Toward the Hope of Home
Welcome to Creative Conversations. Lean in close and eavesdrop on our latest chat about the creative process. Add your comments, too. We’d love to hear from you. One of my favorite creatives, Margaret Kellermann is here to Dreamwalk with us. Here we go.
Janet: Hey, Margaret. I’m so happy to catch up with you on Dreamwalks.
Margaret: Hey Janet, it’s fantastic to take another Dreamwalk with you and your readers.
Janet: So, What’s on top creatively with you today?
Margaret: Well, I was fortunate to receive a grant recently from the California State Department of Housing and our county government. They made a call to artists to come up with a creative way to let people know the dire situation we have here, the need for affordable housing at every level.
Janet: Oh! Tell me more.
Margaret: I remembered that in 2007 I’d designed a shelter for the unsheltered, as it were. I called it Hope Shelter, and I still have the blueprints for it. For the grant, I’m going to construct an art installation, a full-scale Hope Shelter made with art materials. It will be displayed for a time in a public setting in this county. My hope is that it won’t stop there but people will start talking about it, and maybe a small group of actual Hope Shelters can be built locally, possibly as a village for homeless families, with a community garden and such.
Janet: This big dream has been with you a long time. Now this innovative grant gives you a way to communicate it and grow your vision.
Margaret: Yes, I feel blessed that the housing need and the art piece came together at the right time at last. As Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Janet: I’m saving this new, favorite quote. Art can be a bridge of joy, calling to our deep hunger for connection and change. I’m seeing more connections between Art and Activism these days online and in books like
Real Change by Sharon Salzberg highlights many people’s stories, including artists involved in social change. Yours is now another one.
M: Thanks for including me in that group, Janet, though I don’t feel I’m quite there yet. But it’s true that social justice and art are combining in creative ways. I’m suddenly reading a lot about the compound word artivism (art plus activism). It’s kind of bulky as a term, but I love its meaning.
J: Me too. People see how art awakens change from the inside out. Our connection and responses are personal and meaningful.
M: Wow, I love how you say that art awakens change from the inside out.
Janet: Yeah. It can feel like a blast of fresh air through an open door. Once a creative idea opens, more doors swing open. Speaking of doors, you recently answered another call for art that connects with the Hope Shelter. Can you share that story and a few pictures, please?
M: Of course! Artists love to share their work, once it’s born. A few weeks ago, I saw another call to artists, this one a juried exhibition at the Morris Graves Museum of Art. So I entered a slightly altered miniature of Hope Shelter, a cross between a dollhouse and a 3-D maquette – the kind architects make to show their future work. My piece is called “One in 97 Eurekans slept outside last night.” The structure is furnished and decorated but empty of people. Five dolls huddled in blankets are just outside.
This week I went with a friend to view the exhibition: all 2-D and 3-D art created by women in this county. As my friend and I were leaving, she pointed out two mothers and two girls gathered around my piece. They were talking quietly and pointing out details with intent expressions. I imagine it’s like what you feel when a young girl hugs one of your novels to her heart!
J: Ah . . . deep joy!
M: Yes, Janet, you know exactly how it feels to have your art *known* by your core audience.
J: The girls and moms took time to point and ask and wonder. As I look at the picture, I feel it tells a story. The title of the piece says so much and makes me look twice at the people outside the shelter. Tell us about where you found or how you made some of these tiny pieces of art for the maquette.
M: The purple sofa is a bar of lavender soap, pinned with a tightly rolled cloth for the back. I made fairy lights by stringing and gluing pearls along a gold wire. I found tiny flat rocks for the patio at the beach.
At first I built the structure without dolls because I was concerned they would make the piece look too precious. But then I wrapped the dolls in tiny rags, which look like blankets or ponchos. You can’t see their expressions, which are covered. Suddenly I got chills because I’ve seen those expressionless faces everywhere, on the outskirts of town. Everyone has seen those faces. Then we turn away because it’s like looking at the face of the suffering Christ.
“Christ” Georges Rouault, via www.artnet.com
J: Your art piece draws people in and gives them a chance to look. Hopefully, cracking a heart door open just a little bit more. Maybe they can look again and see another soul the next time they pass a person by. Stories do that for me, too. I get a chance to feel and process something huge. Then when I go back out in the world, I’m better able to face that fear because the story made it my story–made it a part of me. Reading The Soloist by Steve Lopez did that for me. Steve’s relationship with Nathaniel, a talented musician who lives on the streets, personalized homelessness with heartbreaking closeness and clarity that opened my eyes. Touching on and giving voice to a personal story of my own.
M: Yes, I saw that great story about Steve and Nathaniel on YouTube. It’s beautiful how stories sharpen and shape our own stories. And please watch the recent film, “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which except for its kinda sexist title — since they’re both very involved zookeepers — keeps agitating me in a good way, asking me to not forget it. Yes, these stories are heartbreaking, and yes, flooded with heart. But tell me: what music kills you in a good way?
J: Some particular songs haunt me and later become novels. Did I ever tell you that “The Long and Winding Road” played in my head while I wrote Wenny Has Wings? And the beautiful traditional Irish song “Bonny Portmore” was key to my writing about the loss of the ancient forests in The Dragons of Noor. Some art asks for more art. It births a larger conversation. Sometimes I will hear a song and think, “Oh! There’s a novel in that.” Have you found that to be true?
M: Definitely, though I hadn’t heard it expressed so well, one art piece “birthing a larger conversation.” So that means one art piece is only a piece of the world puzzle, then? Thanks for reminding me that “The Long and Winding Road” was *instrumental* in my favorite novel of yours!
For me, the haunting Irish song, “Were You At the Rock,” is begging to be part of my third book of Annie California, which — spoiler — is set in Ireland.
M: A few years ago, I realized that I couldn’t publish Annie California: Book One
until I’d started writing Book Two. So it’s natural that I’ve needed to start writing Book Three before Book Two can be published — hopefully by this winter.
J: Ah! I’m looking forward to that, Margaret! I know Annie and her mom have a place to stay in Book Two — but it is not their home. I see a connection between Annie’s situation and your current Hope Shelter artwork dovetailing beautifully here. Your books bring Annie’s search for a real home to life in her own words. I’m sure the girls who were drawn to the maquette at the museum would love Annie’s story of her dysfunctional family’s wild cross-country road trip on the way toward the hope of home.
M: Great connecting work you just did. You do that so well. There are connections I don’t see until you point them out, and then it breaks open so that everything feels connected: the girls in the gallery looking at the little girl doll huddled outside the shelter, the tiny copy of “Annie California” on the dining table in the maquette. In Book One, Annie’s overriding theme is, “Where’s home?” In Book Two, Annie’s theme is “How long can I stay?”
J: Beautiful question for book two. And I’ll have to look closer at the photos to see the tiny book on the dining table. We’re walking toward the close of the Dreamwalk together, Margaret.
M: Thanks for inviting me on your Dreamwalk, Janet. Best journeys, everyone.
J: Thanks for this joyful art journey, Margaret. And welcome to all of you Dreamwalkers who come by to walk alongside us.
See more about Margaret Kellermann’s books and art Here.