Making Art out of Hardship: Remembering the Artist and Activist Rae Atira-Soncea (1953-2009)

In an earlier posting I talked about being a juggling woman with a few too many balls in the air…teaching, making art, exhibiting, and tithing my time to volunteer efforts, and that pesky day job that supports my art habit. The perfect storm of commitments resulted in me dropping my weekly commitment to my blog for a few weeks, but I’m back to share with you thoughts about the creative power of art, and surviving personal hardship and loss by turning pain into community building, sharing and social action.

My dear friend and sister artist and educator/activist Rae Atira-Soncea died unexpectedly in March 2009. There were many ways people knew Rae personally and professionally, and all of them reflected an acknowledgment of her fierce commitment to positive social change through community building and creative actions that acknowledge the integrity and potential of all individuals.

The only way to properly mourn a person like Rae is to organize opportunities to recognize her creative work and to bring people together to figure out how to put their creative thinking into action. Her community has come together with three efforts to recognize and reflect on Rae’s life and creative work and activism and to use them as inspiration for the future for those of us left behind.

Below you will find a description of a retrospective website, exhibition, and upcoming community forum that I hope will offer you opportunities to know Rae better and be inspired by her for your own creative efforts and agency in the world. I thank the many individuals and three organizations that have come together to offer these opportunities: Overture Center for the Arts, the Grass Roots Leadership College, and the Madison Arts Commission.

Website and On-line Art Gallery, Blog, and Retrospective Essays

 

Rae Atira-Soncea bronze broom from the Age of Cooperation

 

The Rae Atira-Soncea Memorial Website  and On-line Gallery serves as a catalog of her creative work and scholarship.  Here you will find images of her mixed media sculptural forms that include her extraordinary needlework, carving, and story telling  in visual forms. Rae was particularly interested in using everyday common objects to represent the magic and power of women to maintain and change the world. Her art took the form of brooms, cabinets, cauldron, and other objects that under her hand became objects of power.

In addition to art, and words written by and about Rae gathered on the site there are two wonderful essays written for the site by artist/art historians and professors, Melanie Herzog, Edgewood College, ‘Rae Atira-Soncea: Transformations,’ and Linda James, UW-Platteville, ‘Rae X 2.’ Both scholars outline Rae’s history, reflect on her life of art and activism, and acknowledge her as an artist-thinker who modeled living a life of meaning.

The website also links to a memorial blog maintained by Rae’s life-partner Math Heinzel. Math has been regularly adding to the site descriptions of the inspiration and thinking motivating Rae for particular artworks. It’s a rich source for understanding her creative work activism, and impact on the lives of many.

Upcoming Retrospective and Memorial Exhibition and Community Forum

 

Rae Atira-Soncea bronze Mirror of Death, Mirror of Life

 

We thank Rae’s life-partner Math and her sons Ethan and Casey Heinzel for their work in preserving and sharing Rae’s creative work. They know better than many how important it was to Rae to find a way to combine creating art, activism and volunteering and finding meaningful  employment that allowed her to live her beliefs daily.

Rae was the coordinator of education, community engagement and accessibility at the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison from 2001 – 2008. The Overture Center hosts a retrospective exhibition of her art. Here are the particulars for those of you who can join us in Madison, Wisconsin for the exhibition:

Homemade Magic and the Art of Domestic Objects
DeWitt Ross & Stevens Overture Center Galleries
201 State Street, Madison WI
Mon, Oct 25 – Sun, Jan 9

Opening Reception: Fri, Nov 5, 6-8 pm
Community Forum: Sunday, November 7, 10am-4pm
Closing Reception: Sat, Jan 8, 3-6 pm

Three concurrent exhibits, in honor of Rae Atira-Soncea’s contribution to Overture Center and the larger community, can be viewed at:

• Time Capsule Hallway Wed, Sep 22 – Sun, Jan 9, 2011
• Overture Gallery I and Rotunda Lobby Mon, Oct 25, 2010 -Jan 9, 2011
• Rotunda Studio Mon, Oct 25, -Sun, Nov 28, 2010

 

Rae Atira-Soncea, 'Bridget: Lady of Faith Lady of Infamy'

 

Rae Atira-Soncea believed in the intrinsic value of every living creature and committed her art and work to making the world a welcoming place for the art, creativity, and intelligence of all people. Her efforts extended to creating access, making connections and community building in her work and volunteer life as well. Her creative work reflects her deeply held belief that art could make a better world. She drew on fine art, folk art and storytelling traditions and chose collaborative with partners with the goal of taking her audience on a journey awareness, understanding and growth. Whether telling stories, binding brooms, casting bronze cauldrons, carving sculptures, constructing cabinets, or embroidering elaborate story cloths Atira-Soncea was connecting her creative and critical thinking to the world with the goal of revealing another way to see and a more inclusive way to live.

