Artists and writers create community around 'Hours'

Sydnee Peters is fascinated by increments, pieces that add up to a whole -- reeds, spirals, and the application of the golden mean. Elizabeth Kerlikowske wonders about the difference between wishes and prayers. Elizabeth King, like many creatives, expresses her feelings in part through her art.
A collaborative project by 33 mostly local artists found room to explore such ideas in the project known as "Hours",  launched by Peters nearly a year ago. It has brought together visual artists and writers in Kalamazoo for unique explorations of time, contemplation, spirituality and much more. The rich and enriching results of the work, Peters says, came through research, lively dialogue, shared ideas, and support for one another's efforts. 
Though the starting point was the illuminated Book of Hours used by medieval monks as they prayed at certain times throughout the day the project allowed participants to take the idea in many directions. 
Atheists and churchgoers -- including a pastor -- and those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious all worked together on the project.
As Kerlikowske says: "The important thing to know about this project is that it's not religious. It is about spirituality in all its forms. Our jumping off point was the Book of Hours, but where we landed individually was up to us."
Through the years a lot of people have planted seeds that helped grow Sydnee Peters' art and her understanding of the world. Those are the people she asked to be part of the project. She was looking for artists she knew had already developed their own voice or style and who would be disciplined in creating the work without a lot of direction from her. At the same time, she wanted to include artists who had once been creators, but had lately put aside their art, in hopes the invitation might spark new work. She also invited some less experienced exhibitors and writers who were equally devoted to their craft.
Peters, who is an instructor at Gwen Frostic School of Art at WMU, received funding for the project through the Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo and set about inviting those she hoped to work with on the project. 
She had exactly four days from the time she decided to seek the grant and the deadline for application. At the same time her aging father was unexpectedly moving to Kalamazoo. Emotional energy from that move went into the grant application, carried through the project, and for Peters, the positive, creative nature of the project helped her deal with her parents' needs, she says.  
As the project progressed, others also experienced personal upheavals that informed their artwork. Kerlikowske's father had recently died. Artist Michael Dunn was facing uncertainties over his vision. The use of a white wash over his piece that pushed the drawing on the surface to the back reflected those concerns.
"It goes beyond the Hours," Dunn says. "It's about an appreciation for the miracle of everyday sight." Beyond that, he says, the markings on the drawing "teach me where I'm going."  
Participants appreciated the latitude and freedom Peters allowed. "Everyone approached it differently," Dunn says. 
Some looked at one hour or certain times of the day. Renee Jensen's painting “Dawn", shows, as she says "a time between the night and the day, a time when changes occur, reality begins to appear or to be perceived," the artist says. "The painting depicts the moment when my daughter and I separated our lives as she left our home to begin her own life as an adult."
Kerlikowske wrote a poem for each hour of the day, each addressed to U -- the god figure and also the self. She also wrote an extra poem for "the 25th hour, the floating hour, where not even god is over us." The President of Kalamazoo Friends of poetry made her own art work for both the suite of prints each contributor made and for her "About U" box of poems. Everything in the poem box is recycled, from the container made of a Keurig coffee box to books devised of dividers from Fancy Feast cat food. 
Peters explored the spark of creativity passing from God, the muse to Adam in Michelangelo's’ famous "The Creation of Adam" and it became for her a metaphor for the project and for attempts as artists and writers to align with wonder. 
Participating Artists and Poets Mindi Bagnall, Kate Borgardt, Traci Brimhall, Bonnie Campbell, Matt Cashen, Kat Cole, Kristin DeKam, Michael Dunn, Sharon Eckstein, Debbie Eisenbise, Morry Edwards, Heidi Fidler, Deborah Gang, Donna Groot, Maryellen Hains, Jana Hanka, Ladislav Hanka, Renee Jensen, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Elizabeth King, Amelia Hansen, Kathy Kreager, Dave Marlatt, Marsha Meyer, Amy Newday, Paul Nehring, Christine Parks, Austin Peters, Sydnee Peters, Katie Platte, Robert Post, Susan Ramsey, Vicki VanAmeyden, and Mary Whalen.
Others looked at the illuminated manuscripts themselves for inspiration. Paul Nehring, working in wire, paper, plaster and wood stain, created sculptures inspired by the creatures found in the decorative borders of illuminated manuscripts, their original purpose being to poke fun at or otherwise comment on the text.
There is a 7-foot-tall sculpture and glass sculpted into plates.
King describes her part of the project as suspensions that are "tied into the notion of rosaries and beads used in the contemplative traditions." 
And yet, when the work was done "it's surprising how cohesive it became," Dunn says.

As the project progressed it developed three pieces -- an exhibition with art, poetry and broadsides; a reading; and a book. 
Participants could decide if they wanted to create their own words and artwork or collaborate with someone else. In addition to the artwork and poems created for the exhibition, the participants also created broadsides at Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, some for the first time. 
The book that has been created as part of the project is not an exhibition catalog, per se, says King, who created it. The book features much of the work that will be in the show but also some pieces created specifically for the book. It was funded by Friends of Poetry, and will be on sale at the opening. 
Throughout the nearly year-long project about half those Peters invited got together once a month. They talked about the logistics of the exhibition of the pieces, but also explored the artwork and ideas that were at the heart of the project. For example in one gathering, the Rare Book Room on the campus of Western Michigan University brought out its copies of illuminated books to give participants a look at some originals.
Peters says the project shows "the more earnest our self reflection the more universal we become. I started with an idea and found it supported by a community."
Participants saw it the same way.
"Hats off to Sydnee," says King. "This is exactly the kind of collaboration happening between artists and poets, two very vital parts of the Kalamazoo artistic community, that we can take a lot of pride in." 
Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Second Wave Media. She is a freelance writer and editor.
Photos courtesy of "Hours."
The "Hours" exhibition opens at 6 p.m. March 1 at Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, 326 W Kalamazoo Ave Suite 103A, in the Parks Trade Center and continues through March 29. There also will be a reading March 21 in the Van Deusen Room of Kalamazoo Public Library.
Sculpture by Paul Nehring on the Second Wave home page.

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