Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Can Adversity Spur the Muse?

It was a nice surprise to get this email yesterday from the New Hampshire Art Association: 

Congratulations! Your artwork, Garden Totem, won a honorable mention receiving $100 in the 16th Annual Joan Dunfey Open Juried Exhibit.
Garden Totem        CC Jean Stimmell
This is the second image from my “Bony Garden Series" to be recognized. Back in August, another, Resurrection, got accepted in the 36th Annual Parfitt Open Juried Exhibition. A little background information might be helpful to trace the history of how the “Bony Gardens Series" came to be – and the crucial role adversity played in the process.

It all started in August when I was recuperating from prostate cancer surgery. I was in a lot of pain with a fever of 103.° Looking past myself out the window, I became fascinated with the glint of the morning sun off the bones hanging on our barn, bones of wild animals that our hound dog, Coco, hauled back home for us as presents.

In my bathrobe with a catheter bag slung off a strap over my shoulder, I unsteadily ventured outside, my camera in hand. I was fascinated with these bones.  I didn't know why. The barn was a poor backdrop so I took one of the intricate bones, the spine of a deer, into the garden.

Brought together by forces outside my conscious awareness, the bones and the garden perfectly complimented each other, despite – or perhaps because of – my fever-addled brain. Blissfully, time flew by as I photographed away, forgetting all my medical maladies.

This is how it came to be that Resurrection was born.
                       Resurrection     CC Jean Stimmell
I continued to photograph various Coco's bones in my garden, from time to time, over the summer and, in the  process, amassed a series of prints. I also did some studying, researching the symbolic meaning of these two elements, gardens and bones:

Gardens, of course by their very nature , represent the essence of life: The garden contains “the life-giving Tree, fruit, or flower, the reward of him who finds the center. The garden is also the symbol of the soul…”[1]

Bones I found out are not, as in our modern culture, just something that dogs gnaw on: To indigenous people, who still live embraced in the arms of mother nature as opposed to some digital device, bones are sacred:

"Indeed, for the hunting peoples, the bone symbolizes the ultimate root of animal Life, the matrix from which the flesh is continually renewed. It is starting with the bones that animals and men are re-born... according to an uninterrupted cycle that constitutes an eternal return…By contemplating himself as a skeleton, the shaman does away with time and stands in the presence of the eternal source of Life."[2]

So, in summary, I feel blessed that these symbols were able to manifest through me in my photographs. And I am eager to express my debt to adversity, which focused my attention and deepened my sense of mortality, opening me up to what the muse was trying to tell me.

[2] Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries: The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities.pp 83-84.
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