By Sue Caulfield
I referred to the labyrinth in my last article and promised to discuss it in more detail. The labyrinth image I use is of the labyrinth in Chartres, France, a labyrinth I walked as the primary purpose of a pilgrimage I took in October 2008. Lauren Artress writes about the labyrinth: “an ancient mystical tool that can help us prepare ourselves for the ‘transformation of human personality in progress’ and accomplish a ‘shift in consciousness’ as we seek spiritual maturity as a species.” Furthermore, “the labyrinth is a spiritual tool meant to awaken us to the deep rhythm that unites us to ourselves and to the Light that calls from within.” (Walking A Sacred Path, 1995)
I first read Artress’ book in 1998, while vacationing on Mackinac Island, having purchased the book at the Island Book Store. Yes, I remember that much detail, because her book is one of the most important books of my life. I was immediately drawn in by this book and the idea of walking this ancient mystical tool. I remarked to my travel companion that I would one day walk this labyrinth in Chartres, France. It took ten years to realize that dream.
Fortunately, a woman I met on retreat in the spring of 2008 told me that the labyrinth is open to the public only one day of the week (she thought on Saturday). Open means the labyrinth is not covered with chairs, allowing the public to walk the labyrinth. The rest of the time, more than 200 chairs line up across the labyrinth, as Chartres Cathedral is a working cathedral. This woman told me to contact Mr. Malcolm Miller, as he leads the tours. I emailed Mr. Miller – good thing – and learned that the labyrinth was open on Fridays, not Saturdays [by the way, Mr. Miller has been leading these tours since the year of my birth – 1958!]. This is Mr. Miller:
That impacted my travel plans, as the raison d’être for the trip was to make this pilgrimage to the labyrinth. I arrived in Paris on a Thursday, stayed one night, and took the train to Chartres early Friday morning. As soon as I emerged from the train station, I could see the spires of the Cathedral. I felt the pull, dropped off my bag at my pension and headed directly there.
If I could hang from the ceiling of the Chartres Cathedral,I would see the labyrinth as a circle, such as in this image:
However, the image that most resonates with me is the angled image that I use in my prints, as it represents the way in which I encountered the labyrinth.
A labyrinth is not something to be observed from on high. It is a mystical tool to be entered into and walked. Others in the cathedral were quickly walking the path of the labyrinth, while others were rushing back and forth across it, with no attention to the paths contained within it. A feature of the Chartres labyrinth, not true of all labyrinths, is that the path in is the same as the path out. I entered the labyrinth and slowly wound my way to the center, paused briefly, and walked my way back out of the labyrinth. I returned later that day and walked it more slowly, more deliberatively, and spent more time at the center, a place for reflection and prayer.
Prior to this pilgrimage to Chartres, most of my printmaking art consisted of words. When I returned from Chartres, I knew that the labyrinth needed to be printed. During the first part of 2009, I developed the screen and began to make small pieces. The original prints were usually 12” by 18” and contained a small labyrinth, such as that seen here:
My art centers on the creation of meditative wall hangings and the ones that include the labyrinth became some of my most popular creations. This speaks to me of the power of this ancient tool. In 2011, I wrote a grant to expand the work I did with the labyrinth, with the intention of creating a much larger labyrinth, one that might more powerfully draw in the observer. This grant led to an art exhibit titled “Through the Labyrinth” and included several pieces where not only was the labyrinth image much larger than before (now nearly thirty inches wide), but in several pieces, the labyrinth was printed on a gossamer type fabric, allowing for greater depth as one observed the image of the labyrinth.
As I noted in the article I wrote, titled “The Story of Hope,” an earlier series of my work focused on community and the use of words and colors to inspire observers to reflect on how all of us interact with and hold each other. The later series of labyrinths took this work to a different level – encouraging the observer to tap into their inner wisdom and ancient connections as they contemplate their being in the world.
Their titles, in order: Veil Between the Worlds, Willingness #2, Transcending, Ancient Pathways and Go with the Flow.
The one depicted far left, top row, was accepted into the 2012 West Michigan Area Show and won an award for fiber-based art. It lives with two friends of mine here in Kalamazoo. The one next to it lives with two other friends here in Kalamazoo, while the last one in the series lives with a friend in the Pacific Northwest. The other two are still waiting for their owners to find them.
When I was commissioned to create an art wall for the Integrative Holistic Health and Wellness program at Western Michigan University, in honor of its 30th anniversary, I knew the labyrinth would be the focal point of the pieces. For this piece, I first created a sun print using grasses from my garden and then screen printed the labyrinth onto that hand-dyed fabric. This piece is an extension of the work I did with “Through the Labyrinth,” as the sun print base allowed for even more depth, even more opportunity to journey into the imagery. This piece was accepted into the 2013 West Michigan Area Show, now resides at the College of Health and Human Services and is depicted here:
I continue to make pieces with the labyrinth image. Many of these are part of my “Go With the Flow” series, which depicts labyrinths flowing in rivers through wooded areas. One such piece looks like this:
I believe that art with labyrinths is popular because of the draw of the labyrinth. There is a mystical nature to it, a nature that calls one inward, calls one to reflect. The labyrinth at Chartres was built around the year 1200. It is built into the cathedral, through the laying of hundreds and hundreds of large stones. It is clearly something of great import to people and it draws people from around the world. To walk through a labyrinth of this nature is a mystical experience, one that I shall never forget and one that I shall continue to share.