Article 25

‘Come See My Looted Art’

In Uncategorized on 09/27/2015 at 3:23 pm

Hendricks with cross

Paul Hendricks discusses the Healing Cross of Metamora, Ind. Photo by Margo Pierce.

The mystery of the Healing Cross of Metamora

By Gregory Flannery

Tiny Metamora, Ind. – population 188, according to the 2010 U.S. Census – is an unlikely place to find looted art. Maybe that’s why no one has tried to reclaim the 500-year-old Healing Cross of Metamora. Or maybe the sculpture is long forgotten in its homeland; many churches were destroyed during World War II. Or maybe it isn’t war booty at all.

The first odd thing about the Healing Cross is that its owner, Paul Hendricks, virtually boasts that it is stolen property. In the shrine he built for the cross, a sign says four U.S. soldiers found it in a cave behind a fake wall in France in 1946 and brought it to the United States.

Thirty years later, Hendricks says, he was present when the four army veterans sold the cross to his friend, Hans Lindemann, in San Diego, Cal.

“In 1976 he called me,” Hendricks says. “I went to be a witness to what was going to happen. Four men came in. He bought the cross. These four men were actually GIs from World War II. They found the cross in a cave behind a fake wall in Alsace-Lorraine. I saw the photos. They show four GIs holding the cross. It’s basically like Monuments Men.”

The comparison falls flat, however. The film Monuments Men is about U.S. soldiers recovering looted art from Nazi hideaways, not keeping it for themselves.

The sculpture now known as the Healing Cross of Metamora – actually a crucifix, showing Jesus of Nazareth on a cross – is five feet tall, wood inlaid with mother of pearl, with depictions of various New Testament stories, including the Last Supper and Resurrection. Some saints are represented, and the crucifix contains what Hendricks says are 14 first-class relics – Roman Catholic parlance for “bones of saints.” When Lindemann saw the crucifix, he had to have it, Hendricks says.

“Hans fell in love with it,” Hendricks says. “He made a cash offer, and he bought it.”

After Lindemann died in 1992, Hendricks bought the crucifix from his widow, taking it to Metamora in 1998 and opening his shrine in 2001, he says.

Hendricks prefers to discuss unusual events that he says have occurred since he acquired the crucifix. But when pressed, he acknowledges that its provenance might be a problem. His goal is to share a beautiful religious symbol with others, he says, not to deprive the people of France of part of their culture.

“If anybody has a legitimate claim, I’ll give it up,” he says.

The locals caught on

Hendricks says he is a retired high-school business teacher from San Diego who developed a taste for collecting artifacts during a stint in the Peace Corps in 1967-68. He is the owner of the Museum of Oddities, a Metamora attraction that includes some 2,000 miscellaneous items he has acquired over the decades.

He points to various items, most identified by handwritten inscriptions on index cards or scraps of paper: “That head is thousands of years old. … I dug those up in 1967 in Venezuela.”

He expounded upon his Venezuelan digging years later for the Whitewater Valley Guide, a local business publication.

“(Hendricks) heard about a particular pre-Columbian site nearby and went there with a friend, got permission from the local tribe and dug up old treasures,” the article says. “He said the local people thought he was crazy to be interested in that old stuff, but when he came back in 1970 ‘everybody was doing it,’ he said. The locals had caught on and it wasn’t as easy to get permission.”

Hendricks is seemingly un-self-conscious in disclosing what archeologists would describe as “looting.” He is not a trained archeologist, nor a trained curator. The Museum of Oddities – originally the Museum of Ethnographic Art, founded in 1986 – is a mishmash of curios, religious items, North American native spear-points and Western and non-Western art. Admission is $3. A sign on the door gives fair warning: “Caution: This place is haunted! Paranormal activity has been experienced in and around this building!”

Advertisements for the museum feature Hendricks in a pith helmet as “Indiana Joe.” One first-time visitor, filmmaker Paul Logan of Cincinnati, seemed to think the museum, which he visited at a previous location, might be a Temple of Doom.

