As time has gone by in the past nine years with my quest to be an artist who makes a difference, patterns have shown up. One of the surprising paths to me is that I have been led to work with grief, death and giving voice to those who cannot speak.
I would like to share my path with Intentional Creativity® to honor lives, process grief, discover my gift of mediumistic art and how the Red Thread weaves through it all.
I completed my Color of Woman Intentional Creativity Teacher Training in 2013. The colorful photo of my declaration was a part of an assignment during the training, and at the time the words felt very foreign and mysterious. Like all of us, the path ahead in life is a mystery. I chose to follow this path and never could have imagined where it would take me with my intention to create art that makes a difference.
Following are a few of the highlights that led me to working with the bereaved, a path that chose me.
My first experience with creative intention used to create and heal grief was in 1992 after experiencing a first miscarriage with a first pregnancy. I created a ceramic sculpture of a pregnant woman, with the intention of becoming pregnant again with a healthy child. Within a year I had a beautiful pregnancy and healthy baby who is now a high school science teacher. I wrote her name and birth date on the bottom of the sculpture and passed it along to a friend also desiring a child, with instructions to add her baby’s information and pass it on when the time came. I have no idea where that sculpture is now and hope that the intention helped others as well!
Freedom in Life. Freedom in Death.
During the time I was in the teacher training I was working in commercial sales in the telecommunications industry. I met a co-worker who said he saw an Olympic athlete in me (a metaphor) who had no coach. He went on into management and supported me to have a very successful career in telecommunications, where my goal was to leave the industry and to have the freedom to become an artist who made a difference in the world. He saw that potential in me. I did indeed earn my way into the top producers’ “President’s Club” and was able to leave my corporate world in 2015 to become a full time artist, educator and healer.
This painting was the first man I painted and was right after the teacher training. As the image came into form I realized the portrait was of him. I titled the painting “He Opens the Portal to Freedom” and wanted to give it to him, however the transaction never happened.
In 2017 my friend, mentor and supporter died a tragic death at only 52 years old. This tribute painting now hangs in his daughter’s home and freedom is what he ultimately needed. His obituary says “Don’t be sad; be happy that he chose you to be a part of his short but fun filled life.” I am forever grateful to have been chosen and he helped free me into my soul work.
My mentor and friend, who opened the portal to my freedom.
The Baker, The Brother & The Bird
I created a grand opening mural for a local bakery to help build community as they opened their doors. The baker and mother/father team had recently relocated from Canada to California and had lost their brother/son. As I got to know them I learned of their strapping, strong 34-year old’s story and his tragic death after a bee sting. As a tribute to their loved one I added a Cardinal bird at the top of the mural, a meaningful symbolic gesture that he was with them in spirit watching over them.
The Cardinal bird symbolizes the brother and son.
So Much More Than Dots
March 2019, Christchurch, New Zealand.
I was commissioned to collaborate on a a 75’ mural featuring seven themed trees based on inquiry and mindfulness, the first-ever mass public shootings in New Zealand occurred at two mosques which killed 51 people and injured 40. Unexpectedly the mural turned into an impromptu memorial.
A man who would pass by every day on his way to work lost a dear friend in the shooting leaving beloved a wife and young children. The mural’s trees were outlined with white dots representing each person in a community. The dots were made by dipping a pencil eraser into paint and then dabbing it onto the wood mural. We offered for him to take the pencil make a dot on The Gratitude Tree, the tree we were working on at that moment we learned of his loss. Like magic his single dot, symbolizing his friend, left globs of paint that formed into two small peaks looking like two eyeballs. The paint did not stick to the dark background, it formed a shape that looked like a smile. We were all amazed, and this new friend said “everything is going to be ok”. He felt he now could pass the mural by each day on his way to work and feel gratitude for having had that friend in his life.
The Gratitude Tree became a personal tribute to friendship. By Kerry Lee and Rosie Mac.
The Gratitude Tree and the white dot where a smiling face appeared, representing a murdered friend.
We decided to make The Peace Tree into a tribute as the inquiry for this mural is “What is Your Wish for the World?” Under the heart at the base of the three, we added white thumbprints to represent each person who was murdered. A week later at the mural unveiling, two grave diggers who had flown in from the north island to help with the workload happened to walk by. We invited them to make green dots on top of the white thumbprints. The green dots symbolized Paradise in Islam, the eternal afterlife of peace and bliss.
The Peace Tree, a tribute to those who lost their lives in the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand shooting. By Kerry Lee and Rosie Mac.
The grave digger adding green dots, symbolizing the eternal afterlife in Paradise.
