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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Affirmations, Gratitude, and Soul Quests

Have you ever heard of things coming in threes?  I received three resounding "yes" votes from the universe in the last three days and I am euphoric. I'm feeling grateful for these amazing affirmations tonight, and excited about this summer's soul quest.   I have also been thinking a lot lately about resurrecting my old blog, so I thought I would dust it off tonight and share some of my musings....with a little bit of trepidation and vulnerability...  but also trusting that this is a good time to share.

I've been doing a lot of reading, re-reading and research lately.  Doreen Virtue,  Brian Weiss,  James Redfield,  Eckhart Tolle,  Rumi,  Cheryl Strayed,  Elizabeth Gilbert. Have you read Big Magic?  Just in case you haven't, here are some of my favorite Liz quotes. (When I say Liz I picture Ketut from "Eat, Pray, Love" saying "Leez. Leez, Leez, you came back!")

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” 

“Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment—not entirely human in its origins.” 
― Elizabeth GilbertBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

(More magical quotes from Big Magic?  Of course- coming right up!  Click here!)

I am drawn over and over again to the idea of synchronicity, symbiosis, connections, cyclical-ness (did I just make that up?!) moving forward,  and using art in healing ways. Healing to make whole.  By whole I mean mind, body, spirit.  All three. And three is a very powerful number.  It can represent many concepts- and these concepts can be best expressed in a triskel.  

I got my tattoo (yep, that's it above on my wrist) after a very scary time in my life. I'd had a large parotid (salivary gland) tumor removed in a 5 hour surgery, and of course I was one of those 1% or so that had some horrible complications.  My cheek swelled up with fluid and my poor daughter had to drive me back and forth to Chapel Hill to have it drained every week with a big honking needle.  That summer I was very afraid. Some of the readings I embarked upon truly fed my soul and I eagerly read more, becoming more and more comforted by what I read.  I got my triskel tattooed later that fall.   My triskel symbolizes:
           1.  the idea of always moving in forward motion (in terms of progress, spiritual                  growth, etc) while remaining bound to the cyclical nature of the ways of nature                and spirit.  Being at one with the spirit.  
           2.  oneness with the many other symbolic meanings within the power of three such            as: the unity of Mind, Body, Spirit..... Power, Intellect, Love ......Mother, Father,              Child.....Past, Present, Future......Creation, Preservation, Destruction.   3 months            + 3 months + 3 months = 9 months = 1 child. Three ages of the female path-                      young girl, woman, crone.  Birth, Death, Rebirth. 
           Many of you also know of my fascination with spirals.  

"The spiral is the natural form of growth, and has become, in every culture and in every age, man’s symbol of the progress of the soul towards eternal life.
As the inward-winding labyrinth, it constitutes the hero’s journey to the still center where the secret of life is found. As the spherical vortex, spiraling through its own center, it combines the inward and outward directions of movement." 
From "The Mystic Spiral" Jill Purce  (Click here)

The symbols and meanings above are just a few of the attributes of the triskel and spirals that fascinate me.

We see all of these themes repeat themselves in the history of art, which is basically the history of humanity. We seek to understand many of these themes and stories and artistic visions; many are stories and myths that have been handed down to us over the centuries.  Much of the unexplained art that mankind has left behind, however, is wide open to interpretation- such as the spirals carved into the ancient, older-than-the-pyramids stones at Newgrange in Ireland which I visited last summer.  I will write about that trip another time! 

So.  All of that was basically to say I believe in signs and symbols and prayer and synchronicity.  You know; our living, breathing, magical universe. I felt called to open Artworks a few years ago.  It has been a struggle- financially, physically, mentally.  I have come close to closing several times- sometimes because I was exhausted and needed a break, other times because of other reasons.  It has also been a huge joy and source of amazing art-making times, laughter, creativity and growth.  The studio has been blessed to have some amazing people come through and spend time working there or donating of their time and services.   The current creative forces of Anna, Raquel and Kaylee are making some fantabulous things happen!   Still, though, I can't help but worry about money, and things not happening as fast as I would like, and energy.......and I have prayed a lot for guidance as to what path I should take.  

