Exciting things are happening here.
A painting I’d entered into a competition at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art was accepted into the show. The Artmobile got a chance to live up to its name. I told Mike upon delivery that I felt like an artist again. It’s been a long time.
Earlier this year, as I was contemplating how divided our country had become, I spent some time in prayer and asked the Lord to help me be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And idea for an art installation piece was formed and it is starting to take shape. It’s called Mercy of Lament. The South Sudanese Episcopal Church and Lake Effect Church on the northwest side of Grand Rapids are hosting the artwork. There is a website up where you can see an artist’s rendering of what it will look like and you can read more about it. You can find it at https://mercyoflament.com/. There’s also a Facebook page to post photos, if you decide to participate in the project. Word is spreading quickly, and I’m excited to see where this goes. While I originally was thinking about all the people lost to COVID, I’ve realized that there was actually much more lost last year. There was loss of jobs, loss of income, death of dreams. There were suicides, a sense of a loss of justice, and death of natural causes. People need a space to grieve all sorts of things, and I hope this installation piece helps.
Another thing that’s going on is that I’m taking another online calligraphy course. This time I’m focusing on the pointed brush as a tool and also adding some photo editing into the mix. I’m hoping to add this skill into future paintings.
Last of all, I’m finally getting around to redesigning my website. After researching on how to do it myself, I decided that I’d rather spend the time making art and I’ve contacted Tasha Glover (https://www.techwithtasha.com/) to work with. I heard about Tasha through an arts group I’m part of and she was also recommended by Shae Bynes (https://shaebynes.com/). I’ve heard nothing but good things about Tasha and I love her heart. But she’s got a list for me to get on and I have my work cut out for me. It’s work that desperately needs to be done, and I’ve ignored it for far too long.
From doing absolutely nothing outside of the studio in February to full steam ahead in May… things are getting interesting.
On January 6, the day that celebrates Epiphany, I had a lovely Zoom meeting with a group of artists across the country. I’d just gotten off the call, intending to start a new blog post when my husband called my attention to the news that was unfolding. We watched live coverage of rioters breaking windows and assaulting some of the capital police officers while searching for lawmakers to harm.
Epiphany means revelation, and a lot was revealed about the state of our nation that day. The idea of keeping up on blog posts suddenly seemed absurd to me as my social media was filled with posts of people attempting to rebrand the rioters as ‘patriots’ and the rewrite the narrative of that day. But although I live in the midwest, I know people who live in D.C. and I’ve heard some of their experiences of that day. This was lawlessness, pure and simple.
For weeks I despaired of the state of our country and of the Church - since many who claim to be followers of Christ were advocating violence to create a government in their own image. Social media became toxic for me so I took a couple of months off Facebook and used that time for prayer and reflection. Jesus built the Church on a firm foundation. Through the centuries there have been many efforts to corrupt the message, to gain power, and to further personal agendas. But there has always remained a remnant of believers who kept their eyes on Christ and persevered. The true Church - those who submit their lives to the example and teachings of Christ - will prevail.
And remembering that, I turn once again to what my role is in the Kingdom of God. My call is to be a creator, a maker, an artist. I’m called to reflect God’s beauty and character by the works of my hands. Not painting sermons, but reflecting His mystery and glory in all I say, write, paint, and do.
With that in mind, I’ll be re-working this website.
My apologies for being MIA the past couple months. After the medical issues I experienced in spring, friends and family were also dealing with personal crises. Dad is winding down and getting harder and harder to understand. Mike’s uncle had two strokes. A friend has been in and out of the hospital with no answers as to what might be the issue. In fact, I got a text to update me on her situation as I sit and compose this. One thing after another and after a while I’ve just lost heart for writing.
But I have been working on painting and photography. Images work when words fail. At least they do for me. The painting is mostly abstract work. On Mondays I volunteer at an urban coffee house where coffee and bagels are free and the cafe is a safe place for people in the neighborhood to create community. I was talking with one of the guys over coffee asking me what my paintings were about. I told him it was about the mystery of prayer. That the paintings were black on black with metallics thrown in to represent what prayer is like - a spiritual quest to represent prayer in paint. Up to that point the conversation had been pretty superficial. He stopped eating and looked me in the eye. “That’s really powerful,” he said. “I like the way you think.” That took me by surprise. Can’t say I’ve heard that very often.
