How I became BRANDED

How artist, Sher Fick, found the inspiration for her new series, BRANDED. The series delves into the history and the psychological/physical effects of the dropping of the atomic bombs by the Americans onto the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan.
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The One-Sentence Artist Statement

Having had a particularly difficult day today, emotionally, speaking - I want to turn the page back to last week when I had some fantastic epiphanies.

Since December and the Miami-Pool Art Fair trip, I have been trying to answer a question I received during my flight wait to Miami.  I was approached by a retired Military officer and asked "Where am I going? And "What do I do?"  One would think that I have a snap answer to that question, but I never have.  Maybe because I really work at breaking down my motivations and analyze my own psyche, I tend to answer in paragraphs or essays, NOT one sentence wonders.

So, I decided I needed to have that one-sentence answer ready the next time I am asked.

If you know me at all, and some of you do, I don't keep anything hidden, I am what I am, for better for worse . . . you know I am NOT a morning person!  I think better at night, I work better at night, and the mornings (i.e., anything prior to NOON) are not me at my best.  Last week, after realizing we would have ANOTHER SNOWDAY and that I could TURN OFF THE ALARM (woot!), I was given the great opportunity to slowly wake up and tiptoe through that twilight of sleep/dream and awake/reality.  What I realized, was that, in one sentence,:

 

I am the most broken item I have ever put back together.  It is a daily process, just like today, when I was literally ripped apart in a public forum for speaking my own truth about my rape.  I am stitching myself back together - I am a one-armed Raggedy Ann, restitching my dismembered arm back to myself.

The 2nd epiphany I experienced last week was the solution to an installation problem with "YOU MADE YOUR BED", a new series I will be installing in March at the "Ladies First", Top 10 Women Artists of Tennessee Exhibition at The Customs House Museum (in honor of women's history month).  Literally, laying 'abed' I visualized the installation solution and got it planned in my brain before I stepped onto the floor.  Here is 1/2 of the installation:

 

So, what I have learned this month?

1)  I realized what I do is, metaphorically and, literally, "I Put Back Together Broken Things", and

2)  Just as I am responsible for what my truth is, so are others, and there are deep and lasting crevices that are created from speaking one's truth.

 

 

 

 

Oh, The Places You'll Go . . . for Inspiration! Part I

InSPiRaTioN
1
a : a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation b : the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions c : the act of influencing or suggesting opinions
2
: the act of drawing in; specifically : the drawing of air into the lungs
3
a : the quality or state of being inspired b : something that is inspired <a scheme that was pure inspiration>
Inspiration can be found in some very unexpected places.   Some of the more inexplicable locations I have found items:

IN THE GRAVEL PARKING LOT OF A SOCCER FIELD

Sept. 11, 2001  During 911 I was an art teacher at Bluewater Elementary School teaching K - 5.  I wasn't working on that Tuesday morning, but instead watched it all unfurl in front of my eyes on the TV screen.  I had on the Morning Show with Katie Courac (low volume) as I talked on the phone to both my mother-and-father-in-law in New Jersey.  As I hung up the phone, I turned up the volume,  just in time to see the 1st plane hit the 1st Tower!  I gasped, and immediately picked up the phone to call my in-laws back.  The phone lines to the NE were jammed and I was unable to get through to them.  My husband's older brother, Peter, worked in the Millennium tower,  just adjacent to the World Trade Center.  I couldn't get a hold of anybody . . . finally, I heard from my other brother-in-law that Peter had been able to send out an email AFTER the first tower collapsed and his building was being evacuated.  We all watched in continued horror as the 2nd tower collapsed.  As of the following morning, no one had heard from Peter and he had not returned to his home in suburban New Jersey (the ferries and subways off Manhattan island had been closed down). That afternoon I had to continue as if  NOTHING WAS WRONG . . . the kids still had soccer practice.  At the time we lived in Niceville, FL (just across the bridge from Destin, FL, and very near  Eglin Air Force Base).  We always knew when something was urgent with American security because the practice bombing and low fly-bys dramatically increased.  On that day, it felt like we were in the midst of war - the windows shook and the china tinkled in the cabinet, and you could feel the bombs low vibration from your heels to your head. On the way to the soccer field I remember thinking/praying "please not here", "please not here" - my fearful thinking assumed that the No. 1 Air Force Base in the U.S. might just be the next target?  We pulled into the play fields and parked.  The kids were frantic and just as chatty as usual, but the adults were somber and kept looking up into the sky and down on the ground.  Sometimes we would catch one another's eyes and just stare in understanding and shared agony.  Many of the parents worked at the Air Force base or had spouses already deployed.  We all knew - this was going to be something that would cause a huge change in the life of our Community, our Country, and our World. As I walked back to the van after delivering the kids to their coaches, I began quietly crying again . . . looking down at the gravel under my feet I saw an olive green toy soldier - it was broken.  I picked it up and worried it in my hand the entire hour I waited for the children to finish practice.  It later sat on my nightstand, then made its way into a box of treasures - and finally into an artwork - encapsulated in resin inside a toy capsule. The next day we finally heard that Peter had been evacuated between the collapses and he was one of the suited office workers dashing through the streets, ducking into doorways,  trying to stay ahead of the raining debris.  He finally caught a ride on the back of a firetruck heading away from GroundZero, but couldn't leave the island due to the shut down of the subway andferries.  He spent several nights on Manhattan Island before being able to return home to Lawrenceville, NJ.  To say the least, the experience LITERALLY changed his life forever. This is one example of my life being marked by items - reclaimed, found, manipulated - a visual timeline tracing backward and moving forward.  Here is one more example:

WASHED UP ON A SANDY BEACH IN ATRANI, ITALY

After a long 10 days of site seeing andtraveling in Sunny Italy in June of 2007, my husband and I retreated to a 5 day RELAXation in Amalfi, Italy.  We took the days leisurely, sleeping in, eating, walking through the town, hiking along the Mediterranean and basically doing very little . . . one of our days included a kayak trip along the coastline . . . on our trip back we decided to rest on a beach just South of Amalfibefore we turned in the kayak.  As we pulled it up onto the beach (which consisted of pebbly-gravel) of Atrani, we glanced at our feet andrealized we were walking on dozens of pottery shards.  Picking them up, we saw they had been tumbled to smooth edges by the sea - just like the sea glass we would find on the Jersey Shores in the States.  Upon further inspection we realized the shards were being dumped into the sea from the drainage of Atrani and washing back to shore, refined by the Sea.  There were shards of true Majolica and pieces I could only imagine were decades and perhaps, in my romantic inclinations, centuries old. Many people never look up, nor down . . . if you take the extra time to embrace the moment of NOW, you never know what you will find - what meaning it will have, or, how special the items can be to you.  Just as literature uses symbols, so does visual art. To the left is a box of items I have collected over time - as I work on pieces, I rummage through and find just the right EMOTION/item to include in assemblage work, collages, and sculptures.  I feel using these found items evoke a remembrance of what the item may have been imbued with on its long journey into my possession - that just like myself, it may have been abandoned, abused, and discarded.  What joy to be given the opportunity, as we each as human beings have, to reclaim and redefine our lives, our purposes, and - ultimately - our futures! What in your life do you treasure???
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On Reading - Gillian Flynn's "DARK PLACES"

