Mama Me

Storm a’brewing

Two years ago, I brewed some organic dyes, froze some ice and picked up my camera again after many years of creative quietude.  What caused this sudden surge of the artist within?  That’s an easy one to answer:

 My mom, aka Maia, Mama, and even sometimes George (weird teenage phase for me!).

My mom’s last big road trip to see the solar eclipse in Sun Valley, Idaho, with my daughter and brother, Devon and Tony, August 21, 2017.

My mom’s last big road trip to see the solar eclipse in Sun Valley, Idaho, with my daughter and brother, Devon and Tony, August 21, 2017.

As I sat by her bedside watching her peaceful final breaths last week, I reflected on my mom’s legacy – the gifts she gave me.  The list is remarkably long, and no surprise that it includes two hugely important parts of my essence…

 Travel and art.

 

The art of travel

To say I have a travel addiction is an understatement.  Just this year, six months in, flights have zipped me to New York City, Amsterdam, Iceland, Mexico, most major cities in California and the tropical paradise of Maui.  Next week, Peru will be the first new country added to the list in many years.  Topping out close to 70 countries now, that seat in the Traveler’s Century Club might very well welcome this traveling artist one day.

Traveling artists in their element: Jan and Byrdie on a plane to Ketchikan, Alaska, April 2015.

Traveling artists in their element: Jan and Byrdie on a plane to Ketchikan, Alaska, April 2015.

The thing is, I’ve been traveling my whole life.  I was the weird kid in grade school that spent her summers 3000 miles away exploring the high desert plateau of central Idaho while most just headed to the local pool.  Two cross country trips before I could drive seemed like a right instead of a badge.  At 15, I helped plan our first European tour, and left my mom and brother as they headed home so I could soak up the sun with a French family on the Riviera.  How about three weeks driving around Alaska as a high school graduation trip? Yes please!

What is the common denominator in all of this?  My mom, of course.  It may have been my job to hold the map and find our way, but she was always willing to get us lost.

Got our gear in case we get lost in the Misty Fjords in Alaska, April 2015.

Got our gear in case we get lost in the Misty Fjords in Alaska, April 2015.

 

Rain buckets

Bucket lists that involve travel seem to light a spark in me.  An invitation by my mom to join her on a life-long wish to sail the Inside Passage of Alaska was easy to accept.  So, in April of 2015, we boarded a small vessel in search of wild solitude together.

Sea kayaking with my mom and Uncruise - best way to see the Inside Passage!

Sea kayaking with my mom and Uncruise - best way to see the Inside Passage!

At a young 78, my mom was my adventure partner in sea kayaking, boulder hiking and glacier exploring. The weather may have been nasty, but the laughs we had along the way were the memories of a lifetime.

Waking up deep in Tracy Arm Fjord and watching ice calve at North Sawyer Glacier was a visual explosion.

Waking up deep in Tracy Arm Fjord and watching ice calve at North Sawyer Glacier was a visual explosion.

She was also my bunk mate in our 100 square foot cabin for one week at sea.  There, in small quarter living, I discovered the illness that would eventually take my mom on her own wild journey:

 Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

 

Alz & Crafts

Research suggests that creativity is not impacted by dementia in the ways it devastates so many other aspects of the mind.  Luckily, beyond her scientific intellect, my mom had an artistic side.  Trust me…she was crafty in every sense of the word, and she did it all:

  • quilting

  • sewing

  • weaving

  • knitting

  • baking

  • painting

As her care partner, and creative crazy in my own right, I sought out opportunity where we could continue artistic expression after her diagnosis.  Where certain crafts became exceedingly difficult because of measured calculations, painting traveled unscathed through the dementia vortex.

One wonderful dementia friendly program we were lucky enough to experience was the here:now creative engagement class at the Frye Museum in Seattle.  For six weeks, we were treated to interactive gallery conversations and studio time to stretch our minds and fingers.

One of many paintings my mom created while fighting dementia, Frye Art Museum, 2016.

One of many paintings my mom created while fighting dementia, Frye Art Museum, 2016.

When I look at the work we produced together, I am equally envious and proud of my mom’s obviously superior skill of representational painting. Even fun quick portraits of each other captured the ease with which she used the brush.

Blind contour paintings we made of each other at the Frye Museum in 2016. Guess which one is me?

Blind contour paintings we made of each other at the Frye Museum in 2016. Guess which one is me?

Having said that, I suppose I can see why 3D might be more up my alley.

My attempt at channeling the inner byrd in my creativity, Frye Museum, 2016.

My attempt at channeling the inner byrd in my creativity, Frye Museum, 2016.

My mom’s attempt…

My mom’s attempt…

However, one could say my mom’s creativity of building a duck-billed platypus as an interpretation of Alexander Max Koester’s Moulting Ducks was genius beyond compare.

Needless to say, each piece now holds a very special place in my own art gallery - the one right next to my heart.

 

Mamma Mia

Growing up as a traveling artist, I can thank my mom for paving the way, providing encouragement, opportunity and a blue-print for following one’s passion.  These same two slices of our shared soul provided much needed therapy for both of us while we walked the path of dementia.  Cruel as this disease is, it will never touch the creative experiences, on the road and in the studio, that have become the foundation of who we became as artists.

The last mixed media collaboration I created with my mom, Jan Willms, 2016. Love it!

The last mixed media collaboration I created with my mom, Jan Willms, 2016. Love it!

As I create my next installation, with colors I extract from Mother Earth, it will be dedicated in loving memory of Jan Willms, my mom, the woman who showed me a world of wonder.

I love you, Mama...

 

 

 

 

Barefoot in a Sneaker Wave

Better get your trench coat

From 16,000 feet deep in an under-water ravine to the crest of an 8-story thundering wave, the coast of Nazaré, Portugal has a magnetic pull.  In the churning Atlantic water of Praia do Norte, hard-core surfers, and spectators alike, plunge into the wild world of big wave surfing.  In fact, in November 2017, Brazilian surfer, Rodrigo Koxa, broke the world’s record by flawlessly riding this massive 80 foot wave, honoring a life-long passion.

First and last time on a surfboard in 8 inch surf at Praia do Madeiro, Brazil, 2010.

First and last time on a surfboard in 8 inch surf at Praia do Madeiro, Brazil, 2010.

 

Northern exposure

Later that same month, 25 degrees north of this famous breaker, lying face down on a rocky beach along the Strandir coastline, I encountered my own booming breaker.  Fingers numb in the gusting wind, I howled, “never turn your back on the ocean” -  a saying my kids have heard me utter many times.  Placing my second ice installation within feet of crashing waves, my travel mate, Chris, kept eye for any monster swell that could sweep us away.

Dried leaves embedded in ice installed on the Strandir coast in the Westfjords, Iceland.  The tiny black thread near the top left side of the ice is my glove, sticking relentlessly to the frozen piece. Thus, bare hands were required to install!

Dried leaves embedded in ice installed on the Strandir coast in the Westfjords, Iceland.  The tiny black thread near the top left side of the ice is my glove, sticking relentlessly to the frozen piece. Thus, bare hands were required to install!

In absolutely no way were we facing the danger of Nazaré, but chasing my creative dream pulls me back to the ocean time and time again.  What power do these wild waves have over my journey, and how do I make sure I’m not turning my back on the surf in front of me?

Facing the churning sea in Djúpalónssandur, Iceland to install blue pea infused ice.

Facing the churning sea in Djúpalónssandur, Iceland to install blue pea infused ice.

 

The Big Kahuna

Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, is credited with coining the famous phrase that keeps us facing seaward.  Both practical and philosophical, this saying teaches us two important life lessons about the power of the ocean:

1.     There are significant physical dangers of being hit by a wave.

2.     Mankind needs to show deep respect for the sea.

Humbly, I’d like to offer one additional lesson to be learned:

3.     The wave coming could be the ride of your life!

Rising temperatures and rising tide at Kirkjufell, Iceland means melting ice...fast!

Rising temperatures and rising tide at Kirkjufell, Iceland means melting ice...fast!

 

v = f x λ

Waves as a metaphor for artistic creativity is perfectly suited.  Many of us have had times brimming with unbridled imagination and surging productivity.  For each crest, however, there is a trough, a quiet time…the lull.  Without one, we can’t have the other, so I’ve gingerly embraced both, experiencing the drought before the flood.

Silk thread orb installed at the driest place on Maui:  Haleakala Crater.

Silk thread orb installed at the driest place on Maui:  Haleakala Crater.

 

Roll with it

Today, facing an expressive tsunami, however, I am feverishly grabbing at each medium that pokes out of the rushing water.  Ice, resin, paper, fiber, adhesive, wax, paint and canvas are all bobbing about my studio.  While I could be drowning, each one plays an integral part in this wild ride, one supporting the other in ways I can’t begin to understand.  But, that is okay – I trust the process.

Glitter infused adhesive domes melting in the Hawaiian heat.

Glitter infused adhesive domes melting in the Hawaiian heat.

I have to - these are my life-saving floaties.

 

Making waves

So, if today's story is about ‘The Big One’, let’s dive more deeply into some of the ways we choose to describe a tidal wave, creative or otherwise:

  • Sneaker Wave:  Well, as we already determined in my last blog, sneaking has its perks.  With creativity, it can pop up at any time, without warning, and pinch us hard.  I say it's better to laugh than cry.
Abaca installation turned upside-down in San Antonio, Texas.

Abaca installation turned upside-down in San Antonio, Texas.

  • Killer Wave:  Yet another negative description, but how many times have you used it to describe something extraordinary?  If you get out there, showing up every day, I guarantee you will be killing it.
  • Rogue Wave:  When creativity hits, I urge you to ‘go rogue’ in the full Urban Dictionary sense.  Don’t follow the rules.  Let your heart lead and do what feeds your soul.
Nobody gave me permission to do this installation.  The only formal invitation I received was from Mother Nature.

Nobody gave me permission to do this installation.  The only formal invitation I received was from Mother Nature.

  • Freak Wave:  So, Rogue, go listen to the lyrics of Come from the Heart and dance like nobody is watching!  As one of my favorite contemporary artists, Nicholas Wilton, would coach:  create art in exactly the same way.  Flying your freak flag is what makes your art uniquely yours.
  • Extreme Wave:  Not for the faint at heart, when creativity comes calling, push yourself as far as you can, all the way to the edges of your comfort zone.  I promise, you won’t fall off.  That’s where the good stuff hides.
Blue pea and red cabbage infused ice installed near the outer edge of Ögur, Iceland.

Blue pea and red cabbage infused ice installed near the outer edge of Ögur, Iceland.

 

I met a Cyclops in Ghost Trees

If the names for waves weren't scary enough, what about swells being creatively called Jaws, Dungeons and Mavericks?  What do these mega-wave meccas have in common with Praia do Norte, or the crazy 'artist' who chooses to play in the 'surf'?  At these beaches, to ride the Big One, tow-in surfing is not a luxury, but a technological necessity.

Yes, it means having a partner in crime, someone who understands the fierce power of the ocean and pull of passion, and is there to help propel you safely through the choppy waters.

Guess we should add one more life lesson to The Big Kahuna list above:

4.  Never swim alone.

Chris, partner in crime, soaking seaside after a long day of ice installation in Drangsnes, Iceland.

Chris, partner in crime, soaking seaside after a long day of ice installation in Drangsnes, Iceland.

On the very same island as Jaws, Chris stood watch with the surf pounding against the lava field at La Perouse Bay while I swiftly placed the last of my Maui installations.  Mouthing the words that have become my mantra, my partner in crime faced the waves by my side, keeping me safe while I dove in.

Feeling the ocean spray in my face while installing organically dyed dough at La Perouse Bay in Maui.

Feeling the ocean spray in my face while installing organically dyed dough at La Perouse Bay in Maui.

 

Passion Fish

My sleep is often filled with dreams of crystal clear tidal surges that I manage to negotiate perfectly with a surfer’s ease.  The trick I've learned is this:

Dive straight into the face of the wave before the crest crashes.  Passion is on the other side.

Tell me, what do you dream about?  Jump into the comments below - the water is perfect!