Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tenth Year Reflection 2: Embodied Childhood

This post is second in a series of reflections during the tenth year of Full Spring Studio. 

Lake Johanna, site of childhood immersion

From March 21: “The hero’s journey starts in the ordinary world where we find the protagonist in their ordinary environment and learn about their character. In that spirit I’ll write the next post as a kind of autobiographical artists profile of how I found myself ten years ago reincarnating a dormant call to art.”

So how did I find myself ten years ago? Who was I? And how did I get there? Any story is part of a larger, longer story. Since last week, I’ve realized it’s going to take more than one post- maybe a prologue of a half dozen before I get to the specific art adventures that led to starting Full Spring Studio. The protagonist is grown from her prior travels and the quest for connection and flow has deep and hidden roots to find. While this is not meant as a life story, I’m going to include those things that intuitively feel like they are related -the tips of roots for my current work, even if I don’t know yet how or if they matter. I’m collecting artifacts.

A Personal Art and Nature History:
Part 1. Embodied Childhood and the Fall from Innocence

From Card:
sweet angel, how thankful, we
for moments of joy, unaffected
alas, one brief glimpse
where all the world
has not its gloomy fingers, fashioned

Island of Innocence:
At birth, I tried to come out sideways. I made it out and all was well.

It was July 1964 in Virginia. First child. All the tumult of the 60s in the background. I was placed on the skin of a black bear for a photograph used in a “baby’s first Christmas” greeting with a poem written by my dad. I imagine that I grasped the bear’s silky black fur, the way babies hold onto things tightly.

1967: Now living in Minnesota. Younger brother born. I am passionate about mud pies, opening the outdoor hose faucet without permission so I can mix water with dirt and create a perfect substance that barely holds its form, hinting at its semi-liquid nature.
Jonee, age 4, with mud and mother

As I grew in age, my travels expanded. Sneaking west to the lake to swim unsupervised (naked so wet clothes were not evidence.) And east to the grove of sumac trees to break off pinnate leafy stems and make a fort. With my first good friend I buried a metal box in the woods in which we placed special rocks for a secret club. (Our secret club names were encoded, based on plants, but since they are secret, I can't tell you what they were.)

In this island of innocence I could explore boundaries.
One night, during a dinner party, I discovered wonderful art supplies in the bathroom garbage: cardboard tubes from my mom’s used “femine hygiene products .” I created a rudimentary sculpture on the floor. Stepping away from the party, my mother found me. “Oh dear! Those are not to play with!” I sensed her shock at my choice of materials, but also sensed in her laugh that she was pleased with my resourcefulness. I was out of bounds, but not punished.

As a pre-school child, I believed that nature – leaves, mud, water, sumac trees, and bees were the world, and our family lived in a house inside this world. Outside, my dad, a forest entomologist, showed me the wonder of trees, and the interesting marks insects made in their leaves. Inside, my mom, an interior designer, arranged collections of decorations into vignettes like stage sets for little stories. In addition to the bear rug, we had taxidermied animals all over our living room: the heads of a moose and two rams, antlers, a stuffed owl, a frog, armadillo shells, and the front half of a mountain goat on a rock ledge. (My parents were not hunters, but liked interesting things and had found a deal at an estate sale.) We ate in our house, except when we ate outside, cooking over a fire by the lake. Inside, we slept where it was comfortable and where the mosquitoes couldn’t come in. When I was young, the world was large and I was small and safe.
The Fall:
Do you remember a childhood sense of natural wonder? Perhaps so early that everything seemed okay? Do you remember when you learned that things might not be okay?

I know at least some of my friends remember one of the scenes when we learned as children that things were not okay. It was an AdCouncil ‘Keep America Beautiful’ public service announcement, commonly referred to as “The Crying Indian.”

Dramatic music plays while the “Indian*” appears traveling through littered landscapes and the narrator says “Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country. <shows person littering> And some people don’t. People start pollution. People can stop it.” And then came the close-up of the tear rolling down his cheek. This hit me. I loved the earth too. The message was reinforced by the “Give a hoot, don’t pollute,” campaign in school, but it was this PSA on TV that most strongly made the “Earth” or “Nature” into an ‘other’ that we had wronged. And first taught me that we’d fallen from an Eden, and had to make our way back. (*The Indian was played by an Italian. Some feel betrayed on learning that, as well as by learning the history behind the campaign LINK. But to me, as a child, it was all real.)

From these and other portrayals about the environment, I learned the world was broken. And people were breaking it. And I, even though a child, could help. I would not be a litter bug. I dreamt I would grow up to solve pollution. For example I could be a scientist, wear a lab coat, and invent a filter to stop the smoke coming out of the soot-spewing chimneys I saw on TV.
During this period, I decided to become useful – and somehow decided art was not part of this plan for me, even though it was image and story that had set me on my mission.

As I grew and tried to find my place, art and mud (well, clay) would reappear, but I was on a different mission meant for more important things, I thought. In the next post, the protagonist tries to grow up, and leaves home in search of her proper place in the world. 


  1. Jonee...what a great first line! And I recognize the lake & woods childhood, filled with leaves, dirt, & water. And lake smells. The feminine products sculpture episode is hilarious. It also offers a characterization of your mom, which reflects on yours as well. I remember the early lake life too. Now you've got me wondering what my first 'fallen from Eden' moment was. This is going to be a cool trip.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Deb. I thought you might relate to the lake. I look forward to hearing your memories of a fall from Eden as you reflect on that.