Q&A : Elizabeth Stinson

Interview by Sierra Stinson | Photographs by Megumi Shauna Arai

Elizabeth Stinson is my mother. She is an artist, a therapist, a nurturer, an empath, and a force to reckon with. Throughout my life she has welcomed individuals from all communities and backgrounds into our home and lives. She was one of my first influences growing up taking me on trips to reservations in North America to work on human rights issues with Unrepresented Nations. She taught me that if you have anything to give; space, compassion, time, insight, to simply do it because you can. It is a service to exist in this world in a nurturing way. She has literally saved lives in the work she does and I couldn’t speak more highly of her accomplishments. Here is a Q&A with my mother, Elizabeth.





Sierra: Hi Mom, Will you tell our Vignettes audience a bit about yourself?

What is it that you do professionally and creatively? In life?

Elizabeth: Hi Honey,

I am a therapist, working mainly with deep trauma.  I am able to continue to do this work because I paint, play and pretend. I work in oil, latex and watercolor paints. I play with my wonderful granddaughter, who is a creative, and we pretend and become whatever she imagines.

SS: When did you begin creating? What enabled you to create?

ES: I began creating as a child, glue and crayons were my first tools and probably scissors.  My world was a collage that grew into a love to paint.  I think that I was lucky to be influenced by cousins that helped raise me and taught me to value painting as much as any interest or career and later on by art therapists and injured clients who taught me the restorative power of creating art.

SS: Are there any exhibitions or artists currently that are of interest to you?


ES: I am hungry for what is on the horizon.  I am nurtured as a therapist and an artist by the exposure to artists featured in Vignettes. I also go to every museum I can access, most often the Portland Art Museum and San Francisco MOMA, since I can’t go to TATE London that often. I often check to see if, say a Franz Kline retrospective is ANYWHERE?  I am very drawn to the ledger work of Michael Horse and more recently to work that is done in grids, abstract but many pieces combining to create a whole.  I think life is like that and my work reflects that, I hope, so I am currently stimulated by art that is intentionally multidimensional.

SS: What are you most excited about this year? In the world at large or in your community/family?

ES: Well, I think I am most excited about the members of our clan who are pursuing their dreams, despite the obstacles.  Holding them tightly and nurturing them to life.

SS: What was an exhibition that moved you in your life? A piece or body of work that shifted your way of thinking / feeling / experiencing life or art?

ES: Without a doubt the Rothko exhibit at the Tate in London.  Originally Seagrams had requested a mural for a restaurant.  There was some disagreement and Rothko took them back, part of  the series became property of the Tate Modern in London. The experience of standing in a dimly lit room, with only Rothko’s work in the room and staring for a long time at one particularly riveting piece was transcendent for me as an artist.  What was first seen as the surface became the depth, what was the exterior held me and the painting as one.

SS: What kind of work do you collect and who?


ES:  I collect work by artists who I feel push the edges, challenge their medium to do something new. I also collect art that is culturally representative and has survived colonization and represents the struggle, as do zuni fetishes, Navajo (Dine) rugs and Seri Ironwood carvings. i also collect art in nature, I have stones and stick and shells around me as well as images of clouds.

SS: When you reflect on your life what do you feel are the greatest moments or movements that you were a part of?

ES:  My strongest intention for my life has been to support the realization that violence is not a solution…to anything. I came of age in a time of war, deeply concerned that my older brother would be drafted and sent to Vietnam.  Many of my peers are permanently damaged by their exposure to violence, both inside the U.S and in foreign countries.  It is heart breaking to me that my children have also been exposed to violence as a failed solution by more wars. My repulsion to violence accompanied by need to create art as a restorative act helped me formulate a life long resistance to all violence as a solution. I went to jail many times for civil disobedience.  Many times I was in a position to help build jail solidarity and sometimes able to negotiate for a “catch and release” policy for those arrested. I worked hard to learn to dialogue with judges and courts and police to establish restorative justice programs in communities rather than jail as a solution.  This country is way out of balance, building more prisons and ignoring the outcomes of lives lost and undeveloped.  What an extreme waste of spirit and loss of potential and honor of diversity.  I hope to see more art and music and gardening and meditation options within community service settings as alternatives to imprisonment.  As you know, I have for years counseled many impacted by military sexual trauma and by rape both within the military and civilian community.  I could not productively work with such high acuity cases if I was not also painting, speaking to painters, listening to musicians and treasuring their societal impact.  Art, all forms help me find balance within a very disturbed and damaged culture. I have a long history of human rights work.

SS: Do you feel like there is a current movement that you are excited about?

ES: Our art continues to be a reflection of that wondrous gift of life all around us.  This is a very important transition time for artists. The D.I.Y movement has liberated art and its creators. It is very exciting to see art that is not inhibited by agents and museum standards, very exciting.  I am learning a lot from this next generation that refuses to objectify its work or let the system do so.  The presentation, experience of art and artists is more personal, reflective and engaged than ever. It can only serve to push open even wider space for  a much needed influence and experience.

SS: Thanks Mom, it was a pleasure chatting with you about art and your life. Thanks for being you.

ES: Thanks honey