Vessel from the Place of Truth

I've been interested in Egyptian art  since childhood. I remember seeing the magnificent golden image of King Tut and pouring through books to look at the photos of strange animal-headed gods, lavish gold jewelry, and (of course!) mummies. My older cousin took delight in frightening me with old black & white horror movie classics. He succeeded to a degree. The Dracula story still gives me shivers. But the mystique of Egyptian mummies won out over Hollywood. I dearly wanted to grow up to be an archaeologist and uncover the secrets of the tombs.

I never did become an archaeologist. But I still love pouring over books on the subject. I find one of the most interesting aspects is the ancient Egyptian burial beliefs and practices. In college I studied the Book of the Dead for one of my humanities projects. (I think some of the incantations read like poetry.) If possible, I try to attend any exhibit of Egyptian artifacts. A few years ago I attended an exhibition where rooms were set up like the interior of a tomb with a replica of the entire journey of the sun god through the Amduat (the Egyptian netherworld) painted on the walls.

Across from the Valley of Kings is a rich area of tombs of the artisans, scribes and managers who were responsible for building the great pyramids. This was known as "the place of truth."

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Circle or Zero

This was supposed to be a simple project; comparing the timeline of the Big Bang to creation stories from different cultures and religions.  Of course, it was no such thing. Even if it had remained within the confines of my original idea, it's a HUGE subject. And the parameters I'd set for myself, was challenging. I wanted everything to be based on the shape of a circle. (And no repeats! Each composition had to look at circles in different ways.)

My germ of an idea was a meditation on the differences between circle and zero. They both started out as the same shape. But the one is tied to the rules of geometry while the other (when one really starts to look into the concept) skirts the edge of metaphysics and the meaning of infinity. I soon discovered that, to honestly portray the Big Bang portion of the book, I had to understand the underlying physics (at least on the most simplistic level) of the theory.

The creation story part of the book presented another challenge. First, I had to decide which myths to include. I wanted to touch on as many cultures as possible , and include something from each continent.

When I finished, the book stretched out to 13.5 feet long when completely unfolded. The time line starts with the Big Bang and concludes with Darwin's finches.

When I finished, the book stretched out to 13.5 feet long when completely unfolded. The time line starts with the Big Bang and concludes with Darwin's finches.

One of my favorite sections is where stars form into galaxies and our solar system begins to form.

One of my favorite sections is where stars form into galaxies and our solar system begins to form.

As the book unfolds, each page turn opens onto an altarpiece which contains a representation of one of the creation stories

As the book unfolds, each page turn opens onto an altarpiece which contains a representation of one of the creation stories

Beneath these "altarpieces" I've included a quote from the text that the story came from. Usually it was the first lines. I wanted to show how each story envisioned the inciting incident of creation

Beneath these "altarpieces" I've included a quote from the text that the story came from. Usually it was the first lines. I wanted to show how each story envisioned the inciting incident of creation

I looked at art from each culture, and used artifacts as reference for my images. For the Hindu story, I looked at Indian miniatures. For the Pelasgian story I looked at Greek black and red pottery.

I looked at art from each culture, and used artifacts as reference for my images. For the Hindu story, I looked at Indian miniatures. For the Pelasgian story I looked at Greek black and red pottery.

Soldier's Heart

When I think of my father, I always envision him in an airplane cockpit. He flew in the Pacific theater during World War II and, afterward, in the post-war Air Force. Knowing how much he loved planes and flying, it came as a great shock when, years after his death, my mother revealed that he had constant nightmares from the missions he flew during the war. Now we would say that he suffered from PTSD. But, as my mother told me, the men of his generation, "never spoke about how they felt about those experiences."

As I began work on my book, Soldier's Heart, the image of my father's silent suffering was always in my thoughts. He was not the only relative to experience such pain. My grandmother's grandfather returned to his farm from the Civil War with a bullet wound in his leg and "Soldier's Heart". The term is strangely poetic for something so painful. That was the jumping off point for my research; what is the history of the syndrome, what has it been called, and just how far back has it been recorded.

The composition for this book was inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry. This seemed entirely fitting, since it was a very revealing chronicle of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The long composition fits right in with the way I seem to think of visual narratives.

The composition for this book was inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry. This seemed entirely fitting, since it was a very revealing chronicle of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The long composition fits right in with the way I seem to think of visual narratives.


