Totem Boats for Personal Journeys by Jennifer Ewing, January Artist-in-Residence

It began 6 years ago as a vehicle to transcend sadness on the loss of my father, Paul Ewing, when I found myself painting and doing collages I called “Spirit Boats” as a tribute to his memory. Like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples moved outward as my work grew with personal references.

This theme expanded into a metaphor for my own journey and in extension, to a means to express and celebrate the universal journey we all are making. The “Spirit Boat” can be seen as an archetype or a totem that connects this work to people throughout time and place. “Spirit Boat Directions” asks questions of visitors. Where do you want to go? What kind of boat will take you there? Who do you want to honor?

The de Young Museum contains a rich variety of boats that are noteworthy. I am especially moved by a current show, Yua, Spirit of the Arctic, and the way the shaman’s power is imbued in that work.

When  Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, I was struck by the importance of life boats. Little row boats and kayaks transported people out of disaster to a place of safety. They are still my favorite kinds of boats being so simple and personal.

Three years ago I discovered a way to use discarded plastic bottles and cut them to create a new kind of vessel.  Paper is used to wrap the plastic as a skin or fold into a boat shape. This was instrumental in moving my work into new waters.

My focus today alternates between sculpture, painting, collage and drawing. I have also combined mural painting and sculpture in an installation “Spirit Boat Harbor” that reflects a sense of community.

This project facilitates an imagined personal journey. A “Spirit Boat” is made to contain the unique essence of each individual passenger. It is not surprising that boats so often have human names.

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