Images work when words fail. I find in prayer I am often at a loss for words, but that’s where I can trust that God can read my heart. My tears are my prayers. My anguish and feelings are my prayers. My paintings are my prayers. And God, being good and gracious, hears and understands those prayers.
I’ll leave you with this triptych. It’s called Mystery, Questions, Wonder.
One day this week I was able to teach a delightful young girl (and her grandma) some basic techniques in watercolor. We had a fun morning playing with paint, wax, and salt; creating lovely paintings of the cosmos.
When they left I went home, changed, and drove to another town nearby to attend a funeral of a long-time friend who will be dearly missed by his friends and family.
Life is a roller coaster. Highs and lows in one day - sometimes within one minute. When I shared that, a friend mused that life is terminal. So I’d better keep painting.
That is good advice.
The book is now complete and in print. I realized too late that I hadn’t put in any information about the painting that's on the front cover. Humor me, and let me tell you about it.
It is a watercolor and the title is Memories of Kate. My grandmother’s name. The composition has tatting and crochet work she’d done and the rose is one of the varieties she grew in her massive rock garden. All things that make me think of her.
The reason I chose that painting for the cover is because the story couldn’t have happened without her. She raised my mother and she raised me. Her influence is felt in my life to this day. If you read the story, she appears in the first few pages and you’ll understand.
Thank you to all who have purchased the book and given me feedback on how it affected you. Your comments and encouragement have deeply blessed me.
Painting is just another way of keeping a diary. -Pablo Picasso
Interesting week. Last weekend I was chatting with a new acquaintance and the conversation came around to the book manuscript I’ve written and the fact that it was on it’s second edit at the time. I haven’t said much to people and it’s sort of exciting to tell someone, “I have a book coming out early next year.” Exciting and daunting.
The next day, our computer crashed. Completely died. Tech support couldn’t help me during the two hour call and we had to take it in for service. In the process of reloading the operating system, everything was lost. I did have a backup copy of the manuscript, but I’d lost my journal, my documents, my digital portfolio…everything. Because, of course, I hadn’t backed anything up. Completely my own fault. But I wasn’t worried, because the manuscript was with the publisher, I had a backup copy, and I would just have to let everything else go. I was reminded of my mother-in-law whose condo had been flooded and all her records were lost. She had been the family historian and baptismal records, birth and death records, ordination papers, and photos were all gone. While she was sorry to lose everything, she adopted the philosophy that she was coming out of that flood lean and mean. I am determined to follow her example.
A day later, I got a call from the publisher about book design. He’d like me to submit some photos of my artwork to incorporate into the cover design. I’d given up my art career to take care of Mom, and including a painting would tie the story into the design. I have the perfect painting in mind. It was a watercolor of my Grandmother’s crochet work and the type of roses she used to grow. Grandma raised my mother, and then she raised me. It seemed perfect. I no longer have the painting, but I did have photo documentation of all the paintings I did over a twenty something period of time. I did. Once. Can I find the slides and records? No, I cannot. I’ve lost my written journal and my visual journal.
I haven’t given up the search, but we may have to move to Plan B for cover design. Stay tuned.
Prayer and meditation is something I try to do regularly. Some weeks back, I was in prayer and I was asking God about time in my own studio. A question formed in my mind. “Why are you working on someone else’s dream and not your own?” To be honest, this wasn’t what I was expecting. There was a conflict in my life and I expected to be corrected and to be led to a different conversation. Not that I’m perfect and don’t need to humble myself, but through this meditation I discovered the real issue was that I’ve been giving my time and effort in areas that I should have let go of a long time ago.
There was no good answer for the question being raised. I was doing what I was doing out of habit and loyalty. Loyalty to an idea that had nothing to do with my life or destiny.
An attack of diverticulitis has given me time for reflection. At the end of the year I will be making changes to be in my studio full time. I have done full time studio painting before, but this will have a very different focus. Transitions are rarely smooth. But at least that won’t take me by surprise.
The adventure continues.
September has been quite a busy month. I had hoped to have the worship/creative studio up and running, but it was not to be. Good things and less than good things came up and my time and energy has been spent elsewhere.
One good thing was a trip the the mountains of Pennsylvania to visit friends. A group of siblings were having a reunion and I have been adopted as an extra sister. It was a joyful time and road trips invigorate me in many ways. There are wonderful things to be discovered when staying with locals who know things off the beaten, touristy path and I enjoy driving across this big country.
