May I Have a Moment of your Time and Attention?

Hey, all! I wanted to bring to your attention a couple of new projects of mine that I really want more people to know about. I would love it if you’d take a peek at these, and I’d be especially honored if you’d pass one or both links on to folks you feel may be interested. (And my thanks to you for that!)

First, the BIG one–on February 1-2, 2014, right here in Portland, OR, I am running Curious Gallery PDX, a weekend-long convention dedicated to the appreciation and creation of taxidermy and other natural history specimens, artifacts old and new, and other things you might find in a well-stocked cabinet of curiosities. From the official website:

Long before public museums became a feature of many cities, private citizens in Europe and elsewhere formed their own extensive collections of scientific specimens and cultural artifacts meant to educate and inspire their beholders. A longtime collector of natural history specimens, Portland artist and author Lupa wanted to increase awareness and appreciation of wunderkammern (“wonder cabinets”), or cabinets of curiosity, and their eclectic contents. Curious Gallery is the result, a weekend of exhibits, presentations, hands-on workshops, and special programming for lovers of taxidermy, natural wonders, and strange treasures old & new.

I’ve been planning this for a while and the time was finally right to make it happen! It’ll be two days of workshops, panels and other programming, an art show and fashion show, exhibitors of all types, and other goodies related to taxidermy and other natural history, ancient and modern artifacts, and anything else to be found in a cabinet of curiosities.

If you want to keep up on news, updates and special deals, here are the Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Google Plus page for the event. Early bird ticket rates are available now on the main site.

So, that’s one. The other is that I started a new art blog. But it’s not just any art blog! Lupa Makes Stuff is sort of similar to Therioshamanism, in that it’s a record of my explorations. However, this time it’s me exploring new artistic media and techniques, showing you what I did and how I did it, and even rating the eco-friendliness of each project! If you have a Tumblr account feel free to follow me.

I’ve already explained how I woven pouches on nothing more than an old board and some tacks, and the process of giving a rocking horse a makeover. And I have so much more planned!

Advertisements

A Short But Sweet Update

I have been utterly crazed as of late. I’m halfway through my temporary stint as a mental health counselor at my old internship site, and while it’s going quite well, I don’t have a lot of time for art and writing (comparatively speaking, anyway). The past few days have been especially busy; I’m vending at Faerieworlds again this year (and presenting a workshop on shapeshifting dance on Sunday) and so I’ve been busy trying to make enough stuff to fill my booth. I spent the weekend making artwork, though, and it was absolutely glorious being able to immerse myself in creativity again.

One of the costume pieces I've been working on for FaerieWorlds, featuring a real peacock tail and wings obtained from a taxidermist.

One of the costume pieces I’ve been working on for FaerieWorlds, featuring a real peacock tail and wings obtained from a taxidermist.

If you’ve been missing out on my writing lately, you may wish to check out my new spot over at PaganSquare. Since this blog has become fairly conceptual, I’ve made my PaganSquare venue into a how-to blog, and I’m starting with some basics before moving on to more specialized topics. Right now I’m in the middle of explaining the basics of how I work with spirits; feel free to go take a peek.

Also, I’ve been fortunate enough to score a spot at the community garden a few blocks from my home, after being waitlisted for three years. It was pretty badly overgrown with weeds when I inherited it, but I’ve managed to get most of them pulled and piled for compost, and am getting prepped for fall planting.

Finally, a bit of good news on the book front: Facing North gave a good review to New Paths to Animal Totems. As an aside, while buying a book directly from me gets me the most money for it, I also know plenty of folks are on a budget. Amazon currently has copies starting at $1.50 each, and hey, if you buy used it’s extra eco-friendly!

Also in the book realm, I’m working on the revision of Plant and Fungus Totems: Connect with Spirits of Field, Forest, and Garden (formerly New Paths to Plant and Fungus Totems), which should be out from Llewellyn next summer. I’m quite pleased to say that Christopher Penczak was gracious enough to write a beautiful foreword for it, and overall the editing process has been going well, too. So I feel pretty good about the book in general, and I’m looking forward to inflicting it upon my now-forewarned audience.

The Natural Order of Things

I am an artist, deep in the center of my soul. I have many roles in this life, but I think perhaps more than any other, artwork is at the center of it. The medium may vary–hides and bones, words on the screen, ingredients in the kitchen, a carefully considered response to a counseling client’s thoughts–but at the heart of it all is a deep need for creativity and expression, arranging things just right. Most of my visual artwork for the past fifteen years has been with the dead critters, but I do like to branch out–I don’t want to be a one-trick pony, after all. One of my passions is art made from secondhand materials; this does describe some of my hides and bones, but I also want to reclaim some less biodegradable things as well. So I do like having a bunch of found objects to work with, things salvaged from thrift stores and free piles on the curb and so forth.