“Paul flipped on the lights to reveal a museum of Pre-Columbian art, voodoo dolls, and Native American art,” Logan wrote. “There’s a Mayan death rattle, shrunken heads and glass cases full of skulls. Death everywhere. … Paul backed out of the room. In my head, I pictured Paul coming back in a black robe. I snapped pictures as if the only thing someone might find of me would be my camera. The smell in the room became stronger.

“Oh my God, he’s gassing the room.”

Logan survived the encounter and became friends with Hendricks, creating a brief video in which Indiana Joe reveals he has sacred stones that open a portal to let Jesus return, starting the end of the world.

‘Better be quiet’

Part huckster, part true believer, Hendricks says he has never had the history of the Healing Cross documented, nor has he had it appraised.

“It needs to be cleaned, and it needs to be restored,” he says. “I don’t have that kind of money.”

But parts of his story can be verified:

  • Hans Lindemann did, in fact have the crucifix before it went to Metamora. Lindemann owned the Museum of American Treasures in San Diego. A 1983 San Diego Union article about the museum doesn’t mention the sculpture. But the article includes a photograph of the crucifix. The caption, however, describes it as “a mother-of-pearl altar piece that was brought to Lindemann from Africa,” not purchased from GIs who found it in France. Perhaps Lindemann knew better than to say how he got it.
  • Lindemann’s elderly widow, Shirley, confirms parts of Hendricks’s account, according to her son, Dennis Crosby of Phoenix, Ariz.

“I spoke with my mother, and she does remember the crucifix being sold to Hans’ friend Paul, and a request for any possible photos about the crucifix, but she does not remember ever finding any photos of the crucifix,” Crosby says.

  • Hendricks claims he took photos of the crucifix to the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2001, hoping to show them to Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“He said, You don’t have a clue, do you?’ His specialty was Renaissance ivory,” Hendricks says. “He said, ‘This is from the late 1500s to early 1600s.’ He said, ‘You better be quiet about it or somebody’s gonna make a claim.’ ”

While that conversation cannot be verified, and Hoving is dead, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Hoving was, in fact, scheduled July 19, 2001, to speak at the Art Museum.

  • Not enough to have acquired stones that can bring back Jesus, Hendricks claims to have been in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, and saw smoke rising from the Pentagon after terrorists crashed a jetliner into the building.

Sure enough, an article in the Houston Chronicle quoted “Paul Hendricks, a retired San Diego schoolteacher” who was with a friend “touring the Capitol Building on Tuesday morning when the plane hit the Pentagon, about three miles away.”

‘Small pieces’

The Healing Cross is indisputably a beautiful object. Owen Findsen, retired art critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer, has not seen the crucifix but says photographs shared by a reporter indicate it is something of note.

“The figures and some of the decorative elements are sophisticated, but some of the patterns are rather crude,” he says.

The 14 relics – which Hendricks says are bones of saints, a claim he has not verified – are likely something else, according to Findsen.

“These would be Stations of the Cross, probably pebbles picked up by a pilgrim in Jerusalem,” he says. “People have been collecting pebbles from the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem since the 3rd century A.D., and they still are.”

And the number of the Stations of the Cross makes it unlikely the sculpture is, as Hendricks asserts, about 500 years old. The history of the Catholic Church’s veneration of the stations tells otherwise, Findsen says.

“Until the 17th century, only seven stations were acknowledged, so this has to be at least 17th century,” he says.

That American soldiers looted art in Europe during World War II is well established.

David Malakoff, deputy news editor at Science magazine in Washington, D.C., wrote about it for Slate last year, after the release of Monuments Men.

“The U.S. high command fretted about the plunder,” he wrote. “General Dwight D. Eisenhower had received numerous bitter complaints about looting from allies in France, Belgium and other liberated Nazi territories.”

