Reassurances Opens Today!


Sept. 12 – Oct. 17, 2014
Artist Reception: Oct. 16; 6:15 – 7:45 p.m.
Harmon Hall of Peace

WOW.  Very close to four years to the day since Tiffany Besonen and I first heard of Babylonian Incantation Bowls and started the conversation that led to a body of work reinterpreting them with our own words, forms, and images, an exhibit of our work opens at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA.  It is hard to believe that this idea has, with the support of many others, come to fruition in a way that allows us to expand our conversation to include others.

Last night, I taught a workshop in incantation writing (over Skype–a new experience!) to Cedar Crest students.  They will be creating their own incantation bowls, and displaying them alongside ours in the LaChaise Gallery.  Tiffany and I love the idea of including these student works, of opening our work to the community and having others add their magic to help all of us face and heal our fears.  Because that’s what this work is, really:  a community effort to step out of fear and into peace, to face what burdens us and free ourselves, to put the forces that work against our higher purposes on notice that we will be in charge now and they can step aside.

Tiffany and I will be traveling to Allentown in about a month, and we will get a chance to see what these students have created and to talk to them about what we’ve created.  It’s a conversation we can’t wait to have.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How to Train Your Culture, Part 1

This week I had my granddaughters with me for a few days. One of the things we did was to go and see “How to Train Your Dragon, Part 2.” I went in expecting to just tolerate it, to get through it because it would entertain them.
That’s not how it went. I loved the movie, and two days later I can’t stop thinking about it. If you haven’t seen the movie, SEE IT. Today. Kids or no kids.   Be warned, there are spoilers in this post, so read now or read after you see it, but please see the movie!

I have to admit that the battle scenes, and the good vs. evil plot points were pretty standard and I just tolerated them. But the interpersonal relationships, especially where gender roles and male/female power in relationships are concerned, were truly extraordinary. I’ll skip the more general plot and just discuss those points.

“Stoic” is the chief of a Viking clan that has learned to tame and ride dragons (after centuries of trying to wipe them out). He is big and burly with a loud voice and a commanding tone. He is trying to force his slight, sensitive son (Hiccup) into being chief. Hiccup does not want this, but he feels he can’t tell his father. So right away the father is cast in the traditional way: forceful, demanding, and unwilling to listen.

Hiccup’s mother, Valka, has been gone since she was taken by a dragon just after his birth. Little is said of her, until, miraculously, Hiccup finds her. The first time we see her, we don’t know who she is. She is wearing a fearsome mask, standing on the back of a flying dragon, lifting her spear into the air. Valka, indeed! She is terrifying and powerful. When she removes her mask, we are shocked to see that she is a beautiful woman. Traditionally, this is the point at which she would reveal her weakness, her “femininity,” and explain how hard she has worked to be in a man’s world, even disguising herself as male. Not in this movie. Valka is a warrior goddess, fiercely presiding over a sanctuary for rescued dragons. There is an evil band kidnapping dragons and forcing them into servitude. She has been their rescuer, fighting and winning against the forces of evil, all by herself.

There is the requisite touchingly emotional reunion between mother and son, but then Valka reveals that she could have returned, but chose not to because at the time her husband Stoic, the chief, believed that dragons were the enemy and was intent on wiping them out. Valka knew that dragons were sensitive souls, and gave up everything to devote her life to saving them.

So this is where it gets interesting. A woman giving up everything, including her husband and her child, for her principles? Women aren’t allowed to do that, are they? Men have done it for centuries and have been applauded for it. Think of all the teary scenes of men leaving their families to go off to battle to defend some principle or the other. Are there any recriminations? Does anybody say “What is he thinking leaving his children? How selfish!” No, we praise the sacrifice and the strength and bravery he shows. But women can’t do this, can they? And if they do, surely they will be punished and be filled with regret and shame, right? (cue Ibsen’s A Doll’s House here).

