Many steps and helpers to create Ancestor Chimes land art

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Photos by MalPina Chan and Judy Shintani

I’m always interested in the back story of how a piece is developed and created, so I’m going to talk about the process of making my Ancestor Chimes installation.


The theme of the Center of Contemporary Seattle exhibition: Rootbound, Heaven and Earth, drew me in since a lot of my work is about family history, stories, and culture. Because my father’s family settled in the Puget Sound area and raised oysters, I thought that my work could tie into this show nicely. I created and photographed a prototype and hung them in a tree near my studio. I uploaded the photo and a write-up of my idea for the submission. It was accepted and I had a few weeks to get the piece completed and installed in Carkeek Park in Seattle.

My artist statement
My father’s family settled here in America and raised oysters in the Puget Sound. I honor these family members, some of whom have passed on. On the oyster shells you will find stories about their time here. Some of the ink may fade over time just as memories do. The tree is a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth, so it is holds up my family’s tales. The shells dangle and move and our legacy travels to reach ancestors via the wind. I imagine they are pleased to be remembered in this beautiful place they once inhabited.

Gathering Materials
The Ancestor Chimes is made primarily of oyster shells. This is not a new media for me. I have used them in performances and in assemblages. They represent my father’s family, hope, and nostalgia. They also represent loss and secrets. I see the oyster as a symbol of the deep feminine.

The gathering of the materials I’m using in a piece is done with a lot of intention and caring. I want to be conscious of what is used, how it is used and handled, because this infuses my work with energy.

Photo by A. Meyer

I originally wanted to create the piece using Washington oyster shells. Due to the short creation time, I came up with a different solution. My partner and I drove to Drakes Bay Oyster Farm near Pt Reyes. This was a family road trip destination when I was a child. There they have mountains of oyster shells I could pick from. I looked for flat, clean ones with mostly white surfaces to write on. I had to carefully select shells of the right thickness for drilling.

In the best circumstances I would have liked to have ingested all the oysters to create the piece. I like the process of sharing the delicacy with friends and family – in that way honoring community and the oysters. I symbolically was able to add some shells from oysters that were eaten by my partner and I at the Pt Reyes Station House Cafe. I also gathered friends and family in Seattle at Chinook’s to help me eat some oysters so I had some Washington shells to use my installation. That was a very special intersection of family, old friends, and new friends.

Other materials gathered:
– Brass wire that will hold up best in the weather and over 4 months.
– Bells gifted to me that had been hanging outside on my studio door for years.
– Florist wire covered by rope found at Alena Jean’s Nursery  a few blocks from my studio.
– Matte acrylic medium
-Metallic acrylic paint
– Sharpe metallic paint pen
– Tools: drill, wire cutters, brushes

The Making
I wrote out the stories before hand on paper and then figured out how many shells I needed and how many chimes I would create. It came out to seven strands of chimes and I thought that was an auspicious number.

I assembled about half of the chimes in my Half Moon Bay, California studio. I cleaned, drilled, and wrote family stories on shells and then used a brass wire to connect the chime parts. I used a jewelry method of wire connection, incorporating a way for the shells to swivel and turn with the wind and make it easier for viewers to read the shells.

COCA provided me with studio space at their Georgetown gallery so I could add in the Washington shells from the Chinook gathering.  I went through the process of cleaning, drilling, writing, wiring, and adding a coat of matte acrylic medium to protect the writing.

I did a final couple of hours of wiring in Suze Woolf’s studio. A fellow Rootbound artist, she was also kind enough to provide me lodging while I was in Seattle for three nights.

Scouting Location
Upon arriving in Seattle from California, I went with David Francis the curator for the exhibition, to see the spot he selected for my installation. My placement criteria: near the Sound and a tree to hang the chimes so that they could be seen and read by viewers.

We hiked up the North trail path that bordered the sound and could not find a tree that had low enough or sturdy enough branches for the installation. As we walked back towards the picnic area, David mentioned a spot near the entrance of the trail as a possibility, only thing was that it had a chain link fence with barbed wire. Bingo! Part of my family story was that they had to leave the area due to the Japanese American incarceration. This was the perfect location to support the bittersweet side of the ancestor story.

