South Dakota—my interior geography

Last week I was in South Dakota for a funeral and a wedding.  In between those emotional events I found some time to drive back roads with my husband, see the stunning late August countryside and find some much needed quiet.  I’m always reminded of how much the prairie landscape resides in my cells, bones and heart.

This landscape gives me clarity, helps me understand my choices and guides me back to my personal True North when I get off course a bit.

South Dakota is my interior geography, no matter where I am in the world. 

Recently, I had to draw a compass at Courage Camp in Bristol, Rhode Island.  I laughed at myself because the way I still figure out directions is to imagine I’m standing on the front porch of my childhood home.  It’s there that I’m most confident in knowing my directions.  (photo below)

IMG_2852Standing on the porch I know which direction the sun sets and how to get to Nebraska. With that knowledge, I can find my way most places.

I often think of my intrepid ancestral homesteaders who ventured West, uncertain of what they would find in the Dakota Territories.  However, and more importantly, perhaps they knew they could handle whatever the prairie offered them. 

I understand that now, at the tender age of 50, in a way I didn’t when I was younger.  I don’t know what’s next, but I know I can count on my interior geography to help guide my way.

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give us land, lots of land

When Elizabeth Bunsen and I were hanging her latest work we wondered what it would be like to project different images onto her eco-dyed scarves.  I couldn’t wait to work on this idea and began making collages with her textiles and my photographs in Adobe Illustrator.

Our “prairie stories” collaboration is starting to take shape as Elizabeth and I continue to discuss memories, identity and the geography that has most shaped who we are as adults.  It’s no wonder we have a short hand about our childhoods.  Elizabeth grew up in Lodgepole, Nebraska (population 319 as of 2013) and I grew up in Burke, South Dakota (population 601 as of 2013). Also both of our grandfathers were bankers.  We both have twenty year old sons. And our art and process can provide deep sorry and remarkable joy at the same time.

We’re artists and our storytelling is in the visual realm.  Our conversations have been wonderfully insightful, however, if we were only sharing our ideas in a written form, I believe it would feel like we’re only telling you half of the story…or perhaps even less than half.

To me these layered memories feel like I’m looking through the curtains of one of the many farmhouses of relatives and friends I visited as a kid.  These memories are readily accessible but also a little hazy like the yellow tint of an old faded Polaroid photo.

elizabeth bunsen and lisa lillibridge abandoned farmhouse

lillibridge bunsen prairie stories layered images curtains

The words will come as our ideas evolve, right now the images are coming first.  We’d love to hear your ideas about how the interior geography of your youth has shaped who you are today, your choices and what direction you would like move into.

Elizabeth and I are gaining some understanding of how big of a role it’s played in our own identities…give us land lots of land.

sunflowers elizabeth bunsen and lisa lillibridge    lisa lillibridge and elizabeth bunsen cornfield behind the curtain  elizabeth bunsen lisa lillibridge behind the curtain field

elizabeth bunsen and lisa lillibridge rodeo in south dakota

elizabeth bunsen and lisa lillibridge memories of childhood