Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Kristin Williams, Mixed Media Artist, Tells Her Story

I’m not sure of the definition of “self-taught” these days there are so many available inputs for learning new stuff. Regarding art, with the exception of a couple of quarters of ceramics at UT Knoxville as an undergraduate and one halfway audited drawing class at our local community college a few years back, none of my other art or craft lessons have been in academic sessions. To say I love to learn and expand my skills is an understatement. I’m mostly self-taught and fortunate to have taken many a workshop with incredible teachers. And then there was my mom.

Embroidery on Quilt Square

I tell folks that my mother was the biggest influence on me being a creative person. She instilled that curiosity about making “all the things.” She was such a talented craftswoman who could rug hook, knit, sew, quilt, garden, cook, embroider, cross-stitch, crochet, and do virtually anything with her hands. As a child, I knew I could always wheedle a craft project, or book, much more easily than say a doll or other toy. We made our Christmas ornaments and sewed together. Whatever she was doing she taught me to do it, too. I never saw my mother’s hands idle and I’ve adopted that stance. A 30-minute car ride merits a project!

Embroidery on Quilt Square

Throughout my 20s, 30s, and early 40s I’d say I was an accidental crafter. The urge to create was there and I pined for time to play. I would bottle it up until it burst out! I remember one day absolutely having to paint and write poetry all over a chair….just because I HAD TO. The odd things called to me and I was intrigued with art that included a ton of bits, baubles, fonts, and old rusty things.

Art Journaling

Like many who love Mixed Media, opening up Somerset Studio magazine for the first time was a life-changing experience for me. “What??? There are others in this world oddly attracted to photos of people I don’t know and collages with random meanings?” Flipping to the back I discovered there were even retreats and classes for this art form I had been drawn to for years! I made plans.

My first retreat was in Portland, Oregon for a week. I took classes from instructors like Traci Bautista and Claudine Hellmuth; rock stars in my world. I kept all my projects and notes. I was hooked. For years after that my best friend from high school & college and I used an annual retreat as a way to reconnect over a shared passion for being creative.

With my background in Chamber of Commerce work, and my mother being the consummate “Southern Woman,” the hospitality of the retreat settings was lacking for me. Hotels can be impersonal and large crowds intimidating. Living in a UNESCO Creative City (Paducah, Kentucky) that annually hosts over 35,000 people for QuiltWEEK, the wheels started turning. Could I bring my love of learning art and craft to my home and create an inviting space for people like me to learn?

Art Journaling

The prospect of turning 50 was daunting to me. I remember vividly dreading it as I was driving to yet another meeting in my field of Economic Development. I had to get excited about turning 50 and things had to change. That’s when the planning for Ephemera Paducah, my art and craft workshop space began. Now it is over 3 years old and the best 50th birthday present anyone could have “given” me.

I’m all over the place as far as favorite mediums. Mixed Media is a polite way to put it. Art Journaling has been a tremendous outlet for me as a way to push boundaries, learn new techniques, and actively create without worrying about if someone will buy this. It’s art for me. I’m so pleased that the most recent edition of Art Journaling Magazine by Somerset Studio features one of my journals!

Assemblage in Altoids Tin

Lately I’ve been picking up discarded quilt squares and giving them new life with stencils and embroidery. It’s been nostalgic harkening back to the days when my mother taught me French Knots and Lazy Daisy stitches. These will turn into journal covers.

As one who’s always picked up odd bits in junking adventures, assemblages are also quite intriguing to me. Maybe storytelling is my story as I create tales for the well-loved, hand made quilt squares or old photographs incorporated into collages?

I love being a work-in-progress and learning from the amazing rock star instructors hosted at Ephemera Paducah. It’s also lovely creating a place for those like me who love to learn. The vibe in the room when everyone gets into his/her project is palpable and totally energizing. I guess my art is my art; but also creating a place for people to share and learn is the greatest art I’ve created to date.