I was fortunate enough to hook up with fellow JFKU alumni and dear friend Leah Libow who helped me install the Ancestor Chimes. Borrowing a raincoat from Suze’s daughter Boo, we trudged out to the park in the rain wearing boots and hats. This was not just a light rain, there were big drops coming down. I stood on the very top of little stepladder on uneven muddy ground holding up strands of chimes, trying to figure out which branches to hang them on and how high. Some branches we could reach, others we threw the rope wire over the branch. This all took about 2 hours and we were pretty wet, but exhilarated by the conclusion of the installation.

On Display
The Ancestor Chimes are on display in the Land Art Exhibition at Carkeek Park until October 31, 2012. I’m lucky that so many of my Washington friends have gone to see it and also many California friends are vacationing in the area and are checking it out too. Here is the link to find out more and download a map. If you click on the photos on the map you can find out more about each piece. I’m number 8.

I’ve had a lot of support in making this installation happen and I want to thank: COCA Seattle, David Francis, Ray C. Freeman III, Suze Woolf, Ander Meyer, Alena Whiting Barragan, Judith van Praag, Linda Ando, Leah Libow, Janice Ono, Damon Ono, Stacy Ono Avara, MalPina Chan, June Sekiguchi, Melanie Corey-Ferrini.

Intergenerational accordion art book making

The Senior Coastsiders hosted my 2nd book making class offered in Half Moon Bay. Open to all ages with first class spots reserved for elders, we ended up with a mix of ages. Two women brought their daughters.

I first taught how to make the hard covers and how to integrate that with the accordion folded pages. Then the participants took off running, using collaging materials, pens, pencils, sequins, magazines to embellish their interior pages.

Everyone created something special. One woman created a memory book for a sick friend.

I especially enjoyed watching the mother/daughter interaction. What a wonderful way for them to spend a couple of hours together.

I look forward to offering more book making classes soon.

Magic footprints and buggy Springtime

Had a bunch of fun with the Coastside Childrens’ Programs K-2nd grade artists today.

We made magic footprints by tracing shoes and then designed and colored the prints with markers. The kids made everything from monster feet to sweetheart feet to rainbow and starry feet!

We also finished up installing a collaborative Spring mural with many flying butterflies and worms and ants wiggling in the dirt. The mural was first painted with tempera and then the kids went back in with pencil and felt pen to add definition. They designed their choice of 3D bugs by drawing them and then cutting, stuffing, and stapling.

Happenings at Kitsune Community Art Studio, March/April

Kitsune Community Studio had a bit of a break, but things are getting rolling again.
I am expanding to conduct some talks and classes in other locations. So I hope to see you in some of these venues too. I’m planning an open studio evening in April and I’ll keep you posted!

Book Club Alive and Kicking! It’s the one year birthday of our club! This has been truly inspirational in getting many of us reading again.

Our next meeting is 3/10, 7pm in Half Moon Bay
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
“Instead of celebrating the mystical side of “sensitives,” the people who travel England’s contemporary psychic “fayre” circuit, Mantel (A Change of Climate, etc.) concentrates on the potential banality of spiritualism in her latest novel, a no-nonsense exploration of the world of public and private clairvoyance. Mantel’s portraits of the two leading characters as well as those of the supporting cast—both on and off this mortal coil—
are sharply drawn. This witty, matter-of-fact look at the psychic milieu reveals a supernatural world that can be as mundane as the world of carpet salesmen and shopkeepers.” – review from Amazon

Please join us, for discussion and snacks. Contact me at for more info.

Family Censorship Talk, 3/16, Oakland
Your Aunt Doesn’t Want Your Art Exhibited in Seattle, Now What?

Sometimes the ones you love are your toughest art critics or maybe they just don’t say anything about your work. But what do you do when they call at midnight and ask you to pull out of an art exhibit that is opening in a week? Come hear me talk about family censorship and how I dealt with it. We have a hunch others have stories about this touchy issue and want to hear your experiences too.

Wednesday, March 16, 7-9pm
Sponsored by Northern California Women’s Caucus for the Arts
free and open to public
Judy Johnson-Williams’ studio
347 Lewis St (2 blocks from West Oakland BART)
Oakland, Ca 94607

RSVP to Judy Johnson-Williams at judy_j-w@ix.netcom

Wellbeing Mandala Workshop, 3/26, Three Rivers, CA

Almost everyone is concerned about his or her health, but how often do we create art to honor our wellbeing?

