Over the past three years, the Associate Professor of Art Education worked with collaborators to create a new book centered around artists dealing with motherhood.
As an artist, educator and mother, Professor Tara Carpenter Estrada developed patterns with her first child that helped her accomplish her professional goals while accommodating her daughter's complicated schedule. When she gave birth to her second child 14 years later, it felt much like starting over: “Giving birth and taking care of an infant is such a life-changing experience and the things that my two daughters have needed are so different.” Systems run into problems as they scale upwards; with more children, and older children, comes the need for more time and care. Although having a child was not something new for Carpenter Estrada, it did pose new variables to work through.
Her experience of new motherhood ignited her desire to research art and motherhood, and to connect with other artist mothers. Professor Carpenter Estrada dug through libraries and databases for material sharing experiences of artists navigating motherhood.
“We need more nuanced and compelling stories of motherhood," she spoke of her search. "Often what we see are either overly positive filtered versions on social media, or “real talk” stories of how hard and restrictive it is. Motherhood is all of that–both really hard and really joyful and everything in between, and it can be amazing creative inspiration.”
Her efforts found a notable lack of writing on artist mothers; although there is no shortage of advice for new parents in the literary sphere, she found that this was not quite what she was looking for.
“There's so much parenting advice out there,” she explains. “I think that ultimately, that's not as helpful as hearing from other people who have had similar experiences. Even kind of aspirationally, looking at people who have done this, how did they do it? And what challenges do they face? And how did they overcome them?”
Discovering that lack of diverse stories of artists who are mothers was the first step towards the collaborative publishing project, An Artist and a Mother. Professor Carpenter Estrada reached out to Demeter Press, with whom she’d worked before, and asked if they’d have an interest in publishing a book that met the need she had observed. After receiving the go-ahead, she set to work.
The project was co-edited by artist Heidi Moller-Somsen, a Utah-based artist, educator and mother, and Kaylan Buteyn, artist, mother, and host of the Artist/Mother podcast. Together, they put out an open call for writing and artworks and received over 100 submissions. Meeting over zoom, they worked to select 37 artists, who contributed a total of 39 essays to the book.
Artworks featured in the publication are as varied as its list of contributors. From traditional media like painting and ceramics to more experimental works in new genres, the aesthetic of the book shifts from essay to essay as it explores different experiences.
The recognition that motherhood is not a monolithic experience was integral to the project. In combination with scholarly material written on the subject, the editing team made an effort to showcase more intimate, experiential writings from collaborators: “With the open call, we were just really hoping to get a wide net of people,” Professor Carpenter Estrada recalls. “It was important to have a diverse representation of what motherhood can look like. We have people writing about infertility… we have people writing from the perspective of grandparents with their grandchildren, as well as people who are really just in the thick of new motherhood.”
The range of voices present in the book is just a fraction of a larger community that can support, uplift, and encourage artist mothers seeking pattern, possibility, and understanding in their lives. Professor Carpenter Estrada sees a rich field of resources that she hopes to continue to amplify: “With the material that wasn’t able to make it into this book, and a new open call I’ve been running, I’m in the process of making another book along these lines. It’s become this ongoing thing that I’m really enjoying. I’ve learned so much, and I’m excited for what is next.”
An Artist and a Mother will be available this month through Demeter Press. A panel discussion consisting of Professor Tara Carpenter Estrada and her collaborators Heidi Moller-Somsen, Kaylan Buteyn, as well as artists Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake, and MOA Director Janalee Emmer will take place on April 12th at 7PM in the Reynolds Auditorium of the HBLL.