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Larysa Bernhardt

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“May we raise children who love the unloved things—the dandelion, the worms and spiderlings. Children who sense the rose needs the thorn & run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards sun… And when they’re grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the ones.” —Nicolette Sowder

Less than three years ago, I walked out of the last job where I had a boss. “Walked out” is here to make me sound fearless. In fact, my loyalty to the place of employment was questioned and I provided them with the wrong answer.

My husband and I are raising my autistic daughter and that’s where our loyalty lies. And when she isn’t at school, I wasn’t at work and it’s always been a problem. Oh, we tried many things. Weekend jobs, one-time gigs, flower farming. Flower farming is the absolute best job in a world, after being a textile artist. That’s why I will never quit being a farmer, or at least growing flowers, if only for myself. It has its drawbacks though. For example, Covid wiped out all flower sales, all my floral classes were cancelled and all the weddings I was supplying…well, I hope they’ll still happen at the later date. Meanwhile…

My name is Larysa Bernhardt and I’m a textile artist. We live in what used to be a thriving town of tiff miners and railroad workers but now a ghost place called Blackwell. There are remains of an old bank and half-forgotten stories about an ice cream shop and grocery store. We live in a century and a half old house built by the doctor who made his fortune selling opium to railroad workers. The rafters in our kitchen ceiling stamped with his name, only a chimney left where his tiny office once stood. Doctor Steinmentz is buried here, and everyone else who lived and died in this old house, in a private cemetery overlooking cutting gardens, with an old concrete bench and statue of Mary entwined in wintercreeper.

At this point I don’t remember a time I wasn’t sewing. I learned from my mother, and she learned from hers. I always loved textiles, of the old kind, velvets, tapestries, needlepoints, everything with a sense of history woven into it. Collecting pieces of fabrics from a time long gone brought me so much happiness and pride…and constant worrying about moth damage.

Moths were always on my mind. They seem to be all around me. They come in parcels with tapestries from halfway across the world. Hummingbird clearwings on the summer nights in my all-white moon garden. While I brush my teeth they’re beating on the window of my bathroom, attracted by bright vanity light, shedding gold and silver fairy dust off their wings. Back in the old country (I’m Ukrainian originally) we call them night butterflies and we trust them to take our wish messages to the moon…one night I went to sleep thinking about them and woke up with a beast of an idea.

My first moth wasn’t much, and second wasn’t any better. My husband watched in amusement an array of prototypes climbing the walls of my library and sitting perched on the kitchen table and finally asked if we should designate our covered porch for my permanent studio. I still have all my early attempts, the ones that weren’t “it”. They were ok, but they didn’t tell my story, and my idea was to create “storytellers”. They would fly through the night looking for open windows and when they find one they would fly in and perch themselves on a headboard and tell sleeping person stories and the sleeper would see it as a dream. About Moon and Sun, about hearts broken and mended, about the hare sleeping under the tree dreaming of summer. About places far away—and under our noses, sometimes simultaneously.

My work is part of my self-healing process. It’s a reminder of how to keep on living with heart pain—and love every minute of it. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We delight in a beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve this beauty”. I’m a witness to this process, from the time our dreams shattered, to going inward and feeling dead inside, all my nature rearranged, all my experiences erased to make space for new ones, and, finally, the light of a different kind of life, different kind of dream.

Oh no, I’m not “there” yet. I hope I’ll never be because if I “get there” well, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. “There” is an end of the journey, and I don’t want the journey to end. There’s so much along the way. Everything inspires me. Fairytales, music, cultures, religions. My garden is a continuing source of inspiration to me—and the place to find balance when my reality shifts. Living in a lucid world of my dreams where—almost—everything is possible, where butterflies are giant and moths tell stories—it’s easy to lose your footing, dive too deep, run out of breath and desire to go back to the real world, rewind your life, live backwards to that sapphire in your heart when you’re a little girl, barefoot, chasing butterflies in grandma’s garden.

Winged creatures will always be my favorites, symbols of absolute freedom.

So maybe that’s where it all began, that many years ago. Childhood nostalgia, precious memories. My parents would bring me to the country at the end of the school year and I’d spend long (endless, if you’re a child) days of summer doing whatever I pleased. There was no routine, no agenda. I’d wake up, grab a bite of breakfast, and just go. Anywhere, as far as my legs would carry me. The only rule was to get back before complete dark. That sense of absolute power of decision making, how to spend my time, where to go, what to do—that is all the magic a child ever needs. Everything is possible, in a way a bird chooses its path in a sky, or butterfly—its next flower.

My process reflects this freedom of choosing direction—and changing it if it needs to. I start a new piece with a clear idea what I want to say. But somewhere in a process, new thoughts start sneaking in, the mood changes, I feel different. I let it all happen, I let my work guide me, I let it flow. If you overthink your work it becomes a tough piece to chew on. There’s a perfect Italian word for it, “pentimento”. In painting, pentimento is “the presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over”. It indicates that the artist had a change of heart. The original idea is still there, now layered under new ones, a naturally occurring metamorphosis, a never ending parade of life, there’s no point to reach, no theory to prove, only a never-ending story of beauty and terror.

“God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly hear: You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me. Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand.” —Book of Hours, I 59 Rainer Maria Rilke

“May we raise children who love the unloved things—the dandelion, the worms and spiderlings. Children who sense the rose needs the thorn & run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards sun… And when they’re grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the ones.” —Nicolette Sowder

Less than three years ago, I walked out of the last job where I had a boss. “Walked out” is here to make me sound fearless. In fact, my loyalty to the place of employment was questioned and I provided them with the wrong answer.

My husband and I are raising my autistic daughter and that’s where our loyalty lies. And when she isn’t at school, I wasn’t at work and it’s always been a problem. Oh, we tried many things. Weekend jobs, one-time gigs, flower farming. Flower farming is the absolute best job in a world, after being a textile artist. That’s why I will never quit being a farmer, or at least growing flowers, if only for myself. It has its drawbacks though. For example, Covid wiped out all flower sales, all my floral classes were cancelled and all the weddings I was supplying…well, I hope they’ll still happen at the later date. Meanwhile…

My name is Larysa Bernhardt and I’m a textile artist. We live in what used to be a thriving town of tiff miners and railroad workers but now a ghost place called Blackwell. There are remains of an old bank and half-forgotten stories about an ice cream shop and grocery store. We live in a century and a half old house built by the doctor who made his fortune selling opium to railroad workers. The rafters in our kitchen ceiling stamped with his name, only a chimney left where his tiny office once stood. Doctor Steinmentz is buried here, and everyone else who lived and died in this old house, in a private cemetery overlooking cutting gardens, with an old concrete bench and statue of Mary entwined in wintercreeper.

At this point I don’t remember a time I wasn’t sewing. I learned from my mother, and she learned from hers. I always loved textiles, of the old kind, velvets, tapestries, needlepoints, everything with a sense of history woven into it. Collecting pieces of