|"In the Hands of Alchemy is a delightful film, an alchemical mixture in itself of inspiration, spirituality, art and the story of a remarkable human being." - David Spangler, author, Blessings; Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent and Everyday Miracles: The Inner Art of Manifestation
Upcoming Parabola Video
About the film:
In the Hands of Alchemy:
The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom
In the Hands of Alchemy is a portrait of artist Jerry Wennstrom whose work and life have become one -- a spontaneous exercise in joy and inspiration for all who aspire to make art out of life.
By the 1970s, Jerry had acquired a loft space in Nyack, New York and was leading the life of a successful artist, frequently delving into the dark side with his work. However he eventually "painted himself out of painting." Unattached to his creations, he decided after a lengthy fast that the ultimate leap was to destroy all his work. "It was a powerful, holy experience that left me shaken and empty, but exhilarated," says Jerry.
He walked out of his loft and for the next ten years lived with nothing, trusting God to take care of him. His journey eventually led him to Whidbey Island in Washington where he met and married teacher/singer Marilyn Strong. Here he birthed a new art from his unconditional soul.
"Jerry Wennstrom is an ordinary man who has made the extraordinary choice to live, work and be in relationship in a state of surrender to the will of divine energy. This choice affects everyone he comes in contact with. In the Hands of Alchemy is a documentary of this choice and its effect." (Written for Parabola's "Cinema of the Spirit" festival, New York City, October 2000. The film was selected by a committee chaired by director Martin Scorsese.).
The film by Phil Lucas and photographer Mark Sadan features friends and colleagues as well as the monks of the Depung-Losleling Tibetan Monastery. Interviewed are artist Deborah Koff-Chapin, poet David Whyte, Christina Baldwin, Erica Moseley, and Nanda Milton.
Appended to the half-hour In the Hands of Alchemy video is a film from 1979. Titled The Works of Jerry Wennstrom, this 20-minute documentary by Deborah Koff-Chapin <http://www.touchdrawing.com > and Mark Sadan shows a partial record of the enormous body of work later destroyed during Jerry's process of letting go. One day, the film crew arrived to find that Jerry had destroyed his art (not by burning, as many assume).
"The film makers showed up one day to film," explains Jerry, "and the work was gone.I was in a very raw and empty place when I spoke in that first film. I had just destroyed all of my art and had given everything I owned away. I think no one including myself, knew quite how to interpret the experience. I was on an interesting edge. One of the first people to call when they heard was Jean Houston <http://188.8.131.52/ >. She and her husband were doing creative mind research at the time working with artists. I had a lot of respect for them. Jean called concerned, I think she knew I had been fasting a lot so I was not sure myself if perhaps I had 'gone off the deep end.' I just knew at a cellular level that I just did the most important thing I could have ever done. Destroying the work was such a deep and meaningful experience for me that I was able to talk about it with the film makers.They were very upset and also very moved by the experience. It was when they decided to do an interview and have me tell the story that the film became about something archetypal and larger than all of us. It was no longer just about 'art.' "
Advance comments about
In the Hands of Alchemy
"One of the magnificent things about Jerry is his profound and courageous innocence. He has created a friendship with a part of himself which is in love with the world, and his art displays that. Jerry is one of the few people I know who, in a very quiet way, has actually claimed his happiness in existence.
"There is a tremendous kind of courage that Jerry showed in the midst of the chaos and the individual loneliness of the Post-Modern world, to go his own way. It was the ultimate artistic step." -- David Whyte <http://www.DavidWhyte.com >, author, The Heart Aroused and Crossing the Unknown Sea
"I think there is a real difference in human beings who have let themselves be thrown to the ground by life. Jerry did that with an intentional act with his art. He is on the other side of that kind of psychic death and renewal. He really is a kind of phoenix who has risen from the ashes. He teaches us in a very gentle way you can survive an act like that, you can come through as a human being with great gentleness and beauty and that you can create your life in a highly profound and artistic fashion." - Christina Baldwin <http://www.peerspirit.com >, author Calling the Circle the First and Future Culture, Life's Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest 'One to One,' and Self Understanding through Journal Writing
"In The Hands of Alchemy is, on one level, the story of Jerry Wennstrom's life and work, but on a deeper level it is about what can happen when one person gives up everything - home, work, money, 'things.' It is ultimately about dying -- about letting go into the unknown and unfathomable, and finding oneself in the Kingdom of God.
"Jerry Wennstrom's life gives witness to the blessed state of utter surrender into emptiness through which life becomes an unexpected garden of creative abundance, simple profundity, ordinary sacredness and everyday love. It is a poignant metaphor for all of us mortals who fear loss of everything we define as ours -- including our lives." --Carolyn North, author, The Experience of a Life Time and Death: The Experience of a Life Time
"In the Hands of Alchemy" is Jerry Wennstrom's story. It is the story of an artist's relationship to the Mystery and surrender. Wennstrom's gift comes through clearly, but his genius and courage to get out of its way forms the heart of the story.