Ok - so I bought a new book [not true: I bought about 8 new books and 5 art journals] for vacation (which doesn't start until Friday).  dark places Here is the thing - I stayed up all night READING one of them (DarkPlaces by Gillian Flynn).  It qualifies as one of those, 'perhaps someone else had a worser (I know this is bad grammar) childhood than I (I know this should say 'me').  The point is, if you can forget my bad grammar, is that it has been a long time since I have been gripped by a book in this manner.  I have 'enjoyed' some and actually 'loved' others.  But this one - it is like the first time I read Augusten Burrough's A WOLF AT THE TABLE or Haven Kimmel's IODINE.  I was rocking, reading, and closing the book, turning off the light, turning the light back on, until 6:15 a.m.
PLEASE TELL ME I AM NOT THE ONLY PSYCHO NIGHT READER!           Hence - being in an altered state of stunned stupidity (or perhaps just otherworldness), I appeared at a 10:30 a.m. meeting with my web designer, which isn't until tomorrow.  um.  ding dang.  I blame this fugue on my altered literary reality. That is what I consider a good read.  To be so altered that I don't know, or really give a taco, what day it is.  Another sign - when you feel that you have only 2 toes on your right foot, like the main character.  Check - GOOD BOOK.  Sitting up rocking yourself - CHECK, good book - thanks Augusten and Haven!!   Kudos to Gillian Flynn for having the balls to write about a flawed, but -therefore- believable character.   This girl woman - Libby - is someone with twisted thinking, but is loveable at the same time.  Which, as you know - is my goal in life - to be the twisted soul that I am, but to be loveable (and, loving, of course). So, dear readers, who are all readers yourself - tell me, what is the last book that kept you up all night???  I'm just dying to know!   Other 'wee hours' of the morning books from my literary past: IT, THE STAND, INSOMNIA (how Ironic) - Stephen King I Know This Much is True - Wally Lamb  . . . . just to name a few!
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What I Have Learned From Trees

I began this post several weeks ago, which now seems like years. Since then, many events have occurred in my life and the lives of my most beloved of souls.  The thoughts I was having seem even more timely now.  Perhaps my soul was preparing itself . . . in any event, I feel led to make these observations on TREES.   Right View: A view as seen along the Natchez Trace in Rural Tennessee.  Taken May, 2009. If I could choose to be any kind of tree, it would be a POPLAR.  Poplar trees have the added bonus of filtering toxins from the soil/ground water.  I would love to be considered a filter - to take in the poison and give out only cleansed energy. From my early days as a barefooted, country girl growing up in rural Illinois and Indiana, trees have framed my life.  From the giant, canopy of grandpa's oak tree on the Indiana farm to the Ginkgo Trees that grew across the street, I have been drawn to the strength and beauty they provide.        What intrigues me most about trees is that they internally and externally exhibit their key characteristic of RESILIENCE - which if you follow me at all, you will know is my eternal quest to grasp.
re·sil·ience [ ri zílly?nss ] or re·sil·ien·cy [ ri zílly?nssee ]
noun 
Definition:
 
1. speedy recovery from problems: the ability to recover quickly from setbacks
2. elasticity: the ability of matter to spring back quickly into shape after being bent, stretched, or deformed It is amazing to me that a view of the tree's internal rings reveal it's entire biography - the year it was born, the travail of injury, the years of abundance and nurture.  I am amazed at the individuality of each scar.  Not only the individuality, but the fact that these scars are the cause of so much beauty and the site of resilience and self-healing.  In a way, these trees are my 'heroes' and nature is where I can instantly receive the succor and peace from everyday challenges.  It is like an instant realignment of internal and external health.  See, echophsycology posting, http://sherfickart.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/01/essay-eco-psych.html (Eco-psychology and Inner-World Balance) as well as a previous posting http://sherfickart.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/10/natures-gifts.html (Nature's Gifts)   Along the Natchez Trace I became lost.  Lost, literally, but emotionally as well.  This sojourn provided time to dwell in the bucolic world.  I saw the way nature ate away at the attempted confinement of man.  The trees were devouring the very man-made structures used to tame them.  As time passed, the con-finements were devoured, but the fact of them was left behind - the trees had continued to grow about the chains of man and left behind the visualization of their conquering spirits.   I, too,  seek to be triumphant and to devour my oppression and create a beautiful outcome.  Just like these trees, I hope to heal and transform my internal and external scars into marks of strength.   So, once again, my ruminations return to WHAT REMAINS?  What we keep and why? What will my story say at the end?   To learn more about the Life of a Tree, visit

http://www.arborday.org

 

 
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Get Out Of Your Own Way

After a short mourning of "My Vintage Soul" (see previous post for details) I have gotten back on the proverbial horse/bicycle. Today I contemplated going back to bed at 8 a.m. (I went to sleep at 4:00 a.m. after playing Mahjong for 4 hours!), but instead I jerked myself directly from the front door as I waived good-bye to Claire and headed down the stairs. Into the studio. To look at the carcass:   After facing that . . . which felt very similar to viewing a newly dearly departed, I decided to work on some new techniques while I pondered what to do with the remains.  My instinct was to trash it, cremate it, send it on to its just rewards - but that is hurt and anger surfacing and some of my best works have been pieces that went 'wrong' and I had to re-work them to salvage them.  The only difference here is that it was finished to my great joy and I know any re-creation will be but a shadow of the original (such was my then state of mind). I decided to rummage through all my new supplies and chose to work with some new RF Paintsticks.  In the encaustic process I had been using, I would paint encaustic into the divots and distress marks and scrape the layers down.  It is back-breaking and time consuming work.  Can you imagine my delight when I was able to create this work within about 2 hours, start to finish, while simultaneously working on 4 others? Let me introduce you to "Traces of Time", 6"x6", Encaustic, Handwritten letter, Leather/silver watch band.   As I sit here typing this title, it occurs to me that I dealt with the very thing I was mourning - my loss of TIME.  Art is so amazing that way.  You do not even know what you are seeking, but it forms itself before your very eyes if you get your ego and brain out of the way.  Finally, after getting myself out of my own way, more works came forth.   "Run Away" 6"x6", Encaustsic, Vintage Fairy Tale pages, quickly followed the time-piece, and then came "Descent"   So, if I would only listen to my own advice I would save myself A LOT of heartache, right? I was excited to use some of the real butterfly wings Don and I had collected on our Lake Lure, NC 2006 vacation.  We came upon hundreds of butterflies hovering over puddles and upon closer inspection realized there were dozens of drowned butterflies.  Apparently some of their wings had become wet and weighed them down and they couldn't fly away.  The living butterflies appeared to hover in a mournfulness of collective spirit. Once again, my feelings are just bubbling up to be revealed in these new works . . . time, the need to 'run away', and mourning. One benefit to all the years of collecting is that I have an amazing resource of materials on hand.  To have them all, more or less, at my fingertips in the new studio is something I have never experienced before. I NEEDED those butterfly wings TODAY, and because I had taken time to unpack and sort - I knew EXACTLY where they were - safely encapsulated in U2's "All That We Can't Leave Behind" CD case. There are no coincidences.  There is only synergy.  The flow and flux as the energy transforms. Consequently (or not)!, what I ended up with today was three new completed works and the energy to begin or re-begin some other works. I now have all the butterfly wings dipped in encaustic and ready for the next 'calling', plus I infused multiple antique baby clothes for my textile version of "Ashes, Ashes", and, best of all, I found a technique that will increase my efficiency and save my body many aches and pains! Somehow, in less than one week, I have decided that this self-destruction of "My Vintage Soul" contained many valuable lessons.  I am looking forward to using these new techniques and insights to create new, and, hopefully, better work in the future. Don't forget: "I get knocked down, but I get up again - you're never gonna keep me down!" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAM9diIDHqs      Chumbawamba- Tubthumping Here are a few images I took of the studio today  - I am, apparently, back in action!   Real butterfly wings (found) dipped in encaustic.     Vintage baby dresses, in the process of being infused with encaustic.   Vintage Baby Robe, infused with encaustic, hardened, standing on its own.   One shelf of collected figurines/vintage toys for future use in assemblages.   Mid-process of encaustic infusion, antique embroidered pinafore with safety pins in pocket.  
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Another Art Review for TAKE CARE!!!

