By Sue Caulfield

In the mid-1990s, I began going on group retreats.  A few of these were part of the Wild Women retreat series, facilitated by Pam Poley and Hope Kerr, while others were silent retreats.  It was at one of the Wild Women retreats that I got my inspiration for the piece that is the focus of this article.  Pam and Hope did a masterful job of creating a welcoming and supportive retreat environment.  While the retreat would focus on challenging ideas, such as the shadow side of life or the ways in which women carry shame, the retreat experience was one that lent support to a process of going inward, reflecting, processing and reintegrating with the external world.  These circles of women became important turning points in my own process of discovery and growth.  I believe it was at one of these retreats that I first learned of a book that would soon become one of my favorites – Circle of Stones: Woman’s Journey to Herself, by Judith Duerk.

Throughout Circle of Stones, Duerk repeats what becomes a mantra:  “How might your life have been different if…? On page 17, she writes:  “How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you…a place of women, where you were received and affirmed?  A place where other women, perhaps somewhat older, had been affirmed before you, each in her time, affirmed, as she struggled to become more truly herself.”

It was at the end of one of those retreats, when we were in our closing circle, that we received the following instructions:  we were each to say out loud a word that represented part of the weekend’s experience.  Before we spoke, we were asked to imagine that these words would become a virtual quilt, one in which we could wrap ourselves whenever we wanted to remember the experience of the retreat.  For me, this became powerful imagery; indeed, instead of a quilt, I imagined a cape made out of these words, a project that may yet come to fruition.  We took our turns, sharing the words of our work together.  Those words included:  strength, blessing, soul, community, sisters, trust, drumming, water, authentic, stories, wild, spirit, listening, knowledge, light, meaningful, medicine, protect, community, web, vision, bones, love, solitude, grateful and many more.  At least that is my memory of the words, as no one was writing them down.  We were sharing them as a group and integrating them into our lives before we left the circle.

At that point in my life, one of my favorite art forms was collage.  I had been introduced to collage at a silent retreat and found it spoke to me.  It was an art form that worked for me.

While I left that Wild Women retreat thinking I would sew myself a cape of these words, something else occurred instead.  I soon found myself creating a collage of that experience, a piece titled “Soul Of A Woman.”  This next image is that piece, still in the collage book.

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In 2010, I wanted to represent that piece with screen printing.  However, that piece has a great number of different colors in it, some colors representing just a small part of the overall image.  To print this in color would require dozens of screens and incredible detail in the registration of the printing (registration is the process by which the design stays matched up with each additional screen printing layer, which is required when screen printing with more than one color).  I thought the image powerful enough to use as a black and white print and created a screen.  As I noted in Chapter 3 (posted January 18, 2014), to create a screen using the photo emulsion process, I need the image on a transparency.  Large transparency sheets, especially as used in a photocopy machine, are hard to come by, which means I am often limited to printing partial images on multiple transparencies and then matching them back up before I burn the image onto a screen.  In the case of this image, I opted to use one transparency, rather than attempt to match up multiple images, which means that not all of the original art work is represented on the screen.  While the screen for this print does not capture the entire image, it does capture the essence of the image.  One example of that print is here:

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To date, I have created only two of these Soul Of A Woman prints.  I have experimented with creating a color image by using a transfer process.  However, because the original piece of art (the collage) is 11 by 17 inches, using the transfer process requires me to scan half the image, print the two halves of the image and then try to reconnect the two halves in the transfer process.  To date, I have not been able to match the two halves successfully.

This piece resonates with my own soul and I know it has resonated with the souls of other women.  Indeed, about six weeks after the end of that retreat, the women gathered for an evening and each was presented with her own copy of the collage.  This piece represents an actual experience of mine and, at the same time, creates new experiences for others. Perhaps that is true of most soul work.  While it seems uniquely ours, it is universal.