Creative Inspiration: Limit-Busting Community Artist Mary Wright, Christine Saari

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Mary Wright

L’Anse-raised Mary Wright was a homesteader, a teacher of health education, English, history, and art, a cancer survivor, and a feminist. Most people remember her, however, as a community art organizer.

Well over three-thousand blue and white hand-painted chairs brightened NMU’s campus during FinnFestUSA 1996 and 2005. 50 colorful fish shanties appeared at the Lower Harbor parking lot during the World Winter Cities Conference held in Marquette in 1997. Residents painted 400 book covers to represent their city block and raise money for their library. The history of pioneer settlers and families of today were recreated on one of the 500 Heritage Family Poles, set up to celebrate the Marquette Sesquicentennial in 1999. In 2007, 200 doors told the stories of grandmothers, past and current. Over the years, many thousands of people participated in these and other projects, and uncountable locals and tourists viewed them.

When Mary Wright dreamed up these community efforts, the sky was the limit.

No idea was too big or impossible to carry out. Her criteria for any of these undertakings were straightforward: The project had to involve fun, collaboration, and community spirit. Mary believed that every person has the capacity to be creative if provided the opportunity, and that working on joint art projects, reflecting the spirit of old-time barn-raising events, could create miracles.

This community aspect was essential. All participants, from elementary school child to grandmother to prisoner, were welcomed. The wilder the inspiration, the better! If you wanted to cover the wall of your fish shanty with left-over socks gathered at laundromats, or hang shoes of your relatives from your family tree, why not?

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Mary Wright’s Doors Project

To make these complicated events happen required multiple skills. Mary had a knack for roping people in, persuading them to help paint a mural, create a prototype, drive logs from Munising to Marquette, give money, or procure materials. She networked with local and state art organizations, city government departments, labor unions, and corporations, found donors and sponsors, and worked with the news media. She made countless presentations in schools, clubs, and to any group. And she did it all without a computer or the Internet! Her persuasive powers and persistence were legendary. Mary Wright did not take “no” for an answer.

Mary Wright had a special gift for finding the perfect expression of a particular event:

Blue and White Chairs, Finland’s national colors, were the perfect symbol for FinnFestUSA, an annual international festival held each year in a different city. They gave people of Finnish heritage a chance to honor their families and to define what being Finnish meant to them. They were an expression of hospitality, an invitation to sit down to strike up a conversation, to recycle old furniture, to create an heirloom. All fifteen UP counties participated. Chairs were set up by their painters’ regions, so visitors could find the chairs, benches, stools, and rockers they had decorated. A calendar was later created to provide a lasting souvenir of the event.

Mary felt Fish Shanties symbolized the spunk, spirit, and sisu of UP winter culture. Some grandparents used them to create playhouses for their grandkids. Book Covers were a natural for a library fundraiser. The project was organized around city blocks. This created special pride for residents and helped distribute the covers widely. Family Poles were perfect to portray the 150-year history of Marquette. The many different stories of individual families and organizations told through these poles formed a kaleidoscope of the community’s past and present.

Mary Wright learned how to draw the attention of the news media. Her flamboyant way of dressing in bright exotic costumes, colorful hats, and artful jewelry made her stand out. She managed to get herself on the Today Show in New York, at which she presented a bench decorated with portraits of the show’s luminaries. In the days before drones, she had an aerial photo taken from a helicopter to help advertise her book project. Family poles rode in the Fourth of July Parade. Outdoor working sessions gave visibility to a given project. There were interviews, photographs, and editorials in the newspaper.

community artist Mary Wright, UP holistic wellness publication, UP holistic business

Mary’s unique style is featured in Yoopera, a film documenting the production of the Rockland opera and the creation of Mary’s Storyline project in which thousands of white panels strung on wires fluttered in the wind like layered prayer flags from their spots around the Rosza Center and more Michigan Tech campus areas. Primarily made by schoolchildren, each panel had a photo transfer of someone’s image and the story of that person’s life told in the first person.

Mary Wright’s activities were not restricted to Marquette and Houghton.

She organized over thirty-five community projects, including in places like Alpena, Ypsilanti, and Port Huron, and also worked internationally in Toronto and Finland. Her themes were often based on ordinary objects such as shovels, stepladders, pillow cases, spring flowers, or winter mittens. In 1999, she received Michigan’s Governor’s Award for Arts and Culture.

