collaborative projects



  Joanne Ramseyer
Chicago, Illinois

art 2




In my late 30’s - at an age I still considered young - I made numerous attempts to visually express the painful feeling of emptiness related to my inability to become pregnant. An image simply would not come.  Perhaps it was stubborn resistance But I believe now that a pure state of emptiness does not, in fact, exist and that my failure to convey such a state was actually a way to recognize this wisdom more unmistakably. 

Joanne's artPersonal experience has illustrated this lesson again and again.  At the point of surrendering our most treasured aspirations - as well as significant relationships  to a tediously slow or short, sudden death - potent energies and fate are already hard at work.  Beneath the surface of what we know and want there always seems to be a mysterious, invisible source busy sowing fresh seeds, beckoning us to follow unexpected twists and turns through relationships or adventures we might never choose willingly for ourselves. Sometimes there are lengthy, grueling periods of waiting. At other times a random event plunges us onto the darkness of an unfamiliar path until in both cases, we finally recognize something of our destiny calling noisily for us to embrace.  Ironically, it often seems eerily familiar when we finally take that leap of faith into unknown territory.

Nature has always heightened my sense of this process. I am forever noticing -  actually seeking – the endless variety of lovely pods and shells in various stages of decay, empty of their seeds, along with other natural objects such as broken wings, ragged feathers, torn cocoons, empty nests, or leafless tree branches. I feel compelled to collect them as stark yet divine reminders of the experience of barrenness that occurs whenever any loss transpires. But I cannot feel into these images wholeheartedly without knowing simultaneously that hidden seeds of growth are incubating within every empty space of grief.

A heightened awareness of this regenerative cycle may emerge with age as we begin to question our own mortality. But I’ve always felt fortunate to be deeply connected to the process of birth, decay, death and renewal from an early age through my own creative process, personal struggles and a passion for myths and stories that communicate the spirit of transformation far more eloquently than I know it to be.

One of my personal favorites is the well-known myth of the Goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, a story once used in annual healing rites of ancient Greece.

In this tale a mother searches unrelentingly for her lost daughter who’s been abducted into the Underworld. Compelling metaphors illustrate the nuanced stages of loss and renewal, separation and return, death and rebirth associated with this journey. When Persephone is at long-last found and about to be rescued she disobeys her mother’s instructions to avoid ingesting any food or drink before leaving this desolate place by choosing to eat the seeds of a pomegranate.  This act binds her forever to the world below where she must now live several months out of each year. But through her annual return to the place where she once suffered – waiting lifelessly to be found - she discovers her own identity, becoming Queen of the Underworld.  No longer captive daughter, she now possesses the ability to travel fluidly between both worlds and the capacity to guide lost souls through the terrifying depths she once inhabited alone.

There are many aspects of this myth, including all of the female characters, with which I’ve found myself alternately identifying at various points throughout my life.  But it speaks most profoundly to me of the value of exploring one’s own ghostly depths - of the repetition, persistence and courage required to search through the darkness for the seeds of the plant within.   Relevant to this exhibit I was intrigued immediately with the invitation to create an art image evoked by a pomegranate empty of its seeds.

Eventually, I let go of my wish to become a mother and I also didn’t. It lived deep inside my soul, far away but always present while I poured my energies and nurturance into birthing other people and projects. And then one day, much later in life, I took a turn down a new path, fulfilling a piece of destiny as I became a first-time mother, at age 46, to two precious daughters adopted from China. During the space between I began to think of my womb as the symbolic place in my body and soul where my heart resides. All that has been significant and meaningful to me has arrived through long, intense labor but seems effortless and fated when looking back.  Most importantly, the best aspects of my life have been born through love – love of my hopes, simple or complicated, love of  the obstacles, the work and the waiting, love of the outcome regardless of where it leads.

My art piece is yet another attempt to portray emptiness but in the way I now know it to be –  a womb without its original seeds, empty yet full, holding symbols of both loss and regeneration, a place of heart, a reminder of the potential power of renewal that accompanies every dark journey.


Joanne Ramseyer has practiced art therapy for over 20 years in the Chicago area. She's also a part-time faculty member of the graduate programs in art therapy at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Mt. Mary in Milwaukee, and the Certificate Program in Art Therapy at Northwestern University in Evanston. She recently re-established a studio-based private practice where she conducts groups and workshops related to women’s issues and personal transitions, the creative process, and the relationship between art, nature and spirituality.


    Copyright 2012 Pat Allen