While I was reading about the separation of children from their families at the border this week, I worked on a painting in my cardboard cathedral series.
A few weeks earlier, I’d experimented with using pencil and paint as a way of expressing the fragile and temporary nature of childhood.
All of our childhoods are erased somewhat when we grow into adults. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with kids. They change daily, the 5 year old child suddenly becomes the 7 year old, with new personality growing from the old. And they are always in a hurry to shed their childhood, so I try to enjoy them in the moment.
I worked with foster children, though, and their childhoods have been sidelined by the trauma they had to go through.
But this separation of families brought up a lot of thought on how so many children’s entire cultures have been taken from them. Children of native Americans, children of slaves. We have at times in our history tried to destroy cultures wholly and completely. And it’s often worked.
But in a few children, I have seen an innate and ancient kind of wisdom that comes to the surface. Their stories about animals, the things they draw and paint. I see glimpses of a deeper identity that can’t be so easily erased. I worked with one young boy who especially seemed in touch with nature, who never wanted his hair cut, who couldn’t bear to have shoes between him and the ground, who told me he was a cheetah boy.
He planted the seeds of this painting I call St. Foster: Keeper of Stolen Wisdom.
I got the pose from a picture of him his mom took of him holding an Easter egg with a delicate and delighted touch.
The egg is such a potent symbol. I just went from there and created an homage to the gifts children innately bring with them.
I slashed the canvas for his halo, and attached painted yellow canvas to the back.
I used a lot of gold paint and paper, as well as gold flakes.
All children belong to all of us, they are our gold, they are our future. They need us to keep them safe.
Here are some of the other pieces in this series — using the gold painted cardboard to represent both the sacredness of life, and how easily we turn away from each other and don’t see the value that lies in each person. I started using cardboard in this way when I saw a homeless woman who I’m pretty sure was a saint — she just glowed — sheltering in a makeshift cardboard box.
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