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The Birch Tree Leaf Newsletter Issue 7 — Late Autumn 2020

WE ARE ALL TENENBAUMS...

The Royal Tenenbaums, a film directed by Wes Anderson and co-written with Owen Wilson, 2001
“The Royal Tenenbaums starts with a bomb going off. The rest of the story takes place in the wreckage.” — Matt Zollverein Seitz

Wes Anderson’s third film, The Royal Tenenbaums, is one of my all time favorites. It delivers both comedy and dark drama and has one heck of star cast. It’s the story of a family affected by divorce (the bomb referred to in the quote above). As life would have it, and especially as movie plots go, all three now adult Tenenbaum children find themselves at crossroads (all three still carry the emotional wounds inflicted by the separation of their parents when they were children). One by one, they decide to move back into the family home with their mother, Etheline. Their father, Royal, also finds himself in need of a place to crash. He fabricates a story of how he is dying of cancer and Etheline agrees to let him live out his “final days” in the house with their children.

It’s such a wacky film — sad but funny. Anderson’s attention to visuals including set details, costuming and color are stunning. I love this movie for so very many reasons.

One of things about going through this pandemic is how it is affecting all of us. We are all aware of how this pandemic is affecting us in tangible ways, but like the Tenenbaums, wounded emotionally by the divorce, we are being affected by this pandemic at core levels. Things are taking a toll. There is loneliness, there is anxiety, there is anger, there is sadness and there is pain.

Covid-19 was like a bomb going off, and we find ourselves here in the wreckage. “We are all Tenenbaums,” writes film critic Zollverein Seitz and he is absolutely right. The Royal Tenenbaums is like a poignant and powerful image of how we are all getting on in the wreckage of 2020.

Me and studio mural wall with its painted rose window and Tree of Life.

Hello everyone!

That movie metaphor came to me as I was reflecting on what these pasts months have held for me. I have been doing an awful lot of creating and making — much more than I’ve done in past seasons. And when I ask myself why that is, the answer is simple...

I may be a Tenenbaum, but I am an artist and I am a healer.

I see you all. I see how this year has affected you and me and the rest of the planet. The projects and pieces I have spent time on recently are essentially an offering of medicine to those in need of healing. It is the focus of the work I’ve been creating and this newsletter issue.

BREATHE ON ME, BREATH OF GOD

Breathe on me, breath of God.

Fill me with life anew,

that I may love what thou dost love,

And do what thou wouldst do.

Breath on me, breath of God,

Until my heart is pure,

Until with thee I will one will,

To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,

Til I am wholly thine,

Til all this earthly part of me

Glows with thy fire divine.

— Hymn lyrics by Edwin Hatch, 1878

SOOTHING LEAVES

One of the Biblical images that keeps coming to mind is that of the Tree of Life talked about both at the very beginning of the Scriptures in Genesis and at the end in the Book of Revelation. It is in Revelation that we are told more about the tree Adam and Eve lost access to...

My heavenly guide brought me to the river of pure living waters, shimmering as brilliantly as crystal. It flowed out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle and dividing the street of the holy city. On each bank of the river stood the tree of life, firmly planted, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and producing its sweet crop every month throughout the year. And the soothing leaves that grew on the tree of life provided precious healing for the nations. — Revelation 22:1-2

I’ve been working on a few different projects around the Tree of Life. The first is the mural I am creating on the east wall of my studio — it includes a tree. I started the project last year in fall and spent the month of October 2020 working a bit each day on covering the leaves I had originally painted in shades of blue and green with gold leaf. It really became a prayer practice each day where as I worked, with every leave I reflected on people and places in need of healing.

Shadow portrait with the studio mural Tree of Life in process.

I still need to complete the tree trunk, but that shimmering spray of golden leaves is now such a reminder to me of the healing work I have been called to through my art.

I may be a Tenenbaum, but I am an artist and I am a healer.

THE HEALING POWER OF COLOR

Last year I also came up with the idea to make porcelain leaves stamped with a words of healing as reminders of the healing God promises us through John’s vision of the Tree of Life. The collection was a sold out success last year.

