Inspiring Individual Spotlight: Rochelle Johnson

Inspiring Individual Spotlight: Rochelle Johnson

Rochelle is a new friend, I met her through the volunteer work I do for the civic health club, Warm Cookies of the Revolution (WCoR). She was a guest speaker for the WCoR Read It Or Not bookclub that I facilitate at the Denver Public Library; the theme of the month was “home” and Rochelle talked about a selection of her paintings that are inspired by Denver. I recently visited her studio in Five Points and got to view more of her work; I like how her paintings draw me in, I feel like I could strike up a conversation with any number of her subjects. Rochelle was gracious and agreed to an interview. I appreciate her opening her heart to answer the questions.

When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

Although I used to draw as a teenager, I realized that I wanted to be a creative in some form at the age of 21 after going to a university in the South for computer science I enrolled in an art class to free my mind from the math I was taking.

Why do you paint?

I paint to be closer to God. This may sound unconventional, but when I’m truly in the zone I work out all my problems along with the challenge of the painting and I feel that it is a praise to God.

What’s most challenging about being an artist?

Being an artist or let’s say a painter like I am you spend a lot of time in the studio alone working through the challenges of the work as well as the business part of art. I can truly say the business side is the most challenging for me. I’m mostly an introvert. I’m learning to deal with people which challenges me to get out of my comfort zone.

What’s most fulfilling about being an artist?

I believe the most fulfilling thing about being an artist is when someone gets a painting that I have produced and they relate to it the way in which I intended or they attach their own meaning to it that makes them find something new in it each time they view it.

What artists do you admire?

WOW! There are so many. Each painting I do makes me look at different artists in a new way. In my younger years, I sought out black artists to study like Jacob Lawrence and Lois Malou Jones. In art school I was interested in the impressionist artist with Van Gough being one of the pre-impressionists who I fell in love with—I wanted to recreate the emotion that was so present in his work. Today, I admire a lot of the contemporary artists in different ways. I love the fact that everyone has their own voice and relate to their experiences in the work.

What’s your plan to survive and thrive as a woman of color artist in the Trump Administration?

My plan is push my view, so that people know woman of color artists matter and are still creating and thriving. I’m one who believes that inclusivity is so important. We can’t survive without one another and if America would look deep they would see that we all have a role that is essential to our growth.

Are there art/culture venues in Denver that people can support, that are run by POC?

Unfortunately, no and I would love to change that. I would love to open a gallery that would feature artists of different ethnicities, however I’m running up short on the financial end. Denver has gotten so expensive and artists are being pushed out. Right now, I’m selling out of my studio which is in my home and have been thinking of opening up the space to fit that concept.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

Go work out. I find that getting my head in a space to work on my art must be clear and ready to receive my muse.

What’s the last thing you do before going to sleep?

Sometimes I’m so exhausted that I have a hard time clearing my head, but I try to do that as much as possible by turning off the TV, music, etc. and just be.

Do you consider yourself spiritual? If so, what do you do to encourage your own spiritual growth?

I consider myself very spiritual. I grew up in a black Baptist church where my grandfather was the minister. He taught me that love was the key and everybody has a perspective. On my journey, I have learned to respect each point of view and I study all the religions. I just finished reading Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian L. Weiss, MD. This book talks about reincarnation and I loved its message. In this book love reigns, supreme.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to living?

Learn all you can, so that you grow.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to dying?

I have always believed that we come back and once you learned all that you must learn you stay in heaven with God. So, don’t worry.

Describe the last time you felt inspired.

I feel inspired every day, because I get to paint.

What are you grateful for these days?

I’m grateful for the fact I’m here in Denver and I get to be here with my father as he transitions.

What are you working on letting go of these days?

Fear!

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

That I like meeting new people and if you’re an art collector all my art is for sale.

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Find Rochelle online:

www.rochellejohnsonstudio.com

Twitter: @painterfortfurt

Instagram: rochelle.johnson.art

Facebook: www.facebook.com/rochelle.johnson

 Rochelle is curating a show in Denver at the McNichol’s Building in May. More details to come. Check her website or social media pages.

