Circle Song Meditations
by Susan Burnham Neilson
Oil on Canvas
30″ x 30″
Stories and Heirlooms
This painting began with an intention for drawing in my sketchbook as a type of meditation. I was interested heritage and in the things we treasure. Artifacts hold stories, memories, and even secrets. Objects may have special significance as personal amulets or talismans. Seeds may hold hope for the future, and even tiny insects may link us to each other and to the future.
When my family was evacuated during a forest fire, we were faced with decisions about what small treasures might come along with us for safekeeping. It made us think about family stories, photos, and gifts from grandparents, so in the classroom where I was teaching I invited students to share stories through still life studies of personal collections. Now, a few years later, I decided to gather a small collection of my own.
Every Voice in the Circle
I started by swirling a few remnants of silk fabric into a circle on the floor of my studio. Then some tiny treasures were collected and placed next to each other.
The circle geometry was added in my design sketches, and the insects were inspired by visitors in my garden outside the door.
I decided to slow down the pace of the process of painting taking time to consider surfaces and illusions, as well as symmetry, asymmetry and interconnectedness. I revisited a favourite theme of circle songs, where every voice has a place in the circle.
In the end, the things we value most might have little monetary value or they might literally be priceless.
There are stories to be found, just looking a little more closely at small things at our doorsteps, in the woods, on the beach and in the top drawer of a grandparent’s dresser. Each of these hold clues about where they came from or what lives they touched.
Wonder of Evolution
In the tiny shell of a snail
Precious pearls, a gift for my daughter, belonged to her grandmother and before that to another mother and possibly another. The full history is a mystery, but they were originally given to someone in our family whose name was Margita. She lived and died during a terrible war. We know almost nothing about her. Who was she? What mattered to her?
There is also mystery and beauty in the ordinary little seeds and stones collected in the woods or by the water and in the brief lives of tiny insects that stop by for a while. In the past, we thought they would keep returning year after year, generation after generation. Now though we are not so sure. Even the familiar pollinators, so interconnected to our own survival, might stop coming home if we don’t pause and pay attention. Small lives and even brief lives have important connections for us all.
What is the “butterfly effect” and what happens if the tiny endangered bee turns out to be just a visitor, left outside of the circle?