Sarah Crooks Chats About Decent; Dissent; Descend: Into the Springs of RED Pearl River at Jax Makerspace

Sarah Crooks, Photo by Natalie McCray

Ties and Knots, Jax Makerspace, Jacksonville Public Library

The turning of the New Year inspires rebirth, renewal and rediscovery through a cleansing of the spirit and affecting positive change. To get the year started off fresh, explore personal agency and the healing power of water with ecofeminist artist Sarah Crooks who will be hosting a creative engagement workshop Jan. 12 at the Jacksonville Main Library Makerspace. Participants will create a personal narrative drawing in mixed media illustrating their own story using recycled materials. Crooks based the concept for the workshop on her own tapestry drawing entitled “Decent; Dissent; Descend: Into the Springs of RED Pearl River,” the fourth and final tapestry drawing of the series. RED is an acronym for “Redirecting my Energy Daily,” which Crooks defines as shifting personal patterns back to source. That pattern might be shifting from depression to expression, from consumption to creativity, from despair to joy.

Crooks is certified as a Florida Master Naturalist in 2014 and trained as a Botanical Illustrator at the New York Botanic Gardens to stay rooted in nature. EU Jacksonville spoke with Crooks about the impetus for her art, the transcendental nature of water and celebrating the little rituals that “transform humble materials into reminders of our wholeness.”

The concept for your upcoming workshop is “exploring personal agency and the healing power of water.” How did you arrive at that concept and why did you select “Decent; Dissent; Descend: Into the Springs of RED Pearl River” selected as the foundation for the workshop?

“My personal exploration of RED Pearl River (RPR) has evolved over the last eight years. Springs historically have been a place of renewal and as such were held as sacred by indigenous peoples worldwide. The fresh water belonged to everyone and could not be held under title of ownership. They were sacred sites of reconciliation. They also represent a descent into the internal chambers of the earth on a geologic level. On a spiritual level, they are about passage through the Dark Night of The Soul,” she says.

“Fundamental to transforming personal agency is the examination of our own story of cause and effect. I believe humanity is going through a Dark Night and our actions have caused a 60% decline in biodiversity worldwide since the 1970’s. Ponce de Leon’s quest after all was to own the Fountain of Youth, and that mentality continues today global plunder of water, land and beings both human and non-human. In order to make the “Great Turning” as philosopher Joanna Macy calls it, we must reexamine our history personally and collectively and mourn our losses, in order to re-pattern a relationship based on reciprocity. Art-making can be a direct way to see this in action.”

Participants will use mixed media to create a personal narrative drawing centered on that theme. How has water served as a healing power for you and what materials would you use to convey that expression?

Water is our essential nature. Our bodies are 67% water plus or minus a few drops. Our first home was in the water of our mothers’ womb. Emotions are conducted through water as they glide through our spirits, we release them as tears. We all have a story, and the transformative power of water as the great solvent can help us transcend, wear away, erode – dissolve the boundaries that separate us from ourselves and each other. That is the work of Water. We will use materials that resist and accept water.”

Sarah Crooks, Photo by Natalie McCray, Ties and Knots, Jax Makerspace, Jacksonville Public Library
Sarah Crooks, Photo by Natalie McCray

When/how did you first discover your connection to nature?

I first became aware of being aware of celebrating “nature” as a child sloshing knee deep in a drainage ditch.

Does nature lead to art or did art guide you to nature? Where do they intersect?

My desire to communicate my inner experience led me to be an artist. I always have tried to connect people to the world that lives around us which we often are moving too fast to appreciate. As an explorer, I use individual natural elements like a weed or an oyster, as a gateway to open a dialogue with my own personal experience through deep contemplation through the physical activity of art making and then build upon the metaphors that naturally arise.

Did Botanical Illustration inform a deeper appreciation for natural elements?

I studied Botanical Illustration when I lived in New York in the late 1990s as a method to learn how to draw accurately and to reconnect with plants in a very urban landscape. The careful looking, one-on-one rendering and attention to detail gave me the tools to communicate things seen and unseen more clearly. I have a large graphite drawing, Homage To A Full Moon Rising, currently on display at the Museum of Science and History which has some really beautifully rendered botanical portraits.

Describe the impetus for creating the Wild Woman Wood Stork alter ego. What does she embody that you don’t in daily life?

I created her as part of the Waterspirit Rises street performances in 2014-15, based on the second RPR tapestry drawing Beasts of Burden. She was the character that opened the gate for the 45′ long puppet to emerge. On a literal level, Wood Storks have been on the Federal Endangered species list for several decades due to habitat loss. Their status was upgraded in 2014 to threatened. I chose to focus on that species because there is often an unconditional bias against animals and people that are considered ugly. Wood Storks heads are black, scaly and bald, to help them feed, but it gives them kind of a sinister appearance. My Wood Stork touts a crown crafted from discarded plastics, which helps her camouflage in an urban environment since her natural wide waters and estuaries are being destroyed. Mythically, they have been represented as midwives of sorts, delivering abandoned children to loving parents. I don’t really see her as a separate part of myself.

Ties and Knots, Jax Makerspace, Jacksonville Public Library

[Can you explain] the use of recycled materials as a metaphor for personal growth?

Materials themselves embody a history and specificity of place, time, and the conditions of their creation. If I use leather for instance, I chose to pay homage to the animal’s life that was contained in that skin. In our arrogance as humans, we assume we can take whatever we please from the earth for our own benefit. Using recycled materials is an action of responsibility.

 Do certain elements represent certain parts of ourselves? What materials best describe specific emotions?

I believe the meaning we assign to creative work operates on many levels- personal, cultural, literal, and archetypal or mythic. I am not trying to be literal in my work like A+B=C, but rather spark others internal dialogue. The materials I choose and the methods of working hopefully are the best suited for that concept to be communicated. For example, in the RED Pearl River tapestries, I release a year’s worth of drawing into a dye bath. That action for me embodies letting go.

You stated that when we are given an opportunity for intimate encounters with nature, wonder and healing will arise. How have you benefitted from that theory both creatively and spiritually?

Creativity and spirituality for me are two sides of the same experience. One manifests a concrete form of the others activity. Immersing myself in nature, I see there are multiple realities happening simultaneously, and my personal story is simply one facet of a huge mystery, that is breathtakingly beautiful. From that position of awe and reverence for Life’s unfolding, I am humbled and ignited.


About Liza Mitchell