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The Nature of Loss: Transforming Grief Into Beauty with Earth Art Mandalas

Internationally renowned earth artist Day Schildkret of @morningaltars brought his nature-based practice to Lakewood for a second time this past July to help transform grief into beauty and honor the impermanence of life.

Mandala from above

The centerpiece of the event was a free, interactive public art installation on the lawn near Lakewood’s historic mosaic chapel.

We caught up with Day, who is based in California but a nomad of the globe, for a quick Q&A about his work.

Q: How did you start making nature mandalas?

A: I’ve always felt a connection to nature. When I was a kid, after a rainstorm, I would go out to the pavement and rescue the worms and return them to the earth and grass in our yard. Later in life — after a difficult breakup — I was walking my dog one day when I spotted some mushrooms, eucalyptus bark leaves and twigs along the trail, and I instinctively began to arrange them into a pattern on the ground. Afterwards my grief felt lighter. The next day on my walk, I created another earth design along the trail, and I vowed to keep doing it for 30 days to ease my pain. Soon people noticed and wanted to know more. And eventually @morningaltars was born. I am honored that what began on a morning dog walk has turned into an international movement that has inspired tens of thousands of people to forage, build and be awed by earth art. This has become a spiritual practice that renews people’s relationship with nature, creativity and impermanence.

Q: What drives or inspires you?

A: As an artist, my eye is often drawn to the fallen and my hands yearn to resurrect and redeem that which is considered valueless. By foraging local objects that have been discarded to the earth — feathers, leaves, flowers, sticks and bones — and reassembling these objects, colors, textures and shapes into new patterns, I’m seeking to deepen our reverence and connection to the inherent beauty of both life and death.

Q: Speaking of death, is a cemetery an unusual place to bring your work and practice?

A: Cemeteries are a perfect place for this ephemeral art. All life is impermanent and fleeting — and so is my artwork. Morning Altars is a practice that remembers life’s transitions and makes meaning with them through devotional art. Recently, a family came to one of my workshops in tremendous grief. Their daughter died a month beforehand and they were completely overwhelmed with their heartbreak. This practice offered them an opportunity to remember their daughter and make beauty with their loss. It offered them courage in the face of despair, reverence in the face of grief, and wonder in the face of uncertainty. They brought this practice to their daughter’s gravesite as a way to remember her life and her death in beauty.

Q: What are your thoughts about coming to Lakewood?

A: The history of Lakewood Cemetery and the magnitude and beauty of the gardens and grounds there offers a wonderful natural canvas from which I can gather materials — flowers, leaves, stones and more — for my art installation. My hope is that everyone who attends this event will experience the beauty of making an earth connection to help ease the burden of grief, as they honor and remember their loved ones.

To learn more about Day Schildkret and @morningaltars, go to www.morningaltars.com.

The Midsummer Memory Mandalas event is part of our Lakewood Experience Series, where we are exploring more meaningful ways to remember our loved ones and celebrate life. From the new Living Memory Tree to our annual Lantern Lighting Celebration, Lakewood is at the forefront of reimagining how we approach death and remembering. We hope you will join us!

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