"Life Events" / by Hayden Michelle

According to insurance terms, we have sadly experienced a “life event”.  Six weeks ago, we had a house fire, which resulted from my encaustic wax being accidentally left on when we left for the day, somehow igniting, and emitting black acrid smoke which damaged much of the contents of our house.  We found all 4 of our cats alive hours later, with incredible relief and gratitude that no living being was harmed from the fire.  We spent 5 weeks with family, and learned much about sharing space, vulnerability, coping, and receiving help.  There were incredible outpourings of compassionate care, offers of assistance on many levels, and a palpable feeling of being valued and loved.  These were the beautiful gifts that emerged in the midst of what has been terribly painful and raw. 

We have had the opportunity to simplify all that we own, having handled every single item in our home, deciding whether it was salvageable, would be cleaned by us, or put into the hands of the fire restoration crew to clean.  Daunting and overwhelming, it was, and still is, honestly, as we are now moving back in to our home.  We have been brought to a new level of mindfulness as we are recreating our living space, as well as how we live day to day.   And we wish to offer much appreciation for all of those you helped lighten the load these last many weeks.  There are no words to adequately describe the depth of our thankfulness...

And the interesting thing that we quickly realized is that life continued where it left off the  week prior to the fire, almost as if nothing had changed.  It was an incredibly busy week leading up to the fire... in a matter of 24 hours, I submitted a collection of work for the Berea Library as Artist of the Month, showcasing 12 encaustic sculptures, which resulted in them being saved from the fire (as they were stored in the room where the fire took place).  I submitted a large encaustic sculpture for the International Encaustic Artists call for entry for their upcoming exhibit entitled, "Another Way of Keeping a Diary".  A few days later I watched as the Encaustic Art Institute's 5th Juried Encaustic/Wax Exhibition in Sante Fe, NM, as well as the Fertile Ground exhibit, in Berea, KY, both had their openings.   I was honored to be in these shows, and so excited by the energy of having been part of both of these exhibits.  I also turned 47 that week preceding the fire, and had commented that I usually did not remember many particular years of my life, but felt that this one was going to be significant...  

So I am off to a strong start in that category!  And life has continued on in some very good ways that help balance some of the intensity of the fire aftermath.  I was invited by Mary Rezny to participate in an encaustic invitational show of 5 artists this upcoming January, and readily accepted (the morning of the fire!).  I am honored to be part of this group of artists who are showing different expressions of what can be created through encaustic art.  It feels wonderful to be working on pieces that will be part of this show, and helps me to get back in the saddle :).  Stay tuned as I share some of the process as I create new work...

I was also thrilled to learn a week after the fire that my sculpture had been accepted into the International Encaustic Artists exhibit, which leads me to the announcement of its upcoming opening in only 2 days!  It will be showcased at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, in San Luis Obispo, CA.  The title of the show, "Another Way of Keeping a Diary", certainly called to me with my recent decision to outwardly share my healing process through art, and I began work on this piece in the summer.  I had a cow pelvis that had long been bleached by the sun that we found on our land, and knew long ago that the right opportunity would come along and call for it to be used.  I wanted to show holistically how our bodies hold trauma, grief, healing power, and liberation that comes from owning what we have lived through.  

Long before the fire, I had titled the piece, "Phoenix from the Flames", but felt self-conscious about naming it such a thing.  After much reflection, I called it, "Tear Bottle", and wrote about the history of tear bottles holding the grief of loss, as a sign of respect for that loss... and how acknowledging that loss and honoring it enables deeper healing to happen, and for new experiences to come out of what previously held trauma, like the miracles of my children that emerged from the same pelvis that experienced violation.   It felt empowering, although deeply painful, to place each thorn on the pelvis, and I did much tonglen meditation for all those who have known violence to their bodies, and for those who are experiencing it, still.  The work of creating this sculpture was deeply healing on so many levels, and became a sort of prayer and offering for hope and healing for all those who are in need.  It was cathartic on a level that is difficult to capture in words, but is something for which I will always be grateful.  

The morning of the fire, I actually moved the sculpture out of my studio and into the house, about 5 feet from where my wax caught on fire.  Fortunately, I covered it with a trash bag, to protect if from our cats nibbling on the branches, and quite fortunately, it melted it over the whole piece, protecting it from the spray of blackened wax, extinguisher spray, and hose water that exploded over the whole room.  I was able to carefully remove the bag and restore the sculpture after 8 hours of work.  The beeswax was an amazing protectant for the sculpture, and it did not absorb the acrid smell that consumed many of the materials in our house.  We aired it in the wind for many watchful days, and were so relieved that it remained intact.  I was able to have it shipped across the US via airplane, and it arrived and will be on a pedestal at the museum in a matter of days.

 I have reflected and wondered if the spirit of the cow who inhabited this pelvis knows of the amazing healing it has brought to me, or of the journey far from the hills of Kentucky that it has now taken, to be viewed by many.  I know it will leave me with a profound depth for as long as I live, and I am so very grateful to the International Encaustic Artists and to the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art for putting together such a powerful exhibit.  I owe special thanks to David Limrite, artist and juror for the show, who offered much encouragement for restoration of the piece, and tremendous validation of the power of my piece.   I am so grateful to have had his support during this time of exhaustion from coping with literally enabling this sculpture to be the "phoenix from the flames".  

Thank you for sharing in this process of life and creating with me.  There have been so many lessons about impermanence this past month, and I have had much opportunity to let go of things... pride, privacy, guilt, possessions, art supplies, and pieces of artwork damaged by the fire (to name but a few).  It has helped to reflect on each piece, be reminded of what it has taught me, and to release it in whatever way was needed.  And the process will be ongoing, as life is an ongoing experience of letting go and opening to the new that moves in...



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