Art Review by Ellen Wright Clayton, MD, JD

Rosaline E. Franklin Professor of Genetics and Health Policy, Professor of Pediatrics, Professor of Law, Director of The Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center

 

Motherhood is about caring and connection. Recent developments present new challenges to this fundamental institution. Some of the developments are social. Women have always cared for other women’s children, especially since women until recently frequently died in childbirth.  Women historically confronted pregnancy, labor, and delivery with no small amount of fear.  Literature is full is stories about stepmothers, some of whom were wonderful, and a hopefully exaggerated proportion who were not. In today’s society, with divorce and remarriage, children often have two or more mothers at the same time, which can stress notions of the unitary family that characterize our society’s dominant discourse. Other developments are scientific. New technologies can enable pregnancies that otherwise would not occur.  Conception can be separated from carrying and birthing. The fetus can be visualized during pregnancy. Baby’s first picture is often a sonogram. And while blood ties have always had particular social salience, increased understanding of genetics has t ended to make them even more important. Not so long ago, efforts to establish paternity depended on whether the child looked like the father. Now the relationship can be established with certainty, using a blood sample or a simple swab of the inside of the cheek.

The artists in TAKE CARE explore the ways that social and scientific developments influence our understanding of motherhood, of connection and caring.  Sometimes, new knowledge of connection is beneficial. Take the case of mitochondrial DNA, the focus of Annette Gates’ work.  Unlike most of our DNA which comes from both parents, the DNA in mitochondria, the energy sources of our cells, comes entirely from our mothers. As a result, we are connected directly with our mothers, and their mothers, through generations. Maternal inheritance became important after hundreds of young professionals and dissidents were “disappeared” by the military regime in Argentina in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Their children were confiscated and placed in new homes, seemingly without a trace. But the grandmothers, the abuelas, enlisted the aid of Mary-Claire King who used the mitochondrial DNA to identify and return their grandchildren.

But the supremacy of genetic connection is not always so benign. New reproductive technologies allow many to overcome infertility, but often at a steep price. Some women experience the process of hyper ovulation, egg retrieval, and pharmacologic support of gestation as alienating, as transforming them into the objects of the medical gaze.  Jeanette May’s at times almost comical images of eggs serve as a counterpoint to quotidian pictures of women and sonograms. And yet women pursue these procedures specifically to create a family with children to whom they are biologically connected. Notably, while some women use donated eggs so that they can have the experience of gestation, it is far more common for women to implant and carry to term embryos created with their own eggs, evidencing the importance of genetic connectedness.

 

Our laws often enact the primacy of genetic connections. A number of courts have ruled that gestational surrogates, women who carry embryos created using the egg of another woman, usually the woman in the couple who commissioned the surrogacy, are not “mothers” of the resulting children and so have no basis on which to seek custody or contact. In these cases, the experience of pregnancy, with its risks,

discomforts, and obviousness, simply disappears as a matter of law.  Monica Bock’s inclusion of bits of umbilical cord, amniotic fluid, and the amniotic sac into dustpans perhaps symbolizes gestation as waste, of women as fetal containers. In our legal system, children are permitted to have only two parents no matter how many adults play a role in their lives, and those two parents have supremacy over all the others. In blended families, where the genetic parents separate from each other and then form new relationships, the new adults – the stepparents – can struggle to define their roles as parents, particularly as against the genetic parents whose claims once cemented by a modicum of nurture persist unless severed by abandonment or abuse. It is rage against the iconification of the genetic link that Kristina Arnold explores in her work. In her Drip installation, red glass pieces encased in hastily stitched plastic covers, protrude from the wall.

 

While behavior is almost surely the product of complex gene environment interactions, much effort has been devoted recently to dissecting the genetic contributions. Several years ago, for example, Caspi and his collaborators demonstrated that children with a particular genetic variant who were seriously abused during childhood were more likely to have serious behavior problems as adults. Such findings can be used in a variety of ways – to identify children who need special protection (although all children deserve a safe home), to identify druggable targets for treatment, to undermine the inadequate mothering explanation for children’s problems. Each of these uses raises its own ethical and policy challenges. As light dancing on Obermeyer’s beadwork shifts one’s perception of the work, so might new findings shift our understanding of behavior.

 

For millennia, women have worried that their children would be born with something visibly wrong. The ability to visualize the fetus using techniques such as ultrasonography and MRI has transformed pregnancy, providing the potential to make these fears concrete. These technologies can and often do provide reassurance, which is one reason ultrasound has become routine. At times, however, they reveal variations, some of which resolve but many of which are serious problems, leaving women with decisions about whether to continue the pregnancy, whether to undergo fetal therapy where possible, or whether simply to prepare for what may lie ahead. These concerns are represented in very different ways by Sadie Ruben and Libby Rowe.  Ruben represents the fetus as alien, strange, frightening, floating in liquid evoking amniotic fluid within the womb, taking over the woman’s body. Rowe’s malformed sock monkeys, by contrast, suggest that we are meant to accept and love children no matter what their challenges.

 

Finally, some of the artists comment on the technology itself. Sher Fick celebrates pharmaceuticals, which allow her to live. Her pill bottles are covered with fabrics, many of which show story book characters from our childhood.

 

Adrienne Outlaw intersperses colorful scientific videos of the embryonic heart and blood flow using such techniques as confocal microscopy with pictures of the dailyness of mothering and taking care – breastfeeding, snuggling, nurturing. The science is spectacular, but which is the more wonderful?

