Category Archives: hearts

Inspiration: Watts Towers

IMG_0184 2Although I’ve visited LA many times, it took me years to make it to the amazing Watts Towers. When I finally did, I was awed. The towers and the whole compound (17 interconnected structures) were built over a period of 33 years (1921-1954) by an Italian immigrant named Simon (aka Sam) Rodia…in his spare time! As related to me by a tour guide, he suffered multiple losses, first his brother and then his daughter, became a reclusive alcoholic, and was finally abandoned by his family. He reemerged after some years, bought a narrow lot in Watts, and began to build (singlehandedly) this remarkable place.



IMG_0185 2

Rodia used scrap steel pipes, which he bent to shape by using the nearby railroad tracks as a vise. He covered them with wire mesh and mortar into which he embedded broken glass bottles, cracked tile, broken dishes, seashells, you name it. He worked in a nearby pottery factory and brought home damaged pieces to add to his work, and the neighborhood kids contributed by bringing him the junk they collected.




IMG_0182 2The ladder-like structures on the outside of the towers allowed him to climb with all his materials and tools, and he just kept adding rungs as he built higher and higher. The tallest towers are over 99 feet.



When I came back, I showed pictures of the towers to some of the teens I worked with in foster care. Rodia’s story of loss and recovery really spoke to them. They were greatly inspired by his work, and began to experiment with embedding found and collected objects into their clay pieces, enhancing the autobiographical aspect of their own work. One of my teen clients used heart imagery in all of her work and was particularly fond of working with clay. Seeing all the heart images incorporated into the tower structures, she felt a deep connection with Rodia, and the exposure to his work helped her to reach for more depth in her own work.

IMG_0183 2


watts 2

This is a good example of how incorporating exposure to the work of relevant artists can really deepen the art therapy experience. I have been able to arrange a few gallery and museum visits with clients, but photos and books can also do the trick.

You can find more info, photos, and videos here.

Brown paper grab bag

A random,  brown paper grocery bag-related grab bag:

1. I keep a stock of cut-open, rolled up grocery bags always. I often use them for drawing paper or other things when I’m working on some kind of project. But they’re also great to protect the table while I’m working with glue, paint, etc. Sometimes a bag gets spattered with paint while I’m working on top of it and looks so great (especially if I’m using my favorite metallic Lumiere paints) that it ends up getting added to my decorative paper stash. (Note the rolled up, used paper towels. If they’re relatively clean after I use them in the kitchen, I put them in the dryer for a few minutes and save them to reuse in the studio.)


2. The folds of the bags make some great shapes when they’re cut apart, and since the paper is strong, the bags can be very sculptural (like the Ilvy Jacobs Foldbags I mentioned in a post the other day). Here’s a castle made from a cut open bag. I glued some cardboard on the back walls to give it some extra strength.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA3. There are a lot of brown bags out there that have good designs and images. I have been collecting this store’s bags for years…


…and here’s a Valentine made from a heart that was printed on an old IGA bag. I wish they still made those heart bags.

heart4. A friend who has been following all these brown paper bag posts sent me this link to an engaging little video in which Milton Glaser and Cynthia Rowley talk about the role of brown paper bags in the early development of their art.

Have a heart

Heart: Capacity for sympathy or generosity; compassion.

Niki de Sainte Phalle

Heart: The repository of one’s deepest and sincerest feelings and beliefs.

Book of Hours c. 15th century

Heart: Courage; resolution; fortitude.

Keith Haring

Heart: The vital center and source of one’s being, emotions, and sensibilities.

Gabriel Orozoco

Happy Valentines day!

Three hearts

Three hearts, three different people, three different art materials. And each material serves to facilitate a deep expression of feeling.

The first is made with finger paints by an eight year-old girl. The daughter of a troubled couple, she has witnessed domestic violence and has made it her business to appear invisible so as not to get caught in the crosshairs. She is very quiet and constricted. Finger paints are an opportunity for her to break out, and she makes the most of it. Her heart is messy, full of blood, full of life.

AT collage3171

The next heart is drawn with markers by a ten year-old boy. He is also from a troubled home, but cannot be described as self-contained. He is talkative, rambling, all over the place. Markers, which are straightforward and don’t allow for much shading or nuance, help contain him, and he creates a powerful and straightforward image of his pain. (The image also seems to depict a physical penetration, and sends out a red flag for sexual abuse.)

AT collage3173

The third heart is created with colored sand by a foster mother. She is fostering her three grandchildren because her daughter is a drug addict and has deserted them. She is angry and full of complaints when she  enters the parent workshop, exhausted by the demands on her time by the agency, the schools, the courts. At the end of the group, I put out colored sand and ask each person to make a sand painting of something they would like to throw away. It is only after she finishes the image that she recognizes what she has created. She would like to get rid of her black heart. She tells us that she is filled with anger and heartbreak, terrified that her daughter won’t survive. She tosses her image away, and the group expresses support and hope that her sharing has made the load a little lighter for her. There are several other grandparents in the group in similar situations.