Hope and Healing / by Hayden Michelle

 When asked to contribute work to, “CREATE: Expressions of Hope and Healing through the Arts”, I felt honored. An all-too-uncommon theme for an exhibit, healing art offers unique insight into growing through pain to reclaim our truest selves.  While aware of the inherent vulnerability, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share what has often been a hidden part of my art and life.

"LOOKING WITHIN", 1987, (36 x 48 inches),  graphite, 1st self-portrait (not in current exhibit)

Art has been a life-saving path that I began using long ago, and continues to provide relief and hope like no other source.  It connects me more deeply to myself, providing perspective and reflecting my own often unconscious process of change.

Like most, I feel ill at ease when sharing my wounds.  Yet, I truly believe that art made from these protected places bridges the artist and the viewer, connecting our mutual experience of being human, and emphasizing the overlap we share, despite our differences.  Art that engages the healing process may tap deep pain, eliciting despair, feeling confrontive.  Yet, I know this connection is worth the price, and it is a privilege when I am part of the circuit that is made.  It is my hope that restorative energy is felt by the viewer, and absorbed into those parts of themselves that need to be seen, that need to be heard.

"Tear Bottle", 2015, (11 x 22 x 24 inches) (with detail images, below)

The first piece is entitled, “Tear Bottle”, and was originally created for an exhibit at the end of 2015, “Another Way of Keeping a Diary”.  I wrote about the journey of this sculpture here, and am grateful to show this piece again.  After 3 reconstructions-- the first necessitated after a fire in our home, the second after severe damage sustained in cross-country shipment, I faced a third time, after damage in return transit .  To say that I have been feeling resistance about this would be an understatement, as it is a complex sculpture, and a daunting task to repeatedly undertake.

Not exactly feeling the “third time is the charm” energy, I allowed myself to resist beginning the repair for one whole year before reopening the box and surveying the damage.  It made me feel the multiple losses (inherent in the meaning of the piece, as well as in the damage to the sculpture) as I saw the extent of the destruction, and made me realize how resistance can protect us from strong feelings/tasks that are difficult to face.  This putting aside allowed me some time to be with other parts of my life and creating that were not about brokenness, all the while knowing I would need to come back and repair yet again.

I realize now, that this acceptance fortified me.  Rather than judging myself for feeling agitated, overwhelmed, angry, and sad, I let those feelings be, reflecting on them and re-examining them until they were ready to move on and I was ready to work—respite which actually gave me a fresh burst of energy.  I was now able to view it as an opportunity to make the piece physically stronger, more detailed, and more integrated than before, and realized what a parallel this is to how we often experience repeat patterns that are painful in our lives.

 It occurred to me that although I have many times in my life thought, “I can’t do this… not again… I don’t know where to begin… this is the pits… etc., etc.,” that each time, I mustered courage and at least a bit of determination to try again, and found in doing so, that I returned with new perspective and tools learned from experience, with increased awareness and learning about who I am and how I cope.  Finding some insight in the midst of the challenge further energized the repair process.  A wise friend of mine tenderly offered that perhaps part of the meaning might be that I continue to hold the ability to repair myself in ways still needing attention.  Gulp.  How we all need that reminder of our inner strength to keep meeting what comes our way, in big and small ways, and to grow beyond what we previously imagined…

“Tear Bottle” got its name when i discovered how tear bottles have been used throughout history as vessels to hold the sorrow of those in mourning, often placed in tombs to show respect for those who died.  Creating this piece moved me to my core, opening to my deepest truth of the sexual violation I suffered.  By accepting the depth of how this trauma has affected all parts of me, it enables me to feel and express my outrage and grief at that which lives in my bones still, and tragically, in the bones of countless others.  As tears are often believed to hold healing properties, allowing my own to flow enables me to find release, and honors life energy that has been taken, as well as widens my view to acknowledge the new life which has been created in this same pelvis...  the miracles of my children.  Intentionally making this bovine pelvis a safe and reverent space helped me to widen my view to see that not just trauma, but joy and liberation, are within my body and spirit, emanating out when I feel connected to my center, surrendering to what is. 


My second piece, “Reclaiming the Sacred”, was made during the first healing art workshop I co-led 5 years ago, and is a compilation of images originally created by many artists, curated from magazines and collaged together into a triptych that gives a glimpse into the ongoing process of healing my spirit.  It is an arduous journey examining how my spirituality and trust in the Universe was deeply damaged by the betrayal, lack of safety, and loss of self the trauma left.   I summon courage daily to face this loss, while holding gratitude for remaining connected to the Sacred that is ever-present.

"Reclaiming the Sacred", 2010, (60 x 32 x 12 inches), (detail images below, reworked with colored pigment and encaustic)


  And my last piece in the show, “Emerging”, is a ceramic piece I made long ago, 1992.   Created in early adulthood while beginning to confront the depths of fall-out that childhood sexual abuse left on my mind/body/spirit… my inner parts responded-- the fatigue of grief,  pulling inward for self-protection while confronting inwardly and then outwardly telling the truth, and desire for healing and release from what had been held silent for so long.  This piece is one of a series of five sculptures, all depicting different parts of reclaiming myself.

"Emerging", 1992, (5.5 x 9 x 6 inches), (detail images, below)


I am grateful for the gift of making art which so deeply and freely offers healing.  I am aware of the privilege of having the safety which enables me to speak up about suffering and healing… not just my own, but what is experienced by every human being.  I am indebted to those in my life who support and love me on this imperfect path.  It is such a gift not to be alone.  As I wrote on the end page of my compilation of healing art book made for WITNESS, my wish for you, as you view this art, is to “release anything which is deadening to your spirit”, an anonymous quote discovered scrawled onto a wall in college that has become a personal mantra.  Certainly, we all have something that would benefit from release, and perhaps we can lighten the load by sharing it with each other…

"Release", 2010, photograph, mixed media, WITNESS Project

"Release", 2010, photograph, mixed media, WITNESS Project

 [“CREATE: Expressions of Hope and Healing through the Arts”, opens on March 17, 5-8 p.m., at ArtsPlace, 161 N. Mill Street, Lexington, KY, and runs through Saturday, March 25.  The evening will include the exhibit, as well as healing art demonstrations, discussion of music as therapy, and a dance performance, portraying the power of movement.  There will be a panel discussion the following morning, Saturday, March 18, from 10:30—12:30 p.m., to discuss further how we can all heal from accessing the power of art.  I hope to see you there, even if I am shaking in my boots!}]