I have been studying art therapy and am currently taking an online course.  I am playing with the idea of getting another Master's degree or applying to become a "REACE" which stands for "Registered Expressive Arts Consultant/Educator."  I love watching people's faces as they realize how therapeutic and cathartic art can be- in particular while becoming very absorbed and "in the zone" while working in a visual art journal.  

Last week we were SO very honored to be asked by the Onslow Women's Center to provide a class for some of the women and children in their care.  Kaylee and I worked with a woman and her three children to provide a safe, healing art experience for them, sharing some ideas of things to do in the journals we gave them.  Kaylee so ably worked with the three lovely children (one on her lap!) to keep them busy and interested in their artwork.  I won't go into details but let me just say that the children's mother has a heartbreaking story.   I didn't ask questions or pry, but she voluntarily opened up to me and told me some of her story as we sat and created with the soft music playing in the background.  At one point she wearily exclaimed that she just wanted to gain back her voice.  I gently offered that she may have just come up with the 'title' of her journal.  She loved that idea.  She not only titled her journal but she proudly placed a proclamation on the back cover of her book: "Only the brave rise up and experience new beginnings."

Here's the thing.  We really didn't do much- the angels at the Onslow Women's Center do such important work each and every single day.  Whatever this poor lady got out of our art time is nothing compared to how Kaylee and I felt after Friday morning.  We both felt so honored and touched to have been able to provide that art experience for this family.  It was validation to me that  "YES!- this is a great direction to be going in, Sara!"  

There was more to come.  Saturday three lovely women came into the studio, and we had a really lovely chat.  Today I received this message from one of them:  "I just wanted to thank you for spending time with my mom, friend and I yesterday. We are looking forward to spending time in your shop. Thank you also for inspiring me to step out of my box and expand my creative juices."

AND THEN....... Today Raquel texted me that she found a beautiful note on the back patio. It read in part:

"It is truly a blessing to know someone who has answered the call to better the world. What y'all are doing for the community and its' people is truly profound and an act of selflessness. It does not go unnoticed.... we will do whatever it takes to help make the dream come true." (Thank you to the special people who left it there. Super big hugs coming soon. That was SO needed.)

So there you have it. Three very special, rewarding affirmations/messages to let me/us know that even though this is one of the hardest things I have ever done this studio needs to keep growing and needs to keep helping, and creating, and providing solace, spirit, and sanctuary along with art classes and downtown artsy community and creative flow. Figuring out exactly how to do this is the soul quest.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Old Friends and Amazing Students

I wrote this about five years ago.  I just saw a post from a dear, dear former student who is having a love affair with Art History that reminds me of my own. I'm so happy for her, and it reminded me that I had written this after a trip to DC with some dear AP Art History students.  This is for you Lauren, Kailey, Cassidy....
What a welcoming, heartwarming and good-for-the-soul feeling it is to see not just one old friend, but hundreds of them.  There is the instant moment of recognition, followed by that warm, coming-home rush of emotion. It is, for me, like falling into an incredibly cosy chair, in front of a fire, with a blanket and a good book. You can’t get any cozier than that.  Well, I suppose you could, if the friends were real flesh and blood friends. These friends of mine are of the real paint and canvas variety and of stone, bronze, and pencil and paper, hard work and inspiration.

Those are the feelings that I had recently at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.  Five high school students and I drove seven hours to spend one night and two days at the National Gallery.  These students either had taken or are taking Advanced Placement Art History with me. 

We saw hundreds of works of art.  We saw the entire museum, actually- in seven and a half hours over the course of two days.  I travel quite a bit, and so I am quite used to my reunions with well-loved works of art. I experience them, most of the time, as a warm glow, and a sort of “there you are again! Oh, it’s good to see you…” feeling.   The students however, experienced their first reunion. I won’t say that they met the works of art for the first time, as they did that with their twelve pound art history book, and in slides and videos at school.  They truly were moved to be encountering their ‘friends’ face to face. 