Homage To My Love of Dogs

This is Week 29 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Kristin’s story today. To see more of her work and connect with her, please visit the following links:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Noa Baum, Storyteller, Tells Her Story

When I say I'm a storyteller I often hear:

"Oh, how nice… you read to children?"

"No… not exactly…" and I proceed to explain that I actually TELL, using oral language, not holding a book.

"Oh" comes the slightly surprised response, "so, how did you become a storyteller?”

Well, let me tell you…

I grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. In 1983 I was well on my path to becoming the actress I’d dreamed of being since my early childhood.

It started with a bit of a bang since at the end of my senior year at Tel Aviv University I was recruited to the prestigious Repertory Khan Theatre of Jerusalem. I was now working alongside the big stars that I’d admired since high school.

But one day, the door to my oh-so-promising future slammed shut in my face. My plans to become the next Meryl Streep were shattered - I was not cast in the new play! So… here is part of the story of how I became a storyteller from my recently published memoir: A Land Twice Promised - An Israeli Woman's Quest for Peace.

Since I was not in the new play, I had to supplement my income, so I got a job doing a weekly “Story Hour” at an after-school program in the community center of one of the poor underserved neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv.

I was hired in the typical Israeli fashion: “Come by on Tuesday and show us what you do,” said the director Asher Levi, after hearing I was looking for work. Asher was a known character in Tel Aviv. A hefty, boisterous man with razor-sharp humor and twinkling eyes, a philosophy PhD student who ran the community center and also wrote the city’s most popular sports column. We met at Hashoftim Pub, where I sat with my friends every Thursday night.

So I came by on Tuesday and performed before the children and their teachers. I did the only thing I knew how to do: I acted out a folktale that I had memorized, creating a mini-drama with my movements and voices, twirling between the various characters I played—much in the same way I had acted for my cousin in my childhood. I also engaged the kids at the end in acting out the story themselves, dressed up in gaudy bits of fabric and old scarves I brought in.

The following Thursday at the pub, Asher Levi signaled me to come over to his table.

“You were very good with the kids,” he said, wiping the hummus on his plate with pita bread. “You’re hired. You’ll get the official call tomorrow.”

“Oh, wow, that’s great! Thank you!” I exclaimed. “But wait ....  how do you know I was good? You weren’t even there to see me.”

“I trust my staff. I asked them to choose: Shlomo Abas, we had him the week before, or you, and they voted you unanimously.”

My jaw dropped. Shlomo Abas?! He was the only one known officially as a “storyteller” in Israel at the time. He was a published author of dozens of children’s books and many translations and adaptations of world folktales.

“But he’s famous!” I said.

Asher shrugged. “I don’t give a flying fart about famous. He sat and read from his books, but our kids don’t have that kind of attention span. You move around and get their attention.”

So I was hired as the “Story Hour presenter.” I did not call myself a “storyteller”; I was just a humiliated actress, happy to have a scrap of work, but still sad, pathetic, and a complete failure. There I was on a bright spring day in 1984, on my second day at the job, when… "

You can WATCH me TELL the rest of the story here.

I have lived in America since 1990. It was here that I discovered that storytelling is not just for children! It took me many years but today I do call myself a Storyteller.

At its core, storytelling is the art of using language, vocalization, and/or physical movement and gesture to reveal the elements and images of a story to a specific, live audience. A central, unique aspect of storytelling is its reliance on the audience to develop specific visual imagery and detail to complete and co-create the story. We listen, but actually, we see story. We see places and people in the movie of our mind. A good story stays with us in our hearts through the pictures we created with our imagination, in our mind.

Storytelling is the intersection of my work as a performance artist, educator, and diversity specialist. For me, story is both performance art and a tool for change. I use storytelling to entertain, build bridges of understanding, and offer pathways to dialogue for peace.

