Happy Kwanzaa and Do you know anything about it?

Here comes Kwanzaa! Starting today with the principle of Unity, “Umoja”

No I do not know much about it and would like to learn more about it. Some things I did not know that I learned from history.com:

It was founded in 1967.

A child lights each candle  in the evening.

Other information is in this article:


Here is the info on the candles and colors. The bllack middle one is lit first and then the red, then green. The kinara is the candle holder.

In the above article the ritual is outlined…

Guest post on Great Blog, The Communicated Stereotype!

Guest post on Great BLog, THe Communicated Stereotype!

My just recent post about stereotyping dead young people is now a guest post on The Communicated Stereotype, one of my favorite blogs! Check out the blog itself and all the subtleties of stereotyping it deals with. It should be mandatory homework for grad school in art therapy, social work etc. for a multicutluralism class to read this blog!!!

Gift Giving: A Universal Ritual

I started writing this post yesterday and got bogged down in talking about different kinds of gifts I have given recently and the psychology of giving and receiving. Then I was thinking a lot about receiving gifts from patients and all that that means and what to do as well as when to give a patient some kind of “transitional object”… However, I realized that would be a great idea for another post, and that I was straying from my original intention to celebrate cultural rituals.

Not to get on a tangent, but I have worked with patients, especially those with depression or despressive negative thinking about themselves, who have had a hard time receiving gifts, compliments and just good things from others and the universe. Another reason why dogs and cats are so therapeutic. Even the most depressed person will engage in physical love exchange with their animal when they will not talk to any other human.

But I digress. Back to my series about Celebrating Rituals of Different Cultures. When I started it, my intention was to focus on major life events we all share as humans: pregnancy, birth, birthdays, weddings and commitment ceremonies, and funerals.

Gift giving is an interesting ritual to look at and compare attitudes of Westerners and Easterners and learn about specific countries and their customs around gift giving. The Irish people and the Greek people are known for their very wonderful hospitality, which is a wonderful form of “gift” giving: sharing your home with loved ones and even people you hardly know, or just generally making sure people visiting your country feel welcomed. I don’t know if they do this anymore or ever did it, but I swear I’ve seen a lot of movies where, the people are walking down the stairs of the airplane (old movies), and Hawaiians, especially girls in traditional clothing, come and put Leis around their neck (sort of big necklaces made of just flowers… ) Well, I just looked it up and the Honolulu airport has a special welcome recording greeting.

Yes, there are many many different ways of giving and receiving. One of my patients once said of psychological receiving that you can’t “sort of” receive a little of something (like love, compassion, empathy, etc.), you either receive it in full or if you sort of can’t receive it all, you are really not receiving anything…

Japan, of all countries, is known for their rituals of gift giving. I don’t think any other country matches this cultural ritual around giving gifts, physical things mostly, like tea sets, chocolates, Japanese candies which are visually quite beautiful but quite strange tasting to my American taste buds for sweets, vases, etc. as well as envelopes of money. I lived in Tokyo from 1977-1979 and I remember my parents coming home from events with beautifully wrapped gifts. (Nobody comes close to how wonderfully the Japanese know how to wrap gifts. I remember being intrigued and entranced by the beautiful paper and the way it was folded, by the diagonal approach to the paper and trying to imitate the folds of the wrapping many times…) My father would return from business meetings with gifts he’d been given. One man who was a client of his somehow found out I loved music boxes and gave me several beautiful ones that my father would bring home for me. But what is this constant giving of gifts to mark a special meeting, negotiation, business deal, lunch, dinner, party? How did this begin and why is it done?

Here is an explanation of the origin of the gift giving, and no surprise, it actually brings us back to customs around funerals and dead “ancestors”, so I guess this post is still connected to my funeral customs post…: The Japanese have a special holiday for thinking of the dead. Wow. I think that’s a great idea, to devote a day to that.

Major Gift Giving Holidays

The two most popular occasions for gift giving in Japan happen twice a year. Ochugen falls during the middle of the year and Oseibo falls at the end of the year.

Ochugen originated as an offering to families who had a death in the first half of the year and still takes place two weeks before Obon, the Japanese holiday for honoring the dead. Nowadays, gifts are given as a gesture of gratitude to the people who are close to them. Bosses, colleagues, parents and relatives are common recipients.

Oseibo is more widely observed and began from the custom of placing offerings on ancestors graves. Oseibo gifts are typically given to friends, colleagues, teachers, clients or customers, and to anyone he or she is indebted to. These gifts are specifically given to pay back favors received during the year. The value of the gift does matter as the gift reflects the giver’s evaluation of social indebtedness that he or she has incurred. The recipient can accurately determine the value of the relationship by the monetary value of the gift. Oseibo gifts are typically sent out by the 20th of December.

Gifts commonly given for Ochugen and Oseibo range from department store items to food and alcoholic beverages. People receiving gifts for these occasions usually express their gratitude either by writing or calling the person who gave them the gift.”

