Maybe it was that summer at Indian Point when I became aware of my mother sketching now and then, quietly absorbed in her way. (I was ten at the time.)
I have yet to meet a person whose quality of listening and observing can equal that of my mother. These qualities served her well as she evolved into the artist she became, painting into her late nineties. She stated that her process consisted of merely “playing on paper.” Both of my parents referred to their experiences as “forms of exploration.” They truly lived this philosophy, in their personal and world views.
In the month of February this year, a rare gift was bestowed upon me. Camille Davidson, owner of the Readfield Art Gallery, offered me the month of February for a retrospective art show of my mother Ruth Bowman’s work.
In co-curating this retrospective show with my son, it is clear that I have come to know my mother more deeply than ever. My own professional path into Expressive Arts Therapy was such a natural direction for me, as Ruth’s daughter. To keenly observe and listen are the operative tools at play, once again. Giving form to feeling became the premise for my counseling work in the K–12 public schools (including Monhegan Island), in private practice, in an orphanage in India, in Russia, in a children’s hospital in Scotland, and as part of a team conducting well-child clinics off the Honduran coast.
Over and over, it was so very evident to me that no matter the cultural context or presenting problem, expressive arts are universal by nature. A child in trouble or pain finds healing in the materials they choose for revealing the struggle, even in their first attempts. In the context of public schools, I met with children individually as well as in groups and would usually offer choices of materials to work with: a myriad of art materials from clay to paints, assorted puppets, a variety of musical instruments for a new dialogue, creating original books for recording feelings—to suggest a few expressive tools. Over time, children and teens came to see for themselves that what is felt can be translated into many forms and that there is a landscape out there waiting to be explored.
image at top: Ruth and Ellen Bowman, Oozling, melted wax process.