 

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TAKE CARE? Take Care!

 
 
 

Take Care? Take Care!

 
 
by Linda Weintraub www.lindaweintraub.com
  Motherhood is on trial. It is being tested by a dedicated and well-meaning corps of inventors, engineers, scientists, and doctors. Their technological achievements are designed to create and prolong life, but they are weighing upon "mother love," challenging "mother wit," and surpassing "mother instincts." Mutually loving relationships between mother and child are relegated to the background of the works of art in this exhibition. The emotional tenor that occupies their foregrounds is trepidation, anxiety, effort, and frustration. The triple meaning of the phrase that serves as this exhibition?s title reveals the nature of today?s disputed definitions of motherhood. Spoken softly, "take care" is an affectionate parting expression that conveys the desire to protect a loved one from harm. Uttered sternly, "take care" conveys the foreboding of danger. To actually "take care" of something or someone can either be burdensome or gratifying. The nine female artists in this exhibition apply the unresolved implications of this phrase to their personal experiences. Together they catalog a plethora of contemporary concerns.    
 
Annette Gates, Adrienne Outlaw, Sadie Ruben, and Jeanette May acknowledge the medical breakthroughs that offer women unprecedented options for fertility, prenatal screening, diagnostic testing, and extend fetal and infant survival. But they concentrate on the inadvertent and inevitable opportunities for anguish these technological advancements introduce. The ethical dilemmas they express in their works of art were unknown to previous generations of mothers.
Annette Gates returns to the instant of conception that has been occurring since the first multi-celled organisms arose on planet Earth. But her installation is a riveting reminder that unleashing this generative force may not be an occasion for celebration. Such concerns can be products of sophisticated technologies that make improbable outcomes appear like looming certainties. The harmless crocheting and knitting techniques that Gates employs to form her porcelain molecular sculptures are jarring contrasts to the dangers of tampering with life on the microscopic scale. Each component in her wall relief suggests irregularities in cell differentiation and unchecked multiplication during fetal development.   Adrienne Outlaw?s "Fecund Videos" require that the viewer peer into breast-like conical forms arranged across the wall in order to discover what fecund processes are referred to by the title. Alternative answers are presented in the form of tiny videos installed within each form. Some videos capture intimate scenes of babies suckling, fetal kicking, fingers fluttering, and a nursing mother?s breast draining. Others apply the word „fecund? to state-of-the-art microscopic imaging that probes the miniscule realms where new life stirs and takes form. The videos convey the complexity of reconciling advanced technological discoveries with the traditional role of mother as incubator, feeder, and nurturer of infants.   Sadie Ruben?s "Alien Fetus Series" presents a line-up of specimen jars containing in-uteri forms that resist objective scrutiny despite their sterile laboratory appearance. These curiosities elicit the squeamish apprehension that might accompany a collection of extraterrestrial creatures, not the research of an Earth-bound scientist. None of the sculptured fetus forms appear normal. They are either humanoid, mammaloid, reptile-oid, fungoid, or some other bizarre deviation from norms of life on Earth. The work confronts views with the strange and unsettling frontier of contemporary genetic manipulations.   Jeanette May practices art, however she introduces an alternative meaning for the letters „a?, „r?, and „t?. In her work "Fertility in the Age of A.R.T.," these letters stand for Assisted Reproductive Technology. May explores this theme by creating complex assemblages of found images paired with borrowed texts. The visual world she constructs is shiny, colorful, but disturbingly engineered. While viewers observe a pregnant woman proudly displaying her protruding torso, a healthy cow, and infant toys, they also observe eggs that have been forced to assume the shapes of squares. The accompanying quotations track evidence of such intrusive procreative manipulations to health books, government reports, and advertisements. Kristina Arnold, Sher Fick, Lindsay Obermeyer, Monica Bock, and Libby Rowe present full disclosure of the emotional toll of high-tech, commercially-supported, media-sponsored motherhood. They articulate the dread of bearing a malformed or malfunctioning infant, the concern of adopting a child damaged by a harsh life experience, and the anxiety of being loved by a child that is not a biological offspring. They present these forms of adversity as opportunities to honor motherly courage, resolve and achievement.   Kristina Arnold?s "Fragile" series includes a relief comprised of individual dark red droplets of molten glass that appear to have cooled so abruptly that they congealed mid-way as they fell. Dozens of these hardened glass drips protrude precariously from the wall. Protection is feeble. It takes the form of clear plastic coverlets hastily stitched around their bases. The drips that cluster into units seem no less fragile. A brittle material presented in a threatened position is a poignant manifestation of motherhood at the breaking point. Arnold places her work within the context of the guilt associated with a mother?s yearning to reclaim her independence, the destructive effects of custody battles, the futility of providing protection, but also the persistent hope for resolution.   Sher Fick?s "Coping Skills" discloses the dismantling of her pre and post partum psyche. The focus, however, is not on mental unraveling. Fick?s work celebrates the success of her determined efforts to stitch the fractured parts of her personality into a coherent persona. This internal struggle is conveyed through the use of prescription drug bottles that are encased in soft flannel fabrics, the kind that are used for baby clothes. Idealized and sentimentalized images of childhood are printed on these tiny swatches of fabric. Hastily stitched together, they suggest the disorderly spontaneity of crazy quilts and the emergency suturing of emotional ruptures. One means of overcoming such mental anguish comes packaged in pill bottles. In this work, Fick defies the stigma against the use of prescription drugs to assist women in becoming responsible and loving mothers.   Lindsay Obermeyer chooses a sumptuous medium associated with wealth and celebration. She uses it to address the challenge of bonding with a child whose short life was devoid of opportunities to develop trust in others and confidence in self. Obermeyer portrays her daughter?s silhouette as an impenetrable barricade dividing flat empty fields of color from dense patterns that are meticulously stitched with beads, sequence, and embroidery. The care and patience required of mothers is embodied in the stitching process that formed this artwork. In "Blues," the surrounding swirls and stars appear to assault the figure. In "Red Hot," searing flames surge within the figure. Both works evoke the psychological blockade built of scars from a child?s damaging upbringing, and the adoptive mother?s determination to breach this divide.   Monica Bock removes procreation from the two contexts where it is usually situated. On the one hand she reclaims procreation from advanced technologies that probe the development of a fetus from its single-cell, microscopic origins. By preserving bits of the umbilical cord, the amniotic sac, and the amniotic fluid that her body created to give life to her daughter, she reaffirms the body?s primacy over technology. At the same time, she removes these relics of birth from the sacred context that shrouds them in mystery. By inserting these visceral remnants into the handles of dust pans, the birth of a child is joined to mundane tasks of cleaning. Bock cast the dust pans in glycerin, a sweet-tasting fat that conveys the twin sides of mothering: as an ointment it soothes; as a solvent it bonds.   Libby Rowe?s "Womb Worries" takes the form of stuffed monkeys that cannot be purchased. They are only available for adoption. In this manner Rowe teases out the difference between three forms of money exchange - purchasing a commodity, paying to induce fertility, and adopting a child. She then intensifies the emotional stress of deciding among these alternatives by rejecting the cherub-like perfection of Gerber and Gap babies. Rowe?s handmade dolls are afflicted with abnormal quantities of limbs, misaligned backbones, and distorted faces. Yet they are endearing, not grotesque. An official decree of adoption accompanies each adoptee. The temptation to sign a certificate is instructive. It reveals that opportunities to delight in mother love can be attained by caring for a mal-formed child.   The artists participating in "Take Care" confirm a distressing truth – today?s mothers do not appear to be bolstered by the collective wisdom of our species. Despite the fact that Homo sapiens have been bearing and raising children for over 100,000 years, motherhood in the 21st century remains a lonely experiment racing to keep up with procreative advances at the outposts of human accomplishment.    
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First Review of TAKE CARE: The Art, Science, & Bioethics of Motherhood

