Posts

Art Therapist, Arpilleras Heal Trauma

If Lisa Garlock were to sew an arpillera (story quilt) of her life, it would necessarily be busy. In the upper left, she might start with a scene from her youth overseas, when she wanted to be a scientist. Still on the top half, she might incorporate a print illustrating her education as an artist at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a small painting of her graduate work in art therapy at Nazareth College. In the center, she might place a mandala to represent her recovery from years of osteoarthritis in her hands, which hampered her artistically as it strengthened her spiritually. And in the lower panel, bordered by her vibrant handmade beads, she might show herself leading George Washington University art therapy students to India, where in Chennai, they guide women in telling their tales of gender-based violence using arpilleras. After she finished, Garlock might tack a pocket onto the back to hold a written narrative.

Through arpilleras, Garlock practices art therapy, a field of arts in health. But she wasn’t always interested in mental health. To fund her life as a young artist, she taught printmaking, waitressed, and worked in a gallery. Then, she took a job as an employment counselor to youth and adults. She loved counseling but missed art. One day, she attended a workshop on reducing recidivism in prisoners. On her way home, art therapy popped into her mind. “The self-focus and almost isolation of being an artist wasn’t enough for me and often isn’t enough for other art therapists. I asked,  what can I do socially with art? Also, as an artist I always felt bad about using so many different materials. But art therapists need to know a lot of media. Art and therapy were a perfect match for me.”

Art Therapy and Arpilleras

For the rest of us, art and therapy can be scary. We might not have drawn or gotten knee-deep in glitter or finger paint since we were children. And most of us don’t take time or have money for analysis, self-driven or professionally led. We think we have to withhold every emotion, all tragedy, and produce only perfect art. But we might find art therapy intriguing and fabric surprisingly friendly. It’s tactile and forgiving. Sewing can be soothing. Women, who so often make their families’ clothes, find great solace in quilting. When working in groups, they connect. They share stories of poverty, war, illness, and gender-based violence. Their stress lifts. The fabric holds their tears—to paraphrase Chilean artist Roberta Bacic, as Garlock did.

Arpillera means burlap in Spanish. To their creators and art therapists, arpilleras de adorno are colorful appliqués that heal and endure. They were born of the first September 11, the one in Chile in 1973, when the military overthrew the government and declared martial law. Dissenters, mostly men, were questioned, and many were imprisoned and tortured. Others simply vanished. The Catholic Church intervened to help women produce arpilleras to generate income. In their story quilts, they combined paid work, political resistance, and their own version of talk therapy. To memorialize the “disappeared,” they stitched in three-dimensional figures of loved ones dressed in bits of left-behind clothing. Through the women’s artistry, word spread beyond Chile of the horrors of the dictatorship.

Arpilleras, as art or art therapy, flourish throughout Latin America and in Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Laos, Northern Ireland, the United States, and Zimbabwe. The AIDS Memorial Quilt is but one example. But they didn’t enter Garlock’s world until a few years ago, even though she had minored in textile arts. The Latin American crafts gallery, where she had worked years before, exhibited Chilean arpilleras and Guatemalan traditional clothing, which decades of conflict (1960–1996) had virtually wiped out. She became fascinated by the narrative quilts of African American women of Gee’s Bend and Esther Krinitz, a seamstress who wanted her children to touch her personal history forty years after she had escaped from the Nazis. Garlock admired the patterns, colors, and women’s resiliency, how—together or alone—they had sewn up their lives.

Arpilleras in Prison

She went back to prison. She held her first arpilleras group for women in transition. She confessed she found her task frustrating: “Most had been told they shouldn’t dwell on the bad things, but if you haven’t processed trauma, then it’s going to be hard to stay focused on the positive and move forward.” They needed to find jobs and housing, stay clean, and reconnect with family. Most had no sewing background and were unfamiliar with art therapy. They could hardly see the connection between art and their health as returning citizens. Some joined the group to learn sewing; others were severely traumatized. Many were unaware of traumatic experiences in their pasts. One stitched quietly, unengaged, and couldn’t finish her arpillera by the time the group disbanded. Another spoke only with Garlock. Drawing in pastels was enough to satisfy one woman, while another put great care into creating the border of her arpillera but couldn’t decide what to put inside. Yet another, who couldn’t physically sew, used sticky tape to connect fabric images to the background of her quilt. She managed to tell a complete story— some of it fantasy, some of it real—remained in the present, and enjoyed the process. “Art does intimidate a lot of people. It’s a different language, so it takes time to teach the skills. There can be a lot of storytelling going on in a group but not a lot of sewing,” Garlock said.