Participating in one of these community projects has had a lasting impact on many. Often it was the first time someone had created an art object. Mary Wright supporter Doug Hagley said about Family Poles, “Some families were reunited after years of separation. Dialogues were fostered… Children honored their parents and grandparents…. The community and its visitors experienced the healing and community-building power of art.” School children became interested in their family history and realized that you could be an artist at any age. Poet Sandy Bonsall’s experience painting blue and white chairs with her students prompted her to write My Mother’s Story Is My Story. I myself was inspired to create a family pole to explore the Finnish background of my husband, and Grandma Doors led me to research the life of my Bavarian grandmother whom I had never met.

We lost Mary in November 2021. To honor her and her work, the Beaumier Heritage Center at Northern Michigan University will feature her in an exhibit in the spring of 2023. If you are willing to loan Mary Wright project object for the exhibit, please contact Dan Truckey at (906) 227-3212 or email heritage@nmu.edu.

Austrian writer and visual artist Christine Saari has lived in Marquette since 1971. She has published memoir Love and War at Stag Farm (2011) and poetry book Blossoms in the Dark of Winter (2018). Find her visual work at The Gallery and Wintergreen Hills Gallery.

Excerpted from the Fall 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: Overcoming Limbo with Courageous Creativity, Roslyn Elena McGrath

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As we move into U.P. spring, it’s hard to know just how gradual this movement may be, how long a gray, muddied limbo between snowy wonders and warm blossoming may go on, and how many restrictions, challenges, and losses we may need to weather through this time. These possibilities alone might nudge us to descend into the doldrums.

But we don’t have to feel diminished by any of this. We can choose to expand our world by exercising our innate creative capacities. In my years teaching visual art in public schools, I saw over and over again how by a certain age, most kids would decide they were good at an art or not. That inner critic can loom so large that many who did not see themselves as “the artist,” “the singer,” “the musician,” etc., might never participate willingly in such activities again.

Do you have to excel at fishing to go fish? At cross-country skiing to go ski? Creativity is part of human nature, and much-needed to come home to ourselves, reduce stress, and increase self-expression and novelty. And if anything is going to combat the stay-at-home same-old same-olds, it’s novelty!

So no matter how rusty, shoddy, or splendid you may believe your creative abilities are, you can take some time this season, even for a few minutes at a time, to juice up your life through your creativity.

If you feel at a complete loss as to where to begin, check out what kinds of guided creative experiences might be available to you locally or online, and pick one that sparks your curiosity.
If you already know of something creative you enjoyed doing as a kid, consider exploring a do-able version of it that excites you now.

If you create regularly but feel you’re in a bit of a slump, try a new art form.

It’s likely to take you in a new direction and/or spice up your old one.

If any of these suggestions make you nervous, that might just indicate you’re on the right track! As artist Henri Matisse once said, “Creativity takes courage.”

If an act is truly creative, it’s a step into the unknown, so there will be plenty of opportunities for your inner critic or inner curmudgeon to try to hold you back. But you can decide which part of you is in charge, and go for it anyway, if only for the pure daring of it!

So, here are some solid do’s and don’ts to help you along the way:

DO create a regular routine of creative time. Don’t wait for inspiration to descend from on high. While it‘s wonderful when that happens, research shows habitual creative time not only increases how much you create, but also helps you generate new creative ideas. So if you’re not creating regularly, put it in your calendar, repeatedly, even if for short bursts of time after prepping in advance.

DONT try to critique or refine your creation at the outset. There will time for that later. The beginning is the time for the rough sketch, the raw draft, the stumbling notes. It’s the time when a field full of possibilities is being explored. Newly-born humans don’t walk, and newly-started projects don’t usually seem like masterpieces. Nurture this tender stage. And if you choose to share this part of your process, only do so with those you can trust one-hundred percent to cheer you on.

DO open up to new experiences. They can trigger new creativity, even if seemingly unrelated.

DO your best to open up your senses more fully to what’s around you. Listen, look, smell, feel, sense with greater attention, and you may find new inspiration even in familiar surroundings, as well as feel more fully present and alive.

