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The wind carves shapes into the beach sand

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#1824 - Thursday, June 10, 2004 - Editor: Jerry    

This issue features selections from works of Jerry Wennstrom, reproduced with permission    

from The Inspired Heart: An Artist's Journey of Transformation  

In 1979, I destroyed all the art I had created, gave everything I
owned away, and began a new life. I sensed an inner and outer world
in perfect order. I sensed that I could become a willing participant
in that order, and that it allowed for my individual expression and
unique contribution. I know now that my participation was conditional
on how well I learned to listen and to see the inherent patterns
within the natural order I sensed. The return of a physical creative
expression came later, after I learned what was required by the inner
life. The new life that I gave myself to required unconditional trust
and noninterference. I asked for nothing from any human being. I
needed to know if there was a God and I risked my life to find that
out. I know now that we risk far more when we attempt to create a
life devoid of a personal relationship with our God.

~ ~ ~  

With my rent miraculously taken care of, my life went deeply inward.
I hardly spoke for over a year. Many visitors came, sat in silence,
and left. Sometimes I spoke, but mostly I did not. The unwritten rule
seemed to be that I would not speak out of discomfort or fear of
silence. I would speak only when I felt that somehow a compassionate
word might help someone I was with. Fasting, silence, and reading
defined my life for several years. I fasted for so many days one year
that I thought I would just fade away.

~ ~ ~  

I was fascinated by the lidless garbage can that Lester set out in
front of his building each week. It was always filled to the brim
with empty gin bottles and discarded cigarette packs. Somehow, I
admired the fact that he did not attempt to hide this from the world.
I thought most of us probably would have. Lester and Louise sat in
their upper-story window, drinking and smoking, every day, it seemed.
Their window looked out onto the street below, and Lester called out
to the people he knew as they passed by. I was often touched by the
warmth and love I heard in his gravelly old voice as he acknowledged
and insulted his friends.

Like deities looking out from the upper realms of a crumbling old
Tibetan tonka, Louise and Lester sat three stories up, blessing those
on the streets below with their loving attention. As people in the
community passed by, they often looked up to Louise and Lester’s
window to see if they were holding court that day. They were there
together for many years.

One day I realized I had not seen Louise for several weeks.
Eventually I heard Lester tell someone on the street below that she
had died. Then it was just Lester alone, sitting in the window,
drinking and smoking, blessing the people passing by.

One day I came upon Lester shoveling snow out in front of his
building. He was blowing on his hands, trying to warm them. As I
walked by, I handed him my gloves. He courteously refused. I could
see that he wanted them, so I insisted. I felt I owed him that much
for the gift I received whenever I sat in the chair closest to the
wall, with my morning cup of tea, and heard Lester singing in the
bathtub. Listening to Lester sing stirred my imagination. I felt
privy to the recurrence of an original blues moment—the sacred moment
of inception when the blues was first conceived. The sacred essence
of the blues passed through my wall in those early morning hours.
Lester’s song was a lonely prayer in the temple. I was the church
mouse, listening unnoticed, savoring the tiny blues-seed, which
contained original DNA, faithful to its origin. Here was the quiet
suffering of an old black man who sang the blues for no one but
himself. My only payment for the pleasure I received from this covert
activity was the very deep gratitude, love, and respect I felt for

~ ~ ~  

Wandering the dump, waiting for a shimmering object to quietly
present itself, can be a form of ritual for me. Sometimes one small
object found at the dump or the thrift store, or something I have
been given, can inspire an entire new art piece. On this particular
day, I spotted a seven-foot-long piece of brass, roughly in the shape
of a three-dimensional lightning bolt. It appeared to be the
irregular edge of an old sign.


I like the people at the dump and I think they like me. I fulfilled a
long apprenticeship to learn the subtleties of dump etiquette. To
earn the staff’s trust, I had to make sacrifices. Often, when I was
negotiating a purchase, both the dumpworker and I knew that I was
being overcharged, yet I would quietly pay and thank them. Somehow
this helped to develop a relationship of trust and generosity.

An event that helped the process and became my claim to fame in the
eyes of the crew was the discovery of a large old painting of mine
that had been thrown into one of their dumpsters. The attendant who
found the painting pulled it out of the trash and nailed it,
Christ-like, to a wall. Loosely inspired by the theme of The Last
Supper, the painting did have Christ as the central figure, so this
crucifixion seemed appropriate.

Selected scenes from the Parabola video: In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom    

Flaming Stupa
Meditation Tower on Whidbey Island, WA

Flaming Stupa (side)  

The dream of having a meditation tower began for Marilyn when she
read CG Jung’s book, Memories, Dreams and Reflections when she was 20
years old. Marilyn was, and continues to be influenced by Jung's
works, and loved the fact that he had built his own tower.

Jerry built this tower as a wedding gift to Marilyn.  

Flaming Stupa (front)  

As usual, Jerry found or was given materials for his tower. Someone
donated 2" thick planks of solid cedar, and a group of Sufi
practitioners showed up at the right moment to help pull the nails
from the heavy boards. A propane tank is the bell, a recycled fire
extinguisher makes the fanciful prayer wheel, an old cement water
tower forms the base, and dirt rammed tires form the ascent to the
entrance. But before climbing the stairs, one has to walk a path of
400 pounds of jewel-like shattered safety glass, salvaged from a
dumpster. "To enter the sacred," says Jerry, "you have to walk over

Building the Flaming Stupa    

Waving Buddha  


Turning a crank on the center of this piece makes the Buddha’s hand
wave. The hand is inside behind the glass. There is a small Buddha,
also waving from behind the glass that appears and disappears.

There are 2 levers on this piece, which offer a choice. Choosing one
activates a loud buzzer and flashes a red light on the top of the
piece. Choosing the other opens the main chamber hidden behind the
carved face revealing a straw mask. There are also small, lighted
compartments to be discovered and one cast iron foot at the base.

Jerry Wennstrom was born in New York on January 13, 1950. “I don’t have much of an impressive bio,” he admits. “All I could do was paint, and because there was nothing else that I could do very well, painting was what I most identified with as a human being. It didn’t hold though, did it? I let it all go, became nothing, and found everything.”

  ~ ~ ~    

To read more from The Inspired Heart, watch video excerpts, listen to Marilyn's music, see more artwork, access radio and tv interviews, please visit

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