 

Written by Tonya Vernooy, Art Critic/Writer, 2009 for TAKE CARE: The Art, Science, & Bioethics of Motherhood Exhibition.

  

Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man's power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened.                                                                                                     -- Madame de Stael, 1835[1]

 

 

As molecular medicine, genetic manipulation, cloning, and stem cell research their rapid progress so too must the morality and ethics that assist in governing their boundaries. Through an examination of the gray area between enhancement and therapy, necessity and desire, parent and child, the nine artists participating in Take Care: The Art, Science, and Bioethics of Motherhoodreveal that there is no definitive right answer to the question of biotechnological advancement. It is the informed dialogue that is paramount. The political philosopher Michael J. Sandel writes, "Breakthroughs in genetics present us with a promise and a predicament. The promise is that we may soon be able to treat and prevent a host of debilitating diseases. The predicament is that our new-found genetic knowledge may also enable us to manipulate our own nature...to make ourselves 'better than well.'"[2] Caught in the middle of this is the mother whose fundamental need to create, protect, and support her offspring to the best of her ability has to contend with biotechnology's possible repercussions While scientists are driven by the aspirations of discovery and improvement, the artists serve as the cultural conscience, helping to explicate the complex and question the ramifications of a science that will pervade social, political, cultural, and self beliefs.

  

 

Both Sher Fickand Lindsay Obermeyer examine normality and the question of enhancement versus therapy. But what is normal? In May 2008 USA Today reported that 51% of Americans were taking at least one prescription drug for a chronic condition, a 50% increase since 2001. In 7 years time, maintaining a certain standard of health by taking daily medication had become the norm.  In Coping SkillsSher Fick constructed a table to hold all of the medication she has consumed in her "pursuit of physical and mental health;"[3]prescriptions that enable Fick to become, and remain, an attentive, present mother. The structure exists as both an altar and a vanity. The mirrored shelf implies a dressing table that might hold cosmetic goods. Yet, the artist challenges this notion by carefully encasing each medication in a finely made quilt with suture seams. The preciousness or fragility implied by these colorful coverings can be attributed to either the medication itself or, more likely, the medicine taker. The coverings themselves contain varied images of skulls, religious imagery, monetary symbols, band-aids, plant life, 1950s children playing, and Frida Kahlo, who suffered a tragic miscarriage.  The vibrancy and symbolism along with the altar itself suggest Dia de Los Muertos, a celebration that honors lost loved ones. Could it be that the artist is commemorating her past self and simultaneously rejoicing in the person these pharmaceuticals have allowed her to become?

  

 

Lindsay Obermeyer also deals with the pain and stigma of someone who requires medical and pharmaceutical intervention. Her fastidious beadwork enables the viewer to visualize the complexities of emotional and mental health care. All three portraits show her daughter in profile. In Shadow – Blues the internal silhouette is made up of clear crystals while contrasting shades of blue fly and swirl around her. She is completely still, unable to move, amidst a sea of activity; she feels empty, cold and alone. In the other portrait, Shadow – Red Hot, the pattern and complex beadwork take place within her profile; as if her mind and body are on fire. The world around her seems to melt away, again she is alone. In Voidthere is only her faint profile leaving the viewer asking: will her daughter ever emerge? Obermeyer's work calls out to the audience for help. The artist desperately wants to know if mood and mind altering medications will help or hurt. Are the trials and side-effects worth the possible outcome? Currently, geneticists are working on  prescriptions tailored to a patient's genetics, eliminating most trials and tribulations while opening up the door to enhancement possibilities. Nicolas Agar suggests this may become a slippery slope. "Some think that we should pass different moral judgments on enhancement from those we pass on therapy. They say that while therapy is justifiable, enhancement is not. The problem is that it is difficult to make the therapy–enhancement distinction principled. It is hard to find definitions of disease suitable to serve as a moral guideline for genetic technologies."[4]

 

 

The idea that our genetics will one day define our medical treatment is at once promising and scary. Everyone wants to be seen as an individual yet that individuality should not be an uncontrollable deciding factor in receiving health care and insurance or in becoming someone's companion, lover, parent, or child. In Kristina Arnold's Drip installation, the artist seems to be questioning how blood defines a person. The "drips" are dark red projections in clear plastic pouches with sutured edges, each unique in size and form, like individuals in a family.  The plastic pouches resemble microscope slides while each blood drip casts a long shadow on the white wall. These silhouettes of bloodlines are altered by light changes in the room, implying the coming changes in how a person is perceived as genetics becomes interchangeable with the definition of self. The self then becomes a commodity as Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, predicted in 1998, "It’s likely that within less than ten years, all one hundred thousand or so genes that comprise the genetic legacy of our species will be patented, making them the exclusive intellectual property of global  pharmaceutical, chemical, agribusiness, and biotech companies."[5]While Rifkin's forecast proved over-eager, it certainly seems to be progressing. Stefan Lovgren of National Geographic wrote in October 2005, "A new study shows that 20 percent of human genes have been patented in the United States, primarily by private firms and universities." If one-fifth of our genetic material is owned by companies and colleges what does that leave for the individual? 

 

 

 

Focusing on the definition of self, Annette Gates creates porcelain organisms that are casts of originals; they are the structures left behind once the fabric shells have been destroyed in a firing process. The end result is an archetype, similar yet distinct from its mother. Within current cloning practices, where one de-nucleated donor egg is injected with another donor's genetic material, the end result is a clone with replicated DNA but this does not mean an exact duplicate. First, the genetic material from the donor egg does become a part of the clone, and second, as the clone matures the environment that created the original can never be the exact same thus its gene expression will vary. Gates' organisms tell tales of a fragile future where they cannot meet the expectations of the original; they are new conglomerations of old material. As the British philosopher, Jonathan Glover, points out, "There is the objection that a child created as a replica is treated, not as an end in himself or herself, but merely as a means."[6]Those means, he goes on to explain, can be the wish of a parent to live on after death or the desire to recreate a passed loved one. In the end the clones, like Gates' organisms, will always be fragile reproductions.   