It was not the sort of reaction that so many museumgoers exhibit, where they rush up to a masterpiece, stare for a minute, uncomprehendingly, and then rush off to find the next famous painting- just so they can say they saw it.  You are not really making a friend like that.  How can you get to know a work of art in several seconds? It is like the phony air-kiss greetings that society matrons might grace someone with- they do not really know them but they want to leave a good impression.

No, these students really cared about what they were seeing.  The looks on their faces were magical as they turned quietly from one gallery into the next. A wondrous look of awe would come over their face as they realized that here, here! Right in front of me!  was Van Eyck’s Woman with a Veil, or: (reverent whisper) “Oh Mrs. Gant! Look! Is that Bellini’s Feast of the Gods?!”  “It’s Van Gogh!  I didn’t know he would be here!”  One girl, a dancer, had to text message her mother in NC when she saw Degas’ Little Dancer.  She was so overcome with emotion she had tears in her eyes.  The hand shaking, frantic eye rolling or just plain deep furrowed brows were comical to watch after I asked questions pertaining to our studies. “Do you remember what this kind of lighting is called?”  “What characteristics make this a Mannerist painting?”  “Oh! Oh!  I know this!”  And they did. 

With deep appreciation and a mature excitement, they walked from room to room with me.  We shared opinions about what we liked and didn’t like. More importantly, they could tell me why. We walked through some galleries a bit more quickly, and lingered for ages in front of others. “There is David’s portrait of Napoleon!   Look! I would like to introduce you to the only Da Vinci in America!  “Oh. My. Gosh! Is that a Rembrandt?”  All along, I had my private little moments of deep satisfaction and soul feeding as I encountered old friends.  The nice thing about old friends is that you can know them for a long time and then still learn something new about them. 

Currently I am enjoying a deeper interest in Dutch paintings.  I stood in front of Vermeer’s “Girl With a Hat” up close, wishing I could get closer, even touch it as one of my students kept wishing she could do. I have always wondered if the little dashes of white on the tips of noses were one of the last things Vermeer painted.  I stood in front of Italian miniatures from the Getty museum, and marveled at the application of gold leaf and intricate, entwined designs. I stood in front of Magritte’s “Human Condition” for probably the fourth or fifth time, and this time I feel like I “got it” more than any other time. What an ingenious title!  I shared with the students my interpretation.  One of them came up to me later and had bought the print “because you inspired me.”  I didn’t do anything.  Magritte was the magic-maker.

You know you have a truly good friend if you can pick right off where you left off last time. In other words, you can sit right down and jump into an intimate conversation- after three months, two years, even five, as in my case!   I hope the soul, spirit and mental refreshing that I experienced was also experienced by my students.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bottle: A Short Film by Kirsten Lepore

Love can cross any ocean, especially if there's a glass bottle to help out. Watch this sweet story of love told in an animated short by Kirsten Lepore.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Life is Good.

I am looking forward to my art journaling workshop on Saturday.  It's exciting to share something I am passionate about.  I also have all these ideas swirling around in my head of things that I want to do.  I have ideas for 2 books that I want to write; a cool mosaic sidewalk; I want to finish the pallet coffee table that is half done;  finish decorating a place in my front garden that my friend Heather started for me; I need to finish the bookshelf I have been redecorating, and SO MUCH MORE.  (Oh yeah, I also want to rip up the carpet in the LR and put wood or fake wood flooring down!)

School is about to start though, and I won't get half of those done.  Pinterest and my busy ADD brain will keep feeding me ideas, and I may do some of those projects but I probably won't get to all of them.   I'll also think of new things to add to the list.  But it's ok- I love my job teaching art at Northside and I love my online job teaching AP Art History.  I'll have a million ideas of things I want to do at school too!!  I am grateful that I am around dedicated teaching professionals and eager, bright, lovely students every day.  

My point is- I am grateful that I have my health, friends, great jobs that I am passionate about, my husband is home for the weekend, my lovely children are in good health.   More than anything, I am glad life is busy, rewarding, and rich.  I am so thankful I never ever EVER say "I'm bored."  Life is good.  It was a good day.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Romano-British Archaeology Dig


I had such an amazing day today, and I am SO excited to share it with you!  