The ceramic leaves from the 2019 collection featured various fabric accents. I put together color combinations I thought would be nice. This year, as I thought about this element, I got the idea to utilize a little color psychology in creating the 2020 Tree of Life Leaves Collection.

Soon I was reading all about how scientists continue to study how both light and color affect us. There have been some very interesting studies done around the growth of cancer cells in the body and a person’s exposure to colored light. This is the science of chromotherapy where color is used to heal. Oh, it’s fascinating and really exciting.

While the healing potential of color is still something being explored, the psychological affects of color have been known for centuries. You are probably familiar with this. It was something I learned about in college studying art.

I have paired the words on my ceramic healing leaves with coordinating colors.

Yellow for Joy

Yellow is a color long known to inspire joy and friendliness. It is the warmth of the sun and the brightest color visible to the human eye. To have something yellow near to you can spark creativity, boost energy and lift your spirits.

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. — Nehemiah 8:10

Green for Hope

Green is the color of growth and renewal in the created order. No better sign of hope can be found than the greening of the earth in spring. To have green in your presence can bring a sense of calm and patience in waiting.

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. — Isaiah 40:31

Blue for Peace

Blue, the color of sky and sea, is known to inspire peace and tranquility. It has long stood as a symbol for heaven. Having something blue in your environment can improve concentration and reduce anxiety.

the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. — Numbers 6:26

Indigo for Wisdom

Indigo is a deep color representing wisdom, spiritual maturity and depth. It is the last color appearing in the sky before night reaches it’s darkest point. Seeing this color in your environment can remind you to consider carefully and listen more.

Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. — Proverbs 2:11

Purple for Strength

Purple is a color representing power and royalty. It is the color of the robe mockingly draped over Christ during his persecution and would later come to represent His Kingdom.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. — I Chronicles 16:11

Black & White for Faith

Black and white represent the contrasts between darkness and light, blindness and sight, life and death. While black evokes mystery, white stands for truth and purity — both are qualities of the Divine and hallmarks of the life of faith.

Faith…is the evidence of things we cannot see. — Hebrews 11:1

Pink for Love

Pink, like red, is a color that inspires love. While red evokes passion, pink conveys a love marked by tenderness and gentleness. The presence of pink near to you is nurturing, encouraging, and optimistic. It is symbolic of Divine Beauty.

We love because He first loved us. — I John 4:19

ECO-FRIENDLY PACKAGING

When I asked my oldest daughter, Madeline, if she would help me with a project to make eco-friendly packaging for my ceramic pieces, she easily agreed. She did a fantastic job sewing nearly 200 wool-blend felt sleeves.

I just couldn’t stand the idea of buying roll upon roll of styrofoam packing to send out my latest pieces — it’s just not good or healing for the environment to rely on such products. Instead, I located an American felt maker, Over the River Felt and purchased from their shop on the Etsy crafters website — they manufacture and sell felt in every imaginable color. It feels good to support another business of makers while providing a unique packaging option.

The pouches are so cute all dressed up with their little ribbon and gold leaf accents! Of course, they can be used in other ways after they’ve completed their ceramic protecting/presenting job: corralling items in your purse or in a drawer or protecting/storing jewelry. If you happen to be a maker yourself, the pouch can always be upcycled into something new and fantastic such as patching a favorite pair of winter gloves, etc.

Madeline has become quite the seamstress. This past year she sewed herself this glittery gown for prom out of nearly 20 yards of satin and sequined deep blue fabrics. It turned out AMAZING.

THE DAILY DOSE

In September I decided to get real intentional about putting together more frequent “doses” of encouragement and hope than my several times a year newsletter. I’ve already put together over 50 of these which you can find on my website blog and on both Facebook and Instagram @BirchTreeStudioMLH.

I created a post “schedule” that makes it easy to know what I should share. I pick a color theme for each time I cycle through the rotation. Since featuring one of my paintings is first in the rotation, I just base the rest of the images I share on that painting. This is fun for me and I am probably geeking out on this WAY too much. Smile.

