Thanks again to the folks at the Kentucky Arts Council for jurying me into The Illustrated Word. The exhibit traveled to the 35th annual Kentucky Crafted event at the Lexington Convention center last weekend. It was a real thrill to see artwork about O in public for the first time.
In the last week my art and creative activist self marched twice.
MLK Day of Service, AmeriCorps VISTA:
VISTA Volunteers and AmeriCorps members participate in two National Days of Service, and MLK Day is one of them. We began by joining Berea College and the Berea community at Union Church for several speeches and inspirational music. Then we marched down Chestnut Street.
In the afternoon, my fellow VISTA Leader organized a letter writing campaign for women at the New Opportunity School for Women and seniors in local high schools, with the help of KyCC VISTAs from northern KY.
I also joined the historic Women’s March in Lexington, KY on 1/21/16. I really wanted to be in the original, in D.C., but the time and cost became prohibitive. Lexington did not disappoint though!
Highlights: Getting there early and walking to Cheapside Bar in order to sit the same booth I sat in with O in August. On my way I saw a rough looking character setting up to play street music. He had several musical instruments: guitar, harmonica, something on his foot that looked like a little cymbal but I didn’t want to stare. I must have been oozing activism because he smiled and asked “goin’ to the march?”
Cheapside was almost empty at first, but by the time I was scarfing my salmon it was full of sports fans bleeding blue, and women wearing glowing pink pussy hats. The waitress called me “lady bug” — an endearment I haven’t heard since living near Owensboro.
By the time I got back to the square in front of the Fayette Circuit Court a vast crowd was gathering. I was so inspired by the mix, a beautiful balance of and young/old, single/couples, men/women, able/disabled. Everyone was waving clever, pointed, vicious, hilarious signs – except me, it seemed. So I found a group with stacks of Planned Parenthood signs and was gifted a big red one with a message to the current administration about keeping their hands off my uterus.
The speaker line up was impressive, but the talking went on too long. They almost lost me and most of the crowd after #6, when I milled around a bit and found a couple of fellow co-workers as well as my old friend April, who is recovering from a loss similar to mine, of O.
But I decided to walk alone. A great surge of us finally started moving to the march route, right in the middle of downtown. While walking we chanted, we sang. Our numbers were so many we could see streams of ourselves moving in opposite directions at the end of the long side streets. Later I heard we had over 5,000 marchers.
So amazing, so much fun and felt so good I couldn’t believe it took me 58 years to march political.
I am proud to announce that two of my artworks, one the first in a series about O, will be part of a long term traveling exhibit sponsored by the Kentucky Arts Council, entitled The Illustrated Word. The exhibit will travel to libraries across Kentucky from February 2017 through 2018, with a special exhibit in Lexington at Kentucky Crafted: The Market, April 21-23, 2017. I am thrilled that O will go out into the world in this way, giving viewers a chance to experience the incredible person he was and the impact he had and continues to have on me and my creative life.
Ode to O is one of a six panel series that I began with a matrix of dictionary pages collaged during the time we shared a studio space in Haynie’s Corner, Evansville, in 2015. My initial intent was to make them a single, multi-paneled piece with a tree form visually tying the panels together. However, when we had to move out of the studio due to irreconcilable differences with the gallery/studio owner (which included insistence on collecting commission on artwork created by the homeless) the panels languished. I left them stacked in a corner of a guest room in Indiana when I left for Berea, KY in May, and didn’t work on them again until the day before O took his life.
By November I was finally able to pick up where I left off in August, rendering words from the dictionary pages that reminded me of O — and with his tattoo ink. As I worked it soon became clear that in both form and content I was mimicking an older and much smaller artwork, entitled Obsessions #1 that is also about a man I loved and lost that will be exhibited along with Ode to O in The Illustrated Word.
On November 12, 2016, friends and loved ones had a small memorial ceremony for Owen Chaney in downtown Evansville, Indiana. This world lost Owen on August 22, 2016, when he chose to take his life in Berea, Kentucky after a long battle with addiction, mental illness, and three years of chronic homelessness.
Everyone who knows me knows I loved Owen, and I join many who knew Owen to be a loving, kind, generous, talented person even while plagued by the stresses and illnesses of his adult life. Or maybe in spite of them.
In memory of Owen we planted a sycamore tree on the lawn of the Zion Church opposite the homeless shelter where Owen and I met and made art between 2013 and just a few short months prior to his untimely death. Owen loved nature and he loved sycamores, which he called “ghost trees” in keeping with Native American lore, and in reference to the color of their trunks and limbs. They literally glow in the dark on moonlit winter nights. Sycamores are also called “trees of life” because they have tremendous longevity, up to 600 years, and symbolize intuition, shelter, nurturing…among other things. They also grow very fast and, to me, symbolize the surviving and thriving that Owen was never able to accomplish in this life.
A pack of Marlboros, the smokes Owen preferred, will show up at the base of The Lone Tree now and then, so those of you who are desperate for one can help yourself. I often witnessed Owen giving away his last cigarette to someone he thought needed it more than he. You are also welcome to stop by and put a memento on the sycamore, which will be nurtured by members of the Zion congregation. Many thanks to them, Pastor Kim, and the generous donations of Owen’s friends in attendance for making the tree planting possible.
I attended my first suicide awareness event on 10/26/2016, at Eastern Kentucky University: Walk For Hope sponsored by the Richmond/EKU National Alliance for Mental Illness. I became aware of this event through a support group I joined after losing my beloved friend, close companion and artistic collaborator to suicide on August 22, 2016. As anyone who has suffered such a shocking loss can tell you — Owen’s death has changed my life.
I believe this was the first event of its kind at EKU, and it was very well organized. The speakers, one who lost a son to suicide, were wonderful, and passionate as they told stories and explained their mission to help those affected by suicide — including the bereaved. Here is a link to a unique organization represented at the Walk For Hope, Shelby’s Way. The music was moving too.
I wish I could include more photographs of the crowds that attended — but I can’t. They weren’t there. In fact — and maybe because I am one of the bereaved — I felt the curious and anxious eyes of pedestrians that passed us upon us as small, tight groups of supporters and sufferers sat and listened to wistful tunes and powerful stories of love and loss. I could actually feel the stigma associated with the taboo subject of suicide as if it was catching, like an easily communicable disease.
With numbers of suicides in the area rising, this has to change. I hope I can be part of initiating that awareness-building and empathy encouraging change. I think the very first thing I will voluntarily do is facilitate the creation of a beautiful, eye catching banner to hang at next year’s event.
Shelter guests @United Caring Shelters Art In The Margins wrapped up 2015 by writing holiday cards to distant loved ones. I provided everything necessary: the cards, writing and art supplies, and stamps. But I never thought I’d have so many participants in this rather craft-like art activity.
At least a dozen Art In The Margins participants took advantage of this opportunity to re- or temporarily – connect with loved ones, some of them clearly long lost. For example, a young woman with a child in her lap called her mother in Texas for her current address. The volume on her mobile phone was turned up, so I could hear her mother’s tone of shock and surprise at both the phone call, and the question. And although it was a very short exchange of information that seemed to end abruptly, there was nothing negative about it.
A homeless couple came into The Annex together and made cards for each other. I witnessed the loving exchange, which involved hugs, and tears.
I also met a half dozen shelter guests, mostly male, whom I had never before been able to coax into The Annex, and all because they wanted to share holiday greetings with estranged loved ones. It was indeed an honor to mail the many cards that were entrusted to my care.
As an alternate AIM activity, I finally opened the first of several puzzles that were donated some time ago by the former executive director. At issue was commandeering and keeping set up a (hopefully undisturbed!) table in the Annex for this purpose. But so far, and through several White Flags (when UCS is open to all, with sleeping palettes on the floor) our puzzles have emerged unscathed.
And… As I both witnessed and learned from this Internet article: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/The_Healing_Power_of_Jigsaw_Puzzles.html…jigsaw puzzles are not just busy work. They are powerful healing and learning tools!
And last but absolutely not least, I must thank a lovely lady who donated several hundred dollars worth of beautiful adult coloring books and gel pens that AIM guests (and girls in an after school program in Henderson KY) have been enthusiastically using for relaxation and contemplation. Again…the unexpected healing power of art!
So proud of the homeless artists I serve! Click here to see the slide show…
Met with ARTSWIN (Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana) staff on Friday 8/1/14 to discuss specifics of the upcoming exhibit.
Art In The Margins, an exhibit of accomplished artworks by the homeless community, facilitated by Julie Struck, local teaching artist and art/creative activist.
Where and When:
The Bower-Surheinrich Foundation Gallery, 318 Main Street, Evansville, Indiana, September 16-28, 2014. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and by appointment on Monday.
Reception: Saturday September 20 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the gallery.
Please call: 812-422-2111 for more information, or email Julie Struck at firstname.lastname@example.org.