Inspiring Individual Spotlight: Georgianne Rollman

Georgianne Rollman (or “Gee” as she’s affectionately called) exudes kindness and embodies an intelligence that comes from a life lived fully with open mind and intention. Our paths cross a lot; we both had pieces in the Denver Community Museum’s “29” exhibit; we each shared stories during Teacher’s Pet at Buntport Theater; Gee generously made one of her famous hand sewn quilts for my husband and me when we got married. Her daughter is one of the creative masterminds who started and runs Buntport Theater; I saw Gee there recently and she made a comment that I found inspiring. She was talking about how being a parent to her grown children has a different dynamic than parenting growing children—and recognized that the shift is a healthy thing. I’m grateful Gee was up for an interview, her insight made me laugh and cry. Please enjoy:

 
When did you start quilting?

I learned how to sew by hand when I was literally sitting at my grandmother’s knee. I’ve always loved textiles in general and quilts in particular. I liked the idea of making something useful and beautiful from scraps. But I didn’t actually start quilting until I was in my early forties, about twenty-five years ago.

 

What do you enjoy about the process of quilting? 

I love the way you phrased this question because the older I get, the more I realize how important “process” is to me. If it’s not fun while I’m doing it, why bother? When I first started making quilts, I thought I’d like the design aspect best. What I’ve discovered is that I love the meditative quality of hand quilting, and the feel of the design taking place under my fingers.  That, and the fact that it gives me an excuse to watch television!

 

How many quilts have you created?  Do you have a favorite?

I have pictures of 91, from small wall hangings to queen-size quilts. I’m sure there have been some that I forgot to document. I used to make them because I loved doing it and when I had a stash, I’d give them away. Occasionally I’ve been commissioned to design and make a quilt, but it’s not enjoyable for me; I worry too much about the finished product. Lately, I make quilts only if I have an occasion to work toward: a baby shower or wedding. I’ve become much more interested in hand-building ceramics, although I like to always have a quilting project on hand.

My favorite quilt was made for a Foreign Service friend who asked me to create something out of the leftover silk from shirts he’d had made in Thailand. The result looked like jewels. It’s the only quilt I’m sorry I couldn’t keep.

 

Are you part of a quilting community?  If so, will you describe what is unique about that community?

I don’t belong to a quilting group now. When I first started I was part of a very active group. My husband, David, had joined the Foreign Service in the mid-’80s. Twelve years and four tours later, both of our children were away at college and David and I moved to Seoul, South Korea.  We lived in an Embassy compound on an Army post in the middle of the city. The first friends I made were other Foreign Service spouses who were part of a quilting group run by the military wives. I joined and not only learned to quilt but met a lot of wonderful, strong women. Quilting is a good hobby for people who travel because you can find fabric in every corner of the world.

 

What is the most challenging part of being a parent?

For me, discipline was always a challenge: how, when, what… It helped when my pediatrician said that consistency is the most important thing. “Be strict or not. Just don’t keep the kids guessing.”  So I gave myself permission to be consistently lenient.

I also had a hard time putting up with the bickering that took place when the kids were little. My brother and sister are eight and nine years older than me, so I didn’t have much experience with sibling rivalry. I can remember pleading with the kids to “Stop fighting!” David—who’s one of eight—would just look at me, shake his head and say, “You call that fighting?”

 

What is the most rewarding part of being a parent?

My children are my heroes. It’s indescribably rewarding to have raised children who are smart, tolerant, talented, good people! They’ve made fulfilling lives for themselves. Now that they’re grown I try to stay out of their business, but I hope they know I’m here if they need me.

If I could give advice to young parents, it would be to actively listen to your children when they say something, regardless of how young they are.  And read to them.

 

In retrospect, what stand out as the most meaningful moments in your life so far?

