About the Artist
Naomi Thornton is a mixed media artist, grandmother, and psychotherapist living in Missoula, Montana. In her art and in life, she explores the juxtaposition of these roles. Naomi finds her passion close to the earth having lived off the grid and in community while raising her three children. She was a longtime director at Women’s Opportunity and Resource Development, a feminist organization, creating community for women to address issues of poverty, discrimination, and injustice. She currently is a psychotherapist in private practice who interested in joining with others to recognize the impacts of “eco-anxiety” and other stressors as we face a changing environment.
Naomi is a self-taught artist who always felt a pull to create with her hands and her heart. Her early memories are as a four-year old creating a world of solace and adventure with a pencil and crayons. She grew up watching her mother paint in oils at the dining room table. At 15, she was creating large multilayered collages that reflected the turmoil of growing up in the 60’s. She has worked in a variety of mediums considered to be craft such as beadwork, dollmaking, leatherwork, embroidery, and pottery. She started painting with acrylics at age 50 with a focus on large paintings of women using photographs for inspiration. As she turned 60, she shifted to small scale collage 5” x 8” cards that serve as a tool for self-exploration. She went on to facilitate workshops teaching non-artists to use this process for healing and self-discovery for over 10 years. More recently the pandemic became a catalyst to embark on her current body of mixed media work. Her recent series, “Warrior Women” and “Healing Our Inner Child”, show the influence of being a deep listener to the personal stories of so many over the years.
In my series “Warrior Women”, I give a voice to the everyday experiences of women that have been undervalued and left out of our historical narratives. In my art, I let myself be drawn to vintage portrait photographs of women taken in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. These images, as found, are clearly embedded within an historical and cultural context. Some of the portraits are set up within the experience of privilege while others are shaped by colonization and exploitation. Using painting and collage, I seek to honor each woman, placing her in a landscape that reflects her resiliency and unique voice. Collage is a process of deconstructing and reassembling, which I experience as freeing a unique story that was captured at a moment in time through photography. I use found images from magazines, books, and online resources combined with handmade papers and text from old books to evoke a layering of desires, hopes, and dreams. I’m very conscious of my own feeling of connection as I place the woman’s image into a rich natural landscape that creates a sense of abundance, safety, and connection to nature as a resource.
As a final step, I use research to uncover the achievements and struggles of women during that particular historical moment and setting. This is a very important part of the art for me, a way to amplify women’s voices past and present and reclaim forgotten stories of women’s everyday experiences. The pieces I have submitted include stories of women’s sacred traditions and mutual support in Jewish communities in Morocco, the leadership and resilience of Indigenous women in the Americas, and the bravery of Japanese women samurai in defense of their communities. I offer my gratitude to all the photographers, known and unknown, whose work is a catalyst to my creative process. Those stories can be found on Instagram @spirit_is_a_bone_art
What is your “Dreamland” ?
I have always considered myself a dreamer. As a dreamer, I have been able to tap into intuitive ways of knowing and seeking. As a dreamer, I have been able to adapt to life’s changes, both expected and unexpected. Dreaming has also brought me though some very difficult times. I am grateful that I have been able to chart a path forward in my life through the practice of being present with my dreams and tending to them with interest and care. My dreams have been my north star in manifesting who I am and what I do today.
In my artwork, I create dream landscapes that are places of healing and empowerment. In my series “Warrior Women”, I start with vintage photographs of women taken in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. My medium, collage, is a process of deconstructing and reassembling. I remove each woman from the constraints of her time and locality and place her in a nurturing landscape outside the bounds of every day reality. In building the dream landscape, I carefully select each piece to reflect and honor her story.
As a psychotherapist, I have witnessed the incredible resiliency of human beings to heal and reach toward wholeness. In my art, I seek to reflect that part of the human spirit. I believe that an important step in healing is to remove the obstacles that inhibit our dreaming nature. My hope is that the viewer will also enter the dreamscape I have created as a place of renewal and self-revelation.
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