The Healing Cross is so large that it would seem difficult for four soldiers to smuggle it into the United States. But not so, according to Steve Waddell, a history professor at West Point.

“I study World War II logistics and do know that soldiers sent back all kinds of things without the ‘Army’ knowing about it,” he says. “At the war’s end the Army was sending vast quantities of stuff back home, and keeping track of it all was very difficult, especially with soldiers being discharged and sent home. It would not be impossible for someone to crate up something and find a way to get it home. … When you have a buddy at the post office or in the supply system, anything might be possible.”

Findsen, the retired art critic, made an observation about the sculpture’s construction.

“Why are all the decorative parts cut into small pieces, not always corresponding with the designs?” he says. “If this was an object stolen by American soldiers, it was sent home in small pieces. It may even be an assemblage from different objects.”

Hendricks himself unwittingly illustrates the point during an interview. As he turned the sculpture to show the back side, a piece of mother-of-pearl fell off.

“Some pieces have fallen off, and I’ve glued them back on,” he says.

Seventy years after the fall of the Nazi regime, finds of looted art still make headlines. One of the leading agencies in the effort to restore looted art to its rightful owners is the European Commission on Looted Art (ECLA) in London. After reviewing photos of the Healing Cross, Anne Webber of the ECLA presented a clue as to the sculpture’s history.

“We have consulted an expert in such items who advises that it seems very similar to crosses made in Bethlehem in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” she says.

Bethlehem, on the West Bank, was home to a thriving industry making Christian religious symbols using mother-of-pearl, many now prized collectors’ items and available for sale online. Bethlehem is certainly closer to Africa, where Lindemann reportedly said the crucifix originated, than France.

Hendricks bristles at the ECLA’s suggestion.

“I’ve seen those things in Bethlehem,” he says. “They have inlay and mother of pearl. It’s $10 to $23 – nothing of this quality, not like this.”

If the ECLA’s suggestion is accurate, left unanswered is why the Healing Cross contains a figure of “S. Pierre” – French for St. Peter. Perhaps the crucifix was, in fact, made for a French church or private owner.

Webber acknowledges that the ECLA’s suggestion doesn’t disprove Hendricks’s claim.

“This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t looted, of course, but the history provided about the U.S. soldiers sounds like it may not be completely accurate,” Webber says. “But who knows. … Do you happen to know how much the current owner paid for it? It may be worth asking him.”

Hendricks gives a characteristically colorful account of his purchase from Shirley Lindemann. When her husband died, Hendricks says, she asked Hendricks to buy some of Hans Lindemann’s museum collection. It was at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, Hendricks says.

“In a very flippant manner, she said, ‘Buy that cross.’ I said, ‘That’s his most prized possession.’ I said, ‘I’m a teacher. I don’t have a lot of money.’ My checkbook was in my shirt pocket,” Hendricks says. “She grabbed it and saw how much I had. She said, ‘Take everything out but $100 and give me the rest.’ She took the cash and I got the cross. She couldn’t find the photographs.”

But exactly how much did Hendricks pay? He refuses to say.

“I’m not going into financial things with the cross,” he says. “The cross is too important to talk about money.”

The ECLA requested additional information if it becomes available. Other organizations, which one might expect to have an interest in art allegedly looted by American soldiers, showed none. Repeated inquiries with the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.; and the Catholic Archdiocese of Strasbourg, France, have gone unanswered. So, too, with inquiries at Bethlehem University on the West Bank.

Earlier this year the French Ministry of Culture said it might be able to help. Language differences do not conceal the goodwill expressed by Anne-Christine Tcheuffa-Marcou.

“I take care of find you somebody who can answer you precisely,” she wrote. “I shall not miss to come back to you as quickly as possible. It risks to take time because it is not always easy to find the good interlocutor straight off. But I shall give you the maximum of precision.”

Ready to talk

That was in April. So far, no “good interlocutor” seems to have been found.

