Life can be tough and we are often faced with hard choices and decisions. What we decide can have consequences, both good and bad. How do we decide what to do? Many of us have a strong sense of right and wrong, yet hesitate to take a stand. I have contemplated this question throughout my life.
Many years ago, I took a class where I was privileged to hear Liliane Gaffney speak. Liliane and her mother risked their lives and saved over 30 Jews during the Holocaust. Liliane said: “How does one start? The hardest part is taking the first step to do what is decent. Then, you help a second time and it keeps going. You do what is right. If it isn’t right – don’t do it. Being a bystander is almost as bad as those who did the killing. Because of them the killing is done. It’s better for me to do the right thing.” Why did Liliane and her mother decide to help while others did not?
My granddaughter was born in April 2020 and I wondered about the world we are leaving her and her generation. In 2020, with so much going on, I found myself questioning my legacy.
Shortly after the George Floyd murder in May of 2020, Cynthia Tinapple, blogger of Polymer Clay Daily interviewed prominent polymer clay artist Debbie Jackson. They discussed the issue of racism in America and within the polymer clay community. Recognizing that their conversation should be an ongoing dialogue rather than a one-time discussion, they invited other members of the polymer clay community, for a total of 7 Black women and 7 White women, to join their conversation. Click here to hear the inverview
I was honored to be one of the 14 polymer clay artists who came together thanks to Debbie and Cynthia. Everyone knew someone who was invited to participate, but none of us knew everyone. We did not have a plan other than to meet and talk. At the end of that first conversation we knew we wanted to meet again. And again. And again. Before we knew it, we were meeting over Zoom twice a month and we called ourselves The Gathering*.
We engaged in courageous and uncomfortable conversations to deepen our understanding of racism in ourselves and our communities. The dialogues were eye-opening, challenging, sometimes painful, often uncomfortable, frequently sprinkled with laughter and, yes, sometimes, tears.
Maureen Carlson, one of the women, created an artistic piece called How to Begin which I think captures the feel and importance of our conversations:
HOW to BEGIN
You tell me your story and I'll tell you mine.
A piece at a time. That's enough.
Our layers of protection are hard won and precious.
Not until we trust the other to hold the sacred parts of ourselves with reverence will it be safe enough to speak the truth of who we are.
But begin we must.
To do otherwise betrays the children who will reap what we are sowing.
Kathleen Dustin, another one of the 14, is on the board of Two Villages Art Society in New Hampshire and she suggested we collaborate on an art exhibit which we named Truth Be Told: An Artful Gathering of Women.
Using our life experiences and ideas inspired from our group conversations, each lady chose a word of importance to them and designed a 10 x 10 canvas around that word. Some of the words chosen include love, despair, hope, and truth. In addition, many of the artists also created additional artwork. Dianne Hayes Quarles created the graphic below which depicted each of our words.
We premiered Truth Be Told at Two Villages in October 2021 and in 2022 the exhibit moved to Songbird Artistry and then to The Lutheran Center in Pittsburgh.
Growing up, my parents and relatives tried to make the world a better place by teaching me to love my neighbor and taking care of the environment. Thinking of them, while at the same time considering future generations, led me to choose Legacy as my word.
I combined polymer clay, stained glass, and mirrors to form an eye, which is often thought of as the window to the soul. The piece directs the viewer to look within themselves and the mirror encourages them to “reflect.”
I wrote a poem that asked "Was I... a racist? A bystander? An ally? Did I do all I can? Can one person make a difference? Did I? Will you?
I originally put the poem on the side of my piece, but when it was hanging in the gallery I realized no one saw those words and I knew I needed to make a change. I used polymer clay to create a Tree of Life.
I added part of the poem to the leaves and trunk of the tree.
Being a part of The Gathering was very meaningful. While we have not solved anything or changed the world, we have made connections with each other around a topic that is difficult to discuss. This feels important. It IS important. Change begins within and with one person at a time.
I saw the impact Truth Be Told had on people who came to view the exhibit. We created a Thoughts Be Told board which gave viewers of the exhibit a place to express their thoughts. I have been moved reading what people wrote.
In 2023, Truth Be Told will be going to High Road Gallery in Columbus, Ohio on Feb 3 - March 11, and after that, it will move to Capital University also in Columbus, Ohio, dates to be announced.
Do you know a place that would like to host Truth Be Told? Leave a message in the comments or email me at Debo1960@aol.com.
Follow The Gathering of Artists on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheGatheringofArtists
*The Gathering, top row from left to right - Debbie Maier Jacknin, Beverly Poitier Henderson, Cynthia Tinapple, Debbie Jackson, Kathleen Dustin, Ellen Marshall, and Maureen Peck Carlson
Bottom row: Sherry Shine, Joey Barnes, Dianne Hayes Quarles, Donna Greenberg, Valerie Hall, Genevieve Williamson, and Kathleen Anderson
What thoughts will you tell? Leave them in the comments.