My State Arts Board Grant 2017

IMG_8509In 2106 I was honored to have been chosen for a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. My project was to create 160 conserved paperboard and recycled plastic reliquaries.  Above is an image of some of the results in a recent exhibition: ‘Breath of the Compassionate’ in the Lookout Gallery at South Central College in North Mankato MN.

This journey started for me in Italy. The Basilica of St. Peter is of course full of world famous artworks such at the Michelangelo’s Pieta and Bernini’s Baldachin, but what captivated me was hidden in the back room. Here I found a number of ‘Reliquaries’: small, ornate sculptural boxes containing various holy remains and artifacts (‘relics’).


The one above in particular fascinated me, due to the degree of attention given to the container, and the relatively minor attention given to the relic itself–a small amount of the ashes of St. John Del Bosco (St. John of the Forest). As an artist committed to the lost, hidden and forgotten aspects of daily life, I was drawn to the notion that this richly appointed container had the power to elevate–even add an element of immortal power to–a scrap of bone, a torn cloth, or a pile of dust. The visual tension between the container and what it contained fascinated me.

From that moment, when I entered a cathedral I would always check the back rooms–to see what treasures were hidden way.


Above: three examples from the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence. I love the architectural qualities of these, and the attention to the windows and the mountings.

Two other obsessions were destined to merge with this. The first had to do with my maternal grandfather. He was a milkman and on his daily route he often found objects on the ground which he would pick up and take home. He kept a few of them on the top of his dresser, and I was always fascinated with their variety. Some were obviously valuable: rare coins, watches and pocket knives, others must have held a more personal fascination: rusty toys, an interesting rock, a broken tool.  I was too young to form it as a coherent thought, but I felt a pull to these contrasts–this lack of hierarchy of value– that never left me.


The second was the ornate decorations of Versailles (above), particularly the tendency to go back and forth between two-and-three dimensional aspects of pattern.

Upon returning the the states, the final part of the puzzle was a daily experience that brought all these interests together. For a while I had been noticing interesting things that I would find when I was cleaning my yard, walking my dogs, or walking back and forth from my office at Minnesota State University. Sometimes I would pick these objects up, but often I didn’t–knowing I had so many other things I was collecting (mostly packaging from my own consumption), and that I had no use for these objects.


I realized that if I made a series of boxes that were all the same shape and size, and formed a pattern, a purpose for these objects would be born.


This lead me to an Islamic tile pattern called ‘Breath of the Compassionate’.  I liked it because it used two different shapes, so I could make a complimentary set of boxes, and because it had a cross shape, so there was a visual intersection with Christian iconography.

After doing some research I liked this pattern even more. The idea of it comes from the Quran–it refers to the concept that Allah breaths life into all matter and beings. I saw a connection to the reliquary: a container that elevated its humble contents to the level of the divine.

I devised a set of formally sympathetic boxes, each with a window in which to view one item I found while walking.



Once I had made about a dozen of each type, I wrote my proposal–and to my surprise and excitement: it was chosen for a grant!

I then set about creating the boxes in earnest.


The base is made from corrugated cardboard, the sides and lid from paperboard (pop cases, cereal boxes and the like) and the window from vacuum formed plastic (clamshells, packages for greens and fruit, etc.).

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Most of the object were encountered during habitual activity, but some were special. Above, a piece of paint that fell of the Kirkbride Hospital–where I was on a residency this summer though the Hinge Program in Fergus Falls.


Above, a juice lid found on the streets of Cordoba, Spain.


That residency produced the first major group of boxes. Along the way, I had several opportunities to share the work both in Minnesota and around the country.


One of my proudest moments was when the work was chosen to be part of the 5th Annual Islamic Revival Series Art Exhibition, at the Irving Center for the Arts in Irving Texas. (Image from the Irving Library’s Instagram feed above). A video about the exhibition can be found here.  I was also honored to show portions of the series as part of ReMIX at the Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley, PA and as part of my solo exhibition ‘A Book of Hours’ in the Sinclair Galleries at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA.


Finally the work was complete and it was time to share it back home.




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It was a pleasure and privilege to share my work, my research, and my process with the students and faculty of SCC, as well as with the larger Mankato/North Mankato community.


It was fun to challenge the audience to guess where each object came from!


Overall it was a wonderful experience to share the results of this process, and to promote–in my own community–the vital role of the State Arts Board of Minnesota in the continuing success and progress of Minnesota Artists.


It was also an honor to be able to give back to the college by conducting a related art activity. I found a new pattern to adapt, and conducted an activity as part of SCC’s ‘3:45 Studios’: a program that introduces underserved youth of the region to the opportunities presented by arts and humanities programs at the community college level.


Each student was given paperboard templates and recycled materials and were tasked with creating one unique collage as part of the overall 3D wall-based pattern.


The results were amazing. So now the granted project has suggested a whole new collaborative direction!


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Overall I could not be more please with the results of the Artist Initiative Grant. This is my third AIG, and in all three instances, I saw my work grow exponentially, and enjoyed incredible opportunities to share it with hundreds of Minnesotans along the way.

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Finally,  I want to formally acknowledge the Arts Board, the Minnesota Clean Water and Land Legacy Fund, the Minnesota State Legislature, and the national endowment for the arts, for giving me the opportunity to make and share this work, and for all the great work these entities do to support, promote and foster creative activity in our state!

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