Sacred Artist Interview: Larkin Jean Van Horn

I first discovered the quilting art of Larkin Van Horn through the Grunewald Guild where she will be teaching a summer class on Fabric Dyeing.  I visited her website and was enchanted by her fabric art, especially her series of journal quilts.  Not being inclined toward quilting myself, I was taken with the idea of creating a quilt series as an ongoing visual journal much like the way I will use paint, ink, and photos in my own visual journal work.  

I contacted her about using one of her quilts in the most recent issue of Presence, and then followed up with a request for her to participate in this interview series and I am grateful she said yes to both!

Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition?

I was raised in the Lutheran church in the days when being Lutheran mostly meant being not-Catholic. I am comfortable in the various liturgical churches, but have also spent time with the Presbyterians and Methodists. I have Jewish friends and Buddhist friends and Native American friends, and some who aren’t too sure about the whole “religion thing”.

What is your primary art medium?

I work with fabric, fibers, threads, beads, dye, paint, photography, and found objects.

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?

It may sound simplistic, but with God being the Great Creator, and being made in God’s image, how can I possibly do other than create? I believe that being creative can take as many forms as there are people – not just those sanctioned by the gallery owners and art critics. When I am in tune with those things I believe to be true and right, love spills out. And that may take the form of a thread painting or a pot of soup. Both are creative acts.

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

Art making IS my spiritual practice. Others may read theological tomes, meditate, garden, walk and pray – I go into my studio and start moving things around. Sometimes what I should make is very clear, and I know just what path I am on. Other times, I won’t really know what I am doing or working with until I am mostly finished with it. And some times I will look at an artwork long after finishing it and have an “aha” moment – rather like “so, THAT’s what that was all about!” All during the “making” phase, deeply sub-conscious work is also being done, which may take some time before bubbling to the surface.

What sparked your spiritual journey?

I rather suspect it was a swat on the backside by my paternal Grandmother! But mostly I think it was the music. Music was always more important to me than the readings and the sermons and all the other spoken words at church. I started singing in the junior choir when I was very young. My father was the choir director and my sister and I could both read music. I played instruments (piano, violin, guitar), but all I really wanted to do was sing. And I wanted to sing music that meant something. Even if the text was something other than English, there was usually a translation nearby. I really think I learned more about scripture, history, compassion, sacrifice and life in general by singing than anything else I read or did.

What sparked your artistic journey?

I’ve been making things with my hands for as long as I can remember. It didn’t really get named “art” until I was in my mid-30s and my great-Aunt looked carefully at a piece I was working on, looked me straight in the eye, and said “My dear, you are an artist.” And I believed her. And suddenly, I wasn’t just making things to stay busy – I was making things that meant something – just like the music. It was a radical change in how I viewed what I had been doing. Things started to make sense that had only been mildly puzzling before.

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

Absolutely! It’s called “clearing a path”! When I am in the midst of making art, I tend to be rather untidy. Things get tossed around, piles of fabrics are everywhere, stuff ends up on the floor and underfoot. When I am finished, I turn my back on the chaos and leave the room. But when it is time once again to make art, I spend some time folding fabric, putting things back in their places, unburdening the horizontal surfaces, and letting my mind wander where it will as I prepare to begin. I almost always enter without a clear vision of what will be made, and this process of “clearing a path” gives me a chance to let the materials spark an idea or topic or problem to be worked out.

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

Like many women, I have had my share of problems with the idea of a strictly patriarchal God. But if God is One in Three Persons, and the Father and Son are identified with men, then the Holy Spirit must be the feminine face of God. (I also read a lot of Andrew Greeley’s work and he frequently refers to God as “She”.) So I think it is not so much my art-making shaping my image of God, but rather my image of God shaping my art-making. I use a lot of feminine symbolism in my work. The lines are curved and sinuous rather than straight and angular. The colors are deep, rich, and lushly blended rather than starkly contrasting. Without being sweet and girly, I think my art is womanly and thoughtful. In a way, I am looking for a God I, as a woman, can identify with. And in my art-making, I find Her.

*****

A warm thank you to Larkin for sharing of herself so generously here.  I love the directness of her conversion experience in seeing herself as an artist and the power the words of others have to reflect our gifts back to ourselves.  Many of Larkin’s reflections resonated with me — I especially love the image of “clearing a path” — something I find myself doing and only until recently thought of it more as procrastinating until I realized there was an important shift of energy that happened in the act of moving things around.  Naming it as “clearing a path”
gives that movement of the creative process its own intention and power, making space for new possibilities to emerge.  And I love her discovery of the feminine, womanly face of God in the act of her art-making.  Make sure to visit her website at http://www.larkinart.com/.

Images from top to bottom: Journal Quilt April 2003, Journal Quilt May 2003, Gaia (created as part of “It’s Good to be Green”, Latimer Quilt and Textile Center, Tillamook, Oregon, March-May 2008), A Pleasant Resting Place, Seeking Higher Ground (from the “Rocks and Waters” series).  Photos by G. Armour Van Horn.

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

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