Music and cinema of the spirit

"Marilyn Strong and Jerry Wennstrom are in the meditation space Wennstrom created for Strong on their wooded land and which was featured in the book Holy Personal: Private Chapels throughout the United States, by Laura Chester. It was visited by nine Tibetan monks who came to Whidbey and proclaimed it Flaming Stupa!Joan Soltys, staff photoFilm and concertThe West Coast debut of a new documentary film, In the Hands of Alchemy: The Life and Art of Jerry Wennstrom, will take place Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at Thomas Berry Hall on the Chinook lands in Clinton. A 7:30 concert will follow with singer Susan Osborn, who has just released a new CD of original songs, Reunion.Tickets are $12; reservations recommended. For information, call 341-3382.In a felicitous pairing of two art forms, an event on Sunday at Chinook's Thomas Berry Hall will celebrate the debut of a new film about the life and work of South Whidbey artist Jerry Wennstrom and the release of Island singer Susan Osborn's recent CD, ReUnion. Wennstrom was a noted and accomplished painter in New York for 20 years before what could be called an epiphany changed his life on an epic scale. In a period that was short in time but large in its impact on his spirit, Wennstrom distanced himself from his driven regime and turned inward, fasting and letting go.My art was kind of a 'false god,' he said. It was my identity. I was hiding behind who I thought I was.Wennstrom took a radical step: He destroyed all the paintings in his possession, gave away everything he owned and spent the next 10 years living by trust.It was a surrender of control, he said. It was very terrifying at one level, because you have none of your identity left.Today, Wennstrom has returned to his art with a celebratory spirit and a creative process born of his long spiritual journey. The story of his transformative experience has been recorded in a film by Phil Lucas and Mark Sadan that was first seen in New York City in October and premieres here on Whidbey this Sunday. The story is important because it is transpersonal, said Marilyn Strong, who endured her own intense experience with Wennstrom as a lifeline. Now married, Strong and Wennstrom both are working to make sense of their metaphorical death experiences, and in doing so see the correlation with other lives.We all relate to loss, Strong said. We don't know what to do with what we see as loss until we learn who we are. Yes, that's where it begins, Wennstrom said: Let it all go, and life will give it back.Wennstrom was the focus of a previous film that traced his soul-searching and ended with the destruction of his work. This second film portrays the journey and the place to which life has taken him now. Both Strong and Wennstrom hope the circle of letting go to achieve a final wholeness will evoke a common response from the viewer and also act as an educational tool for those looking for spiritual renewal. The songs of Susan Osborn serve as both a complement and a counterpoint to the story of Jerry Wennstrom. Osborn has segued from a Midwestern girl playing college bars and club circuits during the sixties to the streets of Greenwich Village in the great era of folk music through the ensemble music of the Paul Winter Consort for which Susan was the vocalist from 1978-1985, recording with eagles, whales and wolves.Her own journey to the present is its own story of transformation. She has earned Japanese music awards, performed in the UN General Assembly, appeared with presenters such as Robert Bly, Ellen Burstyn, Maya Angelou and Al Gore. She also sang in ceremonies at the Olympic games.But, she said, It's been 15 years since I recorded an album of originals. Calling it a ReUnion of old friends and collaborators, Osborn is joined by long time musical partners Bill Lauf, Ralf Illenberger and Jim Bredouw in their first recording together.For me, it was an experience of pure grace, Osborn said. These songs are signposts along my journey home. "

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