Then Stoic arrives. He has made one semi-disparaging remark about his missing wife previously (“His mother couldn’t stay in one place for long, either”) reinforcing the image of the missing mother as flighty, irresponsible, and not properly “in her place.” So, when he sees Valka, we expect recriminations, anger, disbelief. Instead, after a pregnant pause, Stoic runs to her, embraces her, and gushes with love for her. There is not a shred of anger, or blame. I cannot tell you how it hit me to see a strong, powerful, not-always-sensitive male figure in a movie—a children’s movie!– showing emotion and not having it depicted as him “giving in” somehow to emotions that he is trying to fight off, or becoming weak in the face of love. There is love, but Stoic is not weak. And neither is Valka. He respects the accomplishments she has made in her absence, and understands. He welcomes her with open arms, and the love story between them gets more and more tender as the movie goes on.

By far my very favorite moment of the movie occurs just after Stoic and Valka’s surprising reunion. The forces of evil are about to attack the sanctuary she has spent her life building. Stoic looks up at the encroaching horde, pauses, looks at Valka and says “What should we do?” She says “Fight!” and they launch into battle.

OK. Wait. What? The big, strong he-man just asked his wife what to do about a situation that is in “his” area of expertise? And then went with her answer unquestioningly? He deferred to her out of respect for her and recognition of something that was her accomplishment alone? With not a shred of resignation or condescension? Whoa. Paradigm shift.

I have not thought about a movie this much in a very long time. And I have not enjoyed a children’s movie in even longer. Children’s movies generally reinforce every gender role stereotype, and reduce people and situations to their very simplest outlines. Yes, we have started to have female main characters, and powerful ones. But if all we do is flip the script, and make the girls powerful at the expense of the boys, what have we gained? In this movie, the power is truly shared, the male and female characters are true equals, and strength can accommodate love and emotion without being diminished.

More of that, please.



1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Creativity and What Draws Me

From the first day I met Tiffany Besonen, I hoped we’d be friends.  I had known of the great work she was doing teaching middle school art, as my children were her students and brought home fantastic, creative work, but we hadn’t really met beyond a quick conference or meeting at an open house.  Then she changed jobs and showed up across the hall from my classroom, transforming students into artists and making them THINK in a whole new way.  I was attempting to do the same, and our students were blossoming (some of them, anyway).  The two of us, too, were encouraging and supporting each other in our creative endeavors, and eventually in our lives in general.  The collaborations that have resulted have been my best work, certainly, and I think the project we are working on now will be some of Tiffany’s best.  I know that ideas are coming fast and developing well, and it’s pushing both of us in a really good way. Her drawing of a fox and a crow with bound mouths brings up so many thoughts and feelings for me, about times I didn’t speak, times I couldn’t speak, and the silence that binds us to those who have their own unspoken secrets.

  Read more about Tiffany’s thoughts and see the sketch here:


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

More Progress Toward Reassurance

Tiffany Besonen is making great and wonderful progress toward our upcoming exhibit of Reassurances:  Incantation Bowls, Reimagined at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA, September and October, 2014.  Read more about her process HERE.  Meanwhile, take in these fantastic images.  I’m just blown away by them.

against want abacus clack

against want constant weighingagainst want series3against want see them not seeing us

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

It’s Official–Incantation Bowls Exhibit

twins detail2Now that the contract is in hand, I can announce that Reassurances; Incantation Bowls, Reimagined will have its debut gallery exhibition at  Lachaise Gallery, Cedar Crest College, Allentown, PA, September 12-October 17, 2014, with a closing reception and artists’ talk on October 16, 2014.  There will be a workshop, as well (more info TBA).  The show will include other work by Tiffany Besonen.  Tiffany is making great progress on the bowls, and I encourage you to follow her blog, here. Today’s post has to do with the image from the bowl pictured here, and with the way crows are manifesting in this project.

The creation of her images has added a whole new dimension to the poems I’ve written.  Conversations have started  between words and images that we created, yet we are somehow not part of these conversations.  They take on a life of their own, and we are merely observers. That is the beauty of collaboration, and of the mixing of media.