Above left is a map of England. We are currently in East Anglia, (the part in yellow) which gets its name from the Anglo- Saxon Kingdom of the East Angles.   My history and art loving friends will remember the site of Sutton Hoo, where Raedwald, King of the East Angles, was buried in a fantastic hill-top ship burial, which eventually yielded amazing finds.  We're sort of close to there......and sort of close to the West Stow Anglo-Saxon site, and the 900-plus year old Norwich Cathedral,  and LOTS  of other history. (As a matter of fact my Dad has a neolithic flint here at the cottage right now which is prehistoric- THOUSANDS of years old!)  I love soaking in the history of this amazing island when I come home. 

Today we drove about an hour to the west to just north of Cambridge, the old university town, to a small village called Cotterham.  The first thing that struck Dad and I  as we approached the parish church (above right) was the unusual shape of the pinnacles.  I researched them when I got home and learned this:

The pinnacles form a very striking feature of the tower. Pinnacles are, of course, common on towers of this date (for example they were added to the tower of Great St Mary’s in Cambridge in about 1600), but the bulbous, ogee shape of these is very remarkable; Cole, the eighteenth century antiquary, compared them to pineapples and said of the tower that it was "the admiration of all the country thereabout". It has been suggested that they show Dutch influence; Dutchmen were active in the seventeenth century in East Anglia where they played a prominent part in the draining of the fens, but this explanation seems unlikely. They are not unlike the pinnacles on the four corners of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.

 We met up with the volunteers who run the Fen Edge Archaeology Group (FEAG). There was just Dad, Cameron, me and another man.  Krys and her friend drove us a mile or so down the country lane (with the best name ever- "Twenty-Pence Lane!") to the farm where the Romano-British dig is unfolding.  The owners of the land have discovered Roman coins and other artifacts on the site, but it is thought that it was not inhabited by Romans but by British peoples living in a quite simple trading site during the time of the Roman occupation of Britain. There is no sign of any occupation on the site since the Romans left Britain in the 4th century. The FEAG archaeologists were looking for a place to dig, and the land owners were quite happy to let them dig on the land which hadn't been plowed since the 1950's.  FEAG have dug on the site for the last two years, and already have started their trench for this year. Today was the first day of the British Festival of Archaeology which goes on for the next two weeks.

We walked through two fields with Paddy the farm collie happily joining us. As we approached I could see the orange protective fence that surrounds the trench.
The trench is very interesting as it intersects old ditches and waterways.  The archaeologists pointed out the different colors of soil which can indicate the presence of .....anything!.....artifacts, buildings, old ditches, modern plough marks, etc.   They have found pottery, coins, and bones.  If you look in the background of the photo above you can see the raised bank of an old waterway.  We walked along that bank and saw the Roman earthworks of the opposite field.  (Different land-owners, no digging, but a listed Monument site, so there is definitely something special there!)
 Above is an old aerial shot of the field next door which definitely shows evidence of some prior human occupation.
 Flint stones, meet the flint stones..........
 Richard, one of the senior guys there, took Cam and I  to a pit on the right side of the trench which contained all the earth from the trench that had not yet gone through the sieves.  He had said Cameron could look for something small to take with him, not realizing that *I* was the crazy one who was drooling with fascination and interest.   I spotted a fragmented piece of pottery on the heap and excitedly pointed it out.  Richard pounced on it and took it from me, (above) saying "OH WOW! This is great, oh no, you can't have this, this has got to stay here!"   He explained that it was a locally made piece of pottery, from no more than 20 miles away.  It is very plain,  but has two slight grooved lines that may show up more after we clean it.  He dropped it down on the heap again and I took a picture of it.
 We thanked Richard and said goodbye, then Krys then took us down the finds area, in the barns.  This is where the finds are washed and stored.  I was fascinated with the striations of the potsherds, and by the fact that very old snail shells were found from the same level of the trench!

 The trays all contain pieces from each individual area of the trench. They must stay separate so that if something further comes out of that area they know what level or area of the trench it came from.

