Museum Meditation

By , February 17, 2011

I am visiting my parents in Bellingham, Washington. I am having a lovely time reminiscing and meeting their friends. On Sunday Mom and Dad took me to see the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner. What a treat that was.

All I had previously known about La Conner, Washington was that it was across the river from the Native reservation and not far from Mt. Vernon and Burlington where my Grandparents and Great Grandparents had lived at various times. Boy, was I surprised when I saw the quaint Victorian downtown area full of upscale boutiques and enticing restaurants.

After a delicious lunch of freshly baked bread, salad and a spicy chicken and black bean soup, we walked down to the museum. The narrow brick building apparently dated to the early days of La Conner, but  inside it rivals any modern art museum anywhere in class, space, lighting and display.

Mud Bay, Haines, Alaska

"When you move through the waters with your mind . . ." Mud Bay, Dec. 31, 2005 (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

There were the obligatory paintings that I did not understand, not being an art aficionado, and some intriguing wooden sculptures. There was a fabulous blown glass Tlingit hat in red that was etched with a frog totem by Preston Singletary. In the permanent collection was a Mark Tobey painting that used to hang in my parents home. My mother and aunt had donated it to the museum.

My favorite part however was the Theodora Jonsson exhibit titled “Mindful Waters: Life in the Salish Sea.” It was a collection of blown glass whale bones that were etched or filled with objects that, according to the museum’s Website, were “inspired by natural science and native stories of animal spirits.” On the wall hung a huge sheet of vellum painted with a northwest coastal scene that reminded me of my recent ferry trip through the Inside Passage. Painted directly on another wall was a meditation Ms. Jonsson wrote, inspired by an ancient Hasidic saying.

“When you move
through the waters with your mind
still and holy
Then from all the life and all the things growing
and all the animals.
The sparks of their souls
come out and cling to you.
And then they are purified
and become a holy fire inside you.”

This really spoke to me on an elemental level. It voiced part of the feeling I have about nature, especially the nature of the Pacific Northwest. There is a sense of the waters and forests and animals contributing to my understanding of the world. Something that happens not by seeing them, but by feeling their presence and their essence around me.

Having this poetry paired with the unique glass pieces and the wall art was the best art experience I could have asked for.

Mark’s Note: If you’re reading Mary Oliver’s Twelve Moons with me, today’s the day to read the poem, Snow Moon—Black Bear Gives Birth.

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