The culmination of this long project is both exciting and terrifying to imagine.  Will people get it?  Will the project spark the kinds of thought processes about fears and protection and history and gender roles (and so many other ideas) in viewers as it has in us? Time will tell, I guess.  We hope that the exhibit will travel, and that a new kind of work will begin for us–a new dialogue, not just between the two of us, as it has been throughout this process,  but with viewers and listeners, questioners and sharers. We look forward to that broader conversation.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

It’s really happening!

litany 3 bowlsAfter two years, and much planning, dreaming, and work, Reassurances: Incantation Bowls, Reimagined is getting ready for its debut.  We are pretty sure (contracts in the works) that the collection will be exhibited in Pennsylvania in October of this year. It is truly amazing to think back to the inception of this crazy idea (read more here and here) and to realize that Tiffany Besonen and I have actually made it happen, with the help of the Minnesota State Arts Board, Region 2 Arts Council, and a number of individuals, most notably Jennifer Heath, who was there when we had the idea, helped us talk it out,  and has supported it all along.  Jill Odegaard  is doing the same now, helping us finalize all the moving parts, and helping us imagine new moving parts.

The bowls pictured are smaller, more fragile ones, each with one line of a poem called “Litany”–a list of my wishes, for myself and for the world. The small bowls are as beautiful as the big ones, and their fragility echoes the fragility of my hopes.  Both require careful handling.

I am continually amazed at the way Tiffany’s visual images enhance and expand my understanding and appreciation of my own words.  Writing poetry is such a mystical process, and writing these incantations has been even more so.  Listening to Tiffany’s process of thinking, and seeing how her imagery has evolved–now crow and fox are emerging as themes, with all their mythical, metaphorical and symbolic richness–has made my own process deeper and more meaningful.  This is the beauty of collaboration.  The work of the collaborators intertwines and informs itself and becomes something wholly different than the component parts alone.

Stay tuned for more definite news, and thanks for being interested.

LouAnn Muhm is the recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State’s arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on Nov. 4, 2008.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Poetry Inspired by Art (online class)

Just a quick note to say that I will once again be teaching the 8-week, online course “Poetry Inspired by Art” through The Loft Literary Center.   Here’s a description, and a link to register.  Love to see you there!

Poetry Inspired by Art


Location: Online

Ages: Adult

Reg $312.00 | Mem $280.80 | Low inc. $312.00

Looking for inspiration for your poetry? This is the class for you! Poets from John Keats to Rita Dove have written poems responding to art. The formal name for this kind of poetry is Ekphrasis. In this class, the emphasis will be on generating new poems. Each week, prompts from various genres of art will be provided. No special knowledge of art is required—students will write whatever the prompt inspires them to write, whether in direct response to the artwork, or in response to their own ideas and experiences brought up by the artwork. Students will generate from 8-16 new poems, give and receive feedback on the first drafts, and get a start on revising.

No class the week of July 4.

Enter Early Bird Promo Code EBSUOL1403 by May 15, 2014 and receive $20 off the regular and member class price. Promo codes only valid for online registrations.

Register here: (link at the bottom of the page)

About the Teaching Artist(s)

LouAnn Shepard Muhm is a poet and teacher from northern Minnesota. Her poems have appeared in Dust & Fire, The Talking Stick, North Coast Review, Alba, Red River Review, Eclectica, qarrtsiluni, and CALYX, and she was a finalist for the Creekwalker Poetry Prize (2007) and the Late Blooms Postcard Series (2007). Muhm was a recipient of the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant in Poetry in 2006 and 2012, and has been featured twice in the What Light poetry series on, sponsored by the McKnight Foundation and the Walker Art Museum. Her chapbook, Dear Immovable, was published in 2006 by Pudding House Press, and her full-length poetry collection Breaking the Glass (Loonfeather Press, 2008) was a finalist for the Midwest Book Award in Poetry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized