Art as Spiritual Resistance

I am a lifelong, amateur naturalist who is drawn to the beauty and mystery of the natural world.  First as a young child and then as a student, early childhood educator, mother, and grandmother, I have always felt most truly alive in the outdoors, especially when surrounded by a sense of unspoiled wildness. Writers such as Edwin Way Teale, Rachel Carson, Terry Tempest Williams, and Barry Lopez, among others, have nurtured my soul.

As a quilt artist, therefore, I welcome each work as a new opportunity for imagination and discovery about myself and the natural environment.  I am especially drawn to creating landscapes and realistic images which invite the viewer to participate in their moods or stories and to apprehend the wonder and beauty they convey.  A few examples: the once endangered Osprey now soaring free; a lone, twisted spruce tree tenaciously holding fast to a weathered Maine headland; a Common Raven staking its claim to its New England coastline territory; the small worlds beneath the tides and the mysteries beneath the sea; a preserved, ancient and ephemeral river valley in Namibia bathed in distant morning mist; the expanding glow from a mid-summer sunset over the shore of Monhegan Island, ME; and the exquisite forms and colors of an ordinary weed, the Common Teasel.  My artistic orientation has only intensified in recent times, as “civilization” relentlessly exploits essential natural resources and separates human life from the natural world. 

I never questioned this nature of my work, however, until the day Donald Trump became president-elect in November 2016.  At the time, my husband and I were on an extended birding tour of Chile.  Although we were in the land of earthquakes, the real earthquake was taking place back home. From afar, I began some wrenching soul-searching.  How do I celebrate wonder and beauty now?  Am I still able to?  Are my choices as an artist relevant anymore?  Or am I compelled somehow to shift my focus and create works of political and social resistance instead?  My struggle continued for weeks, and in some ways, always will.  But in the process, I have come to affirm an even deeper belief: In a broken world, to find and nurture beauty is true protest, an essential form of spiritual resistance and hope.

“Afterglow” (2017), “Wonder Reborn” (2017) and “In the Beginning…” (2018) are the most recent expressions of my renewed commitment.

Increasingly through my art, I join the threatened natural world, as Terry Tempest Williams says, in its “fight for its right to be wild.” As Stuart Kestenbaum has written:

 “…it all comes down to this:  
In our imperfect world 
we are meant to repair 
and stitch together 
what beauty there is, stitch it 
with compassion and wire.” 

Betsy Abbott, April 2018