DO shake things up if you get stuck–create in a new or even unusual location, do a repetitive non-creative task, or go for a walk. In fact, the connection between walking and creativity has been confirmed by research. According to a 2014 Stanford University Study, a person’s creative output goes up an average of 60% when walking, whether indoors or out. (And a little personal confirmation—ideas for this article came to me while out on a walk.)

DON’T become overwhelmed by a big idea or project you may have come up with. Chunk it down into manageable steps, and even micro steps if needed.

DO remember that everything man-made once existed in imagination only, and honor that magical capacity within yourself and others.

DON’T listen to the naysayers in your head or your life. Be bold, and put your attention on your freedom to choose to create instead.

DO remember that creativity includes more than fine art. It can also be how you put together a meal, a gift, a room, a schedule, resolve a challenge….

DON’T use the truism above to justify shying away from a creative activity that intrigues you.

DO hang around with other creative people. Creativity can be contagious!

DON’T imagine what “others” might think or say about your creation. It’s none of your business anyway. Your job is to nourish your creative faculties.

DO get enough sleep. The brain requires adequate sleep to process ideas and to function well. And the rest of you needs sleep to be able to carry out your creative ideas effectively.

Roslyn Elena McGrath supports fulfilling your innate potential through soul and intuition-based sessions, classes, and products at EmpoweringLightworks.com, and publishing Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine.

Excerpted from the Spring 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: Urgent Gifts, Marty Achatz

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U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo says, “If you do not answer the noise and urgency of your gifts, they will turn on you. Or drag you down with their immense sadness at being abandoned.”

Gifts are strange things. They come to us out of nowhere. Surprise and fill us with pleasure. There is power in unwrapping a gift. Beneath the bows and paper, in the darkness of the unopened box, anything could exist. A box of chocolates. Music box. Book. Tickets to Walt Disney World. Words.

Yes, words. Because I’m a poet, I have always believed words are gifts. Think of the word “cleave.” It can mean to “divide or split as if by a cutting blow.” But it can also mean to “adhere firmly and closely . . . unwaveringly.” In one word, there is both separation and connection, loss and love. That’s a remarkable gift.

Back in January of this year, I received an email about a grant program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts called the Big Read.

The NEA Big Read involves organizations creating programming centered around the themes and ideas of one book. Part of that programming involves giving away copies of the chosen book to community members. A gift of words.

One of the options for the 2021-2022 NEA Big Read cycle was U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s poetry collection “An American Sunrise.” Filled with cleaving (the removal history of Harjo’s people from their homelands) and cleaving (love poems for Harjo’s mother and husband and children), the book spoke to my artistic gifts.

So, I set about writing an NEA Big Read grant. I pulled together partnering organizations, contacted artists and writers, planned events—keynote addresses, poetry workshops, art exhibits, and a chapbook contest. I dreamed big. It was like writing a detailed, twenty-page letter to Santa Claus and dropping it in the mailbox.

The dream was simple in concept: to build bridges. I wanted to highlight the history, culture, and contributions of indigenous peoples. Through Joy Harjo’s words, I hoped to create a dialogue across the Upper Peninsula and bring people together. Using poetry as a vehicle, my NEA Big Read dream would hopefully be a catalyst for cultural understanding and change.

This dream was a gift to me.

A noisy, urgent gift, as Joy Harjo says. And I followed Harjo’s advice: I didn’t ignore that gift.

Several months after sending off my “letter to Santa,” I received an email one morning from Arts Midwest, the organization that administers the Big Read program for the National Endowment for the Arts. That email had one word in its subject line: “Congratulations.” I sat in my office for a few moments, feeling a lot like a kid on Christmas morning, knowing that my dream had become reality.

As I sit writing this article, I’m approaching the final weeks of programming for the NEA Big Read at Peter White Public Library. Over the past month, I’ve heard the Teal Lake Singers Drum Circle perform. Listened to poets and scholars and teachers of Anishinaabemowin. Soon, I will have the opportunity to speak personally with Joy Harjo, listen to her read her poetry, ask her questions.

However, the path to my NEA Big Read dream hasn’t been without its share of struggles, personal and professional. Sickness occurred. Scheduled speakers became unavailable. Loved ones passed. Events needed to be rescheduled or completely reinvented at the last minute. Big dreams are like that. They rearrange themselves like waves rearrange a shoreline.

