American theologian Frederick Buechner described a person’s calling as “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Dona Laurita, teaching artist for the Mizel Museum’s upcoming adult creativity workshop, has definitely found her calling. A fine art photographer, mixed media artist and educator, Dona shares her passion with others and, in so doing, encourages them to slow down and see the world differently, to surrender to experiences and process and to remain open to possibilities.
I was lucky enough to speak with Dona yesterday about her work, her passion for art and nature, and her thoughts on the upcoming workshop.
Perhaps best known as a photographer, Dona actually got her start as a poet. She explains, “My poetry became very visual; I was drawing a lot from my poetic work, and my words became very descriptive of the natural world, like painting a picture using words.” She began documenting the world around her with a camera, but her photography has always been – and still is – influenced by her love for writing. In her words: “My photography became poetic.”
For Dona, photography is a window into another world. “We have a lot of hard edges as humans in a world sometimes full of tragedy and pain,” she says. “Photography and art soften the edges.” Dona expresses a similar view of nature, as well. “Nature is my muse,” she says. “The natural world, even in the middle of a city, can take you places if you’re paying attention.”
In this Sunday’s workshop, Dona will guide participants through an exploration of the dimensions and expressions of place and memory, including the creation of “place-sake boxes.” These boxes, to be made using found objects, collage, photography, drawing and painting, serve to honor places of meaning in our lives.
“Place, as a theme, brings up a lot of emotions,” said Dona. “I love being able to go deep like that.” True to her nature-loving personality, Dona compares this experience to a compost pile. She says, “At the bottom, there are worms, and that’s where you’ll find the finest and richest dirt.” Dona says the workshop will ask people to “surrender to memory and recall that, trusting the tools I bring and the outlets I make available, so they can channel their memories. Then use art to take a journey into a visual realm.” She continues, “No matter if you’re young or old, stories are important,” said Dona.
Dona’s belief in the power of story is shared by the Mizel Museum staff and is evidenced in a number of joint programs. One great example is Stories Matter, a project with ninth and tenth graders at Noel Community Arts School that garnered Dona and the Mizel Museum a prestigious National Endowment for the Arts award. In this Sunday’s workshop, Dona will continue this focus on story with adult learners. She says, “We will weave our experiences into keepsakes.”
Dona’s workshop will ask these adult participants to “check the self judgment at the door,” she says, and “return to our intuitive selves where there aren’t layers of self-criticism or too much concern about the outcome over the process, the experience.” Dona hears from people all the time that they “aren’t creative.” She says original thought is what she’s after, and everyone has that innate ability. Examples, she says, can be found in architecture, in scientific discoveries, in everything.
One of her own examples comes from a yoga teacher training she participated in years ago. Dona tells a story of struggling to remain in a back bend: “I started crying, because it’s a heart-opening pose. I wanted to just crawl in a ball and cry. The instructor came over to me with a box of tissues and said, ‘Cry buckets if you need to, but you stay in that pose.’ As I stayed, the tears started to go away and all of a sudden the visual was white butterflies flying out of my heart. It was so amazing and transformative for me. That’s where I like to take people; If you go where it’s uncomfortable and get to the other side of it, something transformative happens: you create something that makes you feel unique and valuable. That becomes a little kernel that we have and can share with others.”
She asserts that shared experiences with art help to bring this out as well, as people begin to bounce ideas off each other and engage in conversation. “There’s something timeless about sharing creativity with others. “
In her work, Dona uses art to encourage and enable people to pay attention to the world around them. “I push individuals to see things differently,” she said. “We all come with a sense of creativity. And if I get people trusting their original thoughts, then I have done my job.”
Dona will lead the Mizel Museum’s Place-Sake Boxes: Memory’s Location workshop this Sunday from 1:00- 3:30 pm. She will hold more workshops in conjunction with the Mizel Museum later this year, including serving as the artist-in-residence for the Museum’s week long summer camp titled Mighty Middle School Girls.
Dona has a gallery in Louisville, whose mission is as follows: We are a gallery and art space specializing in photography, fine art, music, artist talks, readings, workshops, and whatever it takes to deepen the creative, thoughtful and beautiful things that life has to offer. Dona’s photography can be seen at www.donalaurita.com or on many of the Mizel Museum’s print materials.