On receiving the gift of a +Factor Award in New York this summer from ETHEL, an incredible string quartet, I remarked that art invites us to dig deeply into our souls. Art allows us to acknowledge our sorrows and our joys, and to be fully human.
As an artist in residence in both France and Italy this summer, I witnessed that no matter the language, we can understand each other through art. When living with a wonderful lady, whose English was as good as my practically nonexistent French, it was incredible to realize that we understood each other without the need for many words. My “French Mom” fed and housed me, and drove me for many miles to beautiful places in the Provence region seeking flowers to photograph. Later in the summer, I returned for the Pierrevert Photography Festival and shared the “Flowers for Mom en Provence” created earlier in the summer. During my first ever presentation translated into another language, my French Mom had tears running down her cheek as she experienced and understood my art. It was incredible to witness the power of art reminding us of our shared humanity across generations and oceans. To those who made it possible for me to be an artist in residence I give my most sincere thanks and to anyone who has ever made it possible for other artists to be in a place to create and share their work, I thank you for allowing for exploration, for expression, for sharing, and for lives being touched in ways beyond anything you ever imagined. It was tremendous for me to see large pieces featuring my photographs gently swaying the the breeze touched by sun being shared in a community garden. A perfect place for “Flowers for Mom!”
Italy was also on my schedule as I crossed even more borders for a work of dance, “At the End of the Road,” choreographed by Thomas Johansen of Norway, danced by students of the Royal Danish Ballet, with music by Kim Helweg of Norway, and a backdrop of my photographs of pine trees in Alabama. This collaborative work was part of an evening of the DAP Dance Festival in Pietrasanta, Italy focused on saying no to violence against women. Once again, no words were required as art was the medium through which we understood each other.
It is easy for us to lose our way and focus on the bad, the sad and the difficult. For our world to be the peaceful, joyful place we all imagine, we must take positive steps to make it so. I chose connecting with nature when in a place of sadness. Through observing flowers and learning from them, I now am beginning my fourth year of photographing a flower a day honoring my mother’s Alzheimer’s journey and I find myself enriched because of deliberately pausing for beauty and celebrating nature. If you are in or near north Alabama from now through October 12th, go visit the Carnegie Visual Arts Center where opening tonight is the largest ever exhibit of “Flowers for Mom.” On September 20th I am joining Hudson Alpha scientist, Nick Cochran, for the Lunch and Learn event at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center where we will share about research and personal journeys tied to Alzheimer’s. Memphis has called me to speak next week, and the trip there lets me add both Mississippi and Arkansas to my list that now includes flowers from 15 countries and 21 states, plus Washington D.C.
Find opportunities to experience or create art as a means to bring us to a deeper understanding of our shared humanity. Aim to be enlightened and empowered to improve our world. Be the peace you want to see in the world.
A journey begins with a single step. After 1,000 steps, it is incredible to see how far you have traveled. This past week marked 1,000 days of “Flowers for Mom.” Every day there has been a flower. Every day there has been beauty. Every day I have been reminded of the value in pausing for just a moment to be creative.
Such gratitude I have for the gardeners, for those who show me flowers, and for the people who are with me on this journey that appreciate the power of connecting with nature. The first step began out of a feeling of helplessness with a desire to do something to help my mother. Now that I have taken over 1,000 steps, I see that I am the greatest beneficiary of this floral odyssey as I have been joined by friends along the way, supported by family, and learned the value in stopping to appreciate beauty, even on the hard days.
For Mother’s Day weekend, I will be speaking at my greatest source of floral inspiration – Jasmine Hill Gardens. It will be fun to share my story and photographs with friends and family in the area. Do join us if you can, or reach out if you want to schedule a time for me to come to your hometown to share words and images aimed to enlighten and entertain.
With the first step I never thought I would surpass 1,000, and I certainly never thought that the path would one day lead me to become an international artist. This summer is going to be an exciting one with a start in New York City before venturing to France and Italy. Stay tuned for details! Alabama has its very own International Art Center, so perhaps my art hanging there is my first step in the international realm! If you are in the area, join us for the opening event on June 3rd at Troy University, and see how advanced photography students used my work as a jumping off point to create their own images.
Whether it be a pot of basil or mint at your back door, or a garden full of flowers, do something to get your hands in the dirt. Feel the power of connecting with nature. Beauty abounds. Seek it daily.