But dreaming big is important.

Paying attention to your gifts (no matter what they are) isn’t just important. It’s necessary and life-sustaining. Sharing those gifts and dreams with others can be a powerful force for good in the world at large.

One of the events of the NEA Big Read was a three-day poetry chapbook writing competition. Participants were given a list of eighty writing prompts to spark their creativity. One of the writing prompts was this:
Make a list of things you want to do today. Let your imagination run wild with the list, accomplishing impossible things.

Try it right now. Make that list. Dream big. Dream impossible. Use your gifts. Make the world a better place.

Martin Achatz is a husband/father/teacher/poet/dreamer who lives in Ishpeming.  He is a two-time U.P. Poet Laureate and teaches in NMU’s English Department.  He also serves as the Adult Programming Coordinator for Peter White Public Library, where he recently organized and ran the NEA Big Read. 

Excerpted from the Winter 2021-22 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: A Secret Plan for Poets, Ronnie Ferguson

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“Everything is a boss… You must always have a secret plan!”

– from “Bad Deal/Secret Plan” by theillalogicalspoon (https://theillalogicalspoon.bandcamp.com/track/bad-deal-secret-plan)

In many ways, poetry workshops during the pandemic have been like physical workouts with a group of friends. We all agree to meet in the Zoom “Fitness Center,” the one on the corner of Comfy Chair and Computer, around 7 pm. Over the course of two hours, we try out three different “machines” (writing prompts) that, if all goes well, get our hearts going and stretch us in new ways so our poetry muscles grow. After each exercise, we take turns flexing in our rectangles. We make each other laugh, and sometimes laugh at ourselves. We take risks. We virtual-hug. Most importantly—we feast, passing around encouragement like delicious sides to the main course, which is always We Hear You. Workshops can be a worthwhile discipline for poets, and often lead to joy and revelation.

But sometimes things don’t go as planned. We stare at the blank page and, even with a carefully crafted prompt, nothing comes. The ten-minute time limit ticks away. Maybe we pray. Maybe we panic. If we’re lucky, inspiration makes an appearance before the end, and we scribble until the last second (or after). No time for options. No time for second-guessing. Barely legible. Is it intelligible? Who knows? But at least we have something to share. This is a great strength of the timed prompt—it forces us to write something, anything.

Adding a wrinkle to the format can make the experience even better.

For many poets, getting started is half the battle. For some, it is the battle. It’s not uncommon for poets to collect kernels of inspiration throughout their life. These might be lines of poetry without a home, images, stories, snippets of dreams, random articles, overheard conversations, and more. Lists can get long; inspiration folders can get thick; and there’s always the danger of our kernels remaining, simply, “great ideas I once had but never used.” That is, unless these kernels find a home.

For this reason, in the poetry workshops I’ve been leading, I give participants a three-minute brainstorming prompt—a way of collecting kernels in real time—before they’re challenged with a poetry prompt. When I attend workshops led by other poets, I often bring a single page filled with unused kernels of inspiration. Sometimes the prompts are enough, but when nothing comes, sometimes my unused kernels pair with the prompt in surprising ways and get me started. This is a secret plan for poets: Come prepared to poetry workshops with your own ideas so that, whether or not a prompt inspires you, you’re never forced to stare at a blank page. Allowing yourself this flexibility, this pairing of creativity with creativity, can help you be a better steward of the potential-packed kernels you’ve collected throughout your life.

“An inspiration passes, having been inspired never passes.”
-Abraham Joshua Heschel

Three-Part Poetry Exercise – The People We Pass:

  1. Gather some of your kernels of inspiration and jot them on a single page.
  2. Set a timer for three minutes and, on the same page, brainstorm as many people who you see regularly, near or afar, but never speak with. In most cases you will not know their name, so find some way to identify them, such as “Guy Who Mows My Neighbor’s Lawn” or “Woman I Always See at the Laundromat.” Before moving on, note any interesting connections between your kernels and the people you’ve listed in your brainstorm.
  3. Set a timer for ten minutes and, on a different page, write a poem that considers or imagines the experience of one of the people. You may choose to observe and reflect from afar, allow the poem’s speaker to interact with the person, or allow your poem to take on the voice of the person. Here’s a poem I wrote using this same exercise:

Joy to the World

six mornings a week for minimum wage
the woman with three fingers
serves the greasy eggs and bacon
biscuits
coffee and cream

to all the tough faces
the old hairy moles
the saggy scalps
the hard of hearing
and harder to please

with this hive of damn-near-dead complainers
it’s a mystery she’s usually smiling
but if i had to guess
God has blessed her
cuz she still paints her nails pink

*If you write a poem, please send it to me at rofergus@nmu.edu. I’d love to connect and read your work and tell you about upcoming poetry workshops. I hope to write and share with you soon!

Link to “Bad Deal/Secret Plan” by theillalogicalspoon:
https://theillalogicalspoon.bandcamp.com/track/bad-deal-secret-plan

Ronnie Ferguson is an MFA candidate and an instructor in the English department at Northern Michigan University. A King Chavez Parks Fellow and President of the Graduate Writing Association, his creative work (often hybrid) spans the genres of poetry, music, film, theatre, fiction, and the visual arts.

Excerpted from the Fall 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Age of Miracles, Martin Achatz

My daughter has reached that age
when her body unfurls
gospels of growth all night,
psalms filled with arm, leg, hair, sweat,
breath staled by the tilt
from girl to woman. She will soon
inherit gifts. Blood. Ovum. Creation.
Then she will be lost to me. Gone
on a long journey across desert, mountain,
to a distant Bethlehem.

This December, she tells my wife
she doesn’t believe in caribou
flying over glacier, tundra. Questions
things like seraphim choirs,
kingdoms at the North Pole,
donkeys that sing “Dona nobis pacem”
on the winter solstice. I know,
she says, nods as if she’s accomplice
to some divine conspiracy theory.
So I write her this poem
about last Friday, when twenty inches
of snow fell in Cairo, Alexandria,
Jerusalem. Brought the entire Middle East
a silence it hadn’t heard in 112 years.
Children in refugee camps danced
in the blizzard, made rosefinches
with ice bodies, palm frond wings.
No bombs. No bullets. Just white.
Everywhere. White upon white.
From the Mediterranean to the Mount of Olives.

Martin Achatz is a husband/father/teacher/musician/poet who lives in Ishpeming. His work has appeared in Paterson Literary Review, The Other Journal, and The Macguffin, among others. He’s currently serving his second term as Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula and teaches in NMU’s English Department.

Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: Challenges as Catalysts, Kim Nixon Hainstock

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When change happens, many of us become uncomfortable, even if we recognize and accept that the one certainty in life is change. I have worked in the Adult Foster Care industry and managed a group home for those with cognitive and physical disabilities. When a new resident would arrive, they often did not fit the written description given by former caregivers. Often, having arrived at a place never seen before, without familiar faces present, a new resident would demonstrate skills no one thought they had, as if an alarm clock had gone off, and now he or she was awake.

I always suggested to staff we roll with it and see what else might surface. How exciting to do so rather than look at the negative side and blame the people who made those meager introduction notes. Once we were told a person would not walk without guidance and assistance, and one day the person did, standing up, walking across the room, and sitting on the floor in a spot of light coming through the window. I smiled and thought, “Oh, this new resident can self-soothe. The person saw a spot of warmth and moved to it like a cat.” Others in my employ looked on with pity that this person sat on the floor; how sad.

I recognize change can be so sudden and complete that we often feel loss, and just like a special needs individual with no compass to navigate the changes before them, it often comes down to what I need in this moment. Warmth, I need warmth. I will walk across the room and achieve that. Here I now sit in a spot of sun. Magical! Change can be a catalyst for magic, and for fresh new insights on living.

Perceptions of change, as well as our coping abilities, vary and we all have differing skill sets.

Often we do not know how to confront or meet what is happening. In such situations, I like to turn to my creative skills: journaling, vision boards or dream-mapping, or creating mandalas of natural items found on walks.

Let’s look at the process of creating a dream-map or vision-board. I like to gather images and items starting at the New Moon and put them into a cardboard box—clippings from the news, old photos, and items culled from old magazines, bits of scrapbook papers, letters, cards, poems.

