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May 14, 2011

Frida & The Street

Frida & The Street
Inspired • Charlotte, North Carolina • May 14, 2011
by Jenny Doh

I am so honored to be here today to spend time with you, and with Donna, and all of the incredible art instructors. Donna and Bill: On behalf of every single person in this room tonight and every single person who has been in this room for the past four years, thank you very much for working so hard all year long to create this for us. It is no easy feat to coordinate events such as this with so many moving parts with poise, and class as you have done for us. Thank you.

I think gatherings of this nature are so interesting and so special because what draws us to these sorts of gatherings is multi-faceted. One of the primary facets is the intrigue of learning something new. We are here in large part because we want to learn the signature techniques offered by Tracie, Lolly, Suzi, Patricia, Becky, and Alisa. We want to learn the about the details, the tips, the tricks and the mechanics of how Suzie draws a face, how Alisa creates surface designs on canvas, how Tracie to upcycles what people may consider to be "trash" into incredible totes, how Patricia masterfully manipulates encaustic wax, how Lolly beautifully juxtaposes jute and felt, and how Becky works with assorted components to create one-of-a-kind jewelry.

But another reason we are here is that we are interested in the origins of how it all happened for these teachers. How did they come to start making art? Indeed, we are interested in their unique points of view, and how each of these artists are not only people who engage with the act of creating art, but that they are also actively engaged with their muses, their experiences, all the things in life that give them the inspiration to give birth to the creative ideas that each of them have.

We are interested in their art because we are interested in them. We are interested in their stories.

As many of you know, part of what I do every single day is to facilitate the telling of people’s stories, as CRESCENDOh seeks to find and tell stories about the positive effects that art and the creative process play in our lives. I am a firm believer that when things feel dark and hopeless, we can find our way back into the light by going to the sewing machine, by picking up our paintbrushes, by picking up our knitting needles, by reaching for our art journals, and fusing pieces of plastic bags together.

This past year, we have helped more than 300 people tell their stories … some that document immense pain. Like this one told by Readers Share contributor, Debbie, who describes a childhood filled with the kind of abuse that no child should suffer, segueing into a young adult life of drugs and alcohol. She says:

I managed to graduate and get married to the man I have been married to for 39 years. I had to overcome drugs and alcohol. While raising three kids I always had art in my life. I took ceramics, toll painting, college art classes and I was always crafting and decorating. Then I discovered quilting and took lesson after lesson and discovered art quilts. [she also opened a little quilt store]. I got to meet so many talented people and learned so much. I got to hear what a great shop I had and even compliments on my quilts. It changed my life. I became confident and I had a great shop. I was a great organizer and marketer. I could pick color and decorate my shop and I took good care of my customers who knew I had so many talents.

She continues …

“The last two years have been a struggle for me. I am not sure where to go from here. I have taught some classes but it seems now I want to be more challenged. What is great is that the anger is gone. I can see color and beauty. I know now how important it is to rest and take care of myself. I do better work and more colorful work. Art is my safe place.

One of the reasons I think telling stories is so important (even when they involve pain and failure) is that it is the first step in realizing one of life’s most important lessons, which is that … You. Are. Unique. You are unique because your story is unique. Your failures are unique. The pain you’ve gone through is unique. The way you’ve gotten back up from failure is unique. There is nobody else who has your exact story. Just like your thumbprint. Nobody else has it.

One of the things that I’ve re-learned this past year as we’ve archived so many amazing stories is that we love hearing stories. Every single week as new stories get loaded up, readers multiply, as more and more people hear about stories that are being told and they come to listen.

And why do we listen? Why do we love stories? I think it’s because as unique as our stories may be, by telling them, we realize that there are common threads that unite us. And we learn the second very important life lesson which is that: You are not alone. You and me … we all know pain. We all know joy. We all know injustice. We all know failure. We all know disease. We all know love. We all know. And we are all in it together.

Let me switch gears to talk a bit about Frida Kahlo.

When art critics examine the work of Frida Kahlo, there are some who argue that her works don’t reflect the type of technical skills that would ever classify her as a master artist … that though her paintings reflect a degree of true skill, that that skill, when compared to masters like DeVinci, and Michaelangelo, fall short.

But the interesting thing about art is that the value that it can garner is not solely reliant on the techniques alone. The value that it garners is how the story that it tells compels us and moves us. That is the magic of art … where techniques are coupled with stories, to create true and lasting value. Because when I look at her works, I feel her pain because I’ve learned of her story and I weep for the pain that she experienced … as a young woman whose plans to become a medical doctor became usurped when she was involved with a tragic bus accident, and she suffered constant physical pain as a resulte of that accident, and who suffered emotional pain through the tangled relationship with her beloved Diego Rivera. Her stories that get told through her works is largely why her art will have lasting value.