Many, many people credit Rae Atira-Soncea with showing them new ways to lead and collaborate in the service of social justice for all. For Rae life, art, work, and making the world a place she wanted to live were all connected through creative thinking and art making. In her honor we come together to offer an opportunity to think creatively and connect in shared vision for positive social change:

Community Forum:
Spinning Our Skills and Weaving New Connections
Co-presented by the Overture Center for the Arts and the Grass Roots Leadership College
November 7, 6-8 pm
Overture Center
(Lunch, childcare and Spanish interpretation provided.)
Register by November 1, 2010

This open forum brings together Rae’s diverse communities and causes. We will spend the day sharing, learning, exploring, playing and creating art with the intent of building new connections, enhancing existing skills and growing and discovering strange and wonderful interdisciplinary melds. Come prepared to share your experience and wisdom, as well as to learn from others.

 

Exhibiton photo of " Sweeping Changes" exhibition

 

Rae Atira-Soncea worked at Grassroots Leadership College (GLC) as a coach, faculty member and board member before her untimely death in March 2009. Rae changed the lives of those around her through her stories, art and compassion. She inspired connection and action. Believing that art will make a better world, she drew on fine art, folk art and storytelling traditions to realize her visions.

Rae believed in the intrinsic value of every living creature and committed her art and work to making the world a welcoming place for the art, creativity and intelligence of all people. Please join us for a day of creative play and critical thinking for positive change.

Overture Center Rae Atira-Soncea Arts Accessibility Fund
The Overture Center has created the Rae Atira-Soncea Arts Accessibility Fund. Consider making a gift in Rae’s memory. For more information call 608.258.4442 or visit overturecenter.com/contribute

As I note in one of the essays on the memorial website:
Rae taught me what it looks like to live with the courage of your convictions. Rae had an incredibly strong moral compass, and it seemed she would inevitably take the side of right and justice regardless of personal cost. She advocated tirelessly for the underdog. She would make people face their lesser selves and ask them not to go there. Despite her personal fears, and she was often terrified, she acted anyway. She fought for her own rights; she fought so that others could be who they needed to be fully and not be hurt by it. She fought the “worthlessness” thing, that internal voice that says we don’t matter, and she paid a price for standing by her convictions. I recognized in her someone who really believed in acting on the power of her convictions, and not only doing it, but doing a better job of it than I. Rae showed me that in making the world safe for others we could make it safe for ourselves to be all of who we are.

Please join me in remembering Rae in creative action and thinking whether you knew her in person or not.

Some organizations Rae worked with and for or supported:
Grassroots Leadership College
Hedgecroft
James Reeb Unitarian
Madison City Arts Commission
Overture Center
The Earth Conclave
Trust for Natural Legacies
Art Department and Design Studies of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Unable to earn an MFA in fibers when she pursued graduate work in art Rae crafted a graduate education in both the Departments of Envirornment, Textiles and Design, and the Art Department.  To do so she crossed media, colleges, and philosohical divisions in a way that anticipated the direction of the creative feilds and the University’s eventual organization).
Wisconsin Arts Board
National Women’s Caucus for Art (Rae served as a Vice-President on the board of this organization with me from 1994-96 and worked to computerize and bring in house the membership data base, and among other things supported chapter development with an amazing manual.  She spoke with a voice of unwaiving support access and participation for low-income women and women of color throughout her service to the organization).

A special thanks to Alex Delcourt for designing, creating, and maintaining the Rae Atira Soncea Memorial Website and At Gallery and invite you to check out her  site the Breathing Room.

Additional thanks are in order to so many others that I am hesitant to list for fear of leaving someone important out.  A few I cannot leave out include Rae’s partner and sons Math, Casey and Ethan Heinzel, and the artist/scholars who honored Rae with the attention of scholarly voices giving a context for her creative work, Melanie Herzog and Linda James; those friends and artists leading the interface with the Overture Center, Beth Racette, Stacy Levin and Mary Kateada; and those working to realize the vision for a community forum Rae would have like to attend.  They include but are not limited to  Amy Mondloch, Marian Farrier, Merel Magolis and Cassandra Garcia.  There are many others who also bring their on-going efforts and support to the table and we thank them for their ongoing support.  We also thank the Madison Arts Commission for the individual artist grant that supports these events in part.

 

Rae Atira-Soncea, Age of Fire: Transformation (created using molds of faces of Rae, her dear friend and artist, the late Deb Trent, and myself)

 

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About Helen R. Klebesadel

I am an artist.
This entry was posted in Activist Art, Diversity, Fabulous Artists, Feminist art, Inspiration, Teaching Art and Creativity, This and That, Women Artists and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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