MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE (and Remarkable Judith Burch)

On any given day 77 year old Judith Varney Burch might be in Dibrovnic, Siberia, Mexico City, Paris or Croatia, explaining to a group of adults and 8-12 year olds what it means to make art “as the eye of a culture”.  No matter the country, the young students join Judith in a workshop to create a personal view of their own culture after seeing a collection of fabric art from one of the most remote parts of the world. The tapestry pieces they make then go back to students in an Inuit village named Baker Lake, located west of Hudson Bay, which Judith Burch has considered her second home for the past 25 years.

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WORLD CURATOR

A seemingly indefatigable Virginia resident, and the owner of a gallery of Inuit art in Charlottesville, Judith Burch has not slowed down since visiting in the Arctic among Inuit indigenous people two decades ago. Her personal passion is to link this remote Canadian culture and the rest of the world in an experiential and visual way.

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She does so by curating exhibitions of Arctic Inuit Art, lecturing about their sculptures, weavings and tapestries and leading fabric workshops with young  students. All of which is sponsored by museums throughout the world and the Canadian government.

LECTURING ALL OVER THE WORLD

Judith’s collections, which are permanently housed in Canadian museums, tour other museums from Russia to South America with the support of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian, and the host countries. Invitations seem to arrive daily and Judith is always ready to hop a plane and travel.

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Although it might seem surprising that an American woman has become the worldwide spokesperson for an indigenous culture , a combination of interests in the arts (she was a docent at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Winterthur Museum and the Delaware Art Center) and disenfranchised people, Judith says she “always wanted to make a difference for those who had been marginalized in our society.”

She first discovered the beauty and mystery of Inuit art during summers she and her family spent in Nova Scotia. Immediately taken with the unique and powerful imagery in the work, Judith says, “It just spoke to me.”

THEMES OF INUIT ART

“The mysticism and wilderness of the Arctic are common themes in Inuit art,” Judith explains, “as are warm images of relationships set against a cold land.” The images also focus on wildlife, the environment, hunting and fishing, shamanism and mother/child. Many of the artists are women, some of whom have become close friends, Judith says.

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With no written tradition, the Inuit use fabric art to convey their stories, beliefs, and traditions.

In her lectures Judith likes to point out the relationship between man and animal as often depicted by transformation figures which evoke the powerful connection of the Inuit to their surroundings. “It’s making the invisible visible,” Judith says.

REMARKABLE WOMEN ARTISTS

She has put together two distinct collections of Inuit “Culture on Cloth,” featuring vibrant and intricately worked wall hangings created with paint and pieces of felt by the women of one of the most sparsely populated and remote regions of the world. Like Judith, they are indeed remarkable. Their recognition and increased respect has in turn inspired younger artists to carry on the traditions of their culture.

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Currently a Research Collaborator for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Judith’s journey began with a Canadian government grant which allowed her to spend 7 weeks traveling on her own all over the arctic, then lecturing and judging art exhibitions, meeting with Inuit Arts and crafts Association, hosting Inuit artists in the United States, and eating raw caribou for dinner.

 

THE LYRICAL RISKTAKER (and Remarkable Emily Kimball)

Whooping and hollering at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, an elated Emily Kimball (www.theAgingAdventurer.com) proclaimed to all who would listen: “We have just ridden our bikes 4,800 miles across America!” She had also achieved one of her dreams, and as she joyfully strolled into the ocean, 62 year old Emily held her bike high overhead like a trophy.

Her ad in Adventure Cycling Magazine for fellow cyclists brought many replies; ultimately five of them started off together. “We were all so different,” she says, “yet wedded to biking, and thrilled with anticipation as we started out to cycle across America.”

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DESTINATION PACIFIC OCEAN

Adventure Cycling maps guided them through back roads and small towns where Emily says, “people extended us special privileges–– free swims at town pools, free pie at restaurants, overnights in town parks. The maintenance man at a Kentucky park offered to rig up a hose over the bathroom door so we could take a shower!”

Strangers seemed quite taken with the group and their bikes loaded with sleeping bags, pads, tents, small stoves, dishes, food and clothes for all weathers. “They were also shocked,” Emily says, “when we said our destination was the Pacific Ocean.”

Twenty years later, at age 83, Emily Kimball is convinced that “people limit themselves…they have too many fears.” She’s had “an exciting and rewarding life,” she says,” mainly because I’ve been willing to take risks, and when I failed I ..reworked my goal…rather than drop it entirely.”

