Magical Midwest Folk Art Tour

This photo essay is from a Summer road trip around the lower half of Lake Michigan. Mostly in search of the beach, I’ll be honest, but also as a scouting mission to find out what folk art presents itself along the way. My mind has been filtering for living traditions, hidden in plain sight. Decorative marks form visual languages, speaking to our relationship with the landscape, telling of the ways we are beholden to and in love with creation. Traumatized by our collective past, we’ve stopped making folk art like we used to, stopped celebrating nature due to a psychic disconnection from it – as though we have been shot into space. Disoriented, we can start bringing ourselves back down to Earth, grounding through interaction with our local ecologies and healing community by observing ancestral art forms. This is an exploration of current stories being actively translated into new symbolic expressions.

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Ovo: Limitless Potential

Every year Leprechauns, denizens of the fairy realm, magically appear mid-March on every conceivable printed surface. These symbols are used in commercial applications, to be sure, but I would posit that they are also the remnants of very old, earth-based wheel-of-the-year celebrations. The shamrock and cauldron representative of medicinal food plants, and gold at the end of the rainbow referencing the abundance of life returning to the Earth. After the rains and greenery return, so too do frisky bunnies and the product of their energies, the fertilized ovum.

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The Feminist Witch

There’s a lot that’s been said about the ‘Feminist Witch’ recently, from writers like Gala Darling, inspiring women to set positive intentions in our lives and practice radical self-love to the W.I.T.C.H. movement, hexing the patriarchy. We saw this reclamation of the mystical experience swelling quietly over the last few years, giving off subtle cultural indicators like a rekindled fascination with crystals and zodiac signs in pop imagery. While the influence of esoteric traditions feeding into these exoteric symbols has always ebbed and flowed (The late 1990’s & 2000’s saw a great interest in magic, and before that the 1980’s with artists like Genesis P-Orridge , late 1960’s and ’70’s counter-cultural movements, 1940’s Beat Generation, and 1920’s Spiritualism and the likes of Aliester Crowley.), but I don’t recall a timewhen magic has been used as such a symbol of girl power.

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Spells for Social Causes

Spells are closely related to prayers, asking for intervention on the part of a higher power (sometimes our higher selves), to achieve a desired outcome. Spellwork involves ritual actions and setting an intention. Even something as simple as guided meditation can be regarded as a ritual. Unconsciously, we cycle through common rituals throughout our day, observing without thinking about how they shape priorities, perceptions and inner lives. Encountering certain objects in the course of a day triggers prescribed actions: a coffee maker, a car or computer triggers a cascading series of events, one leading logically to the next. In this way, we are like fleshy liquids flowing around the built environment through time. So, can we reverse-engineer pauses or breaks to check our intentions and actions at regular intervals?

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