I recently signed up for Barb Kobe’s “Medicine Dolls: How to Make Healing Dolls for Yourself.” teleclass and I am going to document my experiences in this blog. I have admired Barb’s dolls and her class for years. I have looked at Barb’s site and her dolls longing to experience her teachings, but would never give myself permission to take them because I felt I had to stay focused on creating workshops for kids. I see that it has been silly to wait so long and realize the value me having this experience will have on teaching the kids in my workshops. So, at the beginning of this month, having sold some artwork, I finally have allowed myself to do this. I am excited for the experience and look forward to it enhancing my abilities as a teacher and art therapist.
When I signed up for the class, and emailed Barb, she in turn looked at my website and said she would like me to share my experience with leading the Medicine Man/Woman workshop, so I am sharing that here. I included an image of the example I created for this workshop, along with a jpeg of an article fro The Virginian Pilot, our local paper. Additionally,here is a link to the local news article about the workshop: http://hamptonroads.com/2008/07/healing-power-medicine-dolls.
The spiritual and therapeutic value of doll making lead to me to create the “Medicine Man/Woman” workshop. Designed for children who are dealing with trauma and loss, the idea is to make an embodiment of healing. I teach the kids about the shamans of different cultures, the symbolism used by different cultures, and then encourage them to create their own Medicine Man/Woman. We talk about creating our own personal symbolism and express it by creating talismans that we attach to our Medicine Man/Woman. Kids learn how to build a 14” tall wire armature and they create a face, hands, feet and talismans with polymer clay. For clothes, they use a yarn wrapping technique that I developed for the project.
The Medicine Man/Woman workshops are nonprofit, and grant funded, thus required to run for only 6 – 8 weeks and meeting for only 2 hours a week. I had to come up with a way to reach out to people struggling with overwhelmingly difficult situations in a short span of time and wanted to leave them with something substantial while not opening them up too much, leaving them vulnerable and raw. I knew I would have kids from all walks of life, many who had negative perceptions of counseling and social services. I had to create something meaningful, fun and nonthreatening and I was nervous. I felt very insecure the first time I ran the Medicine Man/Woman workshop, especially about how the males would respond to creating what was essentially a doll.
Surprisingly, even the boys are responsive to creating a Medicine Man/Woman and take the project to heart—these kids haven’t responded to other therapies and engage in many self destructive behaviors. At first I expected a cold reception, but I find as they make their Medicine Men/Women, the kids talk about their difficulties with coping. For many, it is the first time they have discussed what happened to them and it is an important opportunity for them to share with others who have experienced the same things.
My Medicine Man/Woman workshop has been many places, including a hospitals, day programs, support groups and school settings. Dolls from children in my workshop in Newark Hospital in New Jersey have not only been shown in the hospital gallery, but were also part of a touring exhibit. Since my move to Chesapeake, VA , I have run the workshops in Portlock Galleries, who gave the kid’s a show which received the above mentioned press in the paper, This press was very validating for the kids and I was happy to see how proud they were of their creations.
I am always surprised that the kids respond to the workshops because they have been through so much and are often so jaded. I would love to share photos of the kids’ creations, but only have permission to share the ones in the above mentioned article. I can share what some of the kids had to say and have included them here. I have also included what they are doing now, not because I can claim all the credit, but because their stories seem so hopeless but had hopeful endings.
To respect privacy and safety, I am using initials:
J “Alpha” (10 years old, terminal lymphoma): “I am dying. My mother and father will not talk about it and I can’t let them know that I know. Alfy (medicine man) is someone I can tell anything. Someone who is ok to hear that I am afraid, but I am ready.” J passed away a month after the workshop, but created another medicine man for his parents before his passing. His mother told me it was called “Eternal” as says that it gives both her and J’s father comfort.
L “Evergreen” (9 years old, recovering from leukemia): “Evergreens are always green. That means they are always healthy and growing. He will help me to never be sick again. I will be evergreen.” L is 14 years old and says he is writing a graphic novel about his experience.
M “Damien” (14 years old, recovering from leukemia) “That’s a dark name, I know it is. But he has been in a dark place and he is the only one who has been in the same dark place that I have been. My parents were going to name me Damien, but I guess they changed their minds”. M has a recurrence of leukemia, but is now recovering. His mother said that he is back and school and “chasing girls”.
C “Grandma” (12 years old): “My Medicine Woman is my grandmother. She died two years ago and I miss her. I could talk to her. My parents died in a car accident before Christmas and I can talk to her about it. Other people don’t like to hear about it or they want to hear more that I want to say.” C is in now in foster care and says he is doing well.
A “Destiny” (10 years old; father murdered her mother, now in foster care): “Her name is Destiny. Just like Destiny (pop singer) she is talented and she makes me want to sing. I used to love to sing, but I haven’t in a long time. It is time for me to start to sing. She is waiting with open arm for me to sing again.” A was hospitalized when she was in my workshop, but is living with her grandparents and singing in her church choir.
S “Lost Love” (13 years old; father and mother murdered in car jacking 2 months previous to workshop): “She is a lost soul too, but she has a direction to go in. Maybe she can show me.”
S found out she was pregnant when she was in my workshop. She is now living with her grand parents with her baby, has reinvested herself in her education, and plans to become a nurse.
M “Unknown” (12 years old, sister of S) “He is mysterious. I don’t know if he can help me, but he might try. Its nice for him to try.” M is also living with her grandparents and says she has her sad days, but is doing better in school and has joined the school art club.
A “Beatrice” (12 years old, mother abandoned, now if foster care). “She loves me no matter what I do. Her arms open only for me. I have a place with her”. A is still in foster care, but likes the home he is living in. His foster parents are in the process of adopting him.
L “Tagged” (16 years old, in juvenile detention). “I used to tag everything. But that’s not why I got busted. He is my ultimate tag. He is me in 20 years, back from the future to guide me. I want to do better things and he stands for the better things I can do.” L got his GED and says he loves his job working in a grocery store.
T “Only Friend” (17 years old, executed both grandmother and grandfather-both suspected pedophiles-, in juvenile detention awaiting adult sentencing). “I am never getting out of here. Everyone here is afraid of me, but they don’t know what happened to me. I didn’t want to do what I did. I have no friends here. Nowhere anywhere. I can’t keep myself safe and I can’t keep other people safe from me”. T graduated from high school,is attending community college and says he is making friends.
I learned a lot running the workshops, especially from the strength that the children have—strength I am not sure that I would be able to muster. I am lucky to be a witness to their striving and in turn try to strive harder to be better in my life. It has been a gift for these kids to show me their true selves and have appreciated them allowing me into their lives.
I am getting ready to run a workshop for military children and their families in December, and hope that I can provide them with a healing experience. I can’t wait to share my experiences and dolls from Barb’s workshop and look forward to the learning and growth that will enable me to be a better teacher and art therapist.