Jenny Doh
Let’s talk about San Francisco. I love going to San Francisco. A few years ago, I found myself on the streets of San Francisco, enjoying the weather, and people-watching. During this walk, I came upon a man who had a small table filled with his spoon art jewelry. Beautiful works. Not completely new … spoon art jewelry has been around for a while now … but his pieces were very well executed.

We connected. We talked. And I learned a little bit about his life on the streets. How he hustles to find spoons and how he stays up late sawing and bending, and how he explained that the hardest part, after carefully pouring the resin is having the patience to let it dry. And also how he finds a lot of elements for his work by looking through other people’s discards. Other people’s trash. He definitely had a street look to him. Kinda grungy. Very smart. And very funny. And in those few moments, I got to know him and I got to hear his part of his interesting story.

And that’s why the pendant I bought from him has lasting value for me. Technically, there are probably many better spoon pendants out there. But to me, it’s not just a spoon with a picture of Frida and resin poured into it. It’s a piece that I can imagine was created by his tired hands, after a long day of looking through bins of discards, after working the street life, smoking his cigarettes, and making it happen, and tap tap tapping his fingers with impatience while waiting for the pesky resin to dry.

I own the jewelry, and with it, I root for him. I cheer him on.

And look at what that little piece of art is allowing us to do here today as I tell you the story … as the connections and the reality of how we are all in this together, becomes resoundingly clear.

And that’s the other reason it’s important to tell stories. Telling our stories, sharing with each other, explaining how I made something or how you made something … it brings us together. Whether you live on the streets, or in a high rise, or on a farm, or a gated community, or in a trailer … hear me on this … we are not alone.

If you are a parent, you know the angst of raising kids. You want them to get the right education. You want them to be schooled properly in the fundamentals of writing, math, science. That’s a large part of parenting. But as you know the other part of parenting is to be there for them when they to through hardships … the pain that we all know so well, as we hug them and say to them “I know. It’ll be OK.” And if you’re like me, you pray that they will find a way to not just be able to learn by rote and live by rote, but to use their life experiences … including the painful parts, so that they can learn to couple that with the technical skills that they have gained, and to put out passionately into the world, their unique thumbprint.

We’ve been here together for several days … and yes, we have learned new techniques … but look around, there’s something else that has happened … an intersection where the technique being taught has interfaced with our own unique points of view, and unique thumbprints. At the end of all the classes we’ve taken, the work we have made reflects each one of our unique thumbprints … And the thing is … my thumbprint is different than yours, and is different than yours, and is different than yours. That’s because we each have unique preferences for how we make the stroke, how we stitch the line, how we shade in the eyes. Our preferences cause the final end product to contain the techniques that we practice and learn together, but result in a uniqueness that reflects each of our thumbprints.

And collectively, if we can imagine all of what we have made this week lined up side by side, these objects would testify to the truth that we all know … which is that we are each unique, and together that we are not alone.

Thank you very much.

I was honored to deliver this keynote speech tonight at Donna Downey's Inspired event. What a night. Thank you, Donna. Thank you, Bill. Onward we go. 


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I love your speech! We all need to connect the dots to ourselves. We do this in experiencing, listening and finding soulful connections,and etc. Moments that remind us of our humanity. The more courageous I become, the more connections I find. These connect the dots to my soul and help me be a better person. We all have stories and can learn something from everyone we meet~ Thank you for sharing your amazing speech~

I wish I was there! I can imagine you making this speech, thanks for offering it here, it is the next best thing to being there to hear it in person. (I hear you met my friend Bree there...I met her there two years ago.)

This was Awesome for you to share!!!.... I just read it out loud to my three kids...and three visiting nephews and a niece, ( and my hubby) ....

It was THAT important to share!! Thank you for working to hard to help us all find our voice!!! xxoo

Garden Designer


How happy we were that Donna chose you to be the speaker this year. Your words were moving and so fitting for our last time together at Inspired. Nice to be reminded that we are all in this together. I look forward to seeing what you do with your beautiful fabric, and enjoyed creating with you.

Incredibly awesome!!! I'm SO glad I was there to hear you in person and meet you. I'm in 1 of your pictures above with my 2 bestest girlfriends and Donna, Margie, Christy and yourself! Your speech was amazing and touched me, and I think everyone else. SO great to meet you and I hope to see you again!!

We are all in this together!

Jenny, It was a pleasure to meet you (I sat with you at Suze Blu's class). I thoroughly enjoyed your closing words at dinner. It made me open my heart and mind to rekindle my passion for the arts and self expression. I was hoping, maybe, just maybe you would send me a copy of the words you spoke. I promise it is not for internet/public sharing, but to include it into my personal diary/art journal of the INSPIRED week. I want to be able to read the text often, to remind myself of what I am and what I want to be.
Thank you.

I am truly honored that you wrote back to me. Thank you again for sharing your wonderful words.

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