I looked at the way battles were documented throughout history. I sourced monuments and documents to see how different cultures portrayed warfare, and discovered that ancient cultures didn't hold back on the gore. In the Bayeux Tapestry, for example; soldiers are trampled, body parts are severed, corpses are looted on the battlefield, and local farms are set to the torch.

I looked at the way battles were documented throughout history. I sourced monuments and documents to see how different cultures portrayed warfare, and discovered that ancient cultures didn't hold back on the gore. In the Bayeux Tapestry, for example; soldiers are trampled, body parts are severed, corpses are looted on the battlefield, and local farms are set to the torch.

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An Alchemist's Lunchbox

I began this piece as an attempt to understand the current debates about GMO crops. The more I researched the topic, the more confused I felt. I saw many parallels between scientists working today to perfect plants and  medieval alchemists who searched for ways to transform base materials into, what they saw as the highest ideal; gold.

I liked the idea of assembling a lunchbox — as if my imaginary alchemist is constructing a meal from his/her experiments. I've used the ancient alchemical device of the division of the four elements (Fire, water, earth & air) as a theme throughout the components of the piece.

the box contains: a test tube, an accordion fold book, a tulip fold book, a packet of seeds and a pamphlet stitch book in a waxpaper lunchbag.

Inside the lid, is an expanded painting of the Four Elements diagram with another common alchemical image; the Ouroboros (the dragon biting its own tail; symbolizing a constant state of destruction & creation), in the center. In each corner is a quote from famous alchemists.

The test tube contains dried flower petals, seeds and the most famous quotes from The Emerald Tablet; "That which is above corresponds to that which is below." and "That which is below corresponds to that which is above." The idea of balance was so important that many Medieval Alchemists posted copies of this text in their workshops as a reminder of the basic principles of their art. I think the concept is even more important today, as we learn more about the far reaching effects of our endeavours.  I hope modern scientists consider the importance of balance and consequence in whatever experiment they begin.

The Accordion fold book, "An Alchemist's Lunchbox", begins with a famous alchemical allegory; the green lion devouring the sun. Alchemists were fond of using such imagry to hide the formulas in their experiments.  As an artist, I find these images far more poetic than; "use a mixture of nitiric and sulfuric acid to dissolve gold."

  The book continues with a quote from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream," which, to my mind, seems to sum up the Alchemist's quest. The image is inspired by a decoration in an illuminated manuscript showing Janus, the two-faced god, blowing a glass beaker while a servant tends a pot over a fire.

On the reverse side of the panels, I've collected quotes from current experts from both sides of the  GMO debate.

The remainder of the book shows synbolic representations of the alchemic process alternating with the most common GMO crops along with pests that often prey upon crops. The plants represented are: cotton, corn, canola and papaya.

Another component of the lunchbox is a tulip-fold book entitled, "Side Dishes". I was inspired by antique botanic illustrations. So in this piece I played with the idea of Frankensteinian fruits and vegetables. Once again I used the crops that are most common genetically modified at this time.

In the waxpaper lunchbag is a pamphlet stitched booklet of 5 poems, which I have written to express some of my feelings about the issues I've explored in this piece.

Elephants Dinosaurs and Dodos

Recently I read a newspaper article about poachers invading a game preserve in Tanzania and slaughtering a herd of elephants. They took only the tusks, leaving the rest of the animals' carcasses to rot. And the reason for this atrocity? The Asian illegal ivory market pays handsomely for the raw materials to make chopsticks, keychains and other brickabrack.

Reading this story made me feel angy, sad, and a bit sick to my stomach. Anger, because in my opinion, the world needs fewer keychains and more elephants. Sad: because these magnificent animals are dwindling at an alarming rate. And sick to my stomach because I feel so helpless to stop this from happening.

So I did what I often do when I feel such strong emotions: I channeled them into making art. Before I even started working on visuals, the words; "do elephants dream of dinosaurs and dodos," came to me, setting the stage for my theme and how I could approach the project.

I wanted the book to have a sense of things dwindling and being lost. But I also wanted the to capture the earthiness of the African habitat.

 

 

 

I open the book with bark paper, which has a wonderful open weave that has the earthy texture I was interested in.

My first images are of mammoths from prehistoric cave paintings, as a reminder: this disappearing has happened before.

 

I chose to work with translucent parchment paper overlays to give the pages a feeling that portions of the images were being peeled away just as the elephants are being peeled away from the African landscape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don't know how hopeful I am that we can save our animal treasures from extinction. But at the very, very least, I would like us to understand the value ofwhat is being lost.