Then on the Full Moon, I settle into a space created for the moment. I set the stage. Spread out a blanket upon the floor. Retrieve the box of gathered treasures, scissors, glue sticks, adhesive, scrapbook paper, with an artist pad or cardboard as a base. I set an intention, say a positive affirmation, and begin the sifting process on what is rising up through these items for me. Often I am surprised that something I had clung to or felt strongly about initially does not make it through the gathering phase for my full moon collage.

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Displaying my new vision board is essential, as I do not always recognize the meaning or message in the artwork I created. I like to keep it present and allow for the true messages to come like whispers on the wind, allowing their guidance to become fully realized. I do not need to take action right away. Change is often slow. But having a catalyst to help with the sorting of meaning and story can be extremely enlightening.

Licensed Massage Therapist and Yoga instructor Kim Nixon Hainstock holds a B.S. in English from NMU, has led vision board classes at Ishpeming’s Joy Center, Essentials Massage and Yoga, and with at-risk youth, and is currently navigating change and finding ways to nurture her journey.

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

Inspired by Photography, Christine Saari

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After six years of living in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a graduate student’s wife, an Austrian immigrant finding her way in a new society and, finally, a mother of two young boys, I needed something for my soul. Maybe taking art classes would do the trick?

I learned silversmithing, weaving, enameling. I liked it all, but nothing stuck. Until I hit upon photography. After I learned how to expose and develop film, I went to Austria and took photographs of all I loved there.

Upon returning to the U.S., we moved to Marquette. I immediately set up a darkroom in our tiny bathroom, and taught myself to print. By serendipity, the person who taught photography at NMU was our neighbor. When he saw my work, he suggested I take classes. I did, and I was hooked.

That was in the early seventies. It was an intense time.

I met other women photographers, and we founded Interplay: A Women’s Photographic Collective. I took workshops in Minneapolis and New York with master photographers. I entered shows and got in. I helped organize exhibits, juried, taught workshops, gave presentations.

Initially, I took black and white photographs. I loved the darkroom work and shooting specific topics. During our travels, I enjoyed photographing people. Windows and doors became favorite subjects. I documented the Austrian mountain farming culture in which I’d grown up.

Finally, I expanded into mixed media with an emphasis on alternative photo processes, and embarked on a 20-year project, “Family Album” (Using family photographs, documents, and artifacts, I created 3-D objects that told the story of my family, and the “Family of Man.”

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Now I am eighty, and production is not my thing anymore, although I still exhibit and sell occasionally. But I still love to shoot photos, and share my vision. When a friend pushed me to get on Facebook, I resisted. But by now I have found FB to be my preferred medium as a photographer. I can shoot every day, and share my work without expense, without printing, framing, and accumulating photos. I can post work and get feedback. I can work in a series, such as “Circles” or “Window Ice.” I don’t post just any pictures. I work on my posts, and have developed a following.

So, what inspires me when I photograph?

Sometimes it is the light. Sometimes it is color. Sometimes it is pattern (shadows, or tree branches, or architecture). Sometimes it is subject matter (Lake Superior, the ice, flowers, faces). The possibilities are endless! It is always a journey of discovery.

On the same walk from my house to my studio, I can see a myriad of different subjects to photograph. Things look different, depending on the weather, the time of day, the time of year, my mood. The sky, the light, the trees are never the same! Sometimes I get excited because the familiar looks different, sometimes because I see something I have not seen before. Sometimes I can’t help photographing the same thing again, year after year. Leaf prints on the sidewalk, the first green growth, ice formations, sun rays in my kitchen.

What I get out of shooting is that it makes me look and see. “You have such an eye,” people will say. But I think it is just practice, the practice of looking. And when I look, I find beauty. Beauty in the most ordinary thing right in front of me, beauty to share. I don’t want to keep all this beauty for myself. I want to share it. And shooting photos with my phone, and posting the results allows me to do that!

Christine Saari grew up on an Austrian mountain farm. She studied English and German in Austria and the U.S. As a journalist, she reported for Austrian media. In the U.P., she wrote for MM and Midwestern media, and published documentary photographs with her writing.

Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

Creative Inspiration: Music to Our Ears & Lives, by Kevin McGrath

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Whether you’re listening to the wind dance through the leaves or the song of a robin while sitting under a tree,

or perhaps the rhythmic caw of a resident crow, music is and has always been around for those willing and able to allow themselves to appreciate it. Even the thunderous beat of the big lake during an autumn storm creates a percussive melody for those paying attention.

Taking a walk along the shoreline near Picnic Rocks in Marquette, especially during the morning hours, brings a symphony of chatter among the gulls, creating wonderful music for all to hear within a sonic breeze.

Nature and humanity’s music is available to us in all volumes, tempos, and genres. For me, it’s my fuel. It energizes me, motivates me, relaxes me, gets me in the zone, takes me to another place and time.

Most every trip I take, I look into all nearby concert venues to see if a band or musician is performing. More times than not, I’m able to include a concert in my plans. I’ve attended hundreds over the years, and they always make my trips worthwhile.

I also partake of the U.P.’s ever-growing musical offerings at local venues and festivals throughout the year, and have enjoyed many amazingly talented well-known and lesser known soloists and groups within a five-minute to two-hour reach.

I have learned to enjoy the music while dancing, but simply sitting back and absorbing it never disappoints me. They are two totally different experiences for me, and both of the charts in their own ways.

Music brings flavor and richness to my creative pulses, and keeps me moving forward with a project.

Though I prefer live over recorded, I still enjoy the secondhand option immensely. It can take me through a whole series of emotions. And with YouTube, I can put together a repertoire to my liking, knowing which pieces play on certain emotions.

I wonder about those who don’t care for music. Are they truly happy missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures? I read recently that music uses your entire brain and is extremely healthy for you. There’s plenty of research available showing the healthy benefits music may offer each of us, such as possibly promoting heart health, elevating your mood, helping to reduce stress and relieve symptoms of depression, stimulating recall, increasing workout endurance, and more. But to me, regardless of what any leading health authorities have to say, the most important thing is to feel the benefits for yourself by opening up and giving yourself permission to go wherever the music is going to take you by listening to it at a strong, yet safe volume.

Music isn’t given enough credit in the creative process,

even though most creative people I know listen to it without hesitation when working on a project. I end this tribute to music by referring you to the chorus of an ABBA song entitled “Thank You for the Music.” May its lyrics ring through your heart and head, and inspire you to bring more music and appreciation for it into your life!

Kevin McGrath is a music lover and can be found at music festival, concerts, or other live music venues.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: Cultivating a Creative Practice, Ann Russ

If creativity is a habit, then the best creativity is the result of good work habits. They are the nuts and bolts of dreaming. – Twyla Tharp, choreographer and author of The Creative Habit

Do you yearn for more creativity or art in your life? Have you had an itch to make something or explore a creative idea? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might consider doing a 100 day project.  
 
creative inspiration, creative practice, U.P. holistic wellness publication, U.P. holistic well-being publication, U.P. holistic health publicationThe100DayProject is a creativity excavation that grows a creative habit through a daily, hands-on practice of 100 days. It gives us permission to play, explore, and experiment for an extended period of time.

The100DayProject is not about making perfect or beautiful artwork; it’s about the process of creativity and developing new ways of seeing and thinking. It grows our capacity to imagine, innovate, and problem-solve. The end product – the work that gets made – is secondary to all of that.

Many people think we’re either born creative or we’re not. The100DayProject challenges that assumption with the idea that creativity is a skill that can be developed. What we practice, we get better at, right? Through practice, we develop a creative habit. Through habit, we reconnect with and know ourselves again as creative beings.

Nurturing Ourselves & Others
Artists are among the most generous of people. Perhaps inherent in the appreciation of creativity comes a deep, underlying love of humanity and our Earth. – Kelly Borsheim

Each year, The100DayProject chooses a theme for its community-wide arts initiative, now in its sixth year. The theme, which is optional, is meant to offer a nudge, a glimmer of inspiration, an overlooked opportunity for those who might be looking for that. 

We chose “Art’s Capacity to Nurture” as the theme for 2019. It was inspired by Donna Miller from Temperance, Michigan. Donna completed a 100DayProject in 2018 and sent a box of beautiful hand-crocheted project work for us to distribute as we saw fit.

