The Moments "In–between":The Art of Erica Swadley (Continued)

by Terri Windling

In 1997, Erica brought her art and healing work together in the creation of an extraordinary show on the theme of death. With her friend and fellow–artist Pat Dolan, Erica curated "Death –A Round Trip Ticket" — an exhibition featuring powerful artwork, ranging from the eulogistic to celebratory, by 35 artists in media including painting, sculpture, installation work, video art, and pottery.The show was held at the Central Arts Collective in Tucson, and included poetry readings and other events. Four one–of–a–kind artists’ books were especially created for the exhibition. Called The Book of Ours, divided into four volumes corresponding with the seasons, these hand–bound books contain original works by 150 artists and writers.

"The ‘Death’ show was a profoundly moving experience," Erica recalls, "providing an outlet and gathering point for all of my abilities, as an artist, as a shamanic practitioner, as a healer, as a ceremonial leader. Our desire was to give people an experience of celebration, peace, and unconditional love around the idea of death. The show succeeded far beyond our expectations."The show inspired Erica’s current pursuit, also in collaboration with Pat Dolan: "Sweet Chariot," an organization founded to assist people with all stages of dying through the use of art, myth and ceremony. "We assist the dying to move on with as little fear as possible," Erica explains. "We help the bereaved with grief work. We do soul retrieval and psychopomp, and help those left behind to communicate with their dead.And we help people to create meaningful ceremonies and rituals to demarcate and honor all the stages of the life/death journey. It is my passion and my joy to help people to connect with the spirit realm, as it stands available to us here in life and in the life between lives.

"Shaman Dancing Dawn From Darkness"

"It is very moving to me that art work, created with strong intensity of emotion in the past, can be the key that opens, moves, touches, shatters, undoes, and restores a person in the present, to bring about healing. I have personally experienced this event, my work has been the vehicle for it, and I have witnessed it with others. Always the moment is unexpected, miraculous, and occurs in a place deep beyond words or understanding. It happens while slipping over the edge into surrender."

Today, Erica continues to create art, to study shamanism with native practitioners around the world, and to maintain a healing and ceremonial practice. She lives in a house she hand-built with her husband, Virgil, in the mountains northwest of Tucson. Erica compares the role of the mythic artist to Charon on the River Styx, carrying people between two Realms. In Erica’s art, this is a "Round Trip Ticket," taking us to the devic realms then bringing us back to the everyday world. By journey’s end, the boundaries blur — and both worlds shimmer with magic.