ArtVention at EKU, September 13, 2017

On 9/13/17 I had the pleasure (and awe) of helping to create an art-based, post-suicide prevention experience at Eastern Kentucky University’s Noel Studio For Academic Creativity. Held in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day (a concept I am only beginning to tolerate and consider, since my own loved one’s suicide), ArtVention is a unique art experience for all who have been impacted by suicide. Participants are encouraged to identify and visually express feelings about suicide via guided visual art activities. It’s not art therapy — it’s art empowerment led by a working artist who uses art to help herself and other vulnerable  people survive and thrive.

We began with a hand “sign in” with medium on a blank sheet of muslin, which disappears when it dries — like the loved one we lost. Halfway through ArtVention we hit it with paint to make our marks reappear, a metaphor for the love we will never lose.

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Participants also created  a “before/after” collage guided by words and materials chosen for their positive/negative impact.

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Lastly, ArtVention participants made Tribute Flags for themselves or the person they lost.

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The best part of all, as usual, were the revealing and healing conversations that struck up while I interacted with participants, and they interacted with each other.  Both the flags and the collages will be part of suicide awareness exhibits coming up in 2018.

Thanks to the EKU Suicide Awareness and Focus on Education (SAFE) grant, the volunteers who helped with ArtVention, including recent EKU graduate Abigail Emerson who came up with the idea, Crystal West who found and transported the cardboard and fabric (cut out lots of collage material!) and Dr. Melinda Moore who invited me as a teaching artist to make it happen.

 

O’s Cover Art

Late in April, the facilitator of my bereavement group asked if I had any artwork of Owen’s — or any artwork we made together — that might suit as cover art for a book she co-edited and is about to be published. And I immediately thought of this stained glass mosaic Owen created in 2015, and finished in early 2016.

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Owen’s Omega RedWolf Flying, 2016

This, and many additional stained glass mosaics were part of an economic empowerment project I created at the homeless shelter where Owen and I met in 2013. Dozens of artistic shelter and Art In The Annex guests engaged in the project, and were willing to have their mosaics shown and sold (with a percentage of the proceeds going to the artists) at an area gallery, then a special sale space called AIM (Art In The Margins) in the church across the street from the homeless shelter.

Here are images of Omega RedWolf Flying in progress, including two of Owen working on it:

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It was so painful to shut down that space in the fall of 2016, and collect Owen’s artworks from it as well as the Annex at the shelter, and bring them to Berea. It was also painful to read the title of Dr. Moore’s book: The Suicide Funeral or Memorial Service.  But there is also something incredibly redemptive and hopeful in that image of a wolf flying through a blue portal, and in knowing Owen, through this artwork, will live on and hopefully be of help to others impacted by suicide.

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Book cover, with Owen’s Omega RedWolf Flying.

Healing/Empowerment Work With Military Women — Athena’s Sisters

me_Liz@VOICExposmallI am now connected to and art-working directly with military women and women vets via a wonderful organization: Athena’s Sisters — thanks to this engaged and empowered woman vet who reached out to me last fall, who is working hard to start and sustain an Athena’s Sisters chapter in Evansville, Indiana.

From their website: “Athena’s Sisters is an organization for all military women to use revolutionary expressions to grow in dignity and honor. Our members empower themselves through a sisterhood created by mind, body, and heart healing. Our artistic advocacy is building a community of courage.”

We met at the 5/13/17 VOICE Expo, held at the Evansville Armory, to promote the new chapter of Athena’s Sisters and to promote our summer art project: stained glass mosaics, similar to this one, created by Owen and about to be published on the cover of a book that helps educate those who help the suicide bereaved.  Owen came from a military family, and although he did not serve he admired those who did. So I know he was proud to be part of this event.

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Owen’s Omega RedWolf Flying, 2016

VOICE (Veteran Organizations Involved in Community Education) acts as a sponsor and clearing house for events that help veterans and their families, as well as engage them within the community.

 

 

 

My artwork at Kentucky Crafted: The Market, 4/22/17

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.

New Year, New Artworks

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.

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Ode to O: Inordinate

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.

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Obsessions #1

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.

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!

Life Stories, Life Lessons Update

Progress continues on the Life Stories/Life Lessons writing and art project, funded by the Kentucky Foundation For Women. Also find the KFW on Facebook!

On 1/5/2016 — before the wild winter weather set in — the elders at Redbanks Pleasant Pointe decided to write a personal note to the group of girls involved in the project via their after school program at the Henderson County Housing Authority.  The girls loved getting these “letters” written on the backs of old book covers, and were touched (and attended to!) the advice given by the elders. Then the girls responded during the week of 1/18/2016 with a collage of Loves and Hates, a topic currently being explored via poems and prose at Redbanks.

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We also exchanged photographs — as bringing the two groups together had to be postponed due to the bad weather.  The girls were especially enthusiastic about doing this — and both groups were fascinated and excited to share photographs with each other.

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Both groups can’t wait to actually meet!  But until we do we will continue this “pen pal” part of the Life Stories/Life Lessons project.  And a website is in the making as well!

 

More than busy work @Art In The Margins!

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.

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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.

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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!

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Me in Evansville Living, November/December 2015

Photo from Evansville Living, Nov/Dec 2015 issue

Photo from Evansville Living, Nov/Dec 2015 issue

Thanks to Trista and Heather (a former University of Evansville student from long ago!) for the wonderful photograph and article in Evansville Living about my work as a teaching artist in Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky! So honored. See the article here:

http://www.evansvilleliving.com/articles/art-therapy