 

Libby Rowe's Womb Worries series addresses the anxieties all mothers-to-be have when they prepare for a new life. Currently, genetic testing is still in its early stages, generally for upwards of only 14 genetic abnormalities. However, a laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine has begun trials for genetic testing that looks for 200 different genetic diseases. Its chair of molecular and human genetics, Arthur Beaudet, believes that this screening process will become routine in five years time. The Houston Chronicle reported, in December 2008, the issues surrounding such a test include potential false positives, which could lead parents to abort a healthy fetus, the implication that a life with a disability is not worth living and disparity between those who can and cannot afford such a test (it is currently $1600).[7]  It is interesting then that Rowe has chosen to use the sock monkey to convey her worries. The sock monkey was historically a working class child’s toy, made from red-heeled knit socks used by factory and farm workers. The artist has taken this toy and remade it for adults as either a cautionary tale or to highlight the possible horrors that await us if we don’t get tested. Although each monkey is still smiling, unaware of their abnormalities, ready for love, how is a parent supposed to care for a child that has two heads, one genital, and no legs? Like Paul McCarthy's Tomato Heads of 1994, whose "novelty item appearance hints at the manic consumerism of our theme-park utopias," Rowe makes us aware of the capitalistic culture behind these natural maternal anxieties.[8]There is no right answer, it is an individual choice, but one that is made for a price. As Richard Hayes, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society, states, "We support the use of that [genetic screening] to allow couples at risk to have healthy children. But for non-medical, cosmetic purposes, we believe this would undermine humanity and create a techno-eugenic rat race."[9]

 

Whether through cloning or genetic manipulation, Sadie Ruben's Alien Fetuses ask if the aberrations that originate from gene expression errors are worth potential desired results. Her creatures' destinies are unknown as they sit, brewing – growing – within glass jars that seem to resemble pasta containers used in the kitchen rather than scientific vessels of experimentation. Ruben's fetuses are commenting on the commoditization of lab created embryos. The gold flecks adhering to their opaque, amorphous bodies indicate their precious worth. But we are left to wonder what happens to them if Ruben is unable to care for them? They are helpless and completely dependent upon human ministering. These beings can be seen as a critique of trendy hobbyists trying to genetically engineer life in their garage. With visions of becoming the Steve Jobs of biotechnology, laypersons are beginning to experiment with new life forms at home. A group known as DIYbio has begun a community laboratory where amateurs can explore their scientific ideas. Co-founder Mackenzie Cowell suggests that this type of unrestrained environment could lead to some very important discoveries. He added, "We should try to make science more sexy and more fun and more like a game."[10]But Ruben's fetuses tell a different story, one of a nebulous future where their lives are not entertaining rather they exist in a lonely laboratory.

 

This laboratory lifestyle could become a reality if Dr. Davor Solter, developmental biologist at the Institute of Medical Biology, is correct in his prediction of the future use of artificial wombs. He says, "In essence, it would eliminate all the limitations we have now: you could have as many or as few progeny as you want...I can visualize a fetus floating freely in fluid and the umbilical cord attached to a machine."[11]The work of Monica Bock questions the current and evolving value of the mother in our society as biotechnology advances. Bock's Afterbirth (Sac, Fluid, Cord) focuses on the importance of a mother's body in keeping her fetus alive and growing. Yet it is the placenta – whose sole function is to provide nutrients and oxygen from mother to child – that is so quickly discarded after the child is born. The three dustpans reference this quick disposal and hint at the possibility of life as a commodity. That they are three in number indicates birth, life, and death or mother, father, and child; all are easily swept away in the world of biotechnological progress if they do not meet decided standards.

 

 Embryo selection and enhancement is key to Jeanette May's investigation of a mother's role within these new biotechnological advancements. The artist's initial question seems to be: Is it not the mother's responsibility, nay, purpose, to want the absolute best for her children? The use of slick photography and poster-size imagery draw the viewer into a bright environment surrounded by happy, beautiful people, colorful plant life, and a consumer-happy lifestyle. Upon closer inspection, we realize that all is not right with this world. Eggs are forced into square molds, growing fetuses are compared to plants bred for certain characteristics and mommies-to-be are perusing magazines imagining their lives as Michael Kors advertisements. May's posters seem to ask: once society has screened for all possible defects, how long until we manipulate those genes to acquire certain traits under the auspices of having a "happier" life and the duress of "keeping up with Joneses"? The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Fertility Institutes of Los Angeles will soon offer its clients the ability to pre-select their "choice of gender, eye color, hair color and complexion, along with screening for potentially lethal diseases."[12]Is it the duty of the future mother to provide the best that technology has to offer for her children? Or is she turning her children into accoutrements?

 

Adrienne Outlaw continues this examination of maternal responsibility within the realm of advancing technology. The artist posits: How far should a mother go to protect her young? Does technology offer the best outcome for a child born today or tomorrow? In Outlaw's Fecund video series, electrified, metal breasts protrude militaristically from a white wall, each containing a unique video. The recorded imagery shows either the latest in biophysics research, such as green florescent proteins tracking tumor growth, or the natural tenderness that exists between a mother and her child, like a newborn baby breastfeeding.[13]As the viewer's get up close to the metal nipples to peer inside, similar to a breastfeeding infant, they become aware that the hard material of the bosom creates a distance between mother and offspring; technology seems to be getting in the way.    At the same time, however, the viewer is given a chance to see the amount of knowledge possible at the cellular level, thus parents may be given the opportunity to make sure their progeny's cell division is developmentally on target. The question then becomes one of what happens when a cell goes awry.  Is it a mother's duty to make sure that her embryos, her fetuses, have everything they will need to survive and succeed in the 21st century, even if that means genetic interference? Professor Ronald M. Green of Dartmouth College suggests that with gene manipulation we could live in a disease-free world, he asks, "Why not improve our genome?"[14]

 

While Sher Fick and Lindsey Obermeyer investigate the growing pharmaceutical role with advancing medicine, Annette Gates concentrates on the idea of the self within the world of cloning, Libby Rowe   and Sadie Ruben   examine the rights of the fetuses within genetic progress, and finally Monica Bock, Adrienne Outlaw, and Jeanette May explore the function of the mother within the biotechnological age. Through their artwork these artists explore the crucial social, economic, and ethical implications of biotechnological advancements and create a space for important dialogue. As Dr. Sirine Shebaya, Greenwall, Fellow in Bioethics and Health Policy at the John Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, writes, "The best way to avoid slippery slopes to bad outcomes is to have an informed, democratic discussion that takes into account both expert opinions and social values. We need regulations because scientists and the general public need clarity about what they can and cannot do, a convincing rationale for permissions and restrictions, and a voice in arriving at decisions with such important ramifications."[15]These artists are that voice.

[1]

De Stael-Holstein, Madame Influence of Literature Upon Society (
New York : William Pearson & Co., 1835)  

[2]   Sandel, Michael J. The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering. (

Cambridge , Mass: Harvard
University Press, 2007) p 5-6.
University Press, 2007) p 5-6.

