Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.

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December 14, 2020

Words Along the Way: Exploring the Impact of Words

By Sally Ball

As an artist I rely on self-expression to make sense of the world as I experience it. I am generally an inspired individual who rarely lacks creative output. Then 2020 happened. As one show after another delayed or cancelled, I found myself wondering, “What is the point of creating anything?” I found that point in a project that I call “Words along the Way”.

In late December 2019, I began this project, focused on the power of words, as the result of a conversation I had with a student in one of the Juvenile Justice programs I facilitate as part of my work with Crystal Bridges. In that conversation I did not share some advice that I later wished I had.

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The next day I started stamping messages as fast as I could.

In early 2020, I introduced the project in the weekly class I facilitated as part of a diversion program for young men with court involvement. In my sessions I worked with these young men on developing basic metal working skills, something that requires perseverance and patience. For one of the classes I had the students think about a time they felt bad and what words would have made them feel better. From there the prompt was simple: Stamp the words you identified on a piece of metal and either give them to someone important to you or leave them for someone to find.

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For this project I gave my students new sheets of metal. After class I created my stamped messages from their scraps and mistakes. The marks that the young men made as they were learning to work with metal, were important for me to incorporate, and add beauty to the finished stampings.

I have turned down offers from people to buy the stampings, preferring instead to leave the pieces anonymously on trails when I hike. I now ask friends who hike to take pieces with them so that the messages can reach a broader audience.

During two phases of the project, I have left more than just the words at the different locations. The first was in April when I found hammering to be a wonderful way to release the emotions I was feeling at the time.

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The second has been in the last week and involves leaving simple bracelets and pendants with either the words “for you” or “you are beautiful”.

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Photography is an important part of the process and my only record, since I never know who finds the pieces. I hope that as a result of this project I have impacted lives positively and that I have been able to bring some light during a time that has had moments of darkness.

The images from this project can be seen on Instagram #choosewordsusewords.

-SB

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