I love connecting with people through stories. I tell stories to audiences of all ages in venues ranging from the World Bank, government agencies and prestigious universities to congregations of all faiths, schools and detention centers. I enjoy telling personal stories as well as traditional stories from my Jewish heritage and many cultures around the world.

As highlighted above, I recently became an author – it’s a whole new world and an exciting new chapter in my life. My memoir follows my journey from the black and white narratives of my childhood in Jerusalem to becoming a storyteller, becoming friends with a Palestinian woman in the US, learning to listen to the story of "the other" and using storytelling as a tool for peace.

If you're in the Washington DC area on July 17th, please come to my first author event at Politics and Prose in Takoma Park.

This is Week 27 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Noa’s story today. If you would like to connect with her or learn more about the power of storytelling, please feel free to contact her for details and links to a variety of networks and festivals. You can also link with Noa at the following social media sites:


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Krista Bjorn, Pyrographer, Medieval Folklorist & Writer, Tells Her Story

For most of my life I thought I was the only one in my family who wasn't artistic. My Dad did leatherwork and photography, Mum painted, crocheted, embroidered, you name it, my brothers could draw, build anything, and even sew. I always wished I could be an artist, it seemed like such an amazing thing to be, but I accepted what I thought was my lot in life and instead became a writer.

I wrote stories and poems, clues for treasure hunts, limmericks for friends. When I got older I wrote travelogues and magazine articles, newspaper columns and books, online pieces on food, medieval life, travel, and self-sufficiency.

I loved it, still do, but every time I went to a gallery or exposition I felt a longing for artistic expression and wondered if artists knew how lucky they were to be able to do what they did.

Then I had what my husband and I describe as the Great Darkness. Others might call it a breakdown, an undoing, depression, PTSD. Regardless of the label, all I knew was that everything in me crumbled and I was utterly lost and didn't know how to be found. All the darkness I'd been pushing down over the past two decades came in like a hurricane, forcing me to face it and deal with it.

And I did.

I faced the religious cult that abused and brain-washed me. I faced the molesters who thought it was OK to touch me knowing I was too broken to stand up to them. I faced the church that crushed my spirit and made me believe I was worthless and unlovable. I faced those who covered up the abuse or downplayed it because it made them uncomfortable and afraid. I faced all the shame and loss and betrayal and abandonment, and I grieved and raged and forgave and loved and somehow, amazingly, found the brave, loving, jolly, creative me that had been there all along.

During that time my husband, Bear, introduced me to the world of medieval enactment. It became a safe place for me to watch and learn and experiment as I faced the sad things and healed.

I got to research and  learn about medieval art and medicine, food and clothing, how they ate, lived, fought, loved, and believed. I went from not knowing much of anything to designing and making medieval clothing, building medieval furniture, and growing and harvesting fruits, herbs, and vegetables to brew medieval wine and make traditional foods and folk medicines. I tested, experimented, photographed, and documented everything, and last year published a book of medieval folk remedies.  I also learned wood-burning, known as pyrography, a medieval craft where hot metal is used to burn designs into wood. It is my happy place, a soothing, gentle craft that is almost meditative in its cadence. Whenever I'm stressed and anxious, a session of wood-burning never fails to calm me down, help me focus, and get me back on track.

Soon I was selling wood-burning and books at medieval events, markets, and online, and one day it hit me: I am an artist. I've always been an artist. I just needed to heal enough to make a safe place for my artist self to emerge. It makes me smile every time I think of it. I'm a photographer and writer, pyrographer and medicine-maker, recipe-developer and home brewer. In the end it all boils down to this: I love making things and sharing them with others.

I continue to write and take pictures and burn original images into wood. I'm working on a book of medieval Bedouin recipes, another on medieval spices, and am creating new designs to pyrograph. This year I hope to expand my wood-working skills by designing and making my own wooden implements and furniture to wood-burn.

My heart is full as I look back on all the goodness that came out of the Great Darkness.

This is Week 26 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Krista's story today. To see more of her work and to connect with her, please visit the following links: