Is this a sign from the earth?
On the road at Thanksgiving I have a moment to reflect on life … and continue this story. I’m in Santa Cruz, visiting my daughter, helping her prepare for her next transition. A recent graduate from UCSC, Emily is making her own way, but also seems to find my path a useful reference point. She is sometimes a poet, writer, photographer and always a fine fine artist who just completed her BFA in Photography and Anthropology. Her next adventure is a three-month back packing trip across South America in January 2013. I’m admittedly living vicariously through her as she sets her sites on this artistic quest for meaning.
Witnessing her passage, I of course am reminded of my own… before I joined what we called in the ’60s “the establishment” I lived the quintessential life of the struggling artist. I walked the streets of Soho, smelling, tasting, reflecting. Spent time in Montana, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, San Francisco, India, Paris, New York City, Los Angeles and countless other creative places – following my inspiration, honing my craft, hobnobbing with my tribe, wandering and wonderstruck.
Born in the Deep South – East New Orleans – of Yankee parents (mom from Canada, dad from the Catskills), my earliest life was filled with Mardi Gras masks and King Cake parties where spooky adults acted like crazed animals. Spicy foods, foot stompin’ music and colorful people filled the houses and streets yearlong. A father in the NASA space program steered me through eight schools in 12 years of lower education, across Louisiana, Texas and New Jersey. A Cornell graduate and inventor, my dad brought home Hungarian refugees in the fifties, kinkajous and java temple finches in the sixties, sent me to Woodstock in ‘69 and reconfigured our family constellation when he married my brother’s wife in the seventies.
My role models were my aunt Anne Heimann (a German Jew born in Shanghai) and uncle Jim Hubbard (WWII veteran and Beirut correspondent). Emily now has Anne’s workhorse Nikon still cameras. Jim and Anne were artists, filmmakers, photographers, and writers. In the early 50’s I stood dockside when the blue VW van they’d lived in was lifted off the freighter – returning from three years traveling as journalists in the Middle East. They took up residence in New Orleans as beatniks in the jazz scene. I’d relish a visit with them in the French Quarter where we’d share crispy sweet beignets and fragrant chicory coffee. Migrating to New York City they rooted into the bohemian scene where Anne painted and photographed life’s complexities and Jim filmed the Ra voyages of Thor Heyerdahl of Kon Tiki fame. Their surrogate child, I savored weekends during high school, enjoying the stark contrast of hopping on the old train from colonial Basking Ridge, New Jersey, then arriving at their Tribeca/Soho loft to imbibe the vivid sights, cacophony of sounds and pungent smells of surging creativity.
A tour of Europe and stint at Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore launched my artist adulthood. I completed my formal education in Baton Rouge with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts: Ceramics and Painting. Packing my hat collection, ceramic sculpture and local herbs into my blue VW van I spent nine days driving north to replant myself in Missoula, Montana, to obtain my MFA.
Arriving to snow flurries in August, I became immersed in the local indigenous culture, through classes in Religious Studies with a passion for oral tradition and sacred art. I bonded with my professor who became my committee chair, Joseph Epes Brown, scholar of Sufism and Native American traditions. Joseph believed in my thesis premise that the human urge to create is a spiritual calling and graciously led me through the maze of obtaining a Master’s.
I married a Welsh Pottawatomie Cherokee who grew up on the Mescalero Apache reservation run by his father, whose mission it was to ‘save the Indians from themselves.’ That short-lived union of cultures gave me a glimpse into another cosmology filled with Pow Wows, sacred medicine ceremonies and venerated elders who told me I was their bridge. For my thesis show, I created a pilgrimage of sacred sculptural spaces made of native materials, channeling symbols intuited from the tribal subconscious. My thesis compared the sacred art of Islam, Northwest Coast First Peoples, Indian Tantric Mandalas and the modern artist as shaman.
Emerging with an interdisciplinary MFA in Fine Arts/Religious Studies/Sacred Dance, I migrated to San Francisco, then Los Angeles, where my writing as kept me in good stead ever since.
Rooted now in Southern Californian, I continue to practice my art, meditation, and professional communication endeavors. I tell stories through sacred dance, visual art, written and spoken word.