Earth as home CoverArtist: A Q&A with Carolyn Lee Anderson on how her art and identity are tied to the earth
Above: "Self Portrait: Between Dinetah and Mni Sota"
Below, left: Carolyn Lee Anderson, courtesy photo
Below, right: mixed-media piece
by Norma Smith Olson
"There's nothing more creative than nature," Carolyn Lee Anderson wrote in an emailed response for this month's cover artist story. She looks to nature as the biggest inspiration for her artwork. "I also think self-reflection is an inspiration. I only know anything about the world through my own experience, so I contemplate my story, my family's story and my perception of the world in my work."
MWP: What is the story behind the artwork on this month's cover?
Anderson: "Self Portrait: Between Dinetah and Mni Sota" is about my two homes. One home is my ancestral home in Dinetah, my Navajo homeland. The first time I visited this place I was a troubled adolescent. My mother basically forced me to take a trip with her and my grandmother to visit family in New Mexico. It was life-changing. Just to spend the time with my grandmother and to hear her speaking with our relatives in her first language, to be immersed in the culture and the place - it opened up my heart and I began to understand a lot of things about myself and my family. I have made several trips since then, and I think I will always keep returning to this place.
The other home is my birth home, Mni Sota or Minnesota. Although I have no ancestral ties to this place, it is a part of me, I love it, I feel safe here and I have put down roots here. This painting illustrates both places as my home.
On another level, this painting [on the October magazine cover] is also about the human connection to the Earth. It is a symbol of my realization that my body is a part of the Earth and that my true identity is something completely incomprehensible.
MWP: How would you describe your artwork?
Anderson: Like all artists, my art is always evolving. I started out as a painter, but then I decided to learn Navajo weaving. I didn't want to give up one art form for the other, so I figured out a way to merge them. My first series of paintings focused on the landscape and they were about human's relationship with nature. My current work, as a mixed-media artist, blends painting, fabric and Navajo weaving. These artworks are mostly about myself and my perception of issues that I find difficult to cope with or comprehend.
My mother was a huge influence. She passed along her love for art making to me. Then, of course, there is my grandmother. She is my first Navajo weaving teacher. She is such a beautiful, kind, gentle, humble, non-judgmental and completely open-minded person. I will always aspire to be something like her.
MWP: What would you like to share about your personal creative spark?
Anderson: Creativity is one of those words that is difficult to define. Beautiful and truly creative or inspired artwork, writing or music has a transcendent quality. When you see it, read it or listen to it, it can give you chills down your spine or it can bring you to tears. It has a certain energy and it radiates truth and beauty. That's what I strive towards when I make artwork. I strive for that feeling.
I love to read about all sorts of things - fiction, memoir, bio, and nature mostly. I love to vegetable garden, I love animals, I love quiet time at home, and I love to just be out in nature. I am a total environmentalist, I think we should definitely take care of the Earth. My life would not be complete without these elements, and I would not be an artist without them, because these are the things that inspire me daily.