I have just returned from five days in New Zealand. I met my Mum at the Auckland airport (she flew from Queensland) and we stayed in a little beach side apartment at Orewa. The purpose of the trip was to visit my 96 year old grandmother whom I haven’t seen for a year. I also took it as an opportunity to catch up on my readings for my masters course and take time to think about my research project.
During our last intensive for masters at MIECAT (Melbourne Institute for Experiential & Creative Arts Therapy) we were invited to create an “Anchor” that would travel with us throughout the next two years of the course. This would be something to refer to when needed and to ground ourselves throughout our professional practice and research. I created a doll based on those made in the art groups I have facilitated.
At first mine was very private (only those in my immediate family, class mates and lecturers had seen it) but over the last month she has started making an appearance in the bigger world. I have been carrying her around with me in my bag as a companion, supporter and comforter (during professional practice events or work). Her first appearance was during the Birds of Happiness workshop. I was discussing with Suzanne (the manager of Sussex Neighbourhood House) the background of the bird design/idea. Which is as follows:
Last year I was invited to co-faciliatate a workshop at the East Reservoir Neighbourhood Renewal “Women’s Day Off” event. A group of us studying the Dilpoma at MIECAT decided to facilitate a “wish doll” workshop inspired by art therapist Margaret Nowak. She gives a great demonstration on Utube of how to create them. We decided to call our workshop “Women’s Health Dolls” and invited participants to reflect upon what being healthy meant to them.
The workshop we ran was so successful that we were asked to run it again this year (unfortunately none us were able to) but some of the women who had participated last year, remembered how to make them and facilitated the workshop at the event last weekend. I heard that it was the most popular activity again.
Since the inital workshop I have been making them with the art groups I facilitate and once with Amanda’s Woodford Creative Kids group at Sussex Neighbourhood House. Suzanne invited Amanda and I to come up with a bird designed around the same concept.
So back to the conversation with Suzanne – she asked me where the concept had come from and I remembered my anchor was in my bag. I pulled her out tentatively and showed her. She asked to take a photograph of me with my anchor.
Afterwards I dropped into Epping to visit the “Suitable” project being run by Wild@heART (I am the project co-ordiantor for the Meadow Heights group). When asked what I had been doing that day, I told one of the participants and my project manager about the “Birds of happiness” workshop and then remembering my anchor in my bag, decided to show to them. One of the participants was vision impaired so she asked to feel the doll. She laughed and smiled as she discovered new parts my doll – she especially liked the lambswool skirt. I felt happy that I had shared the doll – my anchor – and the way she had been received. It felt important to share her when it seemed appropriate.
I began thinking of how powerful the experience is of creating dolls with others. I was also amazed how how those who had made them with had gone on to make them with others. I began thinking of it as a possible topic for my masters research. When packing my bag for NZ I included some materials to make dolls with my Mum and Grandma. I also took my Anchor with me. On the first night I wrote a poem to my anchor, based on an experience had during the day. As I wrote it became apparent how important she was becoming in my life as a way to ground and reflect upon my experiences. I drew a picture of her sailing in a boat. When I finished I looked up and realised that there was a little boat in the room. So here she is, for all of your to see, getting ready to set sail on this masters journey with me.
During the first few days I talked to my Mum about my idea for my research project. I then invited her to create a doll with me.
The first step was to reflect upon a question and write it on a piece of paper. I asked “How do you feel right now?” – this could include what was relevant or important in our life’s at present. This message was then scrunched up and used to form the head. As we made the dolls together the energy shifted – although at times the process of making was humorous, there were also some rich moments of creating and reflecting. As our forms took shape the messages contained within became more visible – they were amplified.
My doll, representing three generations – how certain character traits have been
passed down from Grandma, to Mum and to me.
The following day I showed the dolls to Grandma during a visit to the Dementia wing of the nursing home she lives at. She described Mum’s doll as “jumping for joy”. I aksed if she would like to make one. She was hesitant and said that hers wouldn’t look as good as ours. I asked if she would like me to make one for her. She was happy with this offer. I began by asking her the same question I had asked Mum but she found this difficult to grasp. So instead I asked “What makes you happy?” She replied “Having a Brandy and ale”. I wrote this on paper and used it to form the head of the doll. She chose the colours for the body and also assisted in various stages of making (before nodding off to sleep in her favourite arm chair). There was a beautiful moment shared when she held the doll and we wrapped the wool with our fingers intertwined. When she woke she was very happy with what I had made.
On Friday when I went to say goodbye, Grandma had the doll sitting on her table in front of her. At one stage, while I was reading beside her, I saw her pick it up, cradle it in her arms and then kiss it on the lips. I had no idea that she would receive the doll in this way. I felt very humbled to spend time in the nursing home. Sitting, sharing stories and listening to my grandmother and the others who live there. My heart feels rich having shared such lovely moments of creating, collaborating and sharing with the women in my family – three generations.