The true story behind the Healing of Cross of Metamora remains unknown. Hendricks says he was present when the four Army veterans sold it to Hans Lindemann and saw the photos showing them with the sculpture in a cave in Alsace-Lorraine, France. He doesn’t know their names, and Lindemann’s widow never found the photos.

“Nothing much was said,” Hendricks says. “I think they found it – I won’t say ‘looted.’ I think it’s a 30-year statute of limitations; and if no claim is made, they can keep it: ‘Hey, it’s yours. You’ve got title to it.’ ”

Just as the ECLA urged skepticism, so does Waddell, the professor at West Point.

“I am not an expert on such law, but I am skeptical about the 30-year story,” he says.

For Hendricks, what’s important are the visions and unusual events that have happened since he acquired the Healing Cross.

“A series of things began to happen,” he says.

Indiana Joe is glad to talk at length about them.

Decades of Work for Justice and Peace

In Uncategorized on 09/16/2015 at 7:32 pm

Allison Reynolds-Berry

Allison Reynolds-Berry is executive director of I.J.P.C.

IJPC marks 30 years

By Corey Gibson

The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) was started in a swimming pool.

“We were founded in 1985 by five groups of religious sisters,” says Executive Director Allison Reynolds-Berry. “The conversation happened in a swimming pool. The sisters were trying to stay cool and thinking of different ways they could have a resource for themselves to work on issues of peace and justice in the Cincinnati area and the ways those issues impacted the community nationally and globally.”

Since that moment 30 years ago, IJPC has been working “to educate around justice issues, take collaborative action and do public witness.” That includes teaching peace and nonviolence techniques, advocating for the rights of immigrants and lobbying for abolition of the death penalty in Ohio.

“We educate and advocate for peace,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We challenge unjust local, national and global systems and promote the creation of a nonviolent society.”

IJPC’s office in the Peaslee Neighborhood Center in Over-the-Rhine is decorated with posters and pins from grassroots organizations that IJPC has collaborated with on various issues.

“We work in partnership,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We have a lot of grassroots volunteers and a lot of people who have been involved in work for peace and justice for a long time that are all part of the fabric of IJPC.”

Death penalty and immigration

One of IJPC’s primary focuses is the death penalty. The organization works to end capital punishment by lobbying at the state level, working with Ohioans to Stop Executions. Complete abolition might take a long time, Reynolds-Berry says, but shorter-term goals can be achieved.

“We are trying to break down different pieces that legislators might be more willing to compromise on,” she says. “For example, there are some bills being introduced trying to end the practice of executing people with serious mental illnesses or who were mentally ill during the time of the crime. Little by little we are trying to make it more fair and just and hopefully abolish it all together.”

IJPC also works with the families of prisoners on Death Row. Families That Matter lobbies for clemency and provides support for condemned prisoners’ family members.

“They are often victims in a whole separate way that they don’t feel that they can have a voice in the process and are shunned from their communities and can’t talk about it,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We are trying to provide support to them.”

The newest area the organization has been focusing on is human trafficking. The recently formed IJPC Committee on Human Trafficking aims to educate the community about the realities of this crime.

“It is not a victimless crime,” Reynolds-Berry says.

IJPC is working with Catholic high schools and colleges, advocating for more education about human trafficking in their curricula. IJPC has also become involved in an ingenious way of helping people who have been sexually trafficked. On the bottom of sticks of soap in hotel bathrooms, they place the number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline. The idea came from a woman who had been sex-trafficked and later became an advocate for other victims. She realized the only time she was ever alone was when she used the bathroom.

“She had this really powerful idea that, if a victim could be alone in the bathroom, what is some literature we could put in those places so they can find help when needed,” Reynolds-Berry says. “So you put a sticker with the human trafficking hotline on the bottom of the soap.”

The IJPC committee has taken it a step further, putting wallet-sized cards at truck stops, in highway restaurants and other areas known for high human-trafficking activity.

