Whether through horticulture, music, art or crafts, Greenbank resident Kristi O’Donnell has always dedicated her life to creating sights and sounds for people to enjoy.
That dedication spawns from her personal philosophy of vita creativa: to live a creative life. Her personal doctrine has guided her through her time on South Whidbey and is the theme of her multi-media art exhibit currently on display at the Blooms Winery Tasting Room at the Bayview Cash Store.
“It’s very important to live a creative life and share love through that,” O’Donnell said. “I’m inspired by the good energy in nature, people and beautiful things. I want to keep that good energy going through my art works and reach out to people especially in times when they need a lift.”
O’Donnell is constantly on a mission to project love onto others through her works, and her repertoire varies greatly. South Whidbey’s live music enthusiasts and café regulars may recognize her when she sways and grooves next to her standup fretless bass while playing in various jazz groups, including Hot Club of Troy and Trio Nouveau. Longtime South Whidbey residents may know her from her design work as a horticulturist at Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank, where she was director and manager for 17 years. She can also be found leading handmade crafts classes, and dabbles in multi-media art.
This month at the Blooms Winery Tasting Room, though, her multi-media artwork is taking center stage. The winery is hosting her exhibit, “I See Beauty for You Today,” as part of its February art show that extends throughout the month. The series is inspired by Whidbey Island’s nature and O’Donnell’s interpretation of the views of Puget Sound, the mountains and the hilly geography of the island. She describes her form as “painting with paper,” a mixed media style in which she layers paper onto raised archival boards, painting on top of the layers to give her pieces more depth and popping color.
“I layer the paper to illustrate the energy that I see teeming from the water and the mountains,” O’Donnell said. “It’s an overarching statement about my path in life; I see beauty in the world, and I try to create more beauty through creative works.”
She started working on the series when a friend fell ill and lost her vision near the end of her life. O’Donnell visited her frequently, and realized she could bring the woman joy with art.
“My friend could no longer see the beauty with her eyes,” O’Donnell said. “So, I painted the majestic scenes and wrote poetry about it to read to her. Although she couldn’t see the piece, she says she felt the positive energy during her last days.”
O’Donnell doesn’t simply live according to her philosophy of vita creativa because she feels it is right. She backs up the benefits of the philosophy with scientific evidence. For her, being creative through her heart and brain “creates coherence, and coherence is the pathway to attaining peace.” The idea was generated from the study of HeartMath, which is the theory of synchronizing one’s mind and body by monitoring heart rhythm and essentially clearing one’s head of stresses. The method is similar to meditation, albeit with scientific evidence, according to O’Donnell.
“We become incoherent when we’re driven by fear or anger,” O’Donnell said. “The antidote is deep breathing and engaging our heart through things that give us a deep sense of appreciation. For me, that engagement comes through art.”
There are marks of love and passion on most things O’Donnell does. Her bass has a heart carved into the instrument’s bridge, the component that supports the strings and transmits the vibrations from the bow. Her art is composed from warm and vivid colors. Her fingerprints are found all over the rhododendron-lined pathways of the peaceful Meerkerk Gardens. She believes all people have the ability to infuse love and positive energy into everything they do.
“Kristi is a connector, especially with children,” husband and bandmate Keith Bowers said. “Often when we are out playing, kids will come in and you can see on their faces that they are just enthralled by this woman playing the biggest instrument in the band with such obvious joy.”
The arts are her way of expressing that desire to project her love onto others.
“It’s powerful that we, as human beings, have the ability to choose between creativity and destruction,” O’Donnell said. “We can be creative together. This is the way forward.”