Rachel Cohen, Garlock’s colleague in Switzerland and founder of Common Threads, introduced mindfulness practices and arpilleras to trained artists and therapists in Ecuador. They, in turn, worked with women who had survived gender-based violence in a frontier town. Although they came from a culture of sewing, most had never worked with fabric. Three or four in the two twelve-week programs recorded trauma; the others stitched idyllic scenes. Recently, the women exhibited their work in Quito. Cohen and Garlock want to document the results quantitatively.

Current Endeavors, Future Plans

For four summers, Garlock has supervised George Washington University art therapy students on two-week trips to India, where they have worked in schools, hospitals, and a shelter. Last season, Garlock’s students collected bags of beautiful fabric scraps from local tailors. At first, the women in the shelter didn’t want to use the castoffs. But by the last day, they preferred them. An Indian art therapist now uses recycled material in her arpilleras therapy.

This year, Garlock plans to offer a class on sewing arpilleras to her art therapy students at George Washington, and in September in Geneva, she and Cohen hope to hold the first international conference on narrative textiles.

When asked to cite her most heart-warming experiences, Garlock mentioned her work with students and the invitation to show her arpillera of Silvia’s story in Buenos Aires at the Parque de la Memoria (see photo, above). One day, leading up to the Argentine Dirty War (1976–1983), Silvia went on a school fieldtrip. As she and her classmates returned to the bus, riot police descended on nearby protestors. Things got ugly. Silvia went into exile, alone, and later became an architect, a nun, and then a social worker. In Garlock’s quilt, wind tears off tiny garments from a clothesline. They disappear, just as so many people did. The little banner is a ribbon from a rally held years later to commemorate the lost. It bears the name of one victim, whose life nobody—not even an artist and art therapist like Garlock—can weave back together.

 

Jargon and Spam Pollute Word Reefs

Thanksgiving is almost here. So the poultry purveyor at my local market wrote to say that he would “defiantly have turkeys.” What a relief! Sadly, obviously, words aren’t his “strong suite.” Nor are they the special talent or concern of most people anymore. No one seems to care that words, like corals, are suffering and can no longer live happily together, whether in twosomes or tomes.

Clauses, sentences, paragraphs, books—the reefs words inhabit—are under attack. In hardcopy and online, word pollution is rampant. Bad grammar, misspellings, adjective-noun hybrids, and verbosity threaten the habitats of language. Wherever words hang out, ill-chosen punctuation and emoticons festoon them, like cassette tape on a colony of the Crochet Coral Reef. Even the World Wide Web, the Great Barrier Reef of the new world of words, struggles under our creative runoff and virtual trash.

Two of my pet word pollutants are jargon and spam. The first masquerades as healthy language in print and online; the second floods email and comment balloons.

Jargon, lingo peculiar to a profession or group, obfuscates meaning by puffing it up. Think excessive levels of nutrients from fertilizer fouling pristine bays. Spam (never mind the spiced, potted meat) is irrelevant or inappropriate language on the Internet. Envision sewage flowing into rivers and oceans.

Have you looked for work lately? Here’s the sort of listing that makes editors and writers run, not apply:

JargonCorp, a next-generation, growth-oriented company with a fast-paced, deadline-oriented environment, seeks to improve its coordination and facilitation of cause-marketing initiatives and activations and develop multi-channel communications campaigns with brand awareness. We are looking for a dynamic self-starter with cutting-edge insights to join our team of blue-sky, out-of-the box thinkers with end-user perspectives. You will develop a narrative arc for episodic information sharing, as well as tactical strategies and technical implementation to leverage enhanced cross-platform functionality.

What? Are you going to read more of the “role profile” and “accountabilities”? Do you care that they care about “E&D” or want to ensure their “list hygiene”? Goodness, these words are unhappy and individually diseased!

