Drawing Strength from Art and Ancestors:
Self Portrait with Sun Totem Women with
Singing Breasts and Primal-Child-Animals


Terra Cotta
26” H x 11” W x 9" D
About the Piece
My belly is swollen hard like a drum with cancer, bowel, ascites fluid and the effects of chemotherapy. The bandage on my abdomen covers a drain tube that drains the excess fluid from my abdomen. I am tired, too tired to stand, and I don’t need to. I rest into the comforting traditions of art, of ancestors, of customs that sustain, transcend and heal.

My left hand draws energy from the totem and its benevolent spirits; my right hand channels this energy into my being, into my heart.

The totem is a woman with a round sun face; her headdress radiates sunshine. Her face is kind, yet she is fiercely maternal and ready to do battle. Songs burst from her breasts. She wears her heart on her body for all to see. Her belly, unlike my own distended abdomen, is flowing with life giving water. Her womb births a fish, a traditional female symbol. The sacred animals ringing the bottom of the totem are similar to the animals from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendack. My mom says the animals embody the primal child; she is right.

Excerpts from my Art Diary:

July 9, 2011: The day before I start a piece I get my studio ready, I knead the clay, clean up the studio, and put a layer of clay around a support pole. This is a ritual I have followed for years. Getting my studio in order is how my subconscious is signaled to begin forming the piece I will work on.

July 10, 2011: I have been rolling different ideas around in my head for two months now, but still couldn’t settle on an idea. I woke this morning feeling a bit panicked because I still didn’t know what I would sculpt. My husband and son will be going away to our Unitarian church camp and this is my one uninterrupted week of the year to spend exclusively on my art. Even though I have ideas, nothing was feeling quite right. So, I spent about a half an hour in my bedroom quickly jotting down some of the thoughts that have been floating around in my head. However, the idea for this piece was different from any of the ideas I had been considering. I like when my subconscious surprises me like this. I knew in a flash that the idea was a good one, and I felt really excited about it. So, I worked on it all day Sunday.

July 11, 2011: Most of the work I did yesterday on my new piece I had to redo. I realized the totem looked too small in comparison to the figure. So, I spent two hours redoing it. Then, I just had to make the figure a little smaller in height. For the most part, I didn’t mind. I understand this is just part of the process. I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked, but that’s ok. I am just grateful to not be in the hospital, and to be this side of the grass and able to sculpt at all.

July 25, 2011: This past week I had to have a permanent drain tube inserted into my abdomen to syphon off the liter and a half of ascites fluid that bloats my abdomen daily. Today I feel joy because I could sculpt for one whole hour; that felt so good. I feel upset when I can’t sculpt and I think that comes from feeling like I am ratting out on myself and putting myself last. Plus, I think I feel so much like my identity is a “breast cancer patient with mets to the liver”. Yuck, how dull is that. I need to try and sculpt regularly to cultivate my identity: “Yes, I am an artist and I make beautiful and meaningful sculptures.”
October 12, 2011: I finally added the figure to the large totem pole. I had to work on them separately. It sounds like such a simple thing and for some reason I was nervous about attaching the two because I was not sure where the figure should make contact with the sculpture. So, my husband took photos of me so I could see how my body should connect to the totem.

Ever since this past Friday I have been in a dream time, or an art/creative space. Going to an art show and seeing my mentor and the other members from the Society of Sculptors made me feel connected and reaffirmed me as an artist in a deep way. I just love to lay in bed at night, or driving along in the car and think about my sculptures, and a little thought about them will come to me, and this is so comforting and I feel alive and creative and energized at these times. These are things that belong to me alone. They are in my control and they bring me great pleasure and satisfaction that is deep.

March 27, 2012: Yes, I started this sculpture more than seven months ago, and I am still working on it, yet it feels almost done. In January and February I spent 17 days in the hospital with additional ER visits because I also had a reaction to an antibiotic that left me covered from head to toe in itchy hives.

July, 2012: It took me about a year to finish this sculpture and my other totem pole piece. Gratefully, I was able to just keep chipping away at my artwork when I was able to, until it they were finished.