I also found on this website an explanation of the importance of the way the gift is wrapped. It is considered rude to open a gift when you receive it, which explains why back in 1978 my parents would come home with gifts that were always beautifully wrapped:

When giving gifts or sending presents in Japan, it is customary to show special care not only to the contents, but to the way a gift is wrapped and the wrapping itself. In Japanese culture, gift wrappingcan be as important as the gift, where the gift is viewed as a form of communication between the giver and the receiver. The chosen gift wrapping serves an important role in shaping the messaging associated with the gift. In short, the wrapping is considered as part of the gift itself and should reflect both the gift being given and the emotions behind the gift.

The distinction of a gift being wrapped is an important one when it comes to receiving a gift. Except among close family members, gifts must not be unwrapped in front of the donor of the gift. The recipient should wait until later to open the gift.”

This is from the following website post: http://www.giftypedia.com/Japan_Gift_Giving_Customs

Native American Ritual: The Dreamcatcher


The above image is an appropriation of the original idea and genuine representation of the Native American’s cultural icon, the Dreamcatcher, that has become a popular “New Age” kind of item as well as a lesser known art therapy “project” or “directive”. I am hoping to bring this one shown above, that I decorated at home today, to my studio, so I can add feathers to the hanging strings with the beads, as the feathers are believed to help the dreams to slide into the window. Wikipedia has a good description of the origin of the dreamcatcher and the connection with spider’s webs. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamcatcher). The basic idea is that the dreams travel through the circular dreamcatcher and the bad dreams are believed to be “caught” in the “weblike” structure, the parts with the string in it and the good dreams slide in with the help of feathers to enter the dreamer.

While it is great to find a really genuine dream catcher, they are a lot of fun to make. In this case, a friend of mine, Anastacia Kurylo, (kid’s party kits website: http://thecraftykids.com), gave me the bigger outer circle and smaller inner circle with precut holes from one of her kid’s party kits and I added my own materials (metallic yarn, paint, rhinestones, mirror, beads) to weave the “web”like part and decorate it. Another way to make them if you don’t have a handy model like this is to take some sculpture wire to make the circle and then wind thinner colored wire around and through it. You can add sequins, beads, buttons to the wire and then tie yarn at the bottom and put feathers and beads on it. You can also wind colorful pipe cleaners around the big wire circle to make your Dreamcatcher more colorful.

I think the Dreamcatcher as a project for art therapy or for a children’s activity in school or home is a beautiful combination of the Tibetan “Mandala” (Sacred Circle), which we art therapists have appropriated for art therapy and the idea of dream interpretation and the importance of dreams in many psychodynamic approaches, especially Jungian, as Carl Jung himself made many mandalas and also had his patients draw or paint them…

Chinese “Funeral” Paper

To continue where I left off with my “multicultural rituals” series, I will now travel to China. It turns out from my hunting around on the internet, that the Chinese have a very complicated series of rituals. This website has a very long exhaustive description to read (http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_chinaway/2004-03/03/content_46092.htm), so I will just point out a few interesting points, although the whole long process is fascinating, and it is much longer than traditional “Western” funerals, actually 49 days, with the first 7 days being most important. I point this out in particular because I like the idea. In the West, mourning is often not given enough time, and there is something to be said for having an extended time to be mourning, so that you really experience how life is not back to normal for quite a while. This feels much more respectful of the dead and the loved ones of the dead. The Irish come the closest to understanding that a funeral and wake need a lot of time and many kinds of rituals.

Some interesting superstitions or beliefs: The Chines cover up mirrors so that the reflection of the coffin cannot be seen or it will mean you will have a death in your family shortly.

Funeral papers, called “Joss Paper” are burned, and it seems the kind of paper used depends on who has died: “Joss paper and prayer money (to provide the deceased with sufficient income in the afterlife) are burned continuously throughout the wake.”

I actually first heard of the funeral papers when one of my supervisees, who loved using my orange and gold and grey and silver special paper from the Chinese “Pearl River Mart” in Soho, told me that actually the paper was funeral paper. I was reminded of the paper today while showing it to someone and remembered that I had not ever researched it or checked to see what was done with funeral papers. And many people have been drawn to that paper from a vast array of choices in my paper drawer. Here is a detail of a small collage painting on board that I made a few years ago, in which I used a lot of this “Funeral Paper”. Most of the orange in it is from the orange background and the metallic colors are from both color papers. As I painted on top of it, you see it after it has been manipulated, but the colors are the same. The piece for me has some kind of funeral evocations as it reminds me of the Twin Towers..


There are many interesting aspects of the many rituals described on the above website. Here is another involving paper as well, called “holy paper”:

“When the prayer ceremonies are over, the wailing of the mourners reaches a crescendo and the coffin is nailed shut (this process represents the separation of the dead from the living). Then yellow and white “holy” paper is pasted on the coffin to protect the body from malignant spirits. During the sealing of the coffin all present must turn away since watching a coffin being sealed is considered very unlucky. The coffin is then carried away from the house using a piece of wood tied over the coffin, with the head of the deceased facing forward. It is believed that blessings from the deceased are bestowed upon the pallbearer, so there are usually many volunteers.”

Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

I am very excited to announce that the first of a two part interview that took place in my studio/office with art therapist Victoria Scarborough is now online at the above link! The interview is about how I started out in the field, my past experience, my present experience and current projects I am working on, as well as how I balance being an artist with being an art therapist. As on this blog, there is some personal information in it, in case you don’t want to know too much about me. (ie. patients out there and former patients and others, only read it if you don’t mind knowing a bit about how my personal life impacts my professional life…)

I will announce on this blog when she posts Part 2 of the interview.

Doll Making! A Great Therapeutic Activity

I have been interested in doll making for quite a long time. Many years ago, I made a few dolls with one patient and got inspired to make my own. I may have started making mine and then worked with her on hers; I can’t really remember, but I do remember the work with her influencing my continuing interest in dolls. I made some from “scratch” but after finding a particular muslin doll at an art store that was somehow compelling, I started decorating the premade dolls elaborately with my own drawings and collage elements and all sorts of things glued on. I made their hair from everything, cut up paper and drawings, weird yarn, even an old fashioned phone cord that was already pre curled… These dolls are up on my website currently:


Recently I’ve gone back to working on a series I started about six years ago that I continue to develop, but last week I went on an artistic detour with dolls. It started with a hastily put together doll in my supervision. The doll was made of cloth and wire and some other stuff. That was last Wednesday. The next day while at a day long seminar on “Child Art Therapy”, we were invited to play around with pipe cleaners during the presentation. As usual I embelleshed what could have been a simple way to keep my hands busy and my mind focused. I used extra pipe cleaners that were laid out on the table and not being used and I took out a roll of black tape I happened to have in my bag and some paper and  got involved in making another doll, this one quite flat. Normally I’m not really that into pipe cleaners. (I think there is a new term for them as children aren’t supposed to think of smoking when using them, but I forgot what the new name is!) These days, I am into almost every kind of material imaginable, probably from working with children of different ages, which makes you much more open to viewing all of the world as material for art and creating! So I found myself suddenly enjoying the pipe cleaners, and being surprised that I could make a doll out of them.

The next day in my studio on Thursday, I started making another doll, again using pipe cleaners to form the shape of the head, the hair and a lot of the body, but I tried to disguise the pipe cleaners by rolling yarn around them. The doll took a few days to construct and I liked the weird effect of making a flat round face of paper with a 3D body and back of the head, using stuffing. Since then, I sort of finished doll number 2 and began doll number 3. I am including pictures of them here.

The one below is the second one that I made over the course of several days. I will post the others separately as it is easier to do photo posts.

So what is it about dolls? Not everyone enjoys making them, so they are certainly not universal art activities (as opposed to something like magazine collage or tissue paper collage which appeal to a wide range of ages and populations). The interesting thing about them is that people are intrigued by them, even if they don’t want to make one. Dolls, especially “artistic” ones that are so weird and different from the standard kind of doll you purchase in a store, are very evocative. The ones on my website that are scattered around the studio have started assuming a life of their own. People react in all sorts of ways. Some kids like them; some find them to be creepy. Pretty much the same with adults. Some enjoy their feeling of being some kind of powerful voodooo type doll. The exciting thing about making them, whether from a premade one or totally starting from scratch is probably close to how people feel when making stuffed animals or puppets. As soon as you add the eyes, even if the body is not finished and there is no mouth, there starts to be a kind of “life” there. It’s amazing how expressive a few buttons and a simple line mouth can be. I especially enjoy doing the hair…

What is therapeutic about it? Everything. You of course really have to try making one yourself to see what it’s like, but it’s a bit addictive. Every time I’ve engaged in doll making, I don’t stop at one. Now that I’ve begun a third one that is similar to number 2 and 3 with the round paper face and and button eyes, I am very tempted to take number 1 and remake it by adding paper and fabric and stuffing and wrapping the pipe cleaners in yarn…

They are also definitely a kind of self-portrait, and for some people, it is a liberating process; once you realize it’s not that hard to put one together, it becomes very exciting to see how to create one and also there is no pressure to make something that looks real or “perfect”. The materials used add to the creativity and feeling of expressing oneself. It is fun to collect random pieces of yarn and fabric, old buttons, beads, wire, and then stuffing. Some people like to make it a project only involving dry media, wrapping and sewing entirely and doing no gluing. I cannot help but use the glue gun. It’s the best way to affix the yarn wrapped circle of the head to a piece of paper. Now that I’ve done 2 on the same color paper, I am going to make one with a light purple face. Most of my sculpture dolls on my website are inherently “multicultural” as they have faces painted in all sorts of colors. Using fabrics to make most of the doll encourages the creation of a meta-racial-ethnic doll!

On that note, I will end this post and post the other two photos. The first one I hope to change and elaborate and then post a photo of what happened after reworking it…