MAKE IT HAPPEN!

No surprise that she is also an inspirational speaker, often giving the keynote address at conferences on aging. With a Master’s Degree in Sociology and experiences as a young community organizer, Emily owns a lifestyle planning and speaking business, too, called “Make it Happen!”

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An ideal role model as a risk-taker, Emily Kimball quit a secure and well-paying state job to go on a two-year odyssey in search of a position that matched her goal of working in nature. It was 1978. She was a 46-year-old mom, batting around the country with dreams of the out of doors while her children, whom she stayed in touch with on the entire trip, lived with her ex-husband. With a $200 monthly budget, she camped, cooked outside and sometimes enjoyed the hospitality of friends.

After the two year search Emily landed her dream job at age 48—outdoor recreation manager for a county parks and recreation department.

HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL

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Over the next decade she hiked the Appalachian Trail, more than 2,100 miles. She describes her start in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest like this: “The frozen shards of dirt crunched beneath our boots crackling like glass; we crossed the icy bridges cautiously. Georgia was difficult––lots of steep climbs and slippery trails.”

Hiking once in the High Sierras she had a memorable encounter with a golden bear: “It was very large and the color of goldenrod, rambling along in the underbrush, head down, limbs moving laboriously. I shall never forget the beauty of his golden fur, sliding like a waterfall over his giant skeleton and the rhythm of his gait as he trotted off into the wild.”

Her first book, “Appalachian Trail Stories and Other Adventures” is filled with lyrical accounts of nature at its most beautiful, dangerous and astonishing. Her 62nd year found her skinny dipping in frigid Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, then tackling the Going-to-the-Sun highway in a pouring rainstorm.

“Being outdoors is sort of my religion,” Emily says. “It just makes me happy to be on the trail. All of your cares kind of fade away when you are out there walking in nature.”

After several starts and stops, Emily completed the Appalachian Trail when she was 71. This trip alone would be daunting, but the remarkable thing about Emily is not just her adventures or that she is such a physical role model. It is the fact that she lived her dreams.

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Still physically active, Emily bikes, walks, hikes and plays tennis every week. She continues to make things happen.

 

THE VISUAL STORYTELLER (and Remarkable Jude Schlotzhauer)

She picks things up and brings them back to her studio–a stone whose shape she likes, a rusty piece of metal, a twisted nail, a pine cone, slivers of mica, lamp and clock parts, bones, sticks, even bugs.

Her name is Jude Schlotzhauer (www.judeglass.com) and she was born with a storyteller’s soul. Instead of words, her art gives voice to that ever present aspect of herself.

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WORKING LARGE AND SMALL

Architectural commissions, such as three glass walls for a Marine Corps Officers Club in Japan, a twenty foot mural in the Virginia Commonwealth University dining center, and an installation of 27 multi-colored glass disks for Capital One Financial Corporation in Richmond, Virginia, provide the opportunity to work large. She explains that because she learned from her father to use tools, her work is often very physical.

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Such intense physical work is balanced by Jude’s intimate and personal sculptural pieces–three dimensional animals with cast glass heads and bodies of glass bones and metal elements, for example, or animals in fused glass wall pieces, and her extraordinary masks.

“Every little piece I pick up and save has a story—an energy,” she says. “They’re all things left from another use, another life, another purpose.” Then she smiles and adds, “I repurpose them in the art I create and it tells another story.”

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WHAT DRAWS PEOPLE TO HER ART

People are drawn to Jude’s work largely because of the timeless themes she addresses, the subjects she expresses through her art—mysteries of life and death and spirituality plus the inscrutability of the found objects, the hint of some forgotten culture.

“I think my pieces stimulate imagination, inviting the viewer to imagine the story, to get involved in filling in the blanks,” she says.

But because she doesn’t believe an artist should make the message so obvious that there is no room for imagination, Jude invites you into her enigmatic work through what she describes as “open doorways, passages, quirky images, animals with human traits, found objects used in new and surprising ways, unexpected combinations of familiar images.” AN ARTIST STORYTELLER ALL HER LIFE

“I was identified as an artist by my family; I always made things,” Jude says; “There was never anything else I was going to be.”