Because of my current counseling job, which keeps me busy 40+ hours a week, I don’t have as much time for art as I did before, and a lot of that time is spent on keeping customer favorites stocked in my Etsy shop. But sometimes I do manage to make time to really dig into more unusual projects, stretching my artistic muscles. Today I took out a couple of hours for this:

Click on this to get a bigger version of the image.

Click on this to get a bigger version of the image.

It’s called The Natural Order of Things, and it’s almost entirely made of recycled materials. The 6″ x 8″ canvas panel it’s based on was bought from a yard sale. The book clippings were from an old-but-not-rare, quite outdated textbook on animal anatomy that I bartered for. The foam cutouts came from a Goodwill on the Oregon coast. All I had to add was a few brushfuls of Mod Podge and a bit of cellophane tape.

It looks simple enough at first glance–brightly colored bits of foam on a stark black and white background. The tree of life branches out from the center, with an array of animals taking up their places as they should. But upon closer inspection, the animals are in no real order; rather than closely-related families being situated nearer each other, a fish is next to a bird, which sits just above a pig, and so on. Moreover, there’s only one invertebrate, a crab in one corner. The representatives of the animal kingdom are largely biased toward mammals, especially those we feel are important. And at the center of it all is humanity, represented by a god-like figure (Yahweh? Zeus?) standing on the sun. Humans are removed from the tree of life, only to be relocated at its center–“Man shall have dominion over the earth”. As if to comment on the misinterpretation of evolutionary theory that says “Humans are evolved from monkeys!”, a tiny monkey occupies the smallest and lowest branch on the tree, decidedly separated from its Homo sapiens cousin.

But what supports these animals and their tree? In the background the canvas is covered in pieces of pages from a textbook of biology. The foundation is the index, listing many animals in neat, alphabetical order–to include, along the bottom edge, “Man”. Over this are laid diagrams of the nervous systems of a rotifer and a polychaete worm, neither of which are particularly well-known animals, but which illustrate the type of simpler nervous systems from which those of vertebrates evolved. Several quotes add to the mix–one about the basic plan of the nervous system in all animals, one about how humans have often misapplied “instinct” to anything any animal does ever, and one, legible in full: “From protoplasmic irritability to cognition is a development that has required upwards of a billion years”. We extol the virtues of a select few noble animals, while we stand on the spineless backs of countless humbler creatures. Despite claims of religions worldwide and throughout time, we did not spring forth fully formed from a head or a thigh or our partner’s rib bone. We are built on billions of years of tiny changes.

The cartoonish, artificial figures in their disarray, arranged inaccurately around humanity as the reason for their existence, represent the biases we hold toward the natural world. We value what most closely resembles us–vertebrates, and especially our fellow mammals–and most of all, those who directly serve us. The man-as-god in the center is our tendency to elevate ourselves above all else, much to the detriment of all involved, humans included. One can only stand on the sun for so long before getting burned. In contrast, the neatly ordered, realistically rendered invertebrates speak of the care that has been taken to excise the secrets of evolution and other natural processes, sifting out the detritus of superstition and speculation. This brightly-colored Eden can dance all it wants, but those who wrote the stories of paradise could only do so after a parade of many generations of supposedly “lesser” beings.

But it’s also because of these pioneering beings that came before us, unknowingly contributing to the shift and change of genes and their expressions, that we can also have art. We can have religion, including beliefs that don’t match with evolution in any literal way but have their own beauty nonetheless. It’s because of them that we’re here to debate our origins today, to take strong opinions and fence with them, or to simply decide the argument’s not worth it and go play video games instead. I am grateful to them for this opportunity, and I dedicate this piece to all my ancestors, all the way back to the beginning of life.

When Endangered Doesn’t Mean the Same Thing as Endangered

Okay. I’ve had a couple of people tell me about an online petition to have “endangered species” parts removed from Etsy. The petition cites vintage leopard fur from a coat that was listed by an antiques dealer on the site, and noted that while eBay has specific items they don’t allow, Etsy just says “no illegal animal parts”.

