The Phoenix Rises in Art and Story
© 2008 by Wendy Ellertson
Phoenixes have long intrigued me because of their symbolism, elegant shape, and dramatic colors. Flight and wings have always been an important element in my artwork. And so it was that early in 2006 I decided to create a large red and golden phoenix as a major piece in my display at the American Craft Council Baltimore. At the same time, a story about the disappearance of the phoenix, a quest, and the cupola of a house near our home crept into my journals. Then the newest Harry Potter edition came out — with a red phoenix on the cover. "So much for my idea," I thought. Since I had been making mythic figures long, long before Rowling's fame emerged, I decided to defer my plans. I didn't want anyone to think Rowling was my inspiration.
In June '06 having deferred my phoenix project, I headed off to Mythic Journeys — a feast of storytelling, philosophy, poetry, networking, dance, activism, creativity, and just plain fun. I'd been on the mythic imagination road for many a year, but had no idea it was so filled with others on a similar journey. I had definitely found my long lost tribe. One evening, I was talking with the gentle Mexican poet, Ekiwah, when he turned to me and said, "You know, Wendy, there is a phoenix on your shoulder." I had never discussed my connection with birds, nor my desire to make a phoenix with Ekiwah. Later in the conference someone said they had seen a phoenix flying around downstairs in the conference area. (All right, by this time we were all pretty sleep deprived!) The final night of Mythic Journeys I dreamt about a phoenix rising up through tall urban buildings. Following the practice discussed in a dream workshop the day before, I called the dream back in those first waking moments, holding it to look more closely at the phoenix. I vividly saw it fly around the room, looked closely at its gold, red, and blue feathers. Then it disappeared. I searched more. A sudden warmth filled me...and I realized the phoenix had flown into me. Sometimes, the world has a way of screaming a message at you which just can't be denied. Harry Potter or not, I would refocus on the phoenix on my return home.
Since that day in Atlanta, phoenixes have propelled my creative energies. I learned to do nuno felting in order to get the phoenix wing gesture in my large mixed media sculptures. I've created leather phoenix shaped books, done research into the prevalence of phoenix type mythic creatures in many cultures, concentrated on the concept of rebirth and regeneration, and finished the rough draft of Sophia's Quest to present as the final project for the MII Certificate Program in Applied Mythology in New York City in July 2008.
In my tale Sophia, an extraordinary young storyteller, is given the task to search for the phoenix which seems to have disappeared from the world or all worlds. The story focuses on the concept of rebirth through the savoring, telling, and sharing of family and community stories. Does she find the phoenix? Is she part phoenix ? Do we all have a phoenix within? You will have to read the story to find out and decide for yourself. (I'm working on an edited written version as well as a spoken version of the tale.)
Mythic Journeys '06 kicked off Sophia's Quest. Readings, discussions, storytelling, and the community gathered through the Certificate in Applied Mythology course propelled the story forward. They have helped me clarify the philosophic core of the story, my three-dimensional art work, and community activism. Our world desperately needs rebirth. Our mythic challenges are to find the "phoenix" within us, and then identify the gifts we each must engage; creative energies to help reintegrate and recreate the world around us in a way that serves everyone.
It was at Mythic Journeys '06 where I shared my portfolio with Ari Berk and others in the bar late one night. Ari asked "So, where's the book?" Ironically, Ari was also one of the teachers for the Certificate in Applied Mythology session where we presented our final projects. Now, in trade for some of my creatures, Ari has offered to help me see that Sophia's Quest reaches its final form. Seems only appropriate since it was his challenge that made me seriously consider writing a book. Ah, the magic of creative circles...
Wendy Ellertson grew up in San Francisco, Chicago and Cleveland and has spent most of her adult life in Boston's inner city. She has been an active member of the fine craft community as a potter, mixed media and leather artisan for over forty years. Her mixed media mythic figures, magical leather books, and masks are sold in galleries and shows inside and outside of the United States. She is an enthusiastic Board member of the Interstitial Arts Foundation which supports border crossing art. Her studio and home are in Roxbury, Massachusetts, where in 1967 she and her husband, Jon (both westerners at heart) bought two c.1840 houses needing major work. They intended to stay just a few years. They raised four children and occasionally some chickens and rabbits. To their surprise, they now find themselves becoming community elders with history, memory, and spring tomato plants to share. They are still re-habbing their houses in their "spare" time. See more of Wendy's art at her website, www.ellertson.com.
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