incartamento

So there I was, happily holed-up in a casa di campagna, a  country hideaway near Alba in Piemonte, Italy. Beautifully restored by Swiss friends, it was a rustico offered to me for a summer’s studio practice. They knew that my teaching work left little time for my own artwork; they also appreciated how important it is for a teacher in any field to be personally engaged with their subject.

I have written previously about a few works from that precious time at Casa Columbina.  See, for example, one Italian summer,  farfalle, and saying the unsayable.  Also see this page in the ‘nomad collection’: Italy

But this little piece stayed in the shadows – perhaps because, at the time, it was too personal, something made for my eyes only, something made to help bring a chapter to a conclusion.  You see, a long relationship had come to an end, and although it was a mutually agreed and (mostly) mature winding-up, there was debris.  It took many moons for the debris to settle, and making this piece definitely helped.

I simply couldn’t toss out my ex-partner’s letters.  He wrote beautifully.  We shared so much: questions, ideas, travel, art.  I wanted to honour both our years together and the traces left in his letters.  I wanted to make some kind of a container for these letters, something simple and rustic, only using materials found at hand.  

As I was playing with possible formats, my Italian neighbour popped in.  I tried to explain what I was doing and she tried to understand… she spoke no English and my Italian is beyond pathetic.  Eventually, she conveyed her understanding that what I was doing was “wrapping it all up”, making a dossier or file… and that Italian word for it was incartamento.  

Oh, I liked that word – it fit my purpose perfectly, and in true Italian style it rolls off the tongue like honey.

Fast forward a couple of decades.  My memento comes out of hiding and a dear friend who knows how to drive a camera expertly documents it for me: thank you, Carol Brandt.


Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 1

salvaged cardboard
khadi paper
acrylic and oil paints
resin stains
the letters
old drawings and photographs
gauze
beeswax
butcher’s twine and other threads
butterfly wings
shoelace

215 x 240 x 65mm

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 2

It can be opened vertically as a book, or horizontally as a box.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento, detail of letter bundle

The letters, wrapped in khadi paper, stitched, bound with butcher’s twine and sealed with beeswax.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 3

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 4

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 5

 
And now, all these years later, the quiet pleasure of having this memento matures like fine wine.  It gives off a bouquet of gratitude and appreciation for the experiences shared, the learning and depth of feeling that flowers within intimacy.  I prop it up and smile.  

The capacity to make is nothing less than alchemy.


 

alchemy meets maker’s mind : a retrospective glance

 
At the close of my three-month daily details project last year I wrote a post titled  curiosity and wonderment.

It reminded me of a little piece I’d penned by that name – years ago – to accompany a slide presentation and discussion of my work to students.  (Yes, it was that long ago – slides, not powerpoint!)

Putting it on a page, with a few illustrations, seems like a good way to fatten out my artist’s statement. Here’s an excerpt.


Curiosity.  Wonderment.  Amazing that one’s via creativa could be summed up in just two words.

Plato said that philosophy begins with wonder, so perhaps that makes me some kind of philosopher – but I’m not sure what kind.  Certainly not the academic kind; I have always found it tedious to have to remember and regurgitate the ideas of others when there is a whole universe of places to find ideas of my very own – both in the wonder-full world of nature and the curious recesses of my own brain.  And especially in the way these two inter-act when I am freely and playfully making things.  Perhaps that means I’m some kind of a practical philosopher, but still I’m not sure.  Must we be categorized and pigeon-holed under labels such as philosophers, or, for that matter, artists?

It is play, not properness
that is the central artery, the core,
the brain stem of creative life.

No play, no creative life.
Be good, no creative life.
Sit still, no creative life.

The impulse to play is an instinct.

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

As a small child I never demonstrated any artistic interest in reproducing objects, people or landscapes in any medium.  But I was endlessly fascinated with, and always busy, creating things – all sorts of things. Especially things that involved some kind of alchemy.  Things that altered the everyday, that changed my usual way of seeing the world in some way.  I’m recalling the shoe-boxes I’d fill with little treasures and cover with colored cellophane then peek into through little viewing holes under different kinds of light.  Or things that were made by transforming simple materials – like turning lengths of yarn into forms by crocheting or knitting or knotting.  Or things that changed color when I put them into buckets of dye, or left them buried in Dad’s compost heap, or under spawning mushrooms in the bush.

 Miriam Louisa Simons: earthWorks series

detail – earthWorks series
folded, buried, distressed khadi paper, found objects

I began my professional life as a classroom teacher.  It was a perfect fit for my personality and my love of teaching has never waned.  But I soon discovered that being contained within educational institutions was hazardous to my creative life.