They are only one step away from the Web’s effluent, spam. Hundreds of passages like the following opened my site to a hacker and almost killed it before its first birthday:

Penelope [sneaker brand] dvd website cranberries [a medicine for men Americans sent to Afghanistan] trucks stuffing crayons …

Heavens! Not a single comma!

Google buried Sebold Communications half alive. But miracles happen …

And speaking of Thanksgiving, here’s a shout out to WordPress Web Developer Brian Jessee of Jessee Productions. Since September, he has, dare I say, “securitized” and helped optimize seboldcommunications.com for Google and Bing. Thanks for cleaning up my spot on the reef (errrr, Web), Brian!

Crochet Coral Reef Sends Woolen Warning

Before me lay a room-high mound of warm-woolen fuzzies and lanolin-puffing fringees in blues and greens, reds and golds, white-beiges and browns. Mesmerized, my inner child waited for Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat to pop out to tell the story of the Crochet Coral Reef, an international project started in 2005 by the Los Angeles–based Institute for Figuring. Its founders, Margaret and Christine Wertheim, knew that the Great Barrier Reef of their native Australia was in bad shape. They called for help.  Artists responded.  Together, they crocheted a reef that grew faster than corals ever did, even before climate change.

I saw the reef in 2011 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The show brightened an otherwise dim hall near museum cases about living corals. The juxtaposition drove home the relevance of the arts to environmental issues and inspired me to learn more about corals, global warming, and ocean pollution. I had just the reaction the reef’s creators and museum’s curators planned. In fact, based on my visit, I decided to blog on where health, environment, and the arts meet, my tagline.

Crochet is a “feminine art.” So when the reef set out for Washington, DC, four homeless women of N Street Village joined 200 local crocheters to spawn baby corals for the 4,000-piece reef. Women combating poverty and ill health came to the aid of embattled corals through art. With their hooks, they crocheted model hyperbolas, the shapes corals take that have fascinated mathematicians for centuries. While the curvy, yet straight linear forms grew so did the bonds between threatened human artists and corals, between land and sea creatures.

As the women and exhibit goers learned, excess atmospheric carbon, water pollution, destructive fishing, coastal development, coral mining, and careless tourism have already killed 20 percent of the world’s reefs. Coral reefs are the largest biological structures on Earth; the Great Barrier Reef is visible from outer space. But reefs grow slowly. Most are 5,000 to 10,000 years old. They harbor 25 percent of all marine life and provide food, income, coastal protection, and the ingredients of life-saving medicines for millions of people. With the rise in temperatures and release of carbon, oceans are becoming acidic enough to kill reefs. One colony of the Crochet Coral Reef is white and beige to represent bleached, skeletonized corals. Another is full of human detritus—beer tabs, plastic bags, and cassette tape.

Depressing as the state of the world’s corals is, the Crochet Coral Reef is probably the most effective and delightful means of delivering an environmental message imaginable. If only the Cat in the Hat’s VOOM would emerge from all the colorful yarn to clean up the mess we, the Little Cats, have made of the ancient reefs!

 

Setting Themes

Where Health, Environment and the Arts Meet is the slogan of Sebold Communications. It’s also the theme of my Web site and blog, the Bamboo Pen. The pen–chicory flower trademark graphically embodies my current work and writing, the way I see the world.

Like you perhaps, I enjoy putting together different fields and arts and breaking down barriers between peoples, even species. Interdisciplinary, intercultural programs and publications, when well designed and managed, make lasting impressions on audiences and can ease relations between political opposites. Behind every success lies a unifying idea, or theme.

Here are four steps you can take to develop themes for programs, publications, and businesses:

Imagine

Start with the message you want to impart or the subject you want to showcase—in other words, what you want to learn or accomplish and what you think might excite others. Don’t be wowed by the reputation of a speaker, artist, or writer just yet. Later you can choose a celebrity to present your program or compose a book chapter. For now, turn on music that evokes your topic. Get enthused about your idea. Do some research online or in specialized libraries.  Record all your thoughts. How can you weave together a series of programs or blog posts? A performance and a publication? A health presentation and a holiday celebration?

Before settling on a theme and tagline for Sebold Communications, I did a lot of thinking. In previous work, I had seen arts and cultural programs foster peace, environment, and health. I decided to write blog posts about not only environmental health, but also arts in health, arts in environment, and arts in development.

I got out crayons, colored pencils, a sketchpad. I found my old bamboo pen from Islamic calligraphy classes with Mohamed Zakariya. I paged through wildflower books. My mind wandered. Which colors would best suggest health and the environment; which flower, the world? After some bizarre drawings, I came up with a trademark and representative colors. To read up on Asclepius, I went to the Library of Congress with my reader’s card. And for a season, I took mock blog notes at art exhibits, science fairs, and international development conferences.

Visualize

How can you bring alive your ideas? Can you find a funder whose values reinforce your theme? Choose your speakers or authors now. Picture the room or the finished publication. How will people move through the conference room, negotiate the layout of your online or print report? Will there be a bottleneck at the pastry table? Will a well-placed graph enhance readers’ understanding of your project results? Place the tables and chairs or chapters and pictures with the takeaway in mind. You want to make sure your in-person and home audiences enjoy themselves enough to stay for the whole program or read the entire book. You want them to absorb your message.

For Sebold Communications, I had to design an attractive Web site in concert with a graphic artist and a Web site developer. I visited sites of Webby Award winners in the arts and sciences to see how they laid out their homes on the Internet. I wanted to unpack the trademark on the inner pages, create mini-themes by using different chicory drawings on the services panels and the bamboo pen on the blog, or writing, page. Then I had to learn WordPress to compose pages and posts. At that point, I decided to alternate topical pieces with somehow-related articles on writing, editing, programs, or languages. For eight posts introducing the elements of my trademark and the format of my blog, I wanted photographs in blues, greens, and yellows.

[Update: In January 2016, Gallop Web Services helped me redesign the site to make it mobile and more useful to visitors. I also decided to concentrate on writing reviews of events and features on practitioners and scholars in the four interdisciplinary fields mentioned above. Tell me what you think!]

Publicize

Who is your audience? Where do they get their information? Do they read only professional publications and blogs? Or does your program or publication have broad appeal? Should you advertise on radio and TV or YouTube and Vine? Which languages should you use? Should you bother with hard-copy brochures and press releases? Where can you mingle with your potential audience? At conventions or shared workplaces? Package your theme accordingly.

Which social media do your readers use? There are so many to explore. I signed up for LinkedIn early on, then Twitter and Google+.  LinkedIn reinforces my business, and Twitter reflects my blog. Most of the people I work with are at least on LinkedIn. Those who work in relief use Twitter, and those who manage programs gather in Google Hangouts. Communications and marketing experts know know that social media drive curious visitors to their organizations’ Web sites, where they can find publications and calendars.

Give

Think of something you can give free to your audience or readers, something that will match your program, publication, or business. With a souvenir, they’ll remember the experience longer and more fondly. Your report won’t get lost in a pile.

If you plan a program on the history of the camel as I once did, offer attendees camel burgers on toothpicks! In your next performance program, include a seek-and-find word puzzle whose solution underscores your theme. Watch early birds find the answers and stay in their seats at intermission. Are you doing a program on hand washing? Give out tiny soaps as health educators do.

At Sebold Communications, I haven’t quite gotten to this step. I’m not too sure about the white papers marketers advocate. Maybe I’ll write a blue or green one! Offering people free help with a tough sentence or two didn’t fly through Twitter. For now, I’ll stick with providing writing samples through my blog or editing a page or two from the middle of a prospect’s report. I might volunteer to organize a lecture.

Now that you’ve suffered my advice on setting themes and had the behind-the-scenes tour of my business and blog, let’s explore where health, environment, and the arts meet. The next post will in some ways be my first. I’ll write about the project that inspired me to blog: Environmentally concerned artists have crocheted coral reefs to call attention to the beauty and plight of real ones in oceans around the world.

After I spin that much shorter yarn, I’ll examine the structure of sentences and paragraphs. After all, words live closely together like corals, either happily or unhappily.

So stay tuned. Tell us about your creative process. Share news of health, environment, and the arts!