Here’s the schedule I created:

  1. Painting - share the story behind it
  2. Photo of me and a personal story
  3. B&W photo of my non-painting art such as ceramics, mural work
  4. Art or photography feature of someone else’s work - famous art or an artist I currently follow and enjoy
  5. Scripture graphic I’ve created
  6. Nature photo I’ve taken - full vibrant color
  7. Quote graphic I’ve created - wisdom to share
  8. Photo of someone who has influences or inspires me
  9. A collection of lovelies laid out on the studio table - I’m such a collector and this is just a fun little activity for myself.
  10. Painting of mine - share the story behind it

For those of you who have not seen any of these posts (I felt a little unheard starting this up during election season! LOL), I’m going to share a few my favorites. My apologies if you’ve already read these — I do intend for my newsletters to be filled with fresh encouragement!

THIS MAN CHANGED MY LIFE

He is probably the most famous archeologist of all time. No, it’s not Indiana Jones. This is Howard Carter who made one of the greatest discoveries the world had ever known in 1922.

In the 6th grade we watched a film on Carter’s adventure. The title sequence is forever burned into my brain. Emerging out of the darkness comes the death mask of King Tutankhamen, the long lost Pharaoh of Egypt whose tomb had been sought after for centuries.

Never had I seen such beautiful craftsmanship and such enchanted style, color, pattern and GOLD. My love affair with all things Ancient Egyptian had begun. But more importantly, in that moment I could see my life’s purpose. I wanted to use my artistic talent to create stunning work like this. I wanted to do it more than anything in the world.

I look back and realize just how special that moment was. Not everyone is given such a clear glimpse of who they could become. I knew I would be an artist FOREVER. Though I have seasons of doubt, I’ve really never really left the artistic path. I have HC’s discovery to thank for being a spark that ignited me as a child.

As an adult I am growing to appreciate Howard Carter for a different reason — his tenacity. After 6 fruitless years of digging in the desert, he was able to find what could not be found. He was determined and persistent. He simply would not give up and it paid off.

This is a helpful reflection for me now as I focus on building an art career. The work is slow. It is hard to imagine working for years without any significant success. The ultimate lesson here: KEEP GOING... there is beauty still to come.

A Scripture that inspires lately a persistent mindset in the face of doubt, trial, and slow-going is this:

Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears, will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared. Those who weep as they walk and plant with sighs will return singing with joy, when they bring home the harvest. — Psalm 126:5-6

FANTASTIC MR. FOX

Ever since I went on spiritual pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland in 2016, I have made a daily practice of walking or running outside. I push myself to do this even when the weather is not all that nice.

I use my outdoor time for reflection, planning, and decision making. I also enjoy observing nature and allowing myself to feel God’s presence with me. My walking practice restores me.

But I think my favorite thing about going outside is allowing space for God to delight me. That is how I think of it. I imagine God seeing me step out the front door and saying, “I’m going to put something special out for Michelle to see today.” Most of the time this is just something small like watching the baby barn swallows out practicing flight for the first time, or a really cool sunset, or the way the air smells like fresh cut grass.

But sometimes… God chooses something more striking and impressive to show me. A few weeks ago it was Fantastic Mr. Fox (or maybe Mrs.). I’d never seen a full grown fox in the wild. Occasionally a fox will make a den in a ditch and as you wiz past you may catch a glimpse of the fox cubs peeking out the hole.

On this particular day, as I approached the end of the driveway I saw him. Just on the other side of the road in the driveway entrance to our pasture… he had just crossed the road and paused at the exact moment saw him and he saw me. What a glorious creature. I noted the lovely black paws and how the black faded up his legs into a gorgeous red coat. His tail was large and fluffy and he was much bigger than I would have expected.

I took the experience to be quite special. It is one of the ways I receive encouragement from God especially in regard to being a creator. I talk to God about the things I am making, so I find it quite natural that every once and awhile, God shows me something he’s extra proud of and it fills me with great delight.

Are there ways you find God delighting and encouraging you? Do you make a point to enjoy nature on a regular basis?