Petals in the wind. What a wonderful vision. The “Flowers for Mom” petals float and travel to the most surprising places landing in ways never imagined when the first seeds were planted.
Hardships such as the loss of a child, divorce, and cancer, impact a circle that extends well beyond immediate family members. When in midst of dark days, it is often the smallest things that we need the most such as the kindness of friends as they give us a gentle touch of love. It is humbling that my response to an Alzheimer’s journey is providing a ray of light for others.
During the first year of my “Flowers for Mom” photo series, a friend suggested asking people to post their own flower photos on social media to be shared with Mom. What a brilliant idea, and what a tremendous gift to witness the growth of my photo garden through the nurturing hands of others. The outpouring of love was a gift to my mother, but perhaps more importantly, to my father as he saw the kind words and images from so many friends. This year as Mom celebrated her 80th birthday, more flowers were shared with her than the number of her years, and the comments and gestures of kindness exceeded many lifetimes of years. Thank you to all who touched our world with the petals of your flowers.
This past year, I was celebrating a birthday ending in zero too, and it was a friend of my eldest daughter in Boston who surprised me with a gift of flower photos. As he stepped into his yard to find a few flowers, he bumped into a five year old neighbor who “got super excited and insisted that she show me every flower in the neighborhood.” Needless to say, the game became incredibly fun as they traipsed through yards and the number of flower photos exceeded his original goal. On finishing, the little girl proclaimed that the next day she was going for a long walk to take pictures of her own! For the rest of the summer, I imagine that there were two people who found themselves noticing flowers in their neighborhood that they had never seen before. Just like “passalong plants” dug up from one garden and shared with friends, this floral odyssey of mine is being passed along and it is incredible to witness how the act of one person sharing can bloom in far away gardens they have never seen. Unexpected gifts from Alzheimer’s…
Sitting beside me is a coffee filled mug by the master potter, Larry Allen. When meeting him and selecting my piece, it was fascinating to learn about his technique and the meaning behind the figures in his intricately carved work. Our exchange reminded me of the response from the award-winning architect, Bobby McAlpine when I asked him how he maintains momentum and inspiration. As glamorous as it sounds to be an artist, the reality is there are periods of struggle, and McAlpine’s response to my question has become one that has remained with me when I hit times of needing a creative boost to keep going – crop rotation.
It is other art forms that provide great crop rotation, and life has given me recent opportunities to be rejuvenated by creative spirits such as Allen as well as the amazing Tena Payne who founded Earthborn Pottery. Also inspiring me with their passion both on and off stage, are some talented performers working with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Collaborative Arts Ensemble. If you need to add some pep to your step, why not seek work by a local artist or attend a live performance? Creativity is a key ingredient in the fabric of a successful community, so support artists while also nurturing that creative spirit within yourself.
Music has long made my heart soar, and has also been a vital comfort during difficult times. When processing my “Flowers for Mom” images, I carefully select music to play according to what kind of crop rotation I need at the moment. For fun, I created a “Flowers for Mom” playlist on Spotify with a focus on the meaning behind the lyrics as well as memories of music loved by my mother. You can give it a listen here. Do let me know what songs you think I should add!
My “Flowers for Mom” sculpture goes on display at Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama for a couple of months when I speak for their Winter Wednesdays series on February 27th. Treat yourself to a spring visit to the garden and experience the magnitude of this flower series by experiencing the sculpture’s scrolling photos that are close to 1,000 in number. Learn learn more about why this garden is special to me here.
When beginning my “Flowers for Mom” project of a daily photo in August of 2016, I never imagined I would still be seeking a daily flower in 2019. People sometimes ask me what is next. That I cannot answer because for today, I find there are more flowers to find, angles to capture, and lighting to explore. This post features all camellias in memory of my great great uncle, Walter Bellingrath whose name was given to the first full sized camellia photo here. As you can see, each image and each flower are very different. How can I possibly be finished?!
Art inspires us to think and to feel, and our response is tied to who and where we are at that very moment. When posted recently on social media, I asked people to give words to this image in haiku form. Take this moment to pause and revel in the beauty of their words and their own artistic responses to my creation.
Continue to take moments to pause during this busy time of the year. Seek the beauty that abounds and remember that the greatest gift you can give to others is your presence.
If you ever wondered what good could possibly come from Alzheimer’s – how about it inspiring a photo series that landed the artist on the cover of a magazine?! See the recent articles on page 32 in Boom Magazine and on page 12 in Elmore County Living.