"The Mystery suffuses the ordinary, and the ordinary becomes Mysterious. Meanwhile, Wennstrom's art has become both profound and whimsical, and we find ourselves feeling inspired and blessed." -- Corwin Fergus, film maker, writer, Jungian analyst
"This is an extraordinary story of an extraordinary artist. Jerry's understanding of the freedom and gift of emptiness, the compassion that is inseparable from the void, is a lived and embodied realization. To see how this gifted artist chose to make his life an expression of his understanding of truth is a tremendous inspiration." -- Tsultrim Allione, Founder of the Tara Mandala Buddhist retreat center and author, Women of Wisdom
"In the Hands of Alchemy is a revelation of the possibility of living directly in response to the soul of the world. It is a letting go, a widening deeply inward toward ceaseless renewal. Jerry Wennstrom's story is a tale of the wish fulfilling abundance of trust and intuition. It is a heartist's journey. There are few stories this inspiring and brave about artist as holy human being rather than maker of art. In a world addicted to concept and alienation, he is a man who was called to spirit and dared to answer the call. A man lives in a state of prayer. He does not need to seek creativity, but becomes it. Sharing this reality reminds us of another more primal way of being in the world, closer to the creativity of our ancestors who listened with the ears of animals and lived drenched in a sense of the sacred." -- Laura Simms, storyteller and author, Bone Man
"Each one of his unique sculptures creates a different delightful surprise. The stylized form of his art work makes me think of Egyptian aesthetics. Here the underworld is honored, coupled with a carnival-like playfulness that celebrates life." -- Laura Chester, author, Holy Personal and Lupis Novice
About the filmmakers
Co-directors Phil Lucas & Mark Sadan
PHIL LUCAS. Phil Lucas (Choctaw) has written, directed, and produced over 65 cultural, educational, and documentary films and video productions, including the award-winning five-part PBS series, Images of Indians, which reveals the problem of Indian stereotypes in Hollywood Westerns. He also produced the 3-part series, The Honor of All, which documented the amazing story of the Alkali Indian Band and the band's successful alcohol rehabilition program. Other Native American theme programs include the 5-part Walking with Grandfather, A Voyage of Rediscovery, I'm Not Afraid of Me, and the Emmy nominated American Indian Dance Theatre: Dances for the New Generations. His most well known series are Story-tellers of the Pacific and the five-part The Native Americans for Turner Broadcast System.
In 1980, Lucas founded Phil Lucas Productions, Inc. He has been head of the Department of Communication Arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and he has taught courses about Native Americans in the films in various colleges and universities. See Phil's website at http://www.na21.org/ .
MARK SADAN. Mark Sadan's still photography has been featured in numerous international photography magazines and displayed in galleries and corporate collections throughout the world. His cinema and video photography has been shown at the New York Film Festival and international film festivals. He was one of the original producers of the long running Sesame Street children's program. His teaching includes numerous residencies for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Film and Video Workshop (of which he was a founder) of The Westchester Arts Council, Westchester Art Center, and the Purchase College of the Arts of the State University of New York. See Mark's website at <http://www.mgvinc.com/finearts >
IN THE HANDS OF ALCHEMY
Sharmil Elliott, editing assistant; Corwin Fergus; Jim Friedrich of Cathedral Films & Video; Alan Honick; Katherine Michaels; and Brandon Perhacs of Cedar Films; Jesse Lucas (editing assistant); Phil Lucas; Mark Sadan; T.J. Williams.
Deborah Koff-Chapin <http://www.touchdrawing.com > and Anahata Moore (Voices from the Deep); oboeist Nancy Rumbel <http://www.tingstadrumbel.com/index2.htm > (Tree of Life*); Marilyn Strong <MarilynStrong.html> (chants); Greg Garbarino (recording engineer for Marilyn’s chants).
* "Tree of Life"
Composed by Nancy Rumbel, published by Nara Music, Inc. (BMI)
From the Narada album Notes from the Tree of Life
(P) 1995 Narada Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved. Use courtesy of Narada Productions, Inc. and Nancy Rumbel
In the Hands of Alchemy
In alphabetical order. Special thanks to
Christina Baldwin | Jacquelin Bayne | Lucy Brennan | Patrick, Anne, and Gloria Brennan-Ferry | Penny and Robert Cabot | Ellen W. Camin and Bernie Camin | The Emily Baker Weaver Fund of the Tides Foundation | Richard Chadek | Deborah Koff-Chapin & Ross and Aleah Chapin | Laura Chester | Jack Clifford (thanks for the “Golden Chariot”) | The folks at the Clinton-Mukilteo Ferry Dock | Thomasina Craster | Mully Demuth-Mullally | Nadyezhda Duvan | Rachael Eiguren | Good Cheer of Langley | Dianne Grob | Michael Hansen and Karen Cook | Margaret Harris and Roger Harrison | Paula and Larry Heitzner | Lucinda and Eliza Herring-Hudson | Sally Goodwin and Kurt Hoelting | Heidi and Kim Hoelting | Mike and Sydney Hoffman | Renie Hope | Rick Ingrasci and Peggy Taylor | Island Recycle | Deborah Janison | Shirley Jantz | Ann Linnea | Barkley McLaughlin | Sandy Menashe | Sister Adele Meyers | Nanda Milton | Gary J. Milczarek | The Monks of the Depung-Loseling Tibetan Monastery | Barb Morgan and Steve Gaul | Erica Moseley | George Moseley | Joy Moulton | Pat Neal | Angela Nelson | Cheri and Paul Nelson | Carolyn North | Wilma O’Nan | Martha Pendergast and Terry Campbell | Autumn Preble | Steven and Eva Roues | Rosalind Schneider and the Film and Video Workshop | Susan S. Scott | Ed Severinghaus and Barbara Graham | Jim and JoAnn Shelver | Laura Simms | Shan Sparling and Jeff Klotz | David Spangler | Ken and Joyce Strong | Larry and Kari Strong of David Lawrence, Fine Clothing for Men | Tom Van Riper | Nancy Waddell | Frank and Mary Wennstrom | John and Aurora Wennstrom | John Wennstrom, Jr. | Whidbey CyberCafé and Book Store | The Whidbey Institute | Beth and Bennett White | David Whyte | Dale and Janet Wilson | Carol Wright
Email Jerry <firstname.lastname@example.org>
We invite your comments and observations.
See our new website: http://www.handsofalchemy.com
It's in progress so visit often.
Marilyn Strong-Jerry Wennstrom
PO Box 522
Clinton, WA 98236