My First Spirit Portrait Drawing – And Creating Legacy with Kindness
Out of curiosity I took an online class to create Spirit Portrait Drawings, thinking I might pick up some tips for portrait drawing I could use in the workshops I give. I have a friend who is a medium and I found her work very interesting. I am very intuitive so why not explore? However, there was no technique teaching, we were told to simply draw what we felt guided to draw while paying attention to our guidance or intuition. I was disappointed that I was not given a process, so mostly in an effort to cooperate I just drew what flowed easily and immediately. I received very clear instructions. Two minutes later I had a simple portrait. The message I “heard” was a man in his late 30’s or early 40s, light facial hair, high forehead, short, cropped hair, dark eyes, medium skin, and “collared shirt collared shirt collared shirt” kept repeating. I felt he was a kind man who was in retrospection and missing his family.
When we shared the drawings with the class mine was immediately identified. The features and the story matched to a man who had died just a few weeks before, during the night after he got his COVID-19 vaccine.
I had no idea I had this ability.
More than a year later I was put in touch with his widow and she provided photographs and confirmed that he was 45-year-old when he died and that he was one indeed kind and of “the good ones” who didn’t understand lack of kindness and respect others have. She also said her gut feeling was that “even though he is in heaven he does miss us very much and wants to come back”. She had an idea of what he was reflecting on as well. She too asked that I share his story to help keep his legacy alive. Sharing kindness can achieve that.
Kerry Lee’s first spirit portrait
Photos courtesy of the widow.
Photos courtesy of the widow, shown.
A Mother’s Love
Two years before I drew my first spirit portrait, in June of 2019, a dear friend was experiencing a very risky pregnancy. She asked me to do a painting to honor her yet-to-be born baby. Sadly, her daughter was stillborn just before her due date. Because my friend is so important to me, I felt the painting became even more important for me to do “right” which caused what I refer to as a case of “creative constipation”. I knew how important this tribute painting was to my friend as well. It took the experience and affirmation with the spirit portrait drawing done later in 2021 for me to allow my ego to step out of my own way and complete the painting. I approached finishing the painting with the attitude of play, serenity and joyfulness and I painted intuitively, letting the abstract shapes of the paint on the canvas lead the way. The image that appeared was of a woman looking down at a heart on her abdomen, rays of gold radiating out from that heart and angel wings rising from the woman’s shoulders.
My friend was relieved and happy to have this tribute to the daughter she never got to hold, and serendipitously she had the perfect purple empty wall space waiting for “the right artwork” in her office. She could now be with her daughter throughout her days.
Love & Tragedy
The new owner of a gallery that represents me came to my home and studio to see my paintings, learn about my healing arts and to get to know each other. I told her the story of my recent spirit portrait experience and then of my friend’s Mother’s Love painting. Her tears flowed. She shared that she had lost both of her parents and her grandmother decades ago. All three were hit by cars while crossing the street, on different days. Grief doesn’t go away. It changes and shifts and is always a companion, especially with those who are loved so much. She said she wanted to support me in this work. Two months later she called with a request for a friend.
Giving Voice to Those Who Can Not Speak; A Murder Victim
The gallery owner had a friend and former co-worker, Lisa Brenner, whose 22-year-old daughter Stephanie Brenner-Cresswell was brutally murdered in 2019 while in her home at Western Washington University. An act of domestic violence against a young woman weeks away from graduating and moving into a very bright future in the medical profession.
Lisa was in deep grief over the senseless end to her daughter’s life and went on a road trip to take a break from daily life stopping the gallery owner’s house for a night. The gallery owner asked me to come over and work with Lisa to help her process some of her grief though creating art.
My plan was to show Lisa how to create a symbolic female figure representing Stephanie and to have her write the ways Stephanie had been a gift in her life. The plan shifted. I had not planned to tell Lisa about the spirit portrait drawing, yet I felt called to do that. Lisa sighed a huge sigh of relief and acknowledgement sharing that Stephanie had been communicating with her. Lisa felt her friends and family thought she had gone crazy. So Lisa painted and shared stories as she wrote down the messages her daughter had been telling her, giving her spinning brain some relief by putting them on paper.
During the process I realized she also needed a place to write down the horrible parts of the experience and a place to put her grief. I offered her my painting and suggested she burn or bury it when she was ready. Lisa’s eyes lit up and she said “I know exactly what I will do with this! I have been asked to write an impact statement for the trial. How can I put words to the impact of my daughter’s murder?!” She could now write her thoughts down and not worry about complete sentences or composition. I was grateful to have given Lisa a way to help accomplish this impossible task. Some words simply cannot be put into writing.
Lisa wants to give her daughter a voice and help others who may be in a similar situation by sharing this story.
Giving Voice to a Bereaved Mom Who is Unable to Get the Words Out
Ten months later, I received a call from Lisa. She wanted to tell me what happened to those paintings.
