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Monk in the World Guest Post: Kathryn Coneway

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kathryn Coneway’s reflection on the contemplative practice of art making during uncertain times.

“Now I am revealing new things to you
Things hidden and unknown to you
Created just now, this very moment.
Of these things you have heard nothing until now.
So that you cannot say, “Oh yes, I knew this.”
-Isaiah 48:6-7

This passage from Isaiah is one of my favorite discoveries from reading “The Artist’s Rule.”

For me, truly entering into the unknown and discovering something along the way is central to creative practice. The creative process is a great place to welcome uncertainty when the rest of life is relatively stable, but what about when life itself is filled with uncertainty?

As we are made more aware of the uncertainty always inherent in life during this pandemic, I reflect on ways my creative practice has been impacted and ways I have had to create new rituals to ground myself and offer tools for contemplation in my community.

The current focus of my work is a series, “Mother Trees,” cut paper designs celebrating voices of nurture and connection to the natural world. The title was inspired by ecologist, Suzanne Simard; she researches connections between trees in the forest and describes the mother trees as the oldest and most connected, the ones who nurture others.

The craft of papercutting lends itself well to contemplative practice. I draw my designs first in pencil in reverse; this part is about beginning with a sketch and then entering the unknown as I work out how elements fit together. Once a design is complete and I begin cutting, I can shift to an active contemplative practice, allowing the movement of my hands and tool to hold me in the moment.

The creation of my work is meditative for me and part of how I live as a monk in the world. Sharing this work and letting it invite others into contemplative spaces and quiet reflection is the second part. With my exhibit venues closed this spring, I missed the chance for connection and service through sharing.

My family suggested I show my art in our yard in some way for neighbors walking by. Hearing this, a friend suggested the form of prayer flags. The graphic nature of the designs lent itself well to creating homemade silk screens that allowed me to reproduce the delicacy of the paper cuts in a manner that worked well for exhibit outside.  I printed the designs on canvas and sewed them together as prayer flags.

A delightful surprise has been the community response to this exhibit. Creating the flags started as something for me, a chance for a sense of completion and sharing in this time of cancellations and uncertainty.  It has offered a great connection with my community, with neighbors nearby and friends who drive by after I shared images and my process through my Instagram account. A neighbor wrote a piece for the local paper, adding images of the pieces in the several stages of the process and giving me a chance to share more of the story behind the work. Several people reached out and requested sets of flags and I created more to sell. It has been lovely to receive photos of them hanging in the homes and yards of others too. I realized that part of sharing the work is welcoming the unanticipated new forms I am invited to explore in my practice. This is true both for ways that my work serves my own contemplative practice and ways I share images to inspire others.

As my family centers closer to home, I reflect on ways the practices of mothering also inform, shape and companion my creative practice. I continue to reflect on ways nature nurtures and sustains us and offers connection and comfort in difficult times.  “Earth, Our Original Monastery” is next on my reading list and feels particularly suited to this time.

Kathryn Coneway is a mixed media visual artist, author, and educator. She focuses her professional work building community around creative practice. Kathryn is a practicing artist, exhibiting in park and nature center settings and most recently in her own front yard. She provides workshops to schools and community groups to foster connections between creative and spiritual practice. Additionally, Kathryn is the director of Shrine Mont Camps Art Camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

Kathryn is the author and illustrator of two children’s books including, COLLETTE A Collage Adventure. Kathryn lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband and two sons. Learn more about Kathryn and connect with her on her website and on Instagram @kathrynconeway

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