The Lone Tree Planting, 11/12/16

The Owen quote

The Owen quote

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.

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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.

AmeriCorps VISTA Training at Pine Mountain Settlement School 11/10/16

The VISTAs I support, along with another VISTA Leader and several Partners For Education staff, organized and led several workshops (trainings) at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Bledsoe, KY on November 11.  Couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place — or more passionate and dedicated VISTAs and supervisor to host our event. I also designed our new t-shirt!

Of course, we had to begin with art — a sign in sheet the length of several tables — and I had to work art into my presentation on end of service Reflection and Sustainability Plan!

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As part of our day the PMSS VISTAs led us on a hike of the beautiful, historic, extensive grounds. They also taught us two contra/folk dances — and I remembered how much I once loved dancing!

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Becoming Aware…

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.

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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.

 

 

Mountain Day 2016, Berea College

On 10/10/16 I participated in my first Mountain Day at Berea College. See more about the history of Mountain Day here.

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My Mountain Day began before dawn with a traditional mile-long hike up to the East Pinnacle at Indian Fort, an historic and sacred Native American site. I would estimate that close to a hundred other individuals — including an entire choir — joined in. They broke into song at sunrise. It was quite a moment.

I took my time coming down in broad daylight, however — and needed to shower and change (because of the unusually warm for eastern Kentucky weather) before returning to help man our AmeriCorps VISTA and Partners For Education/PartnerCorps table. We enticed Mountain Day attendees to learn more about AmeriCorps and VISTA by offering a raffle for VISTA Jeffrey Carpenter’s artworks — and an art activity that involved making cards with rubbings of fallen leaves. I “trained” several AmeriCorps VISTAs in creating these rubbings, and they in turn instructed table visitors in making their take-away card.

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It was a beautiful, productive and instructional day. My most valuable lesson: what an amazing community Berea College is, evidenced by the enthusiastic participation of so many of its students (more than I ever witnessed at any other higher ed institution during my sixteen years of formally teaching art) — and its commitment to the arts, evidenced by the several musical performances — and a drum circle! — at Mountain Day 2016.

 

9/11 Day of Service at Sustainable Berea Urban Farm

Partners For Education/PartnerCorps AmeriCorps VISTAs efforts came together on 9/10/16 at Sustainable Berea’s Urban Farm as teams of volunteers worked on creatively painting rain barrels, to be sold to benefit the organization.  The event was Celebrate the Harvest, the day was hot but beautiful and the volunteers, many of them children, were enthusiastic and amazing.  Thanks to all who helped!

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Richmond Register photograph

Richmond Register photograph

Front page of Berea Citizen

Front page of Berea Citizen

Day of Service #1, PartnerCorps VISTA

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Had a great artistic time at Sustainable Berea on Saturday 8/27/16. Thanks to the PartnerCorps VISTAS from Partners For Education for lending a hand, prepping barrels to be creatively designed for the upcoming Celebrate The Harvest Festival in and around the Artisan Village in Berea, Kentucky on 9/10/16 when these barrels will be painted by the community, with the assistance of additional artistic VISTAS, and then offered for sale at Sustainable Berea.

The Art Bag Lady In Appalachia

Where I work now. Beautiful.

Where I work now. Beautiful.

This is an aerial view of the place in which I now work.  It is as different as you could possibly imagine from the landscape, as well as the path my life has taken over the past six years. I still can’t believe I’m here.

Berea College, at the edge of Appalachia.

In early spring, I journeyed to this beautiful place. It was not my first visit to Berea, Kentucky, but it felt like I was seeing it for the first time. And myself in it, after a swift interview for an AmeriCorps VISTA position, and, back at the Boone Tavern, a brief read of a book about the mission and history of Berea College. Reading it made me feel at home for the first time in a long time.  Maybe forever.

Shortly afterward, I accepted a VISTA Leader position at Partners For Education. Then, in quick succession, a series of serious changes transformed my life. Some of them were politically driven — like the drying up of funding for teaching artists in after school and art enrichment programs in my (former) area. Some were personal.  And some of were physical — like discovering, purely by accident, that my heart was literally broken in a very small yet significant spot. And my knees are simply not as strong, or as flexible, as they used to be.

 

In any event after these and other travails, I am here, being of service and rebuilding my life again at my advanced age. And loving it.

Luna Moth captured on the screen @Middletown School, Berea College.

Luna Moth captured on the screen @Middletown School, Berea College.

More coming soon.

Success of art at UCS Jazz Shoes Blues Fundraiser

Glass artist David Powell, artist and AIM volunteer Owen Chaney, me and former UCS intern and social work candidate Charlotte Critchfield.

At Jazz, Shoes and Blues: Glass artist David Powell, artist and AIM volunteer Owen Chaney, me and former UCS intern and social work candidate Charlotte Critchfield.

All our hard work paid off (literally!) at United Caring Shelter’s Jazz Shoes and Blues fundraiser on April 2, 2016.  Pictured here are artists and volunteers, some of them homeless shelter guests, who were instrumental in the event as well as the design, creation and sales of art created at Art In The Annex and exhibited and sold at Art In The Margins the Zion Center For Spiritual Development and Healing.

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These folks and UCS also helped me meet my Pollination Project Impact Grant match, thereby helping me continue the life changing (for all of us!) art experiences I provide at UCS for the homeless, and in nearby Henderson, KY with at-risk youth and the elderly.  I can’t thank you enough!

Mural work at Central Learning Center

Both the girls and boys I work with at Henderson’s Central Learning Center have been enthusiastically helping out with two mural projects.  The “Kentucky Tree” mural, located in the high school hallway, was creatively begun by a very talented young man who is no longer a student at Central, so a guidance counselor asked if I might facilitate the completion of it with the help of several small groups of girls. We are still considering adding detail and/or interest to the blue state of KY!

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We are also working on a mural in the art room. The plan is to make these “windows to the outside world” reflect place these at-risk youth have been, and where they want to go.  The art room was recently readied for Family Fun Night on 2/18/16.

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Artistic fundraising efforts at Art In The Annex, United Caring Shelters

Art work for the upcoming fundraiser, Jazz, Blues and Shoes began in earnest in February at United Caring Shelter’s Art In The Annex.

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Two enthusiastic shelter/Art In The Annex Guests help stretch, gesso and begin painting canvases that will be auctioned off at the April 2 fundraiser.

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On 2/13, volunteers from University of Evansville as well as artistic shelter/Art in the Annex guests joined local glass artist David Powell in making “journey” rings to be sold to raise funds for the Art In The Annex program. They are on sale now, for $5, at AIM at Zion United Church of Christ in downtown Evansville.

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And on 2/20, I met David Powell at his studio in Mt. Vernon, IN, and got a lesson in glass blowing. He also showed off three of the over two dozen bowls he is making for the upcoming Jazz, Blues Shoes fundraiser in April!