Forlorn in the Forest of Essence


It doesn’t surprise many when I list Alice in Wonderland as my favorite childhood disney movie.  I was particularly in love with the concept of the flowers having personalities, and the idea of rocking horse flies, and bread and butterflies.  It stems mostly from the logophile in me. {Stems! Get it?}  A large portion of my humor resides in the realm of puns, much to my husband’s dismay.  More than the humor and silliness I am fascinated with words and their duality in many instances.  As a child I would often envision such things, and even in the titles of some of the Reliquarian images, such as “The Passage of Time” It speaks both to time passing and the path she takes.  I think at heart, what I find intriguing is the concept of there being literal interpretations of figurative concepts.


The idea for the Oracle Flower, a Flower of Faces I’m sure has it’s roots {Roots… come on!} in the childhood story of Alice in Wonderland, a fate I often wish I could have shared, escaping from darker moments of my youth, and into a place as strange and intricate as I myself was.  I remember very vividly the popular football player I had a crush on in school standing next to me senior year when they put out the 12th grader awards… Most likely to succeed, to become president, to become famous, best dressed, best laugh, most congenial, most intelligent, most artistic {the only one I thought I remotely had a chance of winning}  And there was my name next to “Most Individualistic”.  To which said cute football player remarked with a chuckle: “That means you’re weird, and all of us think so.”  I imagine most people still do, but where I felt self conscious and misfitted before, now I see that as a sort of badge of honor.  No one was ever remembered for being like and doing as everyone else.


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I digress.  The Oracle Flower of Faces was, in my mind, a more mythological hybrid, the voice of fate, or some deity, more similar to the burning bush in Christian Mythology, than say nymphs and dryads in Greek Mythology.  It is not so much its own entity as it is a manifestation of consciousness.  It needed to be both ethereal, and still somehow believable that it was plant like.  In searching for ‘Flower Face’ I came across two beautiful and talented artists.  The first: Johnson Cheung-shing Tsang an incredible sculptor based in Hong Kong who did the rose with faces in the petals you see here.  There was something hauntingly real about his petals in their facial features that was magnetic and enchanting to me, but it was almost a bit too humanized.  I was seeking more of what a flower’s face would feel like, and that led me to Octavio Ocampo, a Surrealist Painter from Mexico who does work that feels more like how I wanted mine to look.  I see the face, but it is a flower.  My own flower of faces was somewhere between the two of these brilliant artist styles.


When it comes to beautiful and magical looking flowers I happen to be lucky enough to call Alan Shapiro a friend.  He is one of the most talented photographers I have the pleasure of knowing, and he makes the ordinary extraordinary.  For nearly 2 years now I’ve subscribed to his page, and he has filled my social media feed with the most stunning flower imagery I’ve ever seen in my life… And each morning has begun with flowers, a virtual garden to promenade amidst.


I was privileged to receive an invitation to spend a day with him meandering among the flowers and watching him work, and as always I am in love with watching those in love… which he certainly is. There is something so beautiful about watching people immerse themselves in their passion, every flower is an intimate tryst he falls into with his whole heart; so you can’t help but do the same.


Even the flowers seemed charmed by his infatuation with them, and they responded to his energy by leaning in towards him, each saying “pick me!” “Photograph me!” I was truly humbled to watch the process of mastery unfold before me.  He graciously let me bring along not only Mackenzie, but my 10 year old daughter Cadence as well.


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I’ve spoken before of the fact that Cadence has grown up in a world of oddity, and so it seems normal to her.  It isn’t strange for her to be sitting on a table, levitating 8 feet above our pond.  It’s normal for there to be a tribe of people, and eccentric costumes, and food, and for us to get up at 3 am to chase the light or follow the elk.  It’s normal for me to be in the studio till 2am, for there to be enormous structures in the yard, and clay, ink, paint, yarn, and fabric strewn around the house; so the extraordinary becomes ordinary to her.