Immigration and peace

Another area of interest is immigration. For undocumented immigrants in the area trying to obtain U.S. citizenship, a major obstacle is making the drive to immigration hearings at the Cleveland Immigration Court, Reynolds-Berry says.

“We have been collaborating with Catholic charities and trying to coordinate so folks who have immigration hearings in Cleveland can get rides to the appointments,” she says. “If they miss them, they are automatically at risk for deportation.”

Reynolds-Berry stresses the need for volunteers to drive the eight-hour round trip because many immigrants don’t have driver licenses or gas money. Difficulty taking off work is another roadblock.

The Youth Educating Society, an IJPC program, works with young, undocumented immigrants and their allies to share stories of their experiences.

“Folks who were brought over by their parents when they were younger are growing up and going through high school and trying to apply to colleges as an undocumented youth and talking about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and what it means for that to be passed,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We are talking about this national legislation at a very local level and sharing their stories to put a human face on the issue.”

The final major issue IJPC works on is peace and nonviolence in all aspects of society, locally and nationally. The Peace Dialogue Forum brings together communities when contentious issues arise and encourages conversation. First a set of facts is laid out, and then participants meet in small groups, facilitating structured conversations in a safe environment.

“We want to encourage people to have conversation – not debate, but to have a dialogue about different issues,” Reynolds-Berry says.

On a more global level, the IJPC has a peace committee that lobbies U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati) about the Iran nuclear deal and ways to promote nuclear disarmament.

“We want to promote dialogues between countries the same way we talk about that dialogue to happen interpersonally,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We also believe that should happen on a global scale.”

Artists’ Rituals

In Uncategorized on 09/02/2015 at 5:15 pm

trees burning1

“Trees Burning,” by the Rev. Amy Petrie Shaw.

‘There’s No One Way’

By Anne Skove

Our summer reading included Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. This book began as a blog that cataloged the various rituals, waking/sleeping hours, substance intake, etc., of artists, writers, scientists, dancers and others. The book presents a comprehensive look at what drives (or, in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald, hinders) creative types.

While we can’t recommend the methods of Ayn Rand – decades’ worth of amphetamines coupled with a personality disorder – or the uncontrolled Corydrane habit of Jean-Paul Sartre, this is an interesting read.

Not every subject had a substance-abuse problem. George Sand, for example, denounced artists who worked under the influence. Many simply had strange routines. For example, this book contains a mental picture of Ben Franklin that readers will not be able to unsee.

This quotation from writer Bernard Malamud is contained in the final entry:

There’s no one way – there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place – you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time – not steal it – and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.

Had this passage appeared first, I suppose the author might have had a shorter book on his hands, not thousands of words to offer. But Malamud is onto something. This book is a testament to the variety of ways people get things done, even if that thing happens to be Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night or Darwin’s scientific works.

While art, like Unitarian Universalism or Golden Corral, contains many paths, we thought it would be interesting to apply the concept to local artists. What makes them tick? How do they operate? Three-hour walks, like Charles Dickens? Working from bed, like Truman Capote? So we asked a few questions. The response was tremendous. Each issue, we will highlight a few artists’ routines, rituals, habits, or lack thereof.

“Too much drivel?” Hopefully not.

Where to begin? With our editor, of course. Gregory Flannery shares his secrets:

Whenever I write, I begin by burning tobacco as a sacrifice to my muse. I inhale the tobacco smoke, symbolically making my muse one with me, then exhale the smoke, symbolic of the words I will write going forth to my readers. Every 20 or 30 minutes while writing, I go outside and burn more tobacco as a sacrifice to my muse, inhaling the smoke and so on. No cigarettes? Then I got writer’s block.

You’ve been a writer for a long time. You’re also an editor. What habits do your best writers have?

From the start, the best writers punch readers in the gut or smack them in the head. The best writers give readers a reason to keep reading. Make them weep. Make them laugh. Make them think. News isn’t news if it’s boring. That’s the first rule.

