Plant and Painting Share Common Roots

Amaranth, ©2011, Hannah Hunter, Collage (paper, fabric and watercolor on panel)

Amaranth. I was walking up the stairs to my studio, trying to come up with a name for a panel I'd just finished and this name came into my head. Curious to see what it meant, I looked it up.

Here's what I found: Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth, is a wide ranging genus of herbs. The root of the word comes from the Greek, "amarantos," or "unfading" and it combined, sometime in the word's history, with the the Greek work for flower, "anthos."

A small purple flower, Amaranth provides a sturdy source of nutrition and serves to support sustainable land care in Africa.

Unfading flower. I like that. At in this time in the world, when so much seems unsure in so many countries, the world, at least my world, needs some reassurance about those things that do not fade.

Amaranth, the flower

I think about the children with whom I work. Day after day this week, I ran my eyes down the census to see if anything had changed; a chance for a miracle cure. No, there were still too many children whose diagnoses were grim. (Isn't one too many?) I wanted to push against this--to create a moment of fun, a small space for healing. Although I am not a doctor or a nurse, I am an artist and the healing I can offer is moments of relief, spaces for joy, a dose of hope.

Into this space comes what does not fade: art, prayer, laughter and love. Amaranth.

Allies in January

Let Us Eat Art, ©2010, Hannah Hunter

I am a worrier. It's true. And when I found out that my SoulCollage®

workshop for the UC Davis Cancer Center had 35 people enrolled, I panicked. I thought that 15 people would be a great success. But then, I'm also a risk taker.

In offering the workshop, I was taking on a new population, cancer patients and their navigators (cancer survivors who have gone through treatment and volunteer to help patients with the same cancer navigate the labyrinth of treatment).

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll remember that I taught a similar class for the Cancer Center last spring, only that time, none of the cancer patients signed up. This time, it was different.

I had agreed to provide art supplies at no cost for participants and so, as I flew back from vacation, I tried to calculate what my out-of-pocket costs would be as the plane flew over the Pacific. Most of the turbulence of that flight was internal.

Amma Mama, © 2008, Hannah Hunter
Back on land again, I took matters in hand. I counted up my x-acto knives and cutting boards. I raided the supplies at UC Davis Hospice, and I still came up short. My friend Sara offered me her collection of boards and x-acto knives, I collected scrap matte board and in the end, spent nothing on supplies, a testament to the generosity of my community.

But what about the workshop? The women came in, one after another. The Cancer Center provided excellent spreads and my worries melted as the day unfolded. These women, and one man, were some of the most receptive people (in the adult population) with whom I've had the good fortune to work.

There is something about this illness, cancer, that makes one willing to dig deeper, a feeling that there is nothing to lose, and often pride over outer appearances takes a back seat to the need for authenticity. Our focus for the day was allies: those people or beings who act as guides, challengers, mentors and friends as we move through illness, or simply through life.

Whatever the case, this group of souls opened themselves to the process of searching through images, looking for the ones that conjured up the supporters, guides and all around lovers who are in their lives.

Group Member working on her card.

As they shared their cards, I felt I was seeing the nuggets of gold in each of their lives. I saw constellations of flowers, dogs, cats, children, mothers, fathers, husbands and even the Golden Gate Bridge.

At the end, my friend Terri, an oncology nurse, noted that programs like this one are as important to healing cancer as the the clinical interventions of medication, chemotherapy and radiation.

While she may have overstated the case a little, I do believe that this need to relate, to come together and to make something tangible and visible out of our challenges is what, in part, makes us human.
I met this morning with the director of the education and outreach program at the center and we are planing to offer 4 of these programs throughout the year. I'm looking forward to seeing how as a university community, we can create a climate of healing, nurturance and deep self-discovery in our lives.