Another lovely thing was meeting and studying contemporary calligraphy with Carl Rohr. If you’ve ever opened a Kindle reader and seen the brushwork calligraphy, you’ve seen his work. Actually, you’ve seen Carl's lettering on a lot of products and advertisements. He’s a very accomplished man who is approachable and generous in his teaching. He has a passion for lettering that I can’t say I share, but his way of making marks on paper was really fascinating and I hope to integrate what I observed into painting. A big thanks the the Pendragons of Kalamazoo for letting me join them for the weekend.
Other things have also been taking up my time and energy that have nothing to do with creativity or refilling the creative well. In fact, it’s been siphoning off my time and energy for my own studio work. The most I’ve been able to do at my studio is keep the lawn mowed and paint one of the garage windows.
An unexpected conversation brought the realization that I have been sacrificing a lot of time and energy for dreams that aren’t mine, while my own destiny lies waiting and ignored. I am at an age where my time and resources need to be more focused.
Changes are coming. Stay tuned.
After I'd posted the first icon I wrote (factoid - you write an icon, you don't paint it), a friend who is undergoing treatment for cancer commented how much she liked it. So much so, she was wondering how she might be able to acquire it. The tradition of creating icons has a pretty strict stipulation that you don't give away your first one because it is full of your frailties and flesh, not spirit and prayer. While she was gracious when I explained that, I determined she'd have one to help her along in her healing journey.
Carolyn Rock and the rest of the West Michigan iconography family were gracious in assisting me with materials, prayer, and moral support in creating the Archangel Gabriel. The messenger. My prayer is that he brings a message of healing to my friend.
After a couple weeks it was finished, and I presented it to my friend. She was speechless. No small feat.
Have a glimpse. And while you're thinking of it, join me in prayer for her healing.
When I was around nine or ten years old, my mother told me she’d buy a horse for me if I saved enough money to pay for a saddle. She didn’t look at a tack shop that would have most likely had something more reasonable and better made. She pointed to the Sears catalog and told me that was the goal. As memory serves, it was around $200. An impossible fortune for a young girl who had no allowance, lived isolated on a farm with no transportation to get any sort of menial work. But Mom underestimated my desire and determination.
On the weekends of the school year, and every day during summer vacation, I scoured the ditches of roads and lanes miles around my house. At two cents a bottle, I found every pop and beer bottle in a two mile radius around my farm on foot with a paper bag to transport them home. One day I struck the mother lode. Most likely some teens had been drinking on the back roads and had to ditch an entire case of beer in order to not get caught. They had drunk enough to get sick, however, which made the discovery a mixed blessing. I dragged the case home (I did not have a wagon), washed off the vomit, emptied the rest of the bottles and collected my reward. My saddle jar was looking good.
I dared to dream a horse would be mine.
The money adding up made the adults nervous. It looked like I’d actually reach my goal. There was no excuse about lack of room, since we lived on a forty acre farm. I was chipping away the excuse of having tack. So they came up with a plan. Convince me to put the money in the bank to accrue interest. Of course, not a separate bank account to be able to track progress. Put it in my so called college account. I trusted these people. I followed their advice. The money disappeared and the horse never materialized. In fact, about eight years later Mom took that money and purchased some worthless land in Arizona as a retirement investment. That money did not go to any sort of education for me, nor did the land ever get used for her retirement. In her dementia, she had quit paying taxes on the lot and it went back to the county.
That’s what happened to my dream.
Recently, I dared to dream again. I dreamt that I could have an art studio that would be big enough to create in, have storage, hang art in, have classes in, fellowship in, and worship in. A creative worship studio on the northeast side of Grand Rapids. Something dedicated to both art and prayer. I talked it over with Mike. I made the pitch that it made more sense owning a property rather than paying rent every month for something too small and gave us no value in return. He was on board. We set a budget (albeit small) and started looking.
I dared to dream that things that had been spoken into my life would come to pass.
The realtor I was working with was great and on board with the vision. We looked at a lot of properties. The market is currently overheated and people looking at houses were offering far more than they were worth. Nonetheless, our plan was to steadily and patiently look and not be in a rush. But the political situation affected the markets and suddenly we were no longer in a position to purchase anything. I had dared to share the dream with others, asking them to pray. I had dared to share the dream with the realtor, wasting so much of her time. I had dared to believe the dream could come true.
I could take this failure deep into my heart and decide that dreams aren’t for me. But don’t underestimate my desire and determination. I am taking to heart the quote by Paul Tillich. “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”
I will continue to dare to dream.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.