2007-09-14 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

ARTSPLASH: Sacred Staffs and Awards for Excellence
Commentary by Susan Hartenstein Rockaway Artists Alliance

Artist Judith Z. Miller holding the sacred staff "Ancient Animal Tears," which she created. Three of her staffs appear in ARTSPLASH at Fort Tilden. Photo credit: Gary He. Artist Judith Z. Miller holding the sacred staff "Ancient Animal Tears," which she created. Three of her staffs appear in ARTSPLASH at Fort Tilden. Photo credit: Gary He. RAACONTACT INFO: Phone: 718-474-0861; Fax: 718-474-4373; e-mail: rockart116@aol.com; website: www.rockawayartistsalliance.org.

Two EXHIBITIONS CONCURRENTLY ON VIEW @RAA: Saturday, September 8-October 7, 2007.

ARTSPLASH 2007: RAA's annual juried, multimedia cultural event presents a wide variety of visual, literary and performing artists.

Location: sTudio 7 Gallery, Rockaway Center for the Arts (RoCA), Fort Tilden, Queens. Jurors: Janet Dever, Mary Kelly, Martha Killian and Maryann McEvoy. QCA's PROJECT DIVERSITY QUEENS EXHIBIT: "Town and Country": Urban, Suburban and Rural Communities. Location: sTudio 6 Gallery, Rockaway Center for the Arts (RoCA).

Gallery hours for both exhibits: Saturdays 12-4 p.m., Sundays 1-4 p.m.

RAA thanks Tom Finkelpearl, Executive Director of The Queens Museum of Art, for judging the prizes awarded for ARTSPLASH. RAA congratulates the following winners:

Best Watercolor: "On Duty" by M. Elliott Killian. Best Conceptual Work: "2x6" by Eric Johnstone. Best Oil: "7th Avenue, Brooklyn" by Maria Jimenez. Best Sculpture: "Doggie" by Casey Brouder. Best Photograph: "Take Off" by Denis Macrae. Best of Show: "Joey Was Here," a photograph by Gabrielle Mangano.

ADULT CLASS: THE FUNDAMENTALS OF PAINTING: Tuesdays, 7-9 p.m. in sTudio 6, Fort Tilden. Instructor: Geoff Rawling. Contact RAA office for details.

ARTSPLASH CLOSE-UP: How do you connect to a higher power? Judith Z. Miller carves sacred staffs, amulets and other wearable art from the branches of trees. She enhances them with paint, wire, and the materials of nature that include stones, feathers and bits of glass shaped by the force of the eternal sea. Three of her staffs are on display at ARTSPLASH.

Miller's love affair with trees began in her childhood, when she discovered how exhilarating and empowering it was to climb the trees along her Maplewood, New Jersey street. As an adult, she became acutely aware of the metaphorical, inspirational

quality of trees when a huge fallen tree she thought dead, with only a few roots still clinging to the ground, sprang back to glorious life.

Miller, who had been an actress and founded a theater company, had never been a visual artist- but, as she describes it, just seven years ago a crisis occurred and "a whole new part of life opened up." She reports three separate, frightening incidents within a week. While walking with her beloved Great Dane, "Zuli," three different deranged men threatened to kill her dog. Immediately after the third incident, Miller came across a fallen tree branch in her path. She felt compelled to bring it home and began wrapping it with wire and attaching various meaningful elements from her foundobjects collection. She carried that stick with her, in the belief that it would somehow protect her. She and Zuli were never accosted again.

Thereafter, when she was immersed in some emotional or intellectual struggle, she would seek out branches during her walks with Zuli, and, both longing for resolution and trusting in instinct, and by what she refers to as a "divine" energy, she would carve them into animal or humanoid forms. She would often carry the new staff wherever she went.

People, she says, are drawn to her staffs and wearable pieces, sensing their specific protective powers. Indeed, the people who approach her often connect deeply. Since Miller usually works with trees that have survived difficult times and have healed, creating distinctive and interesting formations, she feels that the pieces she creates not only protect, heal and attract, but that they are an artistic metaphor for the indomitable human spirit that only becomes stronger through struggle.

Artists report a sense of "flow"- a pure and high state of consciousness that they experience while creating works of art. Some tell about beginning a piece with a particular intention, but then, as the process continues, the brush or pencil (or in this case, the carving knife) seems to have a mind of its own.

Miller believes that her pieces are protective because of what happens during this "flow" state. "All artists," she says, "open themselves to a higher source that works within us and through us." As a "co-creator," she explains, "God is in the tree; God is in me- we work together."

Before my interview with Miller, I spent some time with the staffs she exhibits in ARTSPLASH. I found myself very much drawn into them. Carefully I ran my hands along the enticing fissures, bumps, and wrinkles in the bark of her pieces. Much of the wood is left in its natural state and other portions evoke animal and human forms. They trigger very personal connections. It was as though I was feeling the skin of an animal or a person.

When I asked the artist how she would like someone to experience her work, it turns out I was exploring her work as she hopes others will. She suggests throwing ourselves into the staff to find out, for example, what the piece entitled "My Wild Side Flies" means, by imagining ourselves to actually be a bird flying free in the air. She invites us to come close, to touch gently, and, using our imagination, pretend to be a part of the piece, as if experiencing it from the inside, rather than from the outside.

To learn more about Miller and to see her work, visit: www.zamozamo. com.

NEXT AT THE POST THEATER IN FORT TILDEN: "Rockaway Café: A Rockaway Theatre Company 10th Anniversary Musical Salute." Some of the best numbers from several of the great musicals produced by the RTC in its 10-year history.

Performance dates: September 14, 15, 22, 28, 29 at 8 p.m.; September 16, 23 at 2 p.m.

For tickets and other information: 718-850-2450.

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