MY BIGGEST SUPPORTERS

Meet my parents, Carrol and Glenda. They have been behind my journey to becoming an artist the entire way. I cannot think of a single moment where they questioned my focus in life.

I quickly learned in college that for many creative souls, their parents and family were a source of discouragement and contention. I have since spoken also with young people contemplating a career in art, but have received a clear message that to do so would be going against what was acceptable to their parents. How utterly sad!

If I remember correctly, my dad went to bat for me even in kindergarten when my teacher took away my new left-handed scissors and insisted I learn to do everything with my right hand.

My parents paid for me to attend art workshops and even footed the bill so I could specifically attend a private high school where there was an art program. As farmers, this was a significant expense for them.

When I started painting with oils in junior high my mom got me a booth and helped set everything up at a crafts fair so I could sell my work.

My parents never once questioned my pursuit of an Art Major in college. They have been in attendance at most of my talks and art presentations and like to stop by and see the theater set I’m working on or browse the work in my studio. They show interest in everything I do and hit the like button on everything I share online. My mom will even browse my website occasionally and fill out the contact form letting me know she was there and loved it all.

How do you say thanks for such life long support? I am absolutely unbelievably grateful for the role they have played in my life and career as an artist. Thank you, Mom and Dad!!

WEBSITE OWIE

People ain't the only ones needing the healing.

One of the coolest gifts my sisters and I ever got for Christmas growing up was the Barbie Dream House. This huge toy still sits in my parent's back bedroom as the granddaughters also enjoyed playing with it. My sisters and I would spend hours playing Barbies with this house. It came with furniture and appliances and there were even food items and dishes. All of this we would carefully set up and arrange for play. It was quite fun until the boys arrived. Cue the dramatic Weather Channel music...

We had family friends which included 2 boys about the same age as my sister and I. The boys’ idea of Dream House fun was different from ours. In their minds, this was an opportunity to play “earthquake” or “tornado” or some other catastrophe. By the time the boys left, the Dream House had turned Nightmare for Ken and Barbie. We now had the tedious task of resetting the whole thing.

In October, my website was hacked. Each time you clicked to a different page some annoying pop-up appeared: “You’re a WINNER!!” Let’s just say, the whole ordeal took nearly a month to straighten out and cost me both money and a bit of sanity (just a few panic attacks and sleepless nights). Putting the Barbie Dream House back together after hurricanes Brent and Jake was a tad bit simpler.

I finally found the help I was needing from security technician, Matt in Australia. Matt acknowledged the emotional toll the whole hacking ordeal had taken on me. This meant a lot.

I have since doubled down on my website’s security and everything seems to be working normally again. If you are planning to make purchases through the site in the coming days, your credit card and personal information will be safe as I do not store any of this information on my site (should some other hacking disaster occur). All transactions are handled by the fine people at Square or PayPal. You may always arrange to order by phone too and avoid online shopping altogether! I am totally flexible.

Scene from The Royal Tenenbaums - Royal and Richie talk with Margot and Henry looking on.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Royal: Richie, this illness, this closeness to death... it's had a profound affect on me. I feel like a different person, I really do.

Richie: Dad, you where never dying.

Royal (enthusiastically): ...but I'm gonna live.

It’s one of the crucial scenes in The Royal Tenenbaums — Royal, who has been pretending to have cancer, finds that even in the pretending he has been changed. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But a different Royal emerges from this realization and when he does, his children begin to change too.

I think we can all agree there has been no one collective understanding or response to Covid-19 — while some take it with extreme seriousness, others truly believe it’s a hoax. But in the end, it will really be about how we navigate the whole experience emotionally and spiritually. It will be about how we care both for ourselves and others on this leg of the journey.

I may be a Tenenbaum, but I am an artist and I am a healer.

Whether I am in danger of dying or not dying, I want to come out of it with Royal’s renewed zest for LIVING. That is my prayer. What healing ultimately brings to us is LIFE.

May you have it to the full, my friends!

He Provides by Michelle L Hofer, mixed media on paper, 2020.

Be safe and be well all,

Created By
Michelle L Hofer
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