Spirit Dolls: Meet Nova Dawn

I had the pleasure of meeting Nova through a tea blending workshop I hosted online. After realizing she was in my neck of the woods, I was thrilled to meet her in the flesh. She is a beautiful human being, intelligent and incredibly creative. It is an honor to have her out to the studio for her Spirit Dolls workshop this October. Nova will be not just be guiding us on how to craft our own Spirit Doll, but the whole workshop is set up like a day retreat. Visit here for more info and commit to a day of spiritual self care and ancestral healing.

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In your own words- What is a multidisciplinary artist?

A multidisciplinary artist is someone who works across a variety of different mediums. I have literally studied and practiced every artform in one way or another over the course of my life - music, dance, theater, drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, sewing, fibre arts, etc… I love any and all opportunities to get my hands on creative projects! My biggest foci overall, have been singing, ritual performance art, Surrealist inspired pen and ink drawing, writing, and crafting - and currently spirit dolls, masks, and ritual objects.

What are your favorite mediums to work with?

I love working with Nature. Nature as a source of inspiration, as a source of materials, as a collaborator… I love going out into the forest and listening, smelling, touching, tasting, and just being in it. There, I become grounded and centered and so inspired. I forage for craft materials, food, and medicine when I’m out in the wilds. I like to dance and sing with Nature, just allowing whatever wants to come forth, to come. I also love working with recycled and scrap materials. I strive to be as eco-friendly and sustainable in my work as possible. I’m even researching and developing ways to make my own natural glues, paints, and varnishes. My long-term dream is to develop immersive, community-based, ritual performances on land, featuring masks and possibly large puppets - this is in the works. I love working with anything that blends archetypes, symbolism, improvisation, music, theater, and fine arts and crafts. This is why I love making masks and spirit dolls so much right now. They are tools that can be used in ritual, self-inquiry, play, and they tell stories in their own right.

As a mom, how do you carve out time for your craft/ art?

A big help is that my daughter goes to her dad’s for a couple of days every week. I wouldn’t say that I get a ton of work done during that time, because I’m always playing catch-up on things like chores, etc., but it does help me get a bit more concentrated time in when I need it. I also have time when my daughter is at school. I’m in the midst of starting a business and I work part-time, on-call, so a lot of my attention goes elsewhere during that time, but I am working on actually scheduling in studio time for myself. Mostly, however, I just give myself small, manageable projects that I can do when my daughter is around. I learned early on that some projects lend themselves better to having kids around than others. I would love to do more performance, but it’s a lot harder to find the time, because it requires that you be in a certain place and time for rehearsals and such. While not impossible, it takes more planning and effort to make it happen. Focusing on small crafts at the moment, allows me to start and stop and work on the projects whenever I have a few extra moments. I also have a portable box with my current projects in it, which I can pack up and take with me if I’m going to be somewhere where I have to wait and I can kill time with art. I always have my pens and some little papers in my bag as well, and I usually have some kind of notebook for jotting down ideas. I think the key to keeping up on being creative when you have kids is to do it despite the chaos, make it so important that it has a sacred place in your life, and to fit it in at every opportunity no matter what.

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Tell us a bit about your artistic background. What/ who inspires you?

I grew up with pretty creative parents, my mom especially encouraged my sister and I to be actively creative as kids. For a short while she ran a children’s theater in Corvallis, OR, where I was in my first play at age 4. Despite being super shy, I took to the stage like a natural. I loved singing, acting, and dancing as well as making art and writing. When I was 5, I decided that I wanted to be an opera singer after watching a movie starring Pavarotti and seeing Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance. I loved how the music made me feel in my heart, and I knew right then that I had a purpose in life, to share that same feeling with others through my own creative expression. From then on, my sole aim in life was to do whatever it took to become the singer of my dreams. I diligently studied vocal music, played the viola, and participated in plays and musical theater whenever I could. I won the Oregon State Solo Vocal Championship in the soprano category my senior year of high school and went on to study vocal performance on a scholarship at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA.

Unfortunately, as I embarked on the journey towards professional opera singing, I realized it wasn’t actually what I wanted. I wanted to get more actively creative with my music and performance, not just interpret the music of dead men. After my freshman year, I chose to leave PLU, take a year off, and then return to The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. At Evergreen, I had a lot more freedom to experiment with and explore music and theater. While there, I studied experimental music composition, music technology, theater and art history, puppetry, belly dancing, women’s studies, and PNW herbalism. It was so refreshing to be more easily able to follow my passions and interests!

However, it wasn’t Evergreen that had the biggest impact on me at that time, it was my internship at The Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, VT. They had performances every weekend outside in the meadows and forest on their historic farm, with masks and giant puppets… There was an immersive component, where at the end of each “circus” the audience was fed fresh, clay oven baked rye bread with garlic aeoli and mint water. The rye and garlic was all grown there on the land, and we helped to harvest and process it all. There was something magical about people being fed straight from the land, breaking bread with strangers, being gifted with food and theater... It felt like we were tapping into something so ancient, drawing right down into the origins of theater, which began more as community ritual than anything else. Ever since, I have dreamed of creating similar experiences for my community. I have done a few, small, site-based performances that harken back to the ritual origins in theater, music, and dance, but it’s definitely my goal to do more, bigger productions in the near future.

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After Evergreen, I spent many years wrestling with feelings of failure (a number of things hadn’t worked out the way I’d wanted them to…) and I struggled to find my creative and artistic center. Over the years, I did a lot of creative play, inquiry, experimentation, and healing around my creative work. I studied and participated in butoh, modern dance, ecstatic dance, sketch theater, ritual theater, blogging, folk singing, knitting, sewing, costuming, collaging, pen and ink drawing, and more. Despite not feeling grounded, centered, and focused in my work, I always did whatever I could to stay in the creative flow. Now, after years of diligence and hard work, I am more focused than ever. I am starting a business where I will be coaching creatives and selling my masks, spirit dolls, and ritual objects.

Other than Nature and The Bread and Puppet Theater as stated above, I am inspired by compassion, mindfulness, and magic. I love anything that will make me take a closer look at myself, anything that will help me to grow. Symbols and archetypes are also very inspiring to me. Working with symbols and archetypes is a powerful way to tap into the magic of self-inquiry, which is why I like working with masks, spirit dolls, and ritual objects so much. With these things we become “other” and thereby reveal hidden parts of ourselves. There’s nothing better than learning about oneself!

Some artists/creatives I love and am inspired by are: Tori Amos, Bjork, Andrea Zittel, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Tasha Tudor, Barb Kobe, J.K. Rowling, Alice Hoffman, Andy Goldsworthy, Carolyn Elliott, Meredith Monk, Amanda Palmer, Maya Deren, Banksy, and Pauline Oliveros.