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    Friday, December 01, 2023

    This teacher and mom brings art to everyday life

    Erica Connolly is showered with flowers by her daughters, Maggie and Fiona, at their home in Thompson.

    Erica Connolly is an elementary school art teacher in Thompson, a wife, and mom to three young children — Maggie (Magnolia), 6, Fiona, 4 and Felix, 3. In addition to blocks and unmatched socks, her exuberant household is filled with objects of imagination. "Papel picado" — a Mexican folk art in which paper is cut into elaborate designs — spirals from her kitchen ceiling. Her family's pictures, paintings and projects adorn the walls.

    We visited Connolly because we wanted to spotlight one of her creations — a reversible alphabet book. The sturdy, handcrafted book contains colorful animal prints and letters on one side, and pockets for learning and discovery on the reverse.

    As our conversation turned to the role of art in human life, Connolly shared some passages she had journaled on this topic. Her insights on connectedness and the value of acceptance were inspiring. Her words offered a meaningful picture of the value of pursuing a spiritually, emotionally and creatively integrated life. We are proud to share them with you.

    — Faye Parenteau

    "There is not a reason for art, except that it is what drives you. It is in you; it is your ideas and hopes and visions and it finds its way into the lives of those around you through your creations....

    I am always trying to bring together the basic loves of my life, always combining the most important elements of what is essential and spiritual to me — what is most sacred. [So] it is always art with music, or art with nature or natural materials; art with motherhood; art with science; art with family and love — but always art. Always first, I am an artist.

    I am an artist who is a mother and I nurture my children to see the beauty in life and nature and people.

    I am an artist who is a wife and I care for my husband and keep a home that is peaceful, free from materialism, stress and burden as much as possible. Not that it is free from clutter and disorder, (quite the contrary) but full of life and acceptance of each other and each other's messes and full of appreciation for each other's beauty and gifts.

    I am an artist who is a teacher in my daily profession. I am an artist who is a musician, songwriter and singer. I am an artist who is a writer/illustrator.

    I am an artist who makes soap.

    I am an artist who makes rice bags that heal and warm and soothe.

    I am an artist who does the dishes.

    I am an artist who folds the laundry.

    I am an artist who makes the lunches.

    I am always an artist.

    To be an artist means to be a thinker, an observer — an observer of nature, an observer of people and a person that has patience to visualize the essential aspects of life and create beauty so that others may appreciate the world around them. But I also cultivate a connectedness between myself and my own surroundings in a way that brings harmony to my own life, and those I interact with.

    I primarily love incorporating natural materials with found objects, amidst which I can introduce a color scheme, or repetitive texture that moves me.

    The blue painting (at top) is a representational piece of motherhood. The largest circle is myself, and still tethered to me is Felix. (At the time, he was an unborn mystery baby!) The smaller circles are my two daughters rising toward their dreams and futures, yet we are all of the same ilk, of similar form — embodied with hope. Amidst the blue that may be sky or water or loveliness, our children grow and float away, but not too far, and not for so long.

    I loved making this piece. I started with a huge section of plywood, and just started twisting massive amounts of that brown packing paper you get in packages. I was twisting it and twisting it, and I didn't know why, except that it felt good to spiral it around, and little by little, the piece came together on my kitchen counter, somewhere between making dinner and bath time.

    Art can be a puzzle one can solve with different media/materials and concepts/approaches — you may not always know what you are trying to solve, but your inner drive tells you if you are heading in a certain direction — not a "right" or "wrong" direction, but a direction that satisfies that inner voice, that inner feeling. It is peaceful, very peaceful, but never quiet.

    That is why things are never really "done" but always evolving, because there is not one answer, there is no right way to do something.

    You may decide to add beads here, or do a chord change there, or extend a piece of wood, or redirect a story line, but whatever choices are made ... it is the fluidity that breathes acceptance into all aspects of existence and that is what being an artist is to me — the quiet loudness.

    I would rather live within a quiet loudness, as opposed to a loud silence."

    — Erica Connolly

    Alphabet book, by Erica Connolly.
    Connolly made this elaborate gift box for the 30th birthday of her husband, Tom. Each door opensdifferently, and inside, there was either a small gift, or a rhyming clue to be solved, directing where to go and find the gift for that day. She said, “buildingthat set of doors was one of the happiest days spent in my studio.” The piece now hangs in their kitchen.
    "This blue painting is a representational piece of motherhood. The largest circle is myself, and still tethered to me is Felix. The smaller circles are mytwo daughters rising toward their dreams and futures, yet we are all of the same ilk, of similar form — embodied with hope."
    This alphabet book was made with two-block prints, each individually carved, and bound in an accordion style of bookmaking. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by a correlating African jungle animal.

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