I branched out on my own, set up my own designer label producing art-to-wear.  It was a perfect outlet for my creative passion at the time – completely self-taught, I manufactured every stage of each garment myself from concept to completion.  Pattern design and sewing, textile surface design, modeling, marketing and sales all fell under my one-woman banner. […]
 

Continue reading here:
curiosity and wonderment [the page]


in the hands of alchemy

 
Sometimes finding the truth of one’s work – and one’s life – costs everything. How much of our belief structure, our convictions and habitual behavior are we prepared to relinquish in order to allow space for the utterly authentic to express through our voices and hands?

In 1979, at age 29, Jerry Wennstrom destroyed all the art he had created, gave everything he owned away, and set out to discover the rock-bottom truth of his life. He sensed an inner and outer world in perfect order and became a willing participant in that order – he leaped into the void, the ultimate creative act. He began a life of unconditional trust, allowing life to provide all that was needed. He lived this way for 15 years.

Wennstrom’s wish was to open to the energy of life itself. In releasing the structure of daily habits and routines, he learned to trust and appreciate the significance of each moment. This entailed relying on intuition, listening keenly to the deeper nature of feelings, and wisely observing the ways in which our inner world reflects the outer, and vice versa.

In 1998 he moved to Washington State, where he eventually married Marilyn Strong and produced a large new body of art.  Marilyn and Jerry’s charming Whidbey Island home is now filled with his unique interactive sculptures and paintings.  Jerry also built a 40-foot meditation tower on his property, which is featured, along with his story, in a book by Laura Chester called Holy Personal.

 

Jerry Wennstrom - The Confessional

Confessional
Interactive sculpture – 8ft in height

 

During a trip to Italy I was moved by a few ancient, worm-eaten Confessionals I saw in several of the older cathedrals in Assisi. The oldest ones were small and simple and appeared not to be in use any longer. They were often placed off to the sides of the smaller chapels or in out of the way places. These old confessionals were so well-used over the years that the places where knees touched wood were worn in shape of two half moons. There were places on the hand rest where finger nails dug deep into the wood. The inspiration for this art piece was the power and energy of guilt, angst and forgiveness that these confessionals embodied.

I call the piece Confessional and it is made out of an 8′ X 26″ hollow, cedar log that I drug up from the ravine below our house. The outer, female figure is a double door that opens down the middle and around the face to reveal the life-size, fully carved saint inside. Turning the Danger High Voltage switch that is situated under the lower mask turns the saint into a devil — his halo disappears, little red horns appear out of the figure’s head, a forked tongue comes out of his mouth, a tail wags from behind and his hands offer an apple.

– Jerry Wennstrom

 

Jerry Wennstrom - Confessional interior showing saint
Confessional interior showing ‘saint’.
See more details of this work on the blog (see link below)

 

Jerry’s story is told in his book, The Inspired Heart: An Artist’s Journey of Transformation (foreword by Thomas Moore) published by Sentient Publications and in the Parabola Magazine documentary film called In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry WennstromThere is also a Sentient Publications DVD with the same name, which includes a short new film called Studio Dialogue.  Studio Dialogue is a presentation Jerry did before a live audience with music by Susan McKeown, sung by Marilyn Strong.  Jerry travels internationally lecturing, teaching and presenting his film and work and he writes a monthly piece on the spirit of the times for a New York City consulting firm.

Most of the above information is sourced from  Jerry’s website. The images and his comments about Confessional are sourced from his blog.
 
Jerry Wennstrom's blog - In the Hands of Alchemy

Click on the screenshot to visit Jerry and Marilyn’s blog.

Jerry Wennstrom is also featured on my website ‘the awakened eye’: the way of trust and transformation


ankida

textile and transformation
Australia

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons - Ankida. Painting on silk.

 

Silk Habotai, card, textured wood panel, mosquito netting, woven metal fragment, acrylic paints, fiber-reactive dyes
Painting on silk, assemblage
643 x 312


This piece illustrates a poem:

mountains of green
mountains of blue arise:
gratitude wells up
and fills my eyes

When I moved from Europe to tropical Queensland to care for my frail aged parents in their last chapter, I would sometimes take respite time at Ankida, a rainforest sanctuary in the Gold Coast hinterland. I felt like a Zen hermit tucked away in a grass hut amongst mountains that rolled westward for ever. It was a good place for poetic ramblings and painting; I felt blessed beyond words.