Thursday, July 16, 2009

Buried Treasure uncovered

Over on Seth's blog there was an invitation to participate in Buried Treasure. What was involved was participants were to dig in their blog history and find one of their favorite blog postings and re-post them. Then everyone can go to Seth's blog and go hunting for treasure! Don't you love a treasure hunt?

One of my favorite posts was back on December 02, 2005. NYU had hosted a symposium to honor Edith Kramer (one of the grandmothers of art therapy) but I had previous commitments. So I sent a letter to be read there, and I posted it on the blog. We've all had teachers who have guided us in ways which in retrospect were exactly perfect and I have to say Edith Kramer was one of those teachers for me. (Although at the time I was studying with her I did not appreciate the experience fully, of course.)
At the time of this Symposium I was working on collecting material for a book on her (which has yet to be written). So I had the luxury of being able to look through old photos and notes and in retrospect I discovered I'd learned quite a lot from Edith. I believe there is a great deal of buried treasure in thinking about what our teachers have given us. But enough preamble, here's my former post.

Dear Edith,

Sometimes it's good to know what your students learned, so I would like to express a deep sense of gratitude and inner satisfaction for the many things you have taught me.

One of the more important thing I learned was the idea of story-telling in the art room, and how appreciative the people we work with are, when we can furnish their minds with inspiring, challenging, sometimes scary and ultimately reassuring stories like Selma Lagerlöf's THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES OF NILS.

I loved hearing about how you told the story of the little boy, Nils, and his struggles to become human in your art studio at the Wiltwyck Boys' School. I can also understand how the boys identified so strongly with the character Nils and all that he was learning from the old, gray, lead goose, Akka, that they begged you to tell them more stories about Akka. She was probably helping them to become human, too. How satisfying it must have been for them to paint with you and hear these stories.

In looking through the slides of your work, your home in Austria, and photos from your family, I realize another thing I have come to value is history, and the idea of being a part of a lineage; that we could learn the things you learned from Friedl Dicker, and that others could learn these things from us.

One of the best things I learned from Friedl through you, was that you don't have to wait until your analysis is complete to do good things in the world. Friedl told you that she thought that something was wrong when she felt most alive while she was imprisoned, that this must be masochism and should be analyzed. In actuality, her ability to remain fully alive under extreme adversity served her and the children she worked with in Terezin. I find this comforting because I doubt that a perfect analysis is anything I will be able to achieve in this lifetime, and if Friedl could do good things under such impossible conditions, then surely I could do some good, too, with conditions that aren't too bad.

Another aspect of appreciating history and of being a part of a lineage is the sense of community this engenders. I learned to appreciate that so much when visiting you in Austria. The sense of history and community is so very alive there. You aren't just Edith Kramer there, you are "their Kramer", in a way held by them, as if they create a transitional space for you and each other with this feeling of history and community. This feeling is more deeply satisfying than any extrinsic reward I could think of.

And finally I believe that you sparked in me the desire to search for things that provide inner satisfaction (more art, more puppets, more beauty and puppies) and to search for the part of the super ego that is kindly and care-taking, the inner-Akka, or even, perhaps, the inner-Kramer. The search for these things has been the best adventure of all. It must surely compare with Nils' adventures with Akka, and I have learned everything about being human from this adventure.

So for all of these things and for so much more, I would like to say thank you, Edith!

Your loving student,
Lani Gerity

PS - Here's a quote from the end of The Further Adventures of Nils, when Nils has become human and tries to say good bye to his friends and companions, the geese:

"He sat down on the sands and buried his face in his hands. What was the use of his gazing after them any more?

Presently he heard the rustle of wings. Old mother Akka had found it hard to fly away from Thumbietot, and turned back, and now that the boy sat quite still she ventured to fly nearer to him. Suddenly something must have told her who he was, for she lit close beside him.

Nils gave a cry of joy and took old Akka in his arms. The other wild geese crowded round him and stroked him with their bills. They cackled and chattered and wished him all kinds of good luck, and he, too, talked to them and thanked them for the wonderful journey which he had been privileged to make in their company." -Selma Lagerlöf

PDF version here.
Edith Kramer with her mother

Edith Kramer carving in her loft in NYC

Edith Kramer in Austria


jaihn said...

Beauty-full pics, lovely re-post!

Thanks to Edith for nurturing you, and so many through you...

2 vids for your delight over at my dug-up.


Patti said...

what a lovely, incredible, synchronous post... I thank you for posting this and for being a gifted teacher to a student who has been invisible big portions of the time but always present!
your loving student,

Lani Gerity said...

Thank you so much jaihn and Patti!!!

Bea said...

What a wonderful letter. How fortunate you were to have someone like that in your life.
My inspiration and teacher was Corita Kent. Thank you for sharing your buried treasure with us. :)Bea

elk said...

the letter and the images left me breathless~what a special post ~ elk

ArtPropelled said...

Lovely letter and photographs, especially the one of Edith Kramer carving in her loft.
Thanks for leaving a comment o my blog.

Debrina said...

This is a "loving" post. I adore the photo of Edith with her mother. A very tender moment.

La Dolce Vita said...

How beautiful and inspiring Lani, thank you!

Ginny Gaskill said...

Wonderful and moving post.

Seth said...

So glad you decided to dig for treasure and found this to re-post. It is quite an inspiring post. So happy that you had the photos to post as well!

deb said...

I think there are people I should go and write to, who deserve my thanks too. What a beautiful post and thank you for reminding me of a story I hadn't read since childhood too!

3rdEyeMuse said...

It took me a while to make my way here, but I must say it was worth it ... what a beautiful and heartfelt thank you letter. I'm touched by your words and your realizations.

thank you.

Kirk Frink said...

Edith was a former teacher of mine also and I learned many things from her that I use on a daily basis with the students I work with. An inspirational artist and educator, Edith was the main reason I attended NYU. I remember visiting her studio and how rewarding that experience was. Thank you Lani for helping me to recall how special this woman was in my life.

Lani Gerity said...

You are very welcome, Kirk.