Aside from giving birth, there have been many defining moments in my life. Some were huge, like losing both of my parents by the time I turned fifteen. Most were simple, like watching the sun rise over the Euphrates valley from a mountaintop in Turkey or holding my grandchildren for the first time. But maybe the most long-lasting impact was made when I was in fourth or fifth grade and my best friend got mad at me for something awful I’d done to her. I can remember standing in her kitchen trying to tell her how sorry I was and hoping she would forgive me. I felt the pain of having hurt her so strongly that I told myself, “I’m never going to be mean to anybody ever again.”

 

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

David and I do yoga stretches together to a Rodney Yee tape. Oops, it’s a CD; I forget sometimes that I live in the modern world!

 

What’s the last thing you do before going to sleep?

I always read in bed for as long as I can keep my eyes open.

 

Do you consider yourself spiritual?  If so, what do you do to encourage your own spiritual growth?

Something in your earlier interview with the young comedian named Kristin Rand resonated with me. She said her philosophy of dying is that “energy changes forms but it’s still there.” I think this idea best describes my own spiritual life. I believe in energy and I surround myself with people who feed my positive energy, then I try to share it in small ways. I like to avoid negative energy, but it’s a challenge; there’s way too much of it in the world.

 

What’s your philosophy when it comes to living?

I think the most important thing is to be kind to others. Kindness is underrated and some people seem to equate it with being weak, but it’s the opposite. I think it takes a lot of moral strength to be kind in difficult circumstances, or to ask forgiveness when you’ve done something wrong.

That being said, we shouldn’t let others take advantage of our kindness. I remember feeling that I was finally grown up the first time I said no to something I didn’t want to do. I just hope I said it kindly.

 

What’s your philosophy when it comes to dying?

The thought of Death itself doesn’t frighten me: it’ll either be exciting or nothing. The thought of dying scares me, though. I’d rather not be in pain and I’m not ready to do it yet, but I suspect there will come a time when Life will no longer be “better than the alternative.” I hope I’ll be able to die with some sort of dignity.

 

Describe the last time you felt inspired.

I don’t think this is quite what you had in mind because I wasn’t inspired to write a poem or take a picture or design a quilt, but I found your questions inspiring. I don’t often make time to be introspective.

 

What are you grateful for these days?

Certainly for my wonderful family and friends. I’m grateful, too, for every sunrise, for laughter, for solitude, and for the fact that my poor old hands can still make things and my legs can still walk.  Oh, and I’m grateful for wine and cheese!

 

What are you working on letting go of these days?

I’ve been working my entire life on trying to let go of the feeling that I’m responsible for the whole world. I have to recognize that I can’t fix much, if anything. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to do what little I can, though.

 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

I believe I am who I am right now partly because of everything that’s ever happened to me, both good and bad.

This is your wake up call

I was shocked, but now that’s worn off and the pain is settling in. I’m seeing a lot of status updates from parents who question how they will tell their kids that love did not win. That hate won. I’m not sure I’m down with that binary thinking.

The people who voted for Trump are flesh and blood. They are capable of love. If we choose to talk about them within the same us vs them framework that got us into this nightmare, we’ll be chasing our own tails forever.

This election is our wake up call. Do you hear it? Are you listening? Because those two things aren’t exactly the same. It’s time to wake up. To really open our eyes and see each other, to dismiss the distractions that divide us—it’s time to connect. To organize.

Symbolically, this election is a flamboyant F YOU to marginalized groups of people. But it’s also evidence that there’s another large group of people in this country who are feeling unheard and othered. I read this great article about people who live in rural America. I recommend it.

If we focus on the root of the problem, we can direct our energy to solutions. It’s tempting to want to move to Canada, but I really like my life here so I’m ready to put work in and make the political better, starting with the personal. The people who voted for Trump cast their cries for help. I’m not going to count on Trump or any of the other politicians in Washington to do what’s in the best interest of the people. The whole system is so dysfunctional, yet so embedded and seemingly impossible to dismantle, I’m going to do what’s within my ability and capacity to make America one that is great for me to live in. And that starts with listening, really listening, and understanding the struggle of the people, my fellow Americans.

