Tea drinkers at Dandelion Teahouse and Apothecary in downtown Vancouver may notice an unusual art exhibit on the west wall comprising many individual squares. Repeat visitors may notice, as they sip their colorful tea concoctions, that the exhibit changes every time they come back, sprouting more and more squares — paintings, poems, prose, mandalas and fabric art, each created by a different person as a creative response to the past two years of the pandemic.
The exhibit “Isolation/Together” is inspired by the tradition of a community friendship quilt, with many individuals contributing one or more squares. The completed quilt becomes a comforting reminder of dear friends and community ties. The idea of a collective art-making process excited Vancouver artist Sarah Lynne Hunter. She wanted to provide the same sort of creative outlet for her community to show how our shared experience connects us.
“The whole premise is the idea that we’ve all been undergoing this collective experience,” Hunter said. “The same things are happening to us but it’s affected each person in different ways. How does that bring us together?”
Hunter’s 13-panel work, “352 Degrees of Isolation,” forms the center of the installation. It was hung in the teahouse last month, along with several other submissions. The exhibit will be on display (and will continue to grow) until the end of July. Anyone who feels inclined can contribute a 6- or 12-inch square representing their experience during the pandemic. To encourage more people to lend their unique artistic visions to the project, Dandelion Teahouse and Apothecary is hosting a community art party 4-8 p.m. Friday.
“We just want as many people as possible to participate,” Hunter said. “We want it to grow and hopefully blanket the entire wall. I really want people who don’t consider themselves artistic to feel welcome and to feel invited to participate. It’s not necessarily about the finished product. It’s about the process.”
During the art party, the teahouse will provide supplies at no charge for people to craft their works of art, said Kat Stein, who owns the teahouse with her mother, Marianne Stein. However, art-makers should also feel free to include small personal objects or elements that are particularly meaningful.
“People are welcome to bring their own materials if they have any special things they want to include on their piece,” Stein said. “One person brought in fabric scraps because she made masks during the pandemic, so her whole piece is a giant mask.”
Stein said the teahouse will offer special drinks to purchase, like tea lattes and tea with edible glitter. Even though the subject matter might be serious, the evening of art creation is intended to be a lively opportunity to learn about others’ experiences — and discover experiences in common. The party itself will be an antidote to loneliness.
If you can’t join the art-making party in person, you can create your own square at home. Hunter suggested using cardboard because it’s easily obtained and can be repurposed from its original use. Heavy card stock, balsawood, felt, fabric or prepared canvas will also work. Each piece must be lightweight enough to hang with masking tape or an adhesive hook, Hunter said, so two-dimensional art is best. When you’re done, drop your art off at the teahouse or mail it to Dandelion Teahouse and Apothecary, 109 W. Seventh St., Vancouver, WA 98660.
Some of the art might be colorful, some might be thought-provoking and some pieces might be — like Hunter’s own contribution to the exhibit — on the somber side. That’s perfectly fine, said Hunter and Stein, because that’s what makes the exhibit compelling and relatable. Hunter is hoping that people will artistically express the full spectrum of different experiences over the past two years.
“There was one person who said that she wasn’t sure if she wanted to participate because her square would be too dark,” Stein said. “She said the pandemic was really hard for her. I said, ‘Of course you can bring it in,’ because that’s the whole point of this — it’s like art therapy.”
This therapeutic aspect of art-making was vital to Hunter during the long months of quarantine. She found healing in the flow of art-making, she said, and she’d love for other people to experience the same thing. She also discovered that when she shared her art on social media, she felt less alone.
“Sharing my art became like a lifeline. That’s a dramatic word, but it’s true. It was a way to connect with other people,” Hunter said. “There were so many things that I could count on my fingers that made me feel not isolated during the pandemic and art was one of them.”
To learn more about Hunter and her work, visit alittlegreybird.com. See the exhibit during Dandelion Teahouse and Apothecary’s regular business hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.