I could not expect anything less from October’s chapter writer Emily Wheat (fondly known to many of her friends as Wheatie). Of course Wheatie would push me to create and make. She has been pushing me and inspiring me to do so since the day I met her. Why would she stop now? We met about 5 years ago in Remington, the neighborhood I lived in at the time. A small, vibrant and diverse community centrally located in Baltimore City. It was the last place that I put my roots down and called home, for any significant amount of time.
When our paths crossed, Emily was in graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art she was working on her Masters degree in Community Art and was placed in Remington to work with middle school age youth. She hung out in the community center for the summer months, taught photography, art skills and made dioramas out of shoe boxes and plasticine clay. Meanwhile, a few blocks down the street, I was hanging out with kids on my porch teaching kids photography, art skills and how to make tambourines out of paper plates and dried beans. Needless to say, we became fast friends. We both liked hanging out with kids and we both were oddly addicted to making stuff.
Making things or creating has been a constant in my life. Ever since I could remember I have found myself collecting small objects, craft materials, both natural and man-made treasures, – maybe a rock or a plastic bottle cap? Always thinking, “Someday I will make something with this”. And often, I would live up to this promise. For a long time I had a hard time buying gifts for people – I always wanted to make something. People were either totally thrilled when they got my odd gifts or completely confused and sometimes offended.
The recipients of my gifts may have said,
“Gee I never had a ‘make your own sock puppet’ kit before?”
or “Are these pot holders or wall hangings? maybe both?”
The things I made did not always make sense but they have always had an honest intention behind them and sometimes a practical use. I just loved making stuff; it was just somehow satisfying. I have never been able to explain why, I’ve just always felt this need, urge or call to create. I guess when I started college, I began to call the stuff I made “art” but I have never really been comfortable calling it that. The things I make are just creations – objects and ideas that came out of a desire to make.
This love of making most likely came from my mother who actually opened up a craft shop to the public in the basement of our home when I was growing up. She sold hand-made toys, blankets, and dried flower arrangements. Little did I know that my future would lead to a similar scenario.
25 years after my mom’s shop closed, I met Emily, when my own collecting/making addiction was in full force. I had turned my basement in Remington into a community storage space for donated arts and craft materials. It was a challenge to keep up with all the incoming donations. I was trying to do this by making stuff with the random materials on Tuesday afternoon Porch Art sessions with the kids in my neighborhood. I fully admit that Porch Art was created to feed my own addiction. I was getting my fix every week not only planning a new idea but also getting to make it happen with a group of people who would show up on my porch weekly!
Porch Art started off slowly in the spring and would pick up speed in the summer, then would crescendo in October with fall frenzied energy and the anticipation of Hauntingdon (our community’s volunteer run Halloween festival). All the kids in the neighborhood (and many adults too) would gather each week to make creepy décor for the block party including plastic bowl eyeballs, cardboard cut out zombies, mummy masks etc. You name it we made it. There is nothing that could describe this process better than the song “Making Christmas” from Tim Burton’s Nightmare before Christmas. Instead of Christmas of course, we in Remington, were making Halloween.
There was something contagious in the collective making that led up to Halloween. One year we had more than 100 community members engaged, creating and donating to the cause. In the afternoon my porch was full of kids cutting out paper ghosts in the evening my living room was full of adults drawing disembowed bodies on shower curtains – It was a crazy creative time. Everyone played a part in the process and it paid off in the end all event. Hauntingdon!
Emily played a huge role in both Porch Art and Hauntingdon. She may be the one person that I know who loves skulls and Halloween more than I do. We bonded over our love of zombie movies, ghouls, and the darkness as well as our shared addiction to making odd objects.
These are a few Emily Wheat creations that come with me everywhere (the ghost has been in my car for about 4 years now and the skulls have been hung up in 5 different houses and now 3 boats!) Besides being crafty though – Emily is also the one who created the beautiful photographs of books featured on this website here
What I love about Wheatie is that she has an open sense of wonder, one that a child might have yet combined with old soul wisdom that an elder might hold. It’s quite a balance! I’m not sure how she attained this rare combination, but it may come from her constant search for meaning and purpose while also being able to let things happen as they do. Emily always has mirrored back to me my belief that the act of making in itself is always somehow more important than whatever object comes out of the creative process. She reminds me that things end up just the way they do – and we should try be ok with that.
In her chapter this month, Emily emphasizes the importance balance. How can we allow our work to influence us but not direct us solely in our search for meaning and fulfillment? And how can we not forget to listen to ourselves while learning from and being inspired by others.
It’s a challenge not to follow any one prescribed career or life path. Emily has supported me and guided me on this task since I’ve known her. She continuously confirms my belief that purpose is not found in one place but on the path itself, it’s in the intentions and in the making and creating. We just need to continue on with the making to continue finding meaning.
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