Inspiring Individual Spotlight: Tatianna Santos

photoformegI met Tatianna when I worked in the non-profit sector, teaching comprehensive sexual health to teens. The non-profit field is full of caregivers and passionate individuals who are so driven to fulfill the missions of their organizations, that many times, self-care falls by the wayside. In addition to being impressed by Tati’s ability to develop meaningful relationships with the youth we worked with, I appreciated her ability to recognize when she needed to rejuvenate and take a moment for herself. I asked her for an interview because I find her inspiring, she was kind enough to share some kernels of greatness.

What drew you to teach sexual health?

My initial draw towards the field was when I noticed the tie between comprehensive sexual health and gender violence. My first role as an educator was during college, where I facilitated mostly conversations about gender violence, including rape culture, consent, and healthy relationships. A lot of these talks always struck me as focusing so much on the harm that people experienced but never on what a happy, healthy, fulfilling, sexual life could be. Eventually our conversations made the shift to include more sex positive conversations, and I realized that I felt most fulfilled when I was addressing the culture of gender violence from multiple directions.

Can you recommend any books that cover sexuality, identity, and expression in an inclusive and comprehensive way?

Yes! One of my favorite books is “What Makes a Baby”, by Cory Silverberg. What I love most about this book is that to me it is so inclusive of all families, all gender and gender identities. Cory alongside Fiona Smyth (the illustrator), do a wonderful job in addressing topics like pregnancy, bodies, birth in inclusive and visually appealing ways. I highly recommend this book, especially to those with youth in their life.

Who are your professional and personal role models? What is it about each one that resonates with you?

In the hopes I don’t sound too cliché, my father is my biggest role model. He, alongside my mother, moved to a new country, not speaking the language, with two children under the age of ten in the search of “the American Dream”. My father is perhaps the most resilient person I know. He is continuously showing me the fruit of hard work. Still to this day, my father is my go-to person when I am in the need of some wisdom and a pick me up. He is careful to not tell me what I should do, or how I should spend my time. All that he asks is that I take care of myself and that I prioritize my happiness.

Professionally, my supervisor Julie LaBarr takes the cake! Even before she became my supervisor I had crossed paths with her multiple times and she always left an impression. So much so, that during the day of my interview for my current position, I might have possibly been more nervous about having to present in front of her than the interview itself. There is so much to be said about Julie; she is knowledgeable, caring, kind, hilarious, and supportive. What most resonates with me is that Julie does not shy away from talking about mental health. Often times from what I’ve seen in the non profit, direct service world, the expectation is that we are always giving, always giving more and more and pushing out boundaries—the more you give the more you care. With Julie, she understands that there are days that giving is tough, that some days you leave a classroom and you just need to cry it out. Knowing that I have a supervisor like that has made the world of difference.

What’s your self-care routine/regimen/philosophy? 

“You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” I came across this quote a long time ago and it’s truly become my truth. I remind myself of that every day, especially in those moments when my energy is going outwards so much that I am feeling like there is not any left.

My routine varies, I keep an ongoing list in my agenda, my “self-care” list. This is usually my go to when I need some sort of pick me up. I try to incorporate self care daily, some days it looks like setting my alarm clock 15 minutes earlier than usual so I can cuddle with my cat a bit longer in the morning, other days it means getting a slurpee at 3am. Self care, to me, means doing what feels right and fulfilling for me in the moment and not feeling guilty or selfish about it. Here are some of the things on my list:

  • Call home
  • Eat something sweet
  • Listen to “This Feeling” by Alabama Shakes
  • Cuddle Bandit (my cat)
  • Turn off my phone
  • Cry
  • Watch a funny video online
  • Ask someone out for a walk
  • Take a long shower
  • Stretch

What would you say to someone who says they don’t have time or money to spend on self-care?

Money is not necessary for self care, not at all. There is absolutely privilege tied to being able to afford getting a massage, treating yourself to new things, attending concerts and all that – but those are not the end all of self care. Prioritizing you and taking care of yourself does not require taking your wallet out, sometimes all you need is one minute of taking deep breaths. Breathing goes a long way.

When it comes to time, my suggestion is to always add pieces of self-care to your routine. For instance, stretching while you brush your teeth, having a playlist of your feel good songs you listen to while you get ready in the morning. I even carry things on me that smell nice, like lavender oil, and sometimes that’s all I need to get through a tough moment.

