The Arts Response to the Personal Story

We make Art in order not to die from the truth.   Nietzsche 

 Expressive Arts have always been a focus of our work, we now give them their own place in recognition that working  with art materials extends language in ways different, often better and more appropriate than writing or telling. Using art materials also transcends cultural difference and works  well with non-literate people and with those not ready to speak. Of course, children who speak in image and metaphor, this is a natural. 

 Using arts materials will ground the artist in the body.  The artist also learns to take care of her/himself in a process that  empowers and engenders a sense of independence.

Access to arts processes and materials and using them over time can strengthen the part of the brain/nervous system that provides calming hormones. It is the part of the brain that has been silenced/weakened by the flight, fight,hide or freeze response to Adverse Experience. With a body living constantly in survival, one can only attain self soothing through drugs, alcohol and high risk behaviors -- the latter works to stress the body so that it will deliver that little bit of calming hormone -- imagine: intense  experiences produces a kind of push that will push inner resources. Our goal at Ashlar is to resolve toxic stress symptoms and provide a Self-Care program that strengthens the ability to calm oneself naturally and achieve dramatic reduction of symptoms.  These  Self-Care arts processes when practiced regularly, create resilience.  It must be a practice and in that way when adversity strikes, the person can bounce back.  So when a person in a crisis is told to take deep breathes, it will help a bit in the moment but it is not a long term solution.  

We use whichever materials allow maximum expression for the artist/ story teller in developing the personal narrative. We use the Shoe String Story:a necklace or hanging piece. It comes un-assembled in a pouch, the small Shoe String Story bag. Every one is different.  Included is the shoe string Yakima Native women with their Life Balls.  As the artist, the creator of your life story,  you can use any number of materials; feathers and paint, nuts, bolts, screws, yarn and sticks, beads and bone, glue and goo, Sculpy clay -- make your own beads -- use found objects and those things that are hammered, chewed,  tossed and shaped by hand and baked, found, made, cycled and recycled. Phew -- you can't imagine how creative some people can be!  some these Life Lines are beautiful and others are funky fun but all are meaningful.  The items are threaded, each designating an event or condition that was very difficult or wonderful -- time periods are designated by using knots.  And, you get it -- you can use anything that works and expresses the essence of what you are trying to "say." This process does the heavy lifting for the arts narrative and we are inspired by many non-literate cultures that use some of these methods to create a personal, family or community history.  The Life Line when complete is your story.  

We will help you wrap and bead a talking stick, or  create in images and words, a pillar or a tiled wall (we have the equipment to make and bake tiles), or a mural with which to develop your story. we'll help you until you get the hang of it and then, off you go h aving learned and used a process that will hold you through other difficult events in your life. The objects you create work hard -- they are not just decorative --  though they are that too.  We will teach you how to use your piece beyond the making of it and you can teach others.  We hope you will teach others.  In fact, we  hope to see Shoe String Story groups popping up everywhere like mushrooms after a warm spring rain. YAY!  So this is healing and it a whole lot of fun. 

Some of our art pieces that students make deal with themes of Redemption, Reclamation and Memorializing -- themes especially important for our combat veterans.

Our work with Spirit Houses or Tiny Houses offer a place for restless spirits to dwell -- those whose lives were cut short, those who died as a result of a military act or states of being.  One of our young soldier students created a spirit house for the loss of his innocence and trust as he discovered his own dark potential. The list goes on.  

We use cross-cultural art-making rituals for peace-making in the individual and for the community  -- see Community Building.  

One of our people completed a personal and community memorial project.  Jim Famalaro's  pillar (see front page) is called The Healing Pillar of Wham, Bam, Pow and illustrates the story of his war experiences in Afghanistan. Just about any material goes on Jim's pillar and begins with his handmade tiles.


We would like to make this Life Line work available in our communities to anyone who wants to create one.  

We are available to teach classes for those interested in becoming narrative arts facilitators.

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