She and her family also traveled a lot, and lived in Guatemala at one time, where she became fluent in Spanish. Jude thinks traveling inspired her to collect masks, reproductions of Pre-Columbian figures from Mexico, Milagros (miracle images) and niche-like boxes which she fills with objects that tell stories.

THEMES

“Doing a series or theme allows me to explore the subject in depth, tell the story, and develop imagery,” she says. Her love of masks, for example, has led to a series of sand-cast glass masks with bodies created by found objects—what Jude calls “Ancestral Totems”. The totems also illustrate her fascination with ancient cultures and the spirit world.

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Jude’s studio is filled with boxes labeled seedpods, bugs, rocks, and small animal bones. “I lay a lot of stuff out on my work tables,” she explains, “and start putting things together. Or I’ll make waxes of things I’ll eventually cast in glass.”

NEW SERIES OF BIRDS AND NESTS

Initially she may look at references and do research about a subject. Her next series is birds and nests. She’s looking at a lot of photos of birds, drawing birds, and jotting down ideas about what a nest represents, how birds are both about building homes and the ability to fly away, how they are at once strong and independent, small and fragile.

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A full-time studio artist with a BFA in painting and an MFA in glass working, Jude has taught glass working for over 25 years at Virginia Commonwealth University and as a visiting artist at universities and art centers across the country and in Mexico and Malaysia. She currently teaches at the Visual Art Center of Richmond and the Virginia Museum, inspiring her students with the mysteries of life in the form of stories told by art.

And in the process sharing what touches her soul.

“ARCHETYPES AND THE FEMININE,” A WORKSHOP (and Remarkable Janet Rodgers)

Not long after retirement and the requisite restoration of body and soul, 67 year old Janet Rogers, Virginia Commonwealth University Professor Emerita of Theatre, Fulbright Scholar to Romania and Past President of the International Voice and Speech Trainers Association, began her third career. As co-author with Frankie Armstrong of the book Acting and Singing with Archetypes, Janet Rodgers had been on stage professionally since 1975 and taught over 50 theatre workshops in the USA, Mexico and Europe.

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Janet wanted to see if her work with actors could be expanded successfully to inspire individuals in other creative fields. She created a studio in her house and invited women artists of different disciplines to participate in an experimental workshop which she called “Archetypes and the Feminine.” (Archetypes refer to universal forms or ideas common to all cultures.)

THE TEN PARTICIPANTS

Ten enthusiastic women aged 30 to 70 accepted the invitation to share in the day-long experimental workshop which would explore three feminine archetypes: The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone.

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The participants included a glass artist, a writer, a dancer, a choreographer and teacher, a painter, a playwright and visual artist, two actresses, a gallery owner, and a teacher at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

In her theatre workshops Janet helped actors do physical activities to explore various archetypes to help build the characters they would play on stage. With the ten women in this workshop she used many of the same physical movements plus guided imagery, experiments with vocal sounds, and imagination.

Following their day together, the participants then went home and created a piece (drawing, painting, writing, song, dance, theatre) based on the experience. Three weeks later, they came together to share their creations and celebrate with a potluck lunch at Janet’s studio.

THE CREATIVE WORK

Experiencing the archetypes that all women share from childhood to old age in a creative and supportive setting brought up unexpected tears and deep emotions as well as beautiful and meaningful work.

For example, the glass artist heard birds calling to one another in her garden and created a photograph of a bird in a lush green setting and glass frame inspired by The Mother Archetype in which participants created unique sounds to call to each other in the workshop.

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Another woman created a dance and a poem she recited while moving as The Crone, then The Child, The Maiden and back to The Crone.

PERSONAL STORIES

The writer said she was struck by how powerful she felt as The Maiden. She said it came as a big surprise. The group shared their own feelings of power as a child. Some were in tears as they listened to each other’s stories, often in the face of adversity.

Several dramatic scenes were written and performed that dealt with fear and following one’s own path in spite of being afraid. The playwright enacted a funny and poignant scene she had written based on her strong-willed, feisty grandmother, GiGi, (The Crone archetype) who was determined to crochet the biggest hot pad on record for the Guiness Book of World Records.

An artist presented wood cut type drawings of The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone while another artist in the workshop shared a portrait she had done of an older woman (Crone) with a young girl who is holding a baby representing the three archetypes.

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The workshop, which was a new direction in her life, was even more successful than Janet had hoped. Retired from her “official” career, she had created something remarkable for herself and for other women. Website: www.janetrodgers.com