Category Archives: Sustaining Humanity

Erin C. O’Connor Paints for Morocco; Walker at Altamira

Erin C. O'Connor - Untitled

Erin C. O’Connor – Untitled

“The mission of the Atlas Cultural Foundation is to help underserved Moroccans, especially women and children, and improve their quality of life through locally determined development projects.” Cloe Erickson, Founder

“The people are living exactly they way they have for hundreds and hundreds of years. Stone houses, sheep, goats, a very marginal existence. They are agricultural, but it’s extremely sparse terrain. You can’t truly realize how lush and beautiful it is here until you visit places like these.” – Jackson Artist Erin C. O’Connor

Even the briefest of visits to the Morocco-based  Atlas Cultural Foundation will take your breath away. People, music, swirling rainbows of cloth, smiling children, the purity of souls, laughter, donkeys loaded with grains making their way up steep mountainsides on paths as wide as piece of thread, stone houses seemingly impossible to build…African light on high cliffs, solitary townspeople under tents, illuminated by candlelight.

By Erin C. O'Connor

By Erin C. O’Connor

“These villages,” says plein air painter Erin O’Connor, “are in the High Atlas Mountains, in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a dirt road that probably should have ended 60 miles before it does. It’s unimaginable. The area was the last place for the French Foreign Legion to access, it is so remote.”

Recently O’Connor and a colleague landed the chance to go to Morocco, visit the Atlas Mountains and spend time in the ancient city of Medina, as part of an Atlas awareness-raising initiative. A Montana patron with a strong interest in the organization’s mission financed the trip. O’Connor’s paintings and works by other artists will be offered for sale on February 6th, at a private event in Bozeman, Montana.

“I’d always wanted to go to Morocco. EVERYTHING there is art: the wrought iron on the windows, the tile work, the architecture, the doors, I wanted to paint it all,” says O’Connor. “This opportunity came up,  andI had to say ‘yes.’ It was serendipitous. The funny thing is, I have always considered myself a plein air landscape painter, but being in Marrakesh, in the oldest part the Medina, 8,ooo years old, it was all small alley ways, souks (marketplaces), so many people in such a small place. I was forced to paint in really tight corners! I had two jobs every day: one was to go out and prove just how much my French sucks and the other was to get lost! You go through humbly.”

O’Connor began her trek in the Medina, where she spent almost a week on her own, painting. One day she found herself wedged up in a small souk corner, people pushing by her in huge throngs, very intense for a solitary outdoor artist.

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Sycamore Magic; Letters From the Heart

Tomorrow is my sister Annie’s birthday. If she had been diagnosed with Stage One or Stage Two colorectal cancer at age 30, she might be on this earth with us, still. Instead, destiny determined that she be diagnosed with metasticized Stage Four cancer. Lest you think 30 is not a tender age, believe me, it is. This week Annie would be 46 years old.

Whenever Annie’s birthday approaches my thoughts of her increase, and I miss her more. She liked climbing trees, and tree houses–I have pictures of her in trees from her earliest years. Sycamores were always a favorite. Seeing them brings me back to our family’s early golden, free-roaming California days. We never tired of running our hands over a sycamore’s remarkable, puzzle-like surface. In its infinite shadings, pieces and patterns sycamore bark is a natural work of art. The tree’s feminine, arcing shape adds to its great, welcoming presence, and it is filled with light.

Recently, writer Terry Tempest Williams posted a YouTube video, a short story about “a tree, a memory and washing dishes.” The piece was made in partnership with the Center for Digital Storytelling, and it is lovely.  Here is the link. 

The latest, most powerful way Annie let us know she’s with us, sitting pretty in some cosmic director’s chair, has to do with Super Storm Sandy.

For 10 years, I held on to Annie’s dense, warm, hooded sheepskin coat. I never wore it but could not give it up. Dropping it off at Browse ‘n Buy or some other local thrift store felt too random. When Sandy happened, a voice whispered that this was the time to send Annie’s coat to a person in true need; Annie worked in social services much of her life. I wrote a letter~~~ “a message in a bottle”~~~ describing to the coat’s new owner who Annie was, how much she loved the coat, and that if it were possible for the recipient to write me a letter saying they had the coat, it would be forever cherished. I wished them well and prayed. I took Annie’s coat to the local team personally delivering collected warm garments to the east coast.

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Save the Wild Horses

A couple of weeks back, I posted that an equine film festival, “The Whinnies,” was coming to the  Jackson Hole Center for the Arts. As much as I love horses, I don’t get to spend much time around them, and horse ownership often connotes extreme wealth. Although that kind of elite equine community exists, horses’ presence in Jackson Hole and the Intermountain West is about heritage, Indian culture, ranching, and a working, agricultural, pioneering way of life. Bonds are strong and deep. Horses are healers. As a child in California, I was around horses a lot, both at home (remember our riding teacher Égon, anyone?) and at my summer camp. Sometimes we rode Western, sometimes English, but we loved the horses, learned how to care for them—-and for me, it was a matter of learning not to be afraid. Everyone with horses in their lives is extremely lucky indeed.

I meant to make it to the film festival’s opening, an opening that featured artwork by several of our best local artists. I didn’t get to the Center that evening, but the next day, I did. I viewed the artists’ exhibit and attended the film “Wild Horses & Renegades.” I understood it would be a hard film to watch, and it was. I had to cover my eyes a few times, and I wept. However, seeing the film is a choice I’m deeply grateful to have made.