The day after we met in October, Lisa continued her road trip with the urn containing her daughter’s ashes, a binder of information about the case, and the two paintings. A fly was in the cabin of her truck, so she rolled her window down a bit and the fly did not move, so she rolled the passenger side window down 4’’ and the two paintings lifted up and flew out the window. She could not stop; she was going fast on a crowded freeway. She decided it was a sign to surrender and release those paintings to the universe. I had photographed the process and the paintings, so she still had Stephanie’s messages.
What she wanted to share with me was that all the messages that Stephanie had given her had manifested into reality! The trial had been postponed nine times over three years, reopening her wounded heart each time, and she was now due to find out if the trial would commence on August 22, 2022. Lisa still was not able to write down and give voice to the impossible job of listing the infinite number of impacts this loss has had on her life, her family’s life, her daughter’s friends’ lives and on Stephanie’s life. We decided to meet again to create a new impact statement, this time using Zoom since we were hundreds of miles apart.
Serendipitously the day we met was exactly three years to the day from the last time Lisa spoke with her daughter Stephanie, and it was also Lisa’s eldest daughter’s 34th birthday. Lisa shared that “celebrations have halted in this family. Planning has halted. Justice needs to be served so pieces of life can start to be picked up”.
The stories I heard about Stephanie tore open my heart and warmed my heart at the same time. Stephanie was one of those special souls who worked hard to be a good human and to make people feel good. Lisa has been told many times that when Stephanie came into a room, she would acknowledge people in a way that made them feel like a friend. Some of her friends got memorial tattoos. One friend now has a career in domestic violence advocacy. Stephanie was excited about life and was only months away from graduating from her university with her sights set on travel with Lisa, moving back home to become a “professional daughter” and physician’s assistant. She loved to help people.
Now when Lisa wakes in the morning she gets nauseous and feels like she has to put on a suit of armor to be able to present to the world so she doesn’t look out of place. She told me “If I could open my body and show you how I am hurting, you’d see a chainsaw through my head and blood coming out of my heart. There are no words for this pain”. Her family is suffering too. The impacts on relationships, work, schooling, physical and mental health, financial stability, living situations and the future are truly too many to list. Lisa wants to give Stephanie a voice. She wants to help allow Stephanie’s life and loss to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.
And so we painted, and I listened, and I took notes to help Lisa find those words and make sense of them. She could later add them to her painting. Our first painting together represented Stephanie and the beautiful fireworks of excitement she felt about life. Lisa’s second painting was completely intuitive and seems to represent the fractured lives like broken fireworks that are left to somehow put back together. Our next step is to add those words about the infinite impacts of the murder of Stephanie Brenner-Cresswell.
The trial, (Washington) State vs Galvan is now underway. Lisa wants Stephanie’s story shared. To honor Stephanie’s life, to acknowledge the many losses and to create awareness and hopefully help prevent domestic violence for someone else in the future. If you are so inclined, please share this story. And pause a moment to send Lisa and her family along with Stephanie’s circle of friends love and prayers for a more peaceful future.
Nearly ten years ago I decided I wanted to make a major change in my life direction, to become an artist who makes a difference in the lives of others. I discovered Intentional Creativity® and made it the work of my lifetime, my soul work. Now as art gives voice to Lisa and Stephanie, I feel I have indeed made a difference.
Lisa’s impact statement painting represents how Stephanie was excited about life, like fireworks. Impact statement notes have yet to be added in this photo.
Lisa’s second impact statement painting representing the many fractured lives from Stephanie’s murder.
A wonderful memory of Stephanie and Mom Lisa making pizza.
If Lisa and Stephanie’s story interests you, there are ways to offer support and become involved:
Get educated on domestic violence and how people can live and love without fear at Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
A fund has been created to help Lisa cover her lost wages, expenses and accommodations from the delays and during the trial. You can donate on GoFundMe here.
If you would like to support Kerry Lee’s healing arts or join her weekly “Create with Kerry Online Open Studio Sessions” you can join her Patreon supporters and community here.
About Kerry Lee
Kerry Lee, The Alchemical Artist, is an intuitive artist, coach, healer and art educator.
Intentional Creativity® released her own life trauma and 35-year case of “creative constipation”. As an artist who makes a difference in the world, Kerry Lee’s artworks have message, meaning and purpose. She specializes in paintings for life’s thresholds including celebrations of love, celebrations of birth and tributes that provide a colorful and unique way to honor loved ones who have passed on. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. KerryLeeArt.com
About Intentional Creativity®
Intentional Creativity is an inherent way of being when life is going well; that is when we do whatever we are doing with love. Yet, it is also one of the most potent, empowering tools to tend to suffering, create resiliency, empower change as well as reduce stress. This isn’t just ‘making art for art’s sake’, we are making art with the purpose of transformation.
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