Sacred Artist Interview: Marilyn Russell

I first encountered Marilyn Russell virtually when we were each asked to write an article on spirituality and artistic expression for the UCLA Spirituality in Higher Education Newsletter.  Marilyn’s article was on “The Empowering of Art & Spirituality.” Read her article to gain even more insight into her vision as an artist.  (you can read my article here).

She is a member of the Ojibwe tribe, an artist, a scholar and the Library Director at Haskell Indian Nations University. In her article she shares this beautiful Ojibwa prayer:

“Oh Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds and whose breath gives life to everyone, Hear me. I come to you as one of your many children; I am weak, I am small, I need your wisdom and your strength. Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunsets. Make my hands respect the things you have made, and make my ears sharp so that I may hear your voice. Make me wise, so that I may understand what you have taught my people and the lessons you have hidden in each leaf and each rock.
I ask for wisdom and strength, not to be superior to my sisters and brothers, but to be able to fight my greatest enemy, myself. Make me ever ready to come before you with clean hands and a straight eye. So as life fades away as a fading sunset; my spirit may come to you without shame.”

I am delighted she was willing to share her reflections on the connections between spirituality and creativity.

Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition? 

Yes, I am an Episcopalian.

What is your primary art medium? 

Watercolor painting and mixed media collage.

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity? 

I believe that the creative act is an essential part of my inner self.  Since I consider myself a spiritual person, most all of my artwork reflects this spiritual self.  This is connected to my Native American heritage.  As an artist, the images I use are reflective of the symbols and spiritual meanings found in the Native American culture.

What role does spiritual practice have in your art-making? 

I believe that contemplative prayer uses silence as a means to unveil ones true self.  This
unveiling allows one to make art in a meaningful way and communicate a message to others.  Some of my work is about a search for this inner-self, about healing, and about the empowering of the Spirit to communicate.

What sparked your spiritual journey? 

My belief is that there is a place beyond one’s self where the Spirit may soar and rise above the mundane.  I initially went through Cursillo in the late 1980’s.  This is a movement that through God’s grace manages to enable the essential realities of a Christian to come to life in the uniqueness, originality, and creativity of each person.  I later became a certified Spiritual Director though the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.

What sparked your artistic journey?

I have painted since I was five years old and always knew I would be an artist.  I have always been an artist even when there are lulls in times to paint.  I am always thinking about art and
what I might create.

Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your creative
work?

I often offer up a prayer of silence to the Great Creator and a thank you for His gift of creativity to me.

How does your art-making shape your image of God? 

My art making is a reflection of the beauty that I see in all of God’s creation.  Hopefully, I am merely the tool that God uses to tell stories and to make beautiful art.

A whole-hearted thank you to again to Marilyn Russell.  I love her closing image of being the tool God uses to tell stories.  Make sure to visit her website to see more of her images.

(Photos from top to bottom: Chimayo Christ, The Healer, Spirit House, Virgin of Guadalupe, Crown of Thorns, Spirit of Horse Shield)

** Make sure to visit this week’s Poetry Party **

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