That’s all fine and good. I’m fine with Etsy defining that further, and for myself I both restrict myself to things I know are legal, and take the time to contact people I see selling vintage leopard fur or blue jay feathers in the US to let them know what they have isn’t legal. But then the petition writer goes on to talk about “endangered species” in a general way, and tries to say that any animal listed in CITES isn’t allowed. Additionally, the writer also states that any interstate trade of any endangered species parts is illegal.

The twofold problem here is that A) these are inaccurate interpretations of the laws in places, and B) there are different levels of “endangered”. Like CITES-listed animals, for example. CITES has three appendices. Appendix I includes animals like leopards, tigers, rhinos, and other extremely endangered animals. In the US it’s illegal to trade in CITES I animal parts, even pre-CITES ones, except for pre-CITES parts within your own state. However, Appendix II, which includes gray wolves, some species of zebra, and lions, allows for limited hunting and trade of these animals. And Appendix III involves animals threatened in one country, where other countries are asked to help protect these species.

Leopards and wolves are both “endangered species”. But what that entails for the trade in their parts is different in each case. Look at wolves in more detail. In Canada and Alaska, the populations are quite healthy, and a certain amount of hunting is allowed. In the lower 48 states, on the other hand, wolves are often still trying to gain a foothold. I don’t personally agree with the impending delisting of lower-48 wolves from the Endangered Species Act, because I don’t feel that states like Montana are going to do a good job of management, at least not beyond what makes ranchers and hunters happy. That’s why I only use hides and bones from Alaskan and Canadian wolves, and prefer to get them secondhand when possible.

If you think all wolves should be protected, that’s another argument for another time. My main point is that “endangered species” doesn’t automatically mean “can’t be hunted and their parts are illegal to buy or sell”. It’s a lot more complicated than that. You have to look at the individual species, and the various places it lives and how the populations are recovering.

Unfortunately, things like this petition just muddy the waters and spread false information. I admit that I haven’t updated it in over a year, so there are some broken links, but you can still get some idea of the nuances of legalities at my collection of animal parts laws-related links. That’s going to be more useful than one more misinformed petition screaming about “endangered species”.

Souvenir

So in case you missed it, last week I got home from a road trip involving heading down to San Jose for PantheaCon, then heading back up the Pacific coast by way of highways 1 and 101. My partner and I ended up doing some inexpensive (read: free) touristy things. We also spent a good deal of time poking around antique shops and flea markets for inexpensive art supplies and other goodies. I didn’t have a huge budget, but I did find a few really nice things, particularly in the realm of beads.

So last night I made some time to just sit and make jewelry, since I’ve been itching to play with the new beads I got since we got home. The first necklace I made was one that I had been planning in my head as I was collecting beads and findings from here and there, and as it came together its spirit wrapped around me, cuddled up close, and refused to let go. Each bead I put on the wire told a bit more of the story of our trip, and when I was done, I had the perfect souvenir of our adventures together.

See, we started down in San Jose itself, once the convention was over. And when we escaped the urban areas and got into the wilderness, we were greeted by the beauty of redwoods, one of several new experiences for me. The same day I left PantheaCon as it closed was the first day I got to see redwood groves in Muir Woods. Later in the week we drove down the Avenue of the Gods, further north along the coastline once we had reached 1/101. And it was there that we stopped at a little independently-owned gift shop. Most of what they had were either out of my price range ($80 bowls made from redwood burls, totally worth the price for their craft) or not particularly useful to me (yet ANOTHER sweatshirt?) But I found a string of polished beads made from redwood scrap, and three little clusters of redwood needles coated in 24K gold, sitting forlornly on the clearance rack.

So those carried the energy of new experiences–the redwoods, the California coastline, my first coastal storm, and the seemingly endless road trip.

Later that day, we traveled along to Ferndale, a small town a little outside of Eureka. My partner wanted to check out all the restored Victorian homes and business buildings, and was not disappointed. There were gingerbread manses galore, and the downtown district was full to overbrimming with historic locations and 19th century construction that had survived storms and fires and neglect. We visited an artist who had made the town his home for many decades, who opened a studio not to sell his art, but to share it for free, and to teach people his crafts. We took pictures of lovingly cared-for houses and churches. And we explored a little general store of nouveau-vintage items, knickknacks, and an extensive display of period antiques for all to see. At this place I found several strands of glass beads, as well as some dyed freshwater pearls.

A few of these pearls, dyed green-gold, flank the redwood beads. The pearls represent the best of human contributions–creativity, conservation, and art–which were evident not only in Ferndale, but in various communities throughout our trip.

