My Nurse and I and Frida Kahlo
Terra Cotta
19” H x 6” W x 8" D
About the Piece
This piece is in response to Frida Kahlo’s My Nurse and I. Art critic Hayden Herrera gives a thorough review of Frida’s piece which is worth reading.

When I was two years old our family spent two summers in Alaska in an area so remote our food was brought in by pontoon plane. Mindful of the Alaska brown bears in the area the men carried guns. Mom didn’t carry a rifle; she knew that if a bear wasn’t killed with the first shot she would just enrage it. During our two summers none of the men encountered a bear, but Mom and I did. Walking along a path through the woods Mom had baskets of laundry balanced on each hip; I was sitting on her shoulders. As we rounded a bend in the path an 800 pound bear was in front of us, just two feet away. I began to squeal with joy “Oggie, oggie!” My Mom says she can still remember looking into the face of that bear as it turned, went to the side of the trail and looked at us. Mom just continued on down the path. If she had wanted to she could have reached out and touched the bear’s fur, it was so close. Mom’s not sure why the bear didn’t attack. Perhaps the bear didn’t know what to make of the two headed creature with massive basket hips and a second head at the very top of the creature babbling away. Mom said the bear was watching me as we passed; she thinks the bear might have sensed that I was a child. I am not going to anthropomorphize the bear, nature is nature and when bears are hungry they eat. Yet, I like to think my meeting the bear was a moment of sublime awe and wonder that I have cradled in my deeps these many years. Bears have always been symbols of fierce mothers that protect their young. Right now, with my illness, the wagons are circled, and Mother Ursula has come to protect her young.

I have always been drawn to Frida Kahlo because of her colorful imagery, and her unique vision that was not filtered through anyone else’s lens. She made the art that made sense to her and it was honest and defiant. I have never regarded myself as anything but healthy. During the past few months I have had to accept that cancer is considered a disability, and that I now have a disability. And, so, Frida Kahlo’s own health issues draw me closer to her for comfort and guidance on how to emotionally navigate a chronic illness.

On the front of the piece Frida stands with her arms in a cradle, mimicking the bear’s arms with the implication that Frida also holds me in her arms like a child. The bear claw-like necklace around her neck also links her to the bear. The soft folds of fabric and bunches of flowers add comfort and life to the tableau. Her arms wrap around herself as if she is comforting and holding her own body; she is a mother to herself. At other times, it seems as if she is in pain and is holding herself to make the pain abate.

When sculpting Frida’s face I looked at several photographs. I see different expressions in my portrait: defiance, sadness, resolve, peace, suffering. An artist once said to me “Don’t try to assign meaning to your pieces, you may not understand what they mean for years to come.” I am a meaning maker; yet, I do see this portrait of Frida as mercurial, encompassing the many emotions she must be feeling.

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