[3]See Sher Fick's artist statement

[4] Agar, Nicolas, "Designer Babies: Ethical Considerations," ActionBioscience.org, American Institute of Biological Sciences, 2006.

[5]Rifkin, Jeremy. The Biotech Century (London: Phoenix, 1998), p.63.

[6]

Glover, Jonathan. Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design (
Oxford : Clarendon Press, 2006) p. 65.  

[7] "

Houston
Chronicle Examines Prenatal Genetic Test That Can Detect More Than 200 Conditions," The
Houston Chronicle, December 24, 2008.  

[8]Rugoff,  Ralph, "Deviations on a Theme – works by Paul McCarthy," Artforum, October 1994.

[9]Steere, Mike, "Designer babies: Creating the perfect child," Cnn.com/technology, October 30, 2008.

[10]Wohlsen, Marcus, ""Hobbyists try genetic engineering at home: Critics worry amateurs could unleash an environmental or medical disaster," MSNBC.com. December 26, 2008.

[11]Pearson, Helen, "Making Babies: The Next 30 Years," Nature, Vol. 454, July 17, 2008, p. 260.

[12] Gautam Naik, "A Baby, Please. Blond, Freckles -- Hold the Colic:  Laboratory Techniques That Screen for Diseases in Embryos Are Now Being Offered to Create Designer Children," The Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2009, page A10

[13] Created in

collaboration with biophysicist Dr. David W. Piston of
Vanderbilt
University .
 

[14]Britt, Robert Roy, "Designer Babies: Ethical? Inevitable?" www.livescience.com, January 11, 2009.

[15]Shebaya, Sirine, PhD, "Are 'Designer Babies, on the Horizon?" www.scienceprogress.org, May 15, 2008.

 

 

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Why are we here?

We found ourselves here.  On this blog.  In this world.  Connected through a fragile web of - you know what, I don't even know what a web really is.  I don't know how they work, technologically speaking.  Someone figured out how to harness a binary code through the energy of light, friction, something and it all got mixed together and - poof - we now have the web, blogs, and what have you. So, we communicate.  We tell each other when we pee.  What we had for dinner.  It is the ultimate waste of energy, really.  I mean, come on - do I need to know that you pee?  Perhaps if you have had some medical problems and you are sitting on my red couch - that is when I need to know. So what do I want from my little spot in the 'web' - why do I want to 'lure' you into my world? Words cause so much pain.  They are just little marks, gathered together, and scratched somewhere.  But they remain.  You can never unspeak a word. Sorry doesn't cut it.  Not in my book. Words can heal.  But sorry is not one of those words.  It needs to be more than that. I want to have fun.  I am fun.  But ultimately, my goal with my art, with my blog, and anything else is in my life is to grow and assist.  To serve others.  How can I connect?  Mainly through images, because there is no language barrier there.  Yes, images can be misunderstood from my intentions, but I have much better chances of being felt through my work, than through mere words alone. There are so many bad things in life.  They happened.  We remember.  They are happening now.  We will remember them tomorrow.  Pain that is unhappened.  I don't want to ever remember.  I don't want a reason to remember. Let's decide together to "Imagine" a world where no one intentionally uses words to attack and belittle.  It is my wish for the world today. I make an oath that here, in my little corner of the web, that I will never condone or exhibit words of pain. You are too precious to me. I am mourning a sense of lost innocence - for the umpteenth time in my life.  I don't want to be the source of pain for anyone . . . we must put out more hope and empathy.  Have more patience.  Everybody has their own stories of pain.  Those that stab with words must carry so much pain, they are just releasing a little of it.  I am prayer walking in my soul tonight . . . all night.  Again.  Searching for peace.
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Eat Your Words - Museum Installation 2010

oh, speaking of “donating for art” - I am making this constant, never-ending sculpture of crazy-quilted prescription bottles - and I received hundreds (of bottles) from everywhere - you put out a call and the people will deliver!!! To the right you see the first stage of the prescription bottle installation - I sent our requests and I received envelopes and boxes from the following: Nancy Hayes, Julie Anderson, Lydia Weaver, Lydia Weaver's Whole Water Aerobics class, Dr. Nancy Kelker, Andrienne Outlaw, Alicia Beach, Lloyd and Shirley Curry.  I hope I haven't forgotton anyone! The point being is that we are RE-USING an item prior to its location in landfills, thus clogging up nature for hundreds of years.  We are not even melting them and reshaping them - we have found something useful to do with them in their current  discarded stated!!!!!  Pre-Cycling!!!   This is how the prescription bottle piece turned-  COPING SKILLS, 48"h x 53"w x14"d, wood, mirror-floored shelf, crazy quilted attached prescription bottles.  Honors the help that myself and others receive from altered mood and anti-anxiety pharmaceutical assistant.  I am thankful for the joy I can now have in my life because I am not a raging lunatic anymore! BE PART OF 'EAT YOUR WORDS'  My next “community” piece is going to be “Eat Your Words” - it will be an acrylic-suspended table, with all clear acrylic dishes/silverware/bowls, etc. and the “food” will be colored paper printed with hurtfully email messages which have been sent and/or received. This idea came about when I had a dream that I was cooking fried chicken breaded with shredded words (one of my personal icons in my work) . . . so if anybody wants that nasty email from Uncle Fester to be part of the piece, email me a copy of said emails (you can edit names or addresses, but the papers will be shredded/cut) to: sherfickart@gmail.com with “Eat Your Words” in the subject line If you prefer snail mail:  Sher Fick, 1023 St. Hubbins Drive (Studio), Spring Hill, TN 37174   Such as:  an entry might look like this: To: sherfickart@gmail.com From: joejones@jonesy.com    (provide real name and address if you want to be listed in the exhibition catalogue - your name won't be with your words submitted, and REMEMBER the worlds will be shredded! Re:  Eat Your Words Installation "Well, I hope you feel good about yourself now that you made Granny cry on HER birthday.  Who do you think you are.  What gives you the right to take the attention away from Granny just to say you are pregnant with another brat.  You are getting too big for your britches, Girl!  You better watch yourself.  You gonna steal all Granny's money cause she feel sorry for you.  Over my dead body". I will also give credit to all donators in the exhibition catalogue, so send your name, address, with email along with it, so I can keep you posted and give credit where credit is due! Feel free to pass this information along - the more the merrier - and this series might take on a life of its own and last as long as the prescription bottle one - i.e. - my whole life! When Adrienne did her last piece (Shelter, see http://www.adrienneoutlaw.com ) we had hundreds of volunteers . . . it is amazing to do community projects. I believe that with eat piece of paper that is donated, that we can erase those negative words from our minds as they will be ritualistically shredded and then used as a piece to great a fantastic social-interactive event.
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Biology vs. Biography - Epiphany 1 of 2009