Do you consider yourself spiritual? If so, what do you do to encourage your own spiritual growth?

I don’t know if I would consider myself a spiritual person. I believe in the Universe, and thank the Universe often. That’s my way of acknowledging a bigger larger connection and power that I can’t fully grasp. There are days that I feel like the Universe has it out for me, but it always seems to provide what I need just when I need it.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to living?

Live with intent.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to dying?

Celebrate your live and the life of others while you are still around.

Describe the last time you felt inspired.

Seeing my niece grow, her little successes like rolling over on to her belly or standing up for longer than 10 seconds are a constant reminder that life is full of little “wins,” and it’s okay to celebrate those too!

What are you grateful for these days?

I actually keep a gratefulness page in my journal and add to it often. Somedays I am grateful for a phone call from home, sometimes it’s my comfy cat lady socks. I used to think that being grateful was only reserved for the “big” things, like a job or a car. I shifted the way I approach gratefulness, these days it’s the little things that keep me going.

What are you working on letting go of these days?

I’m working on letting go of negativity in my life and unnecessary weight. I’m an energy sponge; if I’m around people or places that aren’t lifting me up my energy is sucked out.

What pop culture are you loving lately?

Anything that has to do with Beyonce, all the time.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

When people tell me that they know someone who is Brasilian, I like to pretend that their friend is my cousin.

Inspiring individual spotlight: Kagen Sound

Interviewing my husband might be considered lazy on my part of seeking out inspiring individuals, but he is truly one of the most incredible people I know! Whereas many are awed by his designs and woodworking skills, I am most impressed by how unique his view of the world is and how he has forged his own path in it. Kagen was kind enough to answer some questions for the Spark newsletter this past summer. In honor of his birthday month, I’d like to share them here on the blog as well.

 

When did you begin making puzzle boxes?

I made my first puzzle box in 1990 when I was about 13. I made it from cardboard. I quickly made another with ball inside that needed to be rolled through a maze. 

What has been the most challenging part of being an artist?

I channel a lot of emotion and thought into my work. I truly love doing this. It is like having a conversation with your best friend.  After many years of being a full time artist, I realized I had not been talking to my real life friends enough, and when I did, I only could share stories about my work.  I had to learn to take time off from my art so that I could be with people again.

What is the most rewarding part of being an artist?

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Artist and cat person Kagen Sound

For me it is when I create a new puzzle box.  It brings me a lot of joy and for a moment I am the only one who knows it exists in the world. The second most rewarding thing is sharing the new idea with the rest of the world.    

What advice do you have for artists who want to make their passion their livelihood?

Follow what fascinates you the most.  Don’t let other people tell you what it is or should be.  Making art has to be fascinating to you first and foremost and it can be anything.  Spend some quality time getting to know what you love to do and learn how to craft it well. Once you are comfortable making your art, reach out to other people who share your interest. Get lots of advice on the best way to keep making your art. Some people enjoy doing it full time others enjoy it as a hobby.  Find what feels right for you. After a few years, check in with what you are doing and make sure it is as fascinating as when you began.  f it is not, make adjustments. 

What has been most surprising to you, when it comes to looking back on your career so far?

I’m surprised I became a full-time artist. I was told all my life that this is taking a huge risk and I never thought of myself as a risk taker. I feel very grateful that I followed through with being an artist, even though it was very difficult at times. 

Where do your ideas for puzzle designs come from?

It is hard to pinpoint where my ideas originate. I know that I am influenced by other works of art all around me in many different forms. It can be books, movies, paintings, performances, puzzles, designs, even a beautiful landscapes. I think I store what I experience inside me and let it mix together.  At some unexpected moment a new idea pops into my head. Once I have the idea I start to make prototypes of it until it becomes a puzzle box.

Do you have a wood that you enjoy working with the most?

It is very hard to pick my favorite. At the moment, I love maple for all the different grain patterns it has. 

How has your work changed from when you first started your career?