 I absolutely love that the artists who created these simple pots for basic utilitarian purposes still took time to imbue them with some sense of decoration.  These are no status pots, they're simple storage and cooking pots for someone's supper- about 1600 years ago.  That piece at left- I ran my finger under the lip, imagining the potter doing that hundreds of years ago as he/she created the piece.

Since there is no evidence of habitation at this site after the 4th century- I wonder why these Romano-British people left?  I imagine they would have become Anglo-Saxon, taking on new habits, customs and building practices.  I imagine them just throwing these old pots away, or casting them aside without a care,  and certainly not wondering whether they would be found hundreds or thousands of years later. 
 Just touching something this old sets my imagination on fire. Who handled it?  Did some child complain about  having to do the washing up?  What was in this bowl?  How many meals did it serve as a silent witness to conversations about- what?  Weather? (Always a good topic of conversation here, since it changes every day!)   Supplies?  Building?  The Romans?  Who made it?  What was their name?  I know I am a romantic, and perhaps too fanciful at times, but it is the STORIES that I obsess about.

I remember having a conversation with my friend Lisa long ago.  We were talking about history's mysteries.  She said that she thinks she'll find out when she crosses through the Pearly Gates of heaven and all the mysteries of the universe are revealed to her!  "Oh, THAT'S how the pyramids were constructed.... oh THAT is why this happened, or that happened.... etc." 

The best part of the day was yet to come!  After we had been given a "tour" of the trench and the site,  before we headed down to the finds area with Krys,  I was talking to Richard about my students, and he asked me if I was still teaching.  When I responded yes, he looked thoughtful for a moment, then called Cameron over. He said "Cameron, run back to that heap by the end of the trench and get that big piece for your Mum!"  He handed it to me when Cameron came back and said "There you go, take that back for your students in America!"   I can't possibly convey to you how excited and awestruck I am.  I own a piece (a very small piece, but a piece nonetheless!) of Romano- British history!   I hope my students find it equally exciting.  (I contained myself until I got back in Dad's car then had to do a seated "happy dance!")

 Below, Cameron carefully cleans hundreds of years of dirt off a simple, ordinary potsherd that inspires not so simple and not so ordinary fanciful daydreams and conversations about history. 

 I told my Dad today that I wish time travel existed.  I want Dr. Who's phone box.  I would dial up the middle ages first, and visit a scriptorium where illuminated manuscripts were being constructed and then go listen to the monks singing Gregorian Chant.   Then- Anglo-Saxons times, just to watch the amazing Sutton Hoo ship burial ceremony.  Then Renaissance and artist studios.  Prehistoric cave paintings.  Vermeer, Van Gogh, Van Eyck.  Nazca lines in Peru.  There are so many mysteries I want to know about.  I feel a bit like Violet in Willy Wonka:  "I want to know NOOOOOOWWW!"  In the meantime however, I shall content myself with reading books, blogs and magazines, learning as much as I can, and traveling through time in my imagination.  Oh yeah, and visiting sites such as these whenever I can!

(When I pop off, you can all just laugh at me and imagine me being happy,  walking through the Pearly Gates, wide-eyed and slack-jawed with excitement, saying "ohhhhhhhhhh!!!!   I get it!")

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Traveler Testimonials


I asked students and adults who have traveled with me to post their thoughts.  I am going to include them all here.  If you are a parent considering letting your child travel with me to Europe you may find the testimonials of past travelers interesting reading!

If you are a past traveler, please include your first name, whether you were a student or adult,  and what trip/year you traveled!  Thanks for your contribution!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Home Sweet Home!

I just want to say that the group left early this morning and should be landing in Atlanta within the next few hours.   Thank you for entrusting your children to my care, I hope they had a wonderful time!  We have been so busy the last few nights and I couldn't get online last night to update you!

Yesterday was our last day in Paris and we had a wonderful time.  I took the group up to Montmartre and everyone enjoyed the stunning views of Paris in the lovely sunshine! Below are the girls on the steps of Sacre Coeur.

                                                On the bridge by Notre Dame cathedral!

                                           Carson looked like a pro on the Parisian metro!

                                                               On the Seine river cruise!

          I'll be in touch soon- I am anxiously awaiting word that they are in Atlanta, as you are!