Of Art & Words -by J. Wolf Hardin

by on May 1st, 2008
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I have always loved writing, the evocation of thought and feeling, the telling of a story that reveals in the reader deeper layers of their selves. Most often the words pour out as if from a hidden reservoir, no doubt birthed and developed in the kitchen of the unconscious, and yet springing forth afresh. The insights ring so true that they reverberate through my entire being, and I feel at best like a resonator through which all the experiences of humanity and the rest of the feeling planet vibrate as sound then word and form. Most often there is little crafting per se, as the material makes its way onto screen and paper in approximately the order it comes out, a steady stream that I have only to type fast enough to record before its gone. Unlike music, it is hard for a reader to act as if it were only entertainment, background noise or soundtrack instead of a clarion call. And while artwork is open to wide interpretation, the intent and meaning of an essay is more likely to survive translation and absorption intact.

medicine-womans-botanicaca-color-sm.jpgThat said, I find there’s something special about drawing and painting, and even the most lengthy or difficult assignment feels like both relaxation and reward. The process ushers me into a wordless state of mind, as surely as submersion in cool river water. The therapeutic sweep of the pencil or brush has a zen like quality, a timeless dance where I am drawn to linger. As many projects as I always have going, I treat each order for custom artwork as a chance for a break, illustrating good folks’ alternative business logos or doing portraits to repay the gifts of friends. Never has the pleasure been greater than when creating the several Medicine Woman archetypes for the Medicine Woman Herbal book, not only because of how much Kiva appreciates the contributions, but because of the inspiring and empowered types of women these works define. While archetypes, they are grounded in mixed lineage and these modern times, from the overall clad Appalachian herb gardener to the part-black drummer and keeper of ritual.

Here you see my latest, entitled “The Medicine Woman’s Botanica,” the enticing and mystery laden shop of a Hispanic “yerbera” or “curandara”, located somewhere in the dusty and twisting back streets of one of our historic New Mexico towns. She sits on a hand carved oak chair with twisting vine motif and its back topped with claw-held crystal balls (inspired by the clawfoot legs found on some antique tables). Her low cut shirt speaks to her being a woman of the modern age, confident of her sexuality, a woman who likely spent time riding her own motorcycle when she was young and wilder, but who now adds a hand beaded leather vest to her outfit to honor indigenous traditions. Above her you may recognize bunches of chamomile, thistle and rosemary, being slow dried to protect their strength and efficacy. On the counter in front of her are the tools and materials of her healing trade, including bottled tinctures, medicinal roots and mushrooms, calendula and chilies, a mortar for grinding up small quantities of dried materials, and a vintage brass and marble scale to weigh the powders thus ground.

This piece – like the others – is mixed media, combining colored pencils, watercolor pencils, and an overlay pen and ink that help stylize, bring forward and set into motion the intersecting forms. I had to stay up until 1 in the morning to meet a magazine deadline, after spending most of the day completing the Doña and her shop of natural healing… putting my writing second once again, to the sensibility, sensuality and satisfaction of art.

(Note From Kiva: Contact us for info on purchasing the limited edition Medicine Woman series or other images, or to request a logo or portrait for yourself)

Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales

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