The second rule is that the best writers understand meeting deadlines is as important as respecting the law of gravity, the infield fly rule and the theory of relativity. A writer who misses deadlines is half a writer, less than a writer, no writer at all.

True or false? Writer’s block is a thing.

It is a thing in the sense that the bogeyman is a thing: We can convince ourselves of almost anything. “I can’t meet my deadline. I have writer’s block.” Writer’s block, schmiter’s block. Do your damn job. Sometimes the mind must lie fallow to allow inspiration to gurgle forth, but once you take an assignment, you have no right to invoke writer’s block.

Mark Twain claimed that lager-beer “was the only thing to make you go to sleep.” He also relied on hot scotch, sleeping on the bathroom floor, and champagne. Eventually, his insomnia went away on its own. How do you fall asleep?

I once slept on a bathroom floor in a hotel during a newspaper conference in Norway, because my god-awful snoring deprived my roommate of a good night’s sleep. I didn’t know Twain invented that.

To sleep, I pray. I pray until I fall asleep. It’s the only thing that works for me except ice cream. Ice cream is like knockout drops for me. I fall right to sleep. But the next morning I have this awful ice-cream hangover, like I’d been on a three-day bender, so I only use ice cream as a last resort. Prayer doesn’t give me hangovers.

Gregory Flannery is the editor of Article 25. He imagines himself a tall person. He will gladly show you photographs of his grandchildren.

Next up – Reverend Amy Shaw, formerly of St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church in Cincinnati, now of Hartland, Wis.

You are a visual artist and writer, but your day job (which is really a round-the-clock job) is Unitarian Universalist minister. Do these callings complement each other? How do you manage to do both?

Art and ministry go together amazingly well. Both are about creation and making new spaces for transformative experience. When I create a piece of visual art, I have no control over the observers’ reactions to it – it exists, and they will make of it what they will. I have created a place for them to experience, but what they experience is their own. In my ministry I do the same thing, or at least I hope I do. I present ideas about intersections between lived reality, values, and the nature of existence. How people interpret those ideas is up to them.

Both my art and my ministry call people to assessment: What am I seeing? How do I feel about it? What does it make me question? What does it reaffirm? How am I connected to it?

I can’t tell anyone how to see the Divine, or “that thing beyond which they cannot imagine.” I can, however, continually challenge them to see the world in new ways, and to examine the web of life that links every piece of life to every other piece. This is ministry, whether I do it with a brush or a computer or a sermon.

Because I approach art as a spiritual practice, I put it into my schedule as a daily necessity. Every evening I give myself at least one hour to create. For me, using my time this way often lets me get back to the nuts-and-bolts work of ministry with fresh eyes and new perspective.

Currey notes that writer Flannery O’Connor was “a devout Catholic (who) began each day at 6:00 a.m. with morning prayers from her copy of A Short Breviary.” Can religion, even (or especially?) a liberal denomination such as Unitarian Universalism, provide structure and discipline to artists?

It can. As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that all lives have worth and dignity. It’s one of our Seven Principles. I value myself, my own worth, and I find the strength to explore my creativity as something of value in its own right because of that. I often use the more repetitive bits of my work as meditational exercises, centering myself as I fill in areas of a piece or repeat shapes and lines.

Religious experience happens where it will, and the discipline required to engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning as a UU also allows me to search for new ways to examine that meaning through art.

Dippy Cat is notorious for interfering with your work. Working from home can be challenging, even without cats. How do you cope with pushy house pets?

This is a grand question. And yes, Dippy Cat makes life challenging. She drinks blue paint water, eats iridescent pigments and poops rainbows, and has been known to sneeze all over a commissioned painting and then sit in my palette.

In retaliation, I turn her into art. She has a blog, “The Tao of the Dippy Cat,” which explores the humor in her daily struggles with life, bugs, printers, evil Pod People and so much more.

Dippy is my reminder that life happens. It’s impossible to live in an Ivory Tower of high art when someone has just hacked a hairball into your sock. She is the reality behind all of the beautiful ideals.

