eyes need to have a long view to rest on, after doing detail painting work or beading or screen time. 

It goes on like that through the day until about 6 pm, when I go downstairs to start dinner and watch the sunset.

Namaste Wall Hangings
MBS:  What prompted you to sell your work online?   How has social networking impacted your sales and visibility as an artist?

PattyMara:  I opened my first online shop in early 2008 on Etsy after I read in a magazine that an artist made a piece, listed in her Etsy shop and sold it within 15 minutes.  Yikes!  I want to do that too, says me.  So I did.  I had to learn a whole range of new skills including photographing my art and learning the search engine language and tagging/packaging and customer relations.  Within a year, I discovered 1000 Markets, and though that site was later sold, it opened up my world to online cooperation and communication and collaboration with hugely talented artists who formed markets together and promoted one another.  I learned so many new skills, and continue to this day to correspond and collaborate with many of them.  The Mind Body Spirit Marketplace was one of those markets, and it is still alive and well, evolving daily, thanks to your attention Diane.

Social networking has made an enormous impact on my sales and visibility as an artist.  And for me, it's all Facebook.  I don't get the tweet thing.  Facebook has provided me with an online customer base as well as a connection to my California customers who I used to sell to in person.  I will often post photographs of a work in progress on Facebook before listing it in my online shops, and often will make a sale just from that first posting.  I've gotten wholesale orders from galleries as well.  I don't have tons of friends on Facebook, but I add a few a week, steady as she goes, and try to keep from getting immersed in it during my workday. But I do check it from time to time during the day. I don't have a smart phone (no cell service out here in the boonies).  Both of my adult children refuse to accept my Facebook friend requests.  Oh well.  They still call me occasionally (from their iphones).

MBS:  That's just too funny... adult children and Facebook!  What are you currently working on and what would you like to explore next?

PattyMara:  I'm currently working on a shrine for Our Lady of Perpetual Chocolate, for my Pilar Studio Tour this coming weekend.  I have always loved the Dark Madonnas, some of them ancient, all of them potent.  I wrote a poem prayer to her, and will have copies of it available at the shrine, as well as many nice chocolates in her honor.  I've put up an altar for her every year of my studio tour (this is my tenth year: 8 in CA and 2 in NM) but this year I'm making a nicho (a painted wooden shrine in the tradition of the santeros here in New Mexico).

What I will explore next:  after the tour, we're going fishing and camping near the San Juan River, where there are "quality trout waters".  That's all I want to do after the tour.  Then, who knows?  With the weather turning crisper, I'll be doing more nunofelting for sure. 

MBS: Is there any advice you have for those who wish to (seriously) pursue an artistic path?
PattyMara:  Learn all you can, whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Take classes, workshops, seminars from other artists.  AND, Be self-taught.  Find out what sparks your interest and follow the trail as far as it takes you.  Make mistakes.  Find ways to "save" your mistakes especially if it uses non-conventional methods.  Break the rules. Make up new ones, or not.  Support other artists that you meet along the way, by buying their art.  Collaborate with other artists, even if they live across the country.  Make it work (at Tim says).  Pay attention to your dreams.  And this is especially for women like me, who raised their children while working either at home, or in an occupation that made money to support their family.  To all you women wanting to pursue an artistic path after your children are grown:  Go for it.  Go for broke.  You have so many skills, artistic and otherwise that you honed every single day by being a mom.  Use them and have a blast doing it.  Spread your wings. 

~ Great advice!  Thank you PattyMara!

You can find PattyMara Gourly's artwork online at Etsy and Zibbet.  The article she wrote for The Mind Body Spirit Odyssey about The Day of The Dead can be found here.

Additional interviews from the Mind Body Spirit Artist Series:
Ben Isaiah
Emily Balivet
Laura Milnor Iverson
Joanne Miller Rafferty
Jude McConkey
Atmara Rebecca Cloe 
Alison Fennell
Fernanda Gonzalez

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Aromatherapy for the Mind, Body and Spirit: Part 2, Your Nose Knows

Essential oils have been used in perfumery for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians, East Indians and Hebrews used them. Perfumes were used in bathing, anointing, ritual and as incense. Plant essences were used primarily in perfumes up until the early 1900's, at which point synthetic perfumes began to be developed. These chemical fragrances were relatively cheap to create which lead to the decline of natural perfumery.

Aromatherapy effects of dynamic natural plant essential oils cannot be duplicated by man-made chemical fragrance oils.   This is because Aromatherapy is a branch of plant medicine that has nothing to do with synthetic fragrances. However, because the health-promoting properties of true Aromatherapy are desirable, many companies use cheaper chemical fragrance oils that do NOT carry these benefits, but will mislead customers (knowingly or unknowingly) by using the terms aromatherapy or aroma to make it seem like they are the same thing. Some companies will even call a product ‘herbal’ if it has a lab created fragrance.   In order for a product to have genuine aromatherapy properties is must be made with unadulterated plant essences. Products labeled for example as "Lavender Fragrance Oil" or "Lavender Oil" you may assume are synthetics. A product made with Lavender essential oil will be labeled as such.

How can you tell if you are smelling a pure essential oil product or natural perfume? There are various ways to test an undiluted oil or essential oil for purity, but when it comes to diluted oils in body or or home fragrance products your nose is also a fine judge. When you smell a product made with pure essential oils you should feel drawn to inhale deeply. In contrast when smelling a chemical substitute you may feel like you want to immediately cease inhalation or even hold your breath. Just think of a trip down laundry or home fragrance aisle at the supermarket, which is often overwhelming for people even without chemical sensitivities. Using personal body products with chemical fragrances such as these may contribute to stress on the liver and development of chemical sensitivities over time.

In addition it is noteworthy that certain plant scents cannot be stabilized. Natural perfumery expert Mandy Aftel notes in her book Essence and Alchemy that following florals cannot be produced naturally: Freesia, Honeysuckle, Violet, Tulip, Lily, Gardenia, Heliotrope, Orchid, Lilac, and Lily of the Valley. Also you may find the following fruity 'flavor oils' in various lip balms, but I can assure you they are not essential oils. These are Cherry, Watermelon, Apple, Raspberry, etc. Citrus fruits flavors however can be condensed from collection of the essential oils from outer peel.

 This article was written by Cory Trusty of Aquarian Bath, who creates Natural perfumes made with pure essential oils or other plant based ingredients...never including chemical fragrance or flavor oils.  Her Mandarin Perfume is pictured below.

Part 1 of this article can be read here.

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Artist,Writer, Jewelry Design