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"I see all art as a self portrait - so much of the essence of the person who makes it is in it," says Jennifer Kunin, this month's cover artist.

Kunin has been a working artist since the 1990s. She takes her art in many creative directions - papermaking, pottery and sculpture, printmaking, collage, batik, mosaics, painting and mandalas.

She has been creating mandala designs - a circle divided into equal parts radiating from the center - for more than ten years.

It was while working with a multicultural group of senior citizens that Kunin was inspired to paint her "Tree People Creations Mandala," featured on the cover of this month's magazine. She had received a three-year COMPAS Community Art program grant from the McKnight Foundation.

"When I make or teach about mandalas, I like to incorporate a figure, a gesture; there's numerology involved - equal divisions to the circle. I like to bring in something of nature, add colors - everything expresses the essence," Kunin says. "I see the mandala as a way to connect the individual, the personal, the feeling realm with the more universal."

The elders told their personal stories as she worked with them on their mandala projects. "There were language barriers - some were Hmong, some were African - but they made art together. They communicated with each other through their art," Kunin says.

Some of the elders talked about how they loved their countries of origin, how they had escaped during war, how they had to leave family members; others talked about their children and people they loved, about people who were meaningful in their lives. "It tells about the heart," Kunin says.

"[The elders] were like mature, grown trees with branches and histories," she says. For her own "Tree People Creations Mandala," Kunin envisioned the elders all holding paintbrushes, with colors swirling together in a beautiful rainbow in the center. "There's healing and creativity going on. That's what inspired this piece."

Each mandala tree person in Kunin's painting has a yellow circle in the heart area with a dot in the middle. She says this is to accentuate that the expression of life is the heart and soul. The center dot is a sign for the sun. "Each of these individuals is like the sun, like a heart, a primary being. It reminds us of our place in humanity," she says. "It's like we're the heart of our world, and there are a whole bunch of people who are also the same."

Arts and healing

As a child, her favorite things to play with were Play-Doh and color crayons. "As I grew, I developed an interest in healing," she says. "I have had experiences of amazing, healing miracles and found my place was to be a healer."

In the 1970s, as Kunin raised her young son and two daughters, she started studying to become a naturopath. But, as a busy mom, she found the timing wasn't right. When she was ready again to pursue education, it was art that was calling to her, and she enrolled in the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). "My kids were school-age by then and raised by an art student mom," she says.

Kunin received her BFA from MCAD in 1989, followed by a BS in art education from the University of Minnesota in 1991. She's spent more than 25 years teaching art in public schools and arts centers. Like many artists, she has received funding through grants and worked through COMPAS and state arts board programs with students of all ages. Today, she works from her home studio, teaching art to individuals and groups.

In addition to arts education, Kunin has training and certification in the healing arts. She is a Reiki Master teacher, has facilitated Merkaba meditation and visualization workshops and has training in Resonance Re-patterning, a counseling method to identify and clear old patterns using kinesiology.

On her website, Kunin sums up her creative approach to life in this way: "I practice art and healing every day with everything I do. ... I believe that the greatest service we can offer the planet is to heal and free ourselves of those old generational and tribal patterns. When we shine brighter, we make a shift in the greater reality."

FFI: jenniferkunin.com