In some regards this concerns me.  When she has her first ever flower photography lesson and it is by one of the top macro flower photographers in the world, she doesn’t realize what others invest hundreds of dollars for as adults she receives as a gift… and for her it’s just “normal”.


From someone who has known neglect and abuse as a child I am grateful that Michael and I provide her and Steven with the kind of home that I ached for when I was little… That whatever we are going through as a couple we have never let either of them question whether they are loved, or feel their relationship with either of us was in jeopardy.
When I married Michael I didn’t know if we would last.  What I did know was that he would be a good father, that he was going to be as good of a husband as he could be, and that if it became necessary that he would also be a good ex-husband.  That might sound awful, but one thing I was taught was that you hope for the best but prepare for the worst.  I watched both my parents fail at relationships repeatedly, and thought it was in my DNA to suffer the same fate. We are both from broken homes, and we both carried scars from that, which we brought towards each other.  Myself more than him.  He’s stronger than I am.  I did know that, from the moment I first met him.   Now I look at where I’ve come from, and I am grateful for the parents I have, they have loved me to the best of their ability, and in their failings taught me to be so thankful for all the areas Michael has never failed in, as my husband or their father… things that I might have taken for granted if I had never been without it.


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I think all parents worry about failing their children, and in a way we all do.  If we abuse, or neglect them, if we suffer ourselves and that imprints on them, we fail them.  If we love, and we nurture them, we protect them from all the hurting this world threatens them with, if we give them everything we can, then we fail them.  They become damaged, or entitled, they are sheltered and never build their strength and courage, or they protect themselves and build walls and believe all others will fail them as well…


What I’ve learned in my decade as a mother is that children follow your example, your words are meaningless if they aren’t seeing them in you and not just hearing them.  What I’ve learned being a child who has lost a parent is that the moments you spend with them define so much of who they are, and as you’re teaching them, they’re teaching you as well.


I have always been an artist.  Creation for me is an act of love, and often what I think I am making turns into something else entirely.  My art is that, the Reliquarian is that, the Flower of Faces is that, my children are that.  Whatever they become is always so much more interesting and intricate, and beautiful than what I thought it was when I began.  I think that is why I surround myself with people.  I believe in energy.  I think the essence of people seeps into everything.  It gets into your clothes, and your skin, and your food, and most certainly the art.


That was always the allure of portraiture and photography.  It became about them, and me, and the energy from them and myself creates something new, red and blue becomes purple, and red can not be purple without blue… So I seek the spirit of others that they might help me explore all my colors so I might in return use all of them and make my life its own work of art.  That is the masterpiece we are each creating.


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Spending the day with Alan taught me to look differently at the same things I have looked at… I have been looking differently since then.  Cadence came home from that day and created her first official photograph, and she was moved.  I created my first macro floral print and was moved, and he gave us that… and I’m grateful.  As a mother I have witnessed so many firsts of hers and they have made me laugh and made me cry, they have made me humble, and moved me deeper than any other experience.  It is something else equally immense to share firsts with my firstborn.


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Alan created, and edited a photo for each Cadence, Mackenzie, and I.  Looking at them together they suit us well, where we are in life, who we are.  I think if you were able to photograph the soul of a person, it would closely resemble Alan’s interpretation of flowers.


I myself have always been drawn to dried flowers, there is something nostalgic about their beauty… so in a garden of gorgeous blooms that are prized for their perfection, I found my favorite to be the one that most would at best overlook, at worst pluck it, that it might not spoil the flawlessness.  In contrast I saw this flush of life and hidden spirit within the darkened, drying petals… it looked like a heart holding more than a few scars, that wanted the world to believe it was hardened… but held within it, still vibrant with life: Hope.


In contrast Mackenzie’s was focused within on the places and parts most overlooked and ignored, most interesting, most deep.  The heart of her is not yet discovered, and when it is the rest of the world will lament that they overlooked the most special parts of her.  Cadence was quite adamant that he not touch hers with photoshop, that it was perfect as it was.  Just as she is.  Pure and innocent, and still untouched by the world, as I hope she remains for some time.