And ministry and art both need reality. They need partnership with others who will experience the art, interact with the ministry. Without interaction, both are simply precious artifacts – meaningless in their isolation. Maurice Sendak tells a wonderful story about a little boy who sent him a card with a drawing on it. Sendak liked it so well he sent back a personal note with a drawing of a Wild Thing on it to the boy. The boy’s mother then sent Maurice a letter, telling him the boy loved the card so much that he ate it. Sendak said, “That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

No one has eaten one of my paintings yet; but with Dip around, there is always that possibility.

Any other anecdotes about how you work, not covered in your answers above, are most welcome.

My art and my ministry are both woven through my life. About a year ago I gave up and got rid of my dining room table, replacing it with a massive wooden work table where Brian and I can both sit. The ends of the table are loaded with paints, canvases, paper, brushes, pencils, and chalks, the middle bogged down with keyboards and monitors.

Art happens. Ministry and writing happen. Meals and laughter happen. I don’t keep getting up and moving from place to place. I don’t force my space to conform to some image of what a proper home looks like.

My life is art and prayer and writing and talking. As I work, these things are wrapped together so tightly they can’t be pried apart. For me, there is never much of a sense of distance from any piece of my life.

Rev. Amy Shaw is a Unitarian Universalist minister, writer and visual artist who lives and works in southeastern Wisconsin. She has worked as a professor and as a nurse and nurse executive, and is fascinated by conjunctions of unlikely parts and unexpected pathways. She shares her life with her co-conspirator Brian and their furred feline minions, The Dippy Cat, Nike the Great, and Marshmallow the Outdoor Invader. Amy is typically found wearing black and poking at things to see if they do anything interesting.

Pauletta Hansel is a poet and teacher who was kind enough to share her insights.

Composer Igor Stravinsky preferred solitude. Writer Saul Bellow liked to have people around. Which do you prefer while writing?

It is difficult for me to settle into writing when others are around unless they, too, are writing. I do some of my best drafting when I’m leading or being led in writing groups—there is something about the energy of all that creative focus, and when I am leading groups I feel honor-bound to go down deep enough to bring something up with me. But I do my best work in solitude and with poetry especially I prefer long stretches of silence. I read aloud as I write and revise so it helps to be alone, but it’s more than that. There’s a kind of spaciousness that periods of solitude allow and I find a freedom and focus within that spaciousness.

Maya Angelou kept a hotel room so she could have a place to write. Virginia Woolf famously told women that we need a room of our own. What room or other space do you love to write in?

I have a lovely office in my home, but because it is where I do class prep and check email and pay bills and all those other necessary things, it is less conducive to writing than I had hoped. I often write in bed and then move to the office for revision. Several times a year I go off to the Sisters of Loretto in central Kentucky and stay in a hermitage or the old novitiate building that’s part of their retreat center and sit at a window and write. The inner spaciousness of solitude combined with the outer spaciousness of their beautiful grounds open me in ways no other place does.

Chronically and clinically depressed William Styron said, “Let’s face it, writing is hell.” Dick Hague said if a poet “ain’t happy, he’s a fool.” Which is it? Or is writing both?

Writing takes me down beneath emotion. Even if I am dealing with difficult subjects in my writing I tend not to feel the unhappiness or anxiety but more of a satisfaction that I am “getting it right” when I am or an insistent tug toward deeper truth when I haven’t gone far enough. Now, there is that place of resistance on the way down, so to speak, and often a reluctance to get started. But when I am writing (really writing, not just skimming along the surface) then I am neither in heaven nor hell, I am just there with the words.


Pauletta Hansel’s fifth poetry collection is Tangle, from Dos Madres Press. Her work has been featured in journals including Talisman, Appalachian Journal, Atlanta Review and Still: The Journal, and on The Writer’s Almanac and American Life in Poetry. She is managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, and community writing workshops and retreats in the Greater Cincinnati area and beyond.

By Anne Skove


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