Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jizo Bodhisattva Mosaic

Yesterday, I managed to get to a small business conference in East Olympia by the skin of my teeth. I dropped my daughter off at school and drove about 40 miles to the area that I expected to find the conference, based on the address. I got lost for a long time, but finally arrived about an hour and a half late. Enterprise for Equity, an organization that helps low income people start businesses (I went through their program 3 years ago) made it possible for me to attend by paying most of the fee. And my friend Tara offered to pick Anouk up from school in the afternoon so that I could stay for the whole program.

It was nice to put on clothes that weren't covered in adhesive and to venture out into the world. It felt validating to present myself as a business owner, a professional in my field. I was reminded of many key principles that I tend to ignore, like the importance of factoring profit into my pricing and tracking cash flow.

The last seminar of the day focused on using social media to promote business, and the speaker (Dave Bryant) discussed the use of networking sites and blogs to get attention. He said, "Every business should have a blog." Now, I have been posting on my blog, but I rarely address my work here. I do online networking with my mosaic colleagues and I post updates on my Facebook business page, but I will make more of an effort to write about my life as a working artist on this blog.

In August, I completed a new mosaic panel featuring the image of Jizo Bodhisattva. I have felt drawn to this symbol for about seven years now, but this is my first attempt to create it in mosaic. As a background for the story, I had moved from Seattle, where I had been a dancer in a troupe for about six years prior. Now, I was living a couple of hours drive from my friends, way out here in the sticks, and I was pregnant. One of the other dancers had a baby, and the baby had a heart condition. She underwent surgery, which seemed to be a success at first. But, she suddenly passed away, and when I heard this news, I was heartbroken. I spent a lot of time grieving by myself, for the sweet little 11-month old girl I had held and played with a few months earlier, and for my friend's unfathomable loss.

At the same time, it hit me that the baby growing inside of me was also a vulnerable little being, and how I was already changing, becoming fiercely attached to this child in a way that I had never felt about anything. I realized that, if anything this terrible happened to my baby, my life would be shattered.

During this time, I discovered the Jizo image, and it resonated strongly for me. Jizo is protector of women and children, guiding the passage between life and death, and he is a special symbol for parents who have lost children. I began painting Jizo images, wanting to manifest that sense of protection and peace. I framed one and gave it to my grieving friend, though I don't know if it offered any kind of solace for her. When my daughter was born, we planted her placenta with a Japanese Maple and placed a Jizo statue next to it.

Since then, I have loved the Jizo symbol. It is a simple image, conveying a serenity and acceptance that I aspire to. Finally, when I had some time to work on my own art (not commissioned), I made this piece. It is done onto a salvaged cupboard door using reclaimed stained glass. The skin tone is created with a really amazing glass that has an opalescence that you can really only see in person. The red attire is also opalescent. The simplicity and bright colors remind me of childhood innocence, while Jizo himself possesses a deep wisdom and calm.

Recently, a friend commented that she was surprised I would sell one of my mosaics that commemorates an experience from my travels. And it is true that it can be difficult to hand over a piece in which I am emotionally invested. At the same time, I feel unfulfilled if I only create decorative work. Most of my mosaics come from a very personal experience, and if I kept them all, I would not be in business. I do love when they are sold to friends, or customers with whom I keep in touch. I like seeing them again on occasion, or at least knowing who has them. I do have a hard time selling in galleries, where I am sent a check with no personal connection to the buyer. When someone buys my work, they take home a little part of me. (Literally- a good bit of my blood is embedded in each mosaic.)

So, now you know.


  1. just a small point really, but jizo is a bodhisattva and not a buddha, and in fact is helping all people and waiting for everyone before becoming a buddha himself. I love Jizo and am happy to your jizo art!