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The Flower of Faces begins to explore the the magic of numbers, and so it was fitting that it be a flower of three faces, echoing the holy trinity.  Three has long been considered a sacred number, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in Christianity, the Mother, Maiden, and Crone.  Past Present, Future. There are 3 fates, 3 primary colors, 3 dimensions we live within, the Heavens, the Earth, the Underworld, we exist 3rd in line to our sun, Mother Father and Child, Birth Life and Death, and in this piece of the story:  The Body, the Mind, and the Spirit.


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The faces were within the clay already, with sculpture I often feel rather than creating something I more scrape away at it in order to reveal what is there, trapped within.  I began with several facial studies and the faces ended up looking like none of them, they each became their own.


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The stem of the flower was exceedingly problematic.  As is my way I tend to jump in whole heartedly even when I am not certain of what I am doing.  The flower was both heavy and off balance.  The stem had to be durable, and I had to find a way to attach it to the flower without now shattering or breaking it… something I did not consider when I began sculpting it.


I went to one of the two men in my life that solve all my creative stops, and asked my dad for help.  We ended up in the plumbing section of home depot… you can imagine the confusion on the man’s face who politely asked us girls if we needed help since I’m certain he thought we were lost.


What kind of project are we working on?  Well we’re looking for a way to create a stem for a ceramic flower and need a fitting for the bottom that would attach to the stem.  We laughed after he wished us luck and shook his head walking away.  A 1″ PVC pipe and reducer did the trick.  While I poured over images from Alan’s site for inspiration of the stem I ended up being more inspired by my favorite trees and invoking more of a bark feel to it.  Eyes are a reoccurring theme as well… there is the seeing eye on the key… I am not sure what inspired my fascination with eyes but it has existed as long as I can remember.


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The most beautiful part of this project for me is that it is the convergence of all my talents and means of expression.  It is Art Within Art.  There is such a poetry to my moments, that what I was constantly ridiculed for, what I was told would lead to me being penniless, what there was no hope in pursuing, what was little more than a childish girl’s dream… now fills my days, and that profit has followed me into my passions, if only I have been brave enough to pursue them.
The Reliquarian has been the inspiration and aspiration within me since I can remember.  Seeing it begin to become an actuality has filled me with more joy than I can adequately express… it would be my answer from the Oracle Flower.


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The idea of the Oracle Flower was that when it bloomed it would carry faces on three of its petals, and while exceedingly rare, were you to come across one you could ask it any one question and receive the correct answer.  The contradiction is that one face answers to serve the Body, one to serve the Mind, and one to serve the Heart & Spirit.  The problem is you do not know which petal serves which aspect of the whole.


The flower is sought by two kinds of souls, those desperate to find an answer outside themselves that they already know on some level within.  They are rarely relieved by the answers they receive, and thus suffer greatly afterwards.  They continue to flit back and forth between the heart, their spirit, and the mind, and body, each warring within them.   The second seeker is that who seeks to find enlightenment.  The Oracle Flower is considered by many the final test in the understanding of truth.  Legend has it that enlightenment is where you are when you reach the flower.  If you ask it the question in which all 3 faces answer the same, you transcend.


Our little Reliquarian, tired, hungry, and lost in the woods is desperately trying to befriend the forest keepers, a tribe of spirits that exist in the forests of Esotera.  They are guardians of the trees and forests, and all the creatures within, and are part of the forest themselves, elusive and ethereal they are nearly impossible for her to find, and run at the slightest word from her.  When she happens to stumble upon an Oracle Flower, the Dryadic creatures appear, and take avid interest.  She decides to pick the flower and offer it to them… it doesn’t have the effect she was hoping for… and so she is left, forlorn in the Forest of Essence.


So the questions become:


Which speaks for the Mind, the Body, and the Heart or Spirit?


What would you ask it if you found one?



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