It hasn't taken me long to experience my first epiphany of 2009. During a recent interview I was asked several questions which I answered separately and honestly.  Afterward I was re-thinking my answers and realized what I multiple-personality-disorder I must sound like.  My life, and therefore my past, has been so bifurcated! On one side I have the genealogy of being a descendant of James Cahill who was on the boat with George Washington - that family declined through the years but made a comeback in the 1900's with entrepreneurial spirit, that was my paternal grandfather's paternal side.  All of my birth father's half brothers went to college or an official trade school and had careers.  One of them is a multi-millionaire.  So I was the 2nd generation of college graduates on that particular branch of the family.   Above: Here is a photo of my father (Walter Hugh Creekbaum, born 1941) with his parents: Mabel (Wiatt) (Creekbaum) Barlow and Emery Wilson Creekbaum, born 1917.  Mabel and Emery divorced before Walter's 1st birthday.  They both married again and had many half-siblings for Walter.  He was shuttled back and forth his entire childhood.  This impacted his life to this day. Flip this to my maternal grandparents, my maternal aunts and uncles, and you have a completely different story.  Also, my own parents divorced before I was a year-old and I was only sporadically exposed to this educated branch (although I saw my paternal grandfather and his wife once in a while, my father's half-siblings on that side never went out of their way to maintain contact with my sister and me while we were children).  Anyway, on the maternal side I do not know of one of the previous generations' college education.  I have one uncle that was brave enough to leave Indiana and have a great career in the Navy and I am sure he received lots of training there.  However, to my knowledge it was the generation of children born in the '60's and 70's (my generation) who first attended, and graduated, college.  Many of us attended only as adults after starting our families.   Yet, I have this far reaching experience from my Unce Jimi Barlow and (the late) Aunt Karen Barlow Alexander, my birth father's half-siblings on his mother's side.  They were both educated right out of high school and showed my sister and I the greater world.  From an early age I can remember staying with them and reading great classics.  My birth father, though he did not attend college, is extremely intelligent and is a voracious reader.  I spent many Summers of my late youth and teenagers years living with them and experiencing the lives of educated, career-paced individuals. To the left is a photo of a typical Sunday afternoon at the farm of maternal GRANDFATHER, Stephen E. Abernathy.  Many cousins frolicked and wreaked havoc on the 52 acre farm in rural, west-central Indiana.  This is about half the Abernathy siblings and half the offspring.  Center is Grandpa, in his 'bibs' - a WWII hero how took custody of my mother and her three siblings when he returned from Germany.  As a toddler to early teen, my mother was raised by a stepmother who died when she was was a teen.  Soon after, her birth mother died and she had never been allowed a private visit.  After Grandpa's last marriage, adding in a few more siblings - the total was 13.  Mother moved out upon her 18th birthday.  Married at 19.  Had my sister at 20.  Since then she has worked non-stop.     I don't know exactly where this leads me, but recognizing the vastly opposing history of my familial branches really struck a chord with me.  I feel I may be a good example of the balance of the auto-didactic and the formally educated.  Each approach enhances the other.  While I deeply regret my adult $20,000 student loans, I would never trade that mere piece of paper for my mountain of knowledge that I learned through the curiosity of a creative mind. Above right, is the photograph taken in 1981 during my sister and my visit to Texas, where all of Mabel's family and offspring had relocated at that time.  From left to right: Uncle Jimi Barlow, an award winning journalist (Walter's half-brother), my sister Lisa (before her Sr. Year of High School), Aunt Karen (Barlow) Alexander, a speech therapist and author who died of breast cancer five years ago (Walter's half-sister), me at age 12 (I am hiding a cast and had 50 plus stitches in my head from a three wheeler accident that morning, I think I was high on Tylenol 3!), my birth father, Walter Hugh Creekbaum - he lived in TX for several years before relocating to Bradenton, FL.   I pay homage to both sides of my genealogy.  These ancestors and recent life mentors have made me who I am today.  I appreciate my education, possibly more than those who felt they were 'owed' it, because I longed for and sacrificed to receive it. And I humbly thank the relatives that took the time and money to expose me to the wider world.  Perhaps they saw in that child, some potential for a better life.  Who I am - is equal parts biology and biography.  I continue reaching for balance in both areas and to pass along the beneficial lessons, while hoping the inheritance of broken families will not adversely effect my children. On the right - a photo of my sister, Lisa and me, probably taken Feb/March of 1968.  Right before our father left. Although I had a brief marriage in in the late 90's (1987-1990), I was lucky enough to get out of that situation and have now been with my husband, Don, for 18 years.  We have three children who are almost alone in their status of being raised by both their biological parents.   To the left is a beautiful picture of my mother - the resemblance is uncanny.  Here smile is still just as wide and warm and her eyes still sparkle. After a long life of working endless days she will be retiring in just a few weeks.  I am looking forward to seeing her for more fun times - hoping to take her to see Loretta Lynn's Museum and also go on an antiquing/quilt viewing trip to Paducah, KY. ---- I feel that I am amazingly OK given the broken branches of my family.  I hope I am reastablishing some nurturing roots for my children - understanding our histories is one step along the way to evolving and preventing damage. As I continue to untangle my roots, I do know that IT IS WELL, WITH MY SOUL - EVEN SO, IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL.
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Shaky Ground

written Aug 31, 2008, during insomniatic wakening

There are layers.

My truth is only one view through a convoluted, rippled memory.

As a child, my experiences and observations came with no contextual identifiers.  Even reactions were downplayed and re-assigned in acquiescence to an elder's (church's) desires.

In what format does a child live?  One person's most tragic day could be another's fantasy castle.

Pastelsplitself_2 The fact of some tragedy (ies) does not rob a child of their memorial joy, but it does cast a long shadow on their psychological future.

Sensory triggers are psychoneuroimmunilogical and those re-wired synapses cannot be re-instated to their seminal semantics.

This time of personal archetype development can overrun the soul.  Souls become lost in the netherworld of loss.

While surrounded by birds chirping in the clear blue sky, this, my tattered soul, is grasping at slippery roots to regain a sense of solid footing.

Shall it come to pass?

In my life, moments glimmer with mica-glittered foundation stones, until a new tremor comes along - it is hard to stand on such shaky ground.

What are my "seismic" pre-tremor shocks?

- thick, twisty "devil" eyebrows

- greasy, slicked-back, receding hair

- fishhooks

- knobs turning under a porch awning

- jelly

- banana seat bikes

- flyswatters (especially if shaped like a butterfly)

- keys or money being jangled in a pocket

- creaky swings

- fish eggs pouring from a fresh fish

- black, glossy tarmac from the glare of the sun

- dirty fingernails

- vans with no back seats

- trailers

- pencils

- having my head pushed down

- "Good Girl"

- religion

- blankets too light to feel "safe"

- the urge to pee at night and the danger of going to the nearest bathroom

Raggedy_digital Images:

Image 1 - above - "Split Self", pastel on paper, 32"h x 24"w, 2006.

Image 2 - immediate left - "Your Story Begins At Home", Found Object/Altered Doll Sculpture, Self Portrait, 42" h x 16"w x 17"d, 2006.

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