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Morlock in Queens; 3/11 Tsunami Photo Project

Interior, a site-specific installation by Jackson Hole artist Suzanne Morlock, is part of “Project Space”, an exhibition at Queens College Art Center in Flushing, New York. On exhibit through June 30, 2011, the work is Morlock’s interpretation of what a “terrestrial landscape formed of spheres of newspaper-yarn might look like.”

Knitted newspaper curtains cover ‘Project Space’ windows, and Interior “compels viewers to press their noses against the room’s windowpanes in order to better see the interior of the room.” It’s all part of Morlock’s quest to engage viewers and elicit questions about space and its properties.

Morlock’s glittery gold knit Sweater is set for installation at California’s Charles Schulz Museum.  For more information about Suzanne Morlock and her work, visit

Just weeks after a massive earthquake and tsunami obliterated lives, livlihoods and landscapes in Japan, a group of international photographers has initiated the 3/11 Tsunami Photo Project. Established to aid the people of Japan, the project is available in an iPad application platform.

A statement from journalistic photographer Ryo Kameyama, taken from 3/11’s website:

“When the earthquake struck Japan, I was in the mountains in Mexico, and many villagers asked me, “Is your family all right?”

When I returned to town and saw the nuclear power plant exploding with white smoke on TV, I felt that it was time to return to Japan.

Spring had not yet arrived in the devastated areas, and when it snowed I was freezing cold. The tsunami ripped apart families and memories, and changed human behavior in the blink of an eye.

People who lost everything were trying to move forward, but at the same time were suffering unimaginably from an extreme sense of loss in the ravaged landscape. They were afraid that they might be forgotten as time passed.

A month after the disaster, people still have not found the bodies of their missing family members. Villages are still buried in the debris.

The nuclear power plant, promoted as an environmentally friendly way of generating power, has exploded several times.

It is time to fundamentally re-think the way Japanese society functions.”

Planners Imagine Haitian “Urban Evolution”; Origins Emerge at Teton Art Lab

necaribseishaiti-150x150Nicolai Ouroussoff’s March 31, 2010 article in the New York Times Arts Section brings to light a plan to reconstruct Haiti’s urban infrastructure by haiti-earthquake-rebuildbreaking up the population of over-crowded Port-au-Prince into smaller cities.   These compact towns, if realized, are termed “smaller urban growth poles,” and could dramatically change Haiti’s economic, social and political future.

If you haven’t already, you can click on the above link and read the entire article.  If you are short on time, here’s a bare-bones synopsis:

  • The new urban distribution plan centers on the idea that many smaller cities would be established in areas of Haiti least likely to be struck by natural disaster.  Port-au-Prince would no longer be the dominant city.  Currently, Port-au-Prince has almost no sewage treatment and its building code is “barely two pages long.”
  • Ouroussoff says these plans, still being developed, already best early rebuilding plans post-Katrina and post-Tsunami.
  • Haiti’s woes go back a century, when America began concentrating trade ops in Port-au-Prince, shutting down other existing Haiti ports.   By 1960, François Duvalier shut down any remaining ports in a bid for total political control via a single power base.
  • Over 20 years, the city’s population almost doubled, to 3 million people.  The “effect of the shift was an urban disaster – one that has put more and more pressure on the capital while draining the provinces of economic opportunity.”
  • The quake has made redistribution away from Port-au-Prince’s major fault line and its exposure to landslides and floods a logical step.   Thousands of the city’s buildings were destroyed, practically leveling it, as the world has seen.   Refugees have fled, moving to other regions ciesin_haitiof Haiti.
  • Planners hope relocation services like hospitals and schools will encourage re-establishment of new urban centers.  They propose organizing new buildings around public parks and the like, which would provide sorely needed civic center points.   Similar plans would be applied to rural areas, with farms surrounding central core services areas.   Public structures would be paid for by the government.
  • Light rail is proposed.  Earthquake debris (millions of cubic tons) would serve as shoreline landfill, that could be turned into parks.
  • One planner noted that “We should think in terms of the city’s urban evolution rather than large-scale development.”
  • Haiti planners need access to money and ideas; the University of Miami’s “new urbanism” proponents can advise.
  • Ouroussoff ends his article by observing that “….a connection between good urban planning ideas and political realities on the ground was never made (in New Orleans).  The best plans went nowhere.  Let’s pray that doesn’t happen in Haiti.”

Item #2:


University of Wyoming (UW) Adjunct Professor Nathan Abel’s print exhibition Origins, on display at Teton Art Lab May 7-31, also includes prints produced by members of the UW Print Exchange.

Besides being an accomplished artist, Abel is able to write with languid beauty about his work.   Working to connect with a father he has no conscious memory of,  Abel incubates his native landscapes, giving them new life that exists in binary-colored melancholy.

“In a time when oral history is diminishing I cling to the histories passed on to me by family members. My interpretation of those memories exist between the unconscious and the conscious mind. Through my work I explore the common ground that I feel I share with my father whom I never consciously knew. I utilize the rural landscape (where I grew up and still feel the most at home) in juxtaposition with integrated personal archetypes. The images exist as a dialogue between memories of the old family farm, photographs my father took, and my own personal narratives.”

Through his printing process, Abel is building what he calls a “dialog of history.”

“Wyoming” connotes thoughts of vast, wind blown space.   Memories, in pictorial and written forms, sift their way through the ages.   Abel is a highly conscious artist, taking history seriously.   This is the true road.