Donna wanted to get out of her comfort zone and try new stitches.  She was inspired by our 2018 theme, “Mirrored Light,” and made a variety of infant hats and mitts, adult hats, fingerless gloves, and ear warmers. She wrote to us saying, “I hope you will find a place to donate them. The warmth they offer is the Mirrored Light I hope to have reflected from my heart to those who wear them.”
 
We were awestruck and humbled by her unexpected and generous gesture. We added Donna’s project work to the Chocolay Girls Scouts’ Giving Tree on display last December at the Peter White Public Library. Individuals in need of something were invited to take it from the Tree. Any items left over after the holidays were donated to foster families in the area. 

We often see firsthand how art/music/film/dance nurtures the soul, provides comfort and healing, and rejuvenates the spirit in ourselves and others. For example, one Arter* told us that the “creatures” he drew as a child were comforting presences for him as he moved through difficulties in his early life.  Adulthood pulled him away from all of that, so his 100DayProject focus is to reconnect with and draw his creatures again. 

We’ll be collecting stories from 2019 project participants later this year and look forward to discovering how their projects nurtured them and others.

Creativity is dynamic, it asserts life, frees the human spirit, conquers mental lassitude and illness, and makes real the outrageous potential of the universal imagination. – Robert Genn

Cultivating a Creative Habit
And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.  – Meister Eckhart

If you feel inspired by what you’ve read so far and are curious about how to begin, it all starts with an idea that you’re excited about exploring for 100 days. If an idea doesn’t immediately come to mind, you really don’t have to look that far.  Exploring new materials or mediums in new ways may be all it takes.

One artist loved colored paint samples and incorporated them into a daily habit of paper cutout designs. Another artist wanted to explore some materials she had an abundance of and built her project around reclaimed building materials. 

Projects don’t have to be limited to the visual arts. Poetry, writing, practicing a musical instrument or dance steps are all wonderful ideas to explore for 100 days.

Look around you. What motivates you?  What skill do you want to grow? What “off the wall” idea do you want to test-drive? What project idea has been sitting on the back shelf of your mind? What’s calling you to come out and play? There may be an idea or two there.

You don’t have to complete a piece every day. You need only to do something hands-on with your project every day. Track what you’re working on daily so you can see your progress. Journaling works great for that. So does photographing your progress.  Or simply hang your work on a wall or put it on a shelf where you can see your progress. It’ll keep you motivated – and you’ll see the thread of your project idea grow, which can germinate further ideas.

Maybe you’ll decide to do your 100DayProject first thing in the morning, or maybe later on in the day. Creating a routine or rhythm might feel clunky at first – like any new habit it may take some getting used to. Our best advice is to try and do it at the same time each day. Choose something that’s got juice for you and allows you some freedom to play and explore.
 
Simply do one small creative exercise daily, even if it’s just for five minutes, and then move on with your day. This is not about judging what you create – it’s about doing one thing each day for 100 days that nurtures your creative spirit.

Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something. — Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

*We use the term Arters to indicate 100DayProject participants who have registered their projects on our website.

Ann Russ is co-organizer of The100DayProject with Catherine Benda. You can visit http://www.The100DayProject.com and subscribe to its newsletter for weekly inspiration and project developments. Visit http://www.facebook.com/The100DayProject for inspiration and to share images and comments about your project. Find more project images at Instagram site @thecreativepractice.

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: Winter Moon Madness, Roslyn Elena McGrath

winter moon madness illustration

Winter moon madness sparkles sharply
over crusty layers of icy skyfall.
It ripples through frigid rivers
and captures cold shadows,
increasing their inky contrast
to the shining white mystery
that blurs shapes
and freezes forms.

Can color continue in this world?
Must it all be shades of dark
and light, ad nauseam, forever?

When the moon conquers our souls,
will we remain frozen,
caught up in our thoughts and counter-currents,
statues under indigo skies?
Or will we reach out,
grab another’s hand,
and dance wildly to the sound
of our own howling laughter,
kissing shadows and sparkles
’til we keel over drunk
with intoxicating, frosted breath?

I happen to have a star shine in my hand
that wears me as its amulet,
and I am proud to share its wealth
with all the wide, white world.

Roslyn Elena McGrath is a visionary artist, author, holistic practitioner, teacher, and publisher. You can find out more about her private sessions, upcoming workshops, and inspirational books and products at http://www.EmpoweringLightworks.com.

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2018-19 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.