I have a greater understanding of how strong wood is as a material. When I started I often relied on thinner pieces of wood than I would now, to make structural parts.

What are you grateful for these days?

I am grateful for my work and that I have my health and will get to be an artist for many years to come. I am grateful to have my wife in my life even more so! 

What are you working on letting go of these days?

I’ve been working on letting go of resentments. It is easy to let things that happened in the past influence how I feel in the present moment. Feeling grateful helps me do this a lot. So I am working on feeling grateful more often. I try to do this daily even for seemingly small things. At this moment, I feel grateful to have electricity : ) 

Who are your professional and personal role models? What is it about each one that resonates with you?

My mom was a huge role model. She never shied away from doing creative projects no matter how wild and crazy they seemed. She taught me to follow my dreams. Frank Lloyd Wright inspired me because he could truly build what he designed and dreamed, not what people expected him to do. Around the time I started making puzzle boxes I learned about a Japanese puzzle box maker, Akio Kamei, who designs and makes what he truly loves as well. Seeing that this was possible gave me a lot of confidence to pursue making puzzles professionally.

Is there anything else you’d like people you’ve never met to know about you?

I’m a cat person.

Find Kagen:

www.kagensound.com

Follow Kagen on Instagram

Connecting the dots with Dalí

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Of course there are eggs on the roof and bread on walls

My appreciation for Salvador Dalí drastically increased during my recent visit to the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres—Dalí’s birthplace in Catalonia, Spain. I knew little about him before my visit, besides that he painted those iconic melting clocks.

 

The Theatre-Museum is one giant installation by Dalí. Walking through it feels like your experience is being curated by Dalí himself; which means that every single individual has a unique experience based on their literal perspective and the way their mind processes and interprets the vast amount of stimuli. When the tour guide talked about how Dalí connected ideas and objects in his art I felt like I’d discovered a kindred spirit in what on the surface appeared to be just another egotistical artist (he is noted as saying, “I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.”; “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure-that of being Salvador Dali.”). Connections. I love connections, which is evidenced by the theme I chose for my 36th year: Connecting the dots.

 

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Capturing the capturer

During my visit I got a better sense of how Dalí thought, how he approached life, and how he shattered social conventions. Although I question his affinity for flies (apparently he’d put honey on his mustache to attract them and then capture them in his mouth and let them fly around in there for a bit), I admire how he constantly challenged people to question what is fixed reality. The works of Dalí’s that I viewed contained layers and layers of meaning, each one a playground for my mind to jump from one idea to the next.

Dalí is buried under the center of the stage at the Dalí Theatre-Museum, which means that every visitor who walks over his body becomes a character in his story, and he in theirs. He has ensured that he is at the center of all the individuals who bring their own narratives to the space. I like to imagine him watching the show of life go on in the Theatre-Museum that he created—seeing connections of all our lives, even from the afterlife.

 

 

The edge

IMG_31061,000 foot drops terrify me. I’ve always been afraid of edges, but the recent hike I went on with K and his sister reminded me of just how powerful fear can be.

The ascent wasn’t scary at all. It even felt spiritual at moments; wind blowing through the trees; clear mind, full heart, can’t lose (thanks Friday Night Lights).

The descent was another story. The view looked different going down, I could see the height at which we were hiking and the lack of any barriers between us and an extinguishing fall. My mind began playing a moving picture in my imagination of me slipping and falling off the edge. Thoughts of my friend who died falling off a rock wall in Zion National Park this spring crossed  my mind and made my fear feel real and relevant. My body was seized by terror and the only reason why I didn’t freeze was because my sole goal was to get down to level ground as soon as possible. My body went into autopilot and wouldn’t stop until I reached the trailhead.

Looking back on the experience from the safety of stable ground, I realize how fortunate I am that I don’t experience that feeling of fear on a daily basis. Whether it be from PTSD or crippling anxiety, I feel more empathy for people who must manage how fear takes control of their bodies. I’ve taken peace of mind for granted since I stopped having those childhood bad dreams that feel so real. Hiking this week reminded me that fear is real and has the power to make people behave in atypical ways.