By JILL WILSON
for Inland 360
Motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic situation, artist Heather Berndt created new work to highlight the connection humanity has to nature and each other.
Berndt is an organizer for the Spirituality and the Arts program at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood and a Spokane-based artist and graphic designer whose business, Lemonade Graphics, has worked with the Spokane Fire Department and Chas Health. She is also the author of a children’s book dedicated to St. Gertrude’s annual Raspberry Festival, “A Berry Book of Hours.”
Berndt’s latest creation is a digital flag with the words “The Birds are Not Cancelled” written over artwork of various birds. This piece is on display as part of an online gallery at the Monastery of St. Gertrude website. The flag is for sale as a printable download online for $5. We interviewed Berndt by phone to talk about art created within the context of global uncertainty.
What inspired “The Birds are Not Cancelled?”
Berndt: I have an altar in my studio that I like to refresh every once in a while and a lot of times I’ll make a small flag for it. I was inspired because I read a news article about a woman in Wuhan (China) who said that she did not realize there were birds in the city. She lived in the city and once everything was shut down, she realized there were birds living in the city and she could hear them out her window. So I was like, yeah it’s kind of one thing that’s not canceled right now. Regardless of what’s been happening when I walk outside, they are alive and singing and there’s some stability in that for me.
How can reminding people that the birds are not canceled help us during these times?
Berndt: As a spiritual person, I look to birds as a promise of provision. Regardless of what is going on in the world, the birds repeat a pattern of trust that I can learn from. They migrate, they build their nests, they sing at dawn. There’s grounding in observing that. I think that helps us feel connected to the world and to the wholeness that we’re all connected to. In the natural world, I’m constantly reminded that there’s something holding the tension of the world together. So I think people can really benefit from being outside and being in nature. It’s actually a pretty stable place, whether it’s the earth element and being on the ground and connecting with trees, or breathing in the fresh air.
How has your spiritual practice contributed to your art?
Berndt: For me, art and spirituality are not separate. They really feed one another. For me, the main inspiration is creation itself and the imaginative force behind it all. We’re just continuing the act of creation. In that way, absolutely everyone is an artist. At the monastery we’ve got people gardening, cooking … problem solving is an act of creation in some ways, so is helping folks. I think art can have kind of an elitist thing, like there’s this separate group of people, and that’s not true.
Do you have any advice for people who are not used to isolation? How can we feel connected when we are separated by at least 6 feet?
Berndt: I think some of that is just the basic humanity — that everybody is questioning, and they’re vulnerable. It’s good for me to remember that. We’re all human beings and nobody’s getting out of here without that human experience. Can you spend time with yourself and befriend yourself? It’s a gift, to rediscover yourself. There’ s always something in my world to be grateful for. It’s a shift in my perception that kind of gets me out of myself and looking out into the world and how I can be of service.