Across the Oregon border, not too far from home, we ended up in Waldport, one of a string of little coastal towns. While my partner chatted up the owner of a local knife and sword shop, I wandered over to a flea market across the street. I poked through various antiques and tchotchkes, and came across a veritable treasure trove of little wood beads of the sort that I use frequently in my jewelry. The seller wanted naught but a song for them, and I knew they’d get used, so they went home with me as well. And as I stepped back out onto the street with my little purchase, looked at the little rows of shops that characterize so many Oregon coast towns along 101, and breathed the salt-tinged air, I knew I was back home.

And these little brown beads–those ground the necklace. They’re not the most flashy ones, but they connect the islands of shiny redwood and pearl together.

And in the same way, home is what makes the moments of exploration and adventure stand out even more. It’s not that home is a bad thing; quite the contrary. My partner and I have created a cozy living situation together, and Portland is a good place to be right now. Home is a safe place to return to when the adventures are through for the time being. And the adventures are all the better when I know I have that anchor if I need it, if I start feeling overwhelmed by all the new things, or tired from driving. The shine and sparkle of new places helps me appreciate home more, and without my good home I couldn’t enjoy travel nearly so often on the occasions it happens.

The necklace I’ve created, then, isn’t just some shiny thing–indeed, I very rarely wear jewelry other than my usual wolf chain. So for me to keep something like this that I would normally release into the wild, as it were, is an occasion to be noted. Right now, as I am easing back into the routines and challenges of everyday life, I am wearing this necklace to remind me of those beautiful adventures and the healing they gave me. I carry with me the redwoods, and the gingerbread, and the crashing waves on bluffs. And I smile, and continue on with my day here at home.

Art, storytelling, and shamanism my path

I have some half-formed thoughts about the recent integration of storytelling with my artwork, as well as the very deep, significant spiritual elements of the acts of creation. Yes, the coyote and wolverine are the most recent and obvious syntheses, given that each has a “new” myth to talk about its origin. But Anput was also a spiritual story, albeit one in which I featured as a main character, and which was not just a story that I created in my mind, but something that happened to me in working with that Goddess. Even Lady Red Riding Hood was story, rewriting the tale to better fit modern parameters, though maintaining its “once upon a time” feel.

I’ve long been a spirit-worker, evoking and invoking totems, animal spirits, deities and others. And the spirits have often spoken through my art, and not just the skin spirits that are in the remains themselves. I’ve even created numerous ritual tools and costumery over the years that could mesh with certain beings or energies in ritual.

However, this feels bigger. I feel like I’m adding to mythology, if that makes sense. The process of creation is simply the vehicle thereof. Perhaps it’s hubristic to say so, but it feels as though I am *adding to* these beings, with their consent and even invitation. Along with transforming the animal remains and their spirits, I feel I am also making a bigger transformation than before to the bigger beings, the totems and deities. If a totem, for example, is “made of” the natural history of the physical animal, its relationships with all other species, and the human observations as translated into legend, lore, and mythology, then I feel like I am making a bigger contribution to the ongoing, ever-developing mythology.

Like when I make a small pouch out of recycled rabbit fur, I am transforming the fur into something new, and I am rejuvenating the spirit with a new purpose–or releasing it from its container if it so wishes. But Domestic Rabbit stays largely the same; the pouch may be used to connect to Rabbit, but the change is only on this end. However, I look at my experiences creating the Anput headdress, and it definitely feels *bigger*. If you give me the generous allowance that my UPG is more than just something in my head, then I have been shown an element of this Goddess that may have been previously unknown, perhaps by even the ancient Egyptians. I don’t feel I’ve so much added something that wasn’t a part of her before, so much as I helped to shed light on it.

I’m not the only person to do this sort of thing; Ravenari has long been creating these inspired works. Her As Totems series largely comes from the individual totems pressing her into making portraits for them, or asking others to commission her (as with me and Steller’s Jay). She also learns more about the totems in the process of creating these works, hence her creating about the only totem animal dictionary I give any credence to. I give it more weight because I am aware of her process as well as her general familiarity with the animals and her shamanic skills, and I know how much effort goes into the contact with each. Whether she changes the totems, adds to them, or simply enhances the focus on certain parts, I can’t say. But it is very impressive to watch.

And it’s incredibly fascinating to be going through this process; the exchange of energy and ideas that I’m sharing with the deities and totems and spirits in this is beyond what I’ve done before. Whether you see me as connecting with independent beings, or being able to better access these archetypes and channel them through my work, I would appreciate your constructive feedback on what I’m trying to describe here. Anyone else been here?