Struggle to make art still ends up rewarding

Published 11:04 am Thursday, May 15, 2014

Creative Connections by Sara Aeikens

It seems like a decade since I received an email message from my across-the-street neighbor announcing an annual gathering she attends in Amery, Wis. The Northland 2014 Rec Lab celebrated its 80th anniversary, and I was able to attend. My neighbor needed only to drive around the block to pick up me with my luggage, then she drove us almost 200 miles northeast to a Bible camp nestled between two fairly small lakes on the outskirts of a town of about 3,000 people.

Sara Aeikens

Sara Aeikens

I really wasn’t sure what the actual program for the four days would include, but I thought the word “rec” was short for recreational. I read an entire list of several dozen activities that I could consider as possibilities for education as well as enjoyment. Little did I realize that the experience would take me back to childhood and camping days of fun and even frivolity, as each evening offered games, singing and different kinds of dancing lessons.  Some women, casually elegant, wore long hand-woven or tiered skirts.

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When we arrived late afternoon, I made at least three trips from the station wagon to our cabin, loaded down with what I considered necessities. I lugged my bundles while pondering how I manage to travel overseas with only a small rolling suitcase, my handbag and camera. I ended up piling an unused top bunk with my sleeping bag, a large heavy quilt my mother made, a giant bath towel, and a roll of pink wool yarn to donate to a knitting group.  The extras, including a pocket flashlight, would surface in a campground setting where the bathroom is located a long way from the bunkroom.

Offerings of handicraft activities stirred youthful wishes to become more skillful in chair caning, in making paper for creating handmade books, in leatherwork and loom weaving or tie-dyeing. I finally decided to take three sessions each of a creative writing course and a hands-on stained glass class for the three full days of camp.

The former flew by with a story of our most favorite space, an “I’ll never forget the time when” story, a “story I’ve heard from someone else about myself,”  “What do I wish for my future self,” a story based on one word that describes who I am, and finally a practice in how to write a Haiku poem about our nature surroundings.

The woman story guide invited us to use words selected from all our senses. Upon completion she encouraged our group of about a dozen to read out loud from our handwritten notes or the mini-laptops that some brought. Several used a hand or electronic magnifying glass. All chose to shape their experiences in various and unique ways.

The stained-glass experience forced me to be a bit more courageous than the story telling time. It turned out to be both delightful and difficult to select nine pieces of colored glass from more than 40 plastic dishwasher containers filled with hundreds of sizes of glass shards in graduated shades.

The instructor suggested that as a beginner I select a simple six-inch square sun-catcher composition. I agonized while choosing nine pieces to create a design that followed most of the 19 guidelines I’d just learned in a watercolor painter’s sample art session.

I blended blues, greens, purples and pinks and then decided on striation direction and color placement for the nine blocks. Each flat glass piece next needed to be scored, broken and squared to size and then edged with copper foil.

This session took me until dusk, the fading light changing the hue and intensity of colors.

I think the class instructor felt sorry for my laboring, because when I returned to our work area he had silver leaded the entire creation and even rounded the four outside corners. On completion, when the two of us added the copper wire hooks, neither noticed we had soldered them on the front so only a person looking in the window could see the one-sided flowered patterns.

With the design process and drying finished, I fetched the golden chain I’d tucked in my duffle bag and hung my flawed artwork so the rarely available sunshine shone through. I was finally able to admit that it was colorful and original.

In-between recreational sessions, we were fortified with three substantial meals, snacks and teatime. I placed an early morning nature walk at the top of my priorities, made possible by dawn nudging me out of my bunk bed through the lake view window. As about a dozen of us quietly crept down near grassy muddy lakeside, I followed the focus of a few others with eyes skyward. My whole body stilled. At that moment my vision captured a lone bald eagle perched on the lofty pine tree spire.

That silent experience inspired conversation with a man using a cane on the nearby grass mound. We both were recovering from life threatening accidents occurring in the last several years. The regal posture of the eagle spread calm over each of us. Our group also spotted a lone loon dividing its time between diving and floating on the tranquil lake.  Only a single one of each bird appeared to us and each became both an inspiration and a metaphor.

While dodging the raindrops and sharing some rays of sunlight I found myself opening up to positive old memories and letting go of stale unneeded ones so as to bring new awakenings.


Sara Aeikens is an Albert Lea resident.