In this workshop you will have the opportunity to focus on your health using meditation, writing, art making, and sharing. Artists can choose to give attention to on an issue or to honor their body. For example participants may choose their hands challenged by carp tunnel, or their heart due to sadness, or pay tribute to their strong legs that have carried them throughout their lives. We will explore and discuss the power of intention, and learnings that arise out of artistic concentration. Examples will be shown of how different cultures and artists have used art and symbology for healing, health, and expression. A variety of materials will be provided for artists to pick and choose and they may also bring their own media.

Three Rivers Art Center
3/26 10-4pm
Click here for more info:

Book Making Classes, 3/28 and 4/25, Half Moon Bay
I’m teaching these two classes with the Senior Coastsiders at Ted Adcock Community Center. Seniors 60+ get first signups, but the class is open to others too. There is a very reduced fee for the class. Great way to get your feet wet making books and experience taking a class with me too.

Book Making 1, March 28th 10-11:30am
Learn how to make softbound books that can be used for journaling and make nice gifts too. Learn how to do pamphlet stitch binding, and decorate the covers with paint, and collaging.

Book Making 2, April 25 10-11:30am
Learn how to make an accordion book and embellish and collage the pages and cover.

Contact Vicki Cormack to sign up at: 650-726-9056

Thank you for your continued interest in Kitsune Community Art Studio! Contact me for more info on events and if you have an idea or need a venue.

Successful Art of Compassion, Drs Without Borders Art Auction

This letter to the Editor ran in the Half Moon Bay Review:

The 4th Annual Doctors Without Borders Art Auction was a roaring success this year!
The exhibition held on November 6, 7, and 13th, was at Kelly St Gallery. 36 artists (mostly coastside residents) donated work based on the theme of compassion, created especially for the benefit. An amazing 300+ people turned out for silent and live auction gala on the evening of November 13th. We sold all 36 art pieces and raised $6,008 for Doctors Without Borders!

I want to express my gratitude to the partners of Kelly St. Gallery, Deborah Brown Penrose, Nancy Coleman, Jennifer Clark and Susan Friedman. With their support and that of their interns Charie Harris and Carina Woudenberg, we were able to increase the number of artists who participated and tripled the amount of money we earned for Doctors Without Borders. They offered a beautiful and professional venue for the exhibition and auction, along with public relations and design and production expertise.

Many Half Moon Bay businesses made the gala reception a tasty elegant success. A big thank you to them for their donations: Kim at Pasta Moon, Betsy at It’s Italia, Karolynne at Sushi Main Street, Casey at Casey’s Café, Tomas at Moonside Bakery, Larry at New Leaf Market, and Bart at Barterra Winery.

Thank you also goes to Marty Mullarkey for her PR support, Kathy Bristol for the use of her pedestals, Bree Luther for her beautiful flute playing, Dave Pera for thrilling live auctioning.

Much appreciation to the artists who made the show possible:

Jennifer Alpaugh, Don Baldwin, Carole Brehm, Kathy Bristol, Deborah Brown Penrose, Deborah Clark, Jennifer Clark, Nancy Coleman, Colleen, Vicki Cormack, John Donohue, Dean Drumheller, Sheila Edwards-May, Mauro Ffortissimo, Susan Friedman, Charie Harris, Ann Hollingsworth, Clifford Hunt, Leslie Hunt, Anne Ingraham, Janet Jarvis, Judy Johnson-Williams, Richard Kirchner, Margaret Lindsey, Nancy Margulies, Pamela Martin Noyes, Nina Miller, Kate Orrange, Lisa Petrides, Randall Reid, Ally Richter, Judy Shintani, Ellen Vogel, Ryl Brock Wilson, Victoria Woodrow, Carina Woudenberg.

Lastly, thank you to those of you who were generous in your support of the auction and who donated to the cause.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Judy Shintani
Founder and Curator
Half Moon Bay Doctors Without Borders Art Auction

Kids design their own t-shirts

The 4th and 5th grade kids had a blast designing their own t-shirts. They worked with “the earth” theme first sketching out their designs on paper and then using white chalk to transfer them to black t-shirts. I got the recycled t-shirts from RAFT and turned them inside out so the corporate logos were on the inside.

Next they used acrylic paints for their designs on the front. Next week they will do the back designs. The last class they will use scissors and sewing to customize their designs some more.

I’ll post the next steps too.

Art of Compassion, 4th Annual Drs Without Borders Art Auction, reception 11/13

Hey! We're doing it again! Hope you'll join in the fun and check out the incredible art of these very generous artists!

In support of the 4th Annual Doctors Without Borders Fundraising Art Auction, 35 local artists have banded together to create and donate a variety of community and health-inspired paintings, photographs, sculptures and other artworks.  These works will be on exhibit and available to bidders at the Kelly Street Gallery, 751 Kelly Street in Half Moon Bay, beginning November 5, with a reception scheduled on November 13.  A detailed schedule is provided below. 

Doctors Without Borders is an independent international medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural or man-made disasters, or exclusion from health care in nearly 60 countries. In 1999, this renowned organization won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.  

“We are extremely excited to have so many talented and caring artists participate in this important event, and we look forward to sharing their many individual interpretations of this year’s theme, ‘compassion,’” said Judy Shintani, artist and founder of the annual event which has raised thousands of dollars for Doctors Without Borders.  

“We believe the community will experience all kinds of thoughts and creations about compassion – from hobo symbology to Buddhist philosophy, from wood carvings to watercolors.  The variety will reflect what compassion is really about – seeing, expressing, and striving to be present in another’s suffering in the best way we can.”
An example of contributed artworks include:
  • Dr. Deborah Brown-Penrose’s (Half Moon Bay) photograph expressing the compassion which all of us feel for those in pain and in need.
  • Ann Hollingsworth’s  (Half Moon Bay) bowl made out of broken glass from a church door.
  • Nancy Margulies’ (Montara) depiction of Quan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of compassion, in watercolor.
  • Ally Richter’s (Palo Alto) encaustic painting with a 3-D heart featured on it.

According to Shintani, The Kelly Street Gallery in downtown Half Moon Bay was selected for this year’s fundraiser because it is known for its fine art, has a loyal local clientele, and is a popular tourist spot for both local Bay Area and remote visitors.  The Kelly Street Gallery is also housed in one of Half Moon Bay’s original Victorian homes, owned by Dr. Deborah Brown-Penrose, who is also an artist and founder of the gallery. Dr. Brown-Penrose, along with gallery partners Jennifer Clark, Susan Friedman and Nancy Coleman, are helping to organize the show and reception.  The four partners, in addition Shintani, have donated art they created specifically for the benefit.

Other participating artists include Jennifer Alpaugh, Carole Brehm, Kathy Bristol, Deborah Brown Penrose, Deborah Clark, Jennifer Clark, Colleen, Vicki Cormack, John Donohue, Dean Drumheller, Sheila Edwards-May, Mauro Fortissimo, Susan Friedman, Charie Harris, Clifford Hunt, Leslie Hunt, Anne Ingraham, Janet Jarvis, Judy Johnson-Williams, Richard Kirchner, Margaret Lindsey, Pamela Martin Noyes, Nina Miller, Kate Orrange, Lisa Petrides, Randall Reid, Ellen Vogel, Ryl Brock Wilson, Victoria Woodrow, Carina Woudenberg.

Event Details
4th Annual Doctors Without Borders Art Auction

Silent auction sales proceeds to “Doctors Without Borders”
Show: November 5, 6 and 13, 2010, 1-5 pm
Silent auction bids:  Nov. 5- 13, up until 8pm
Reception and refreshments: November 13, 2010, 6-9 pm

Kelly Street Gallery, 751 Kelly Street, Half Moon Bay, CA;
Facebook page:

Elder earth art mandalas in Half Moon Bay

I recently taught an Earth Art class at the Coastsiders Senior Center on Half Moon Bay. We had a brief talk about Andy Goldsworthy and mandala symbolisn. The elders had bunches of material to work: stones, flower petals, leaves, sticks, and more. Most of the materials were gathered during a walk and some donated by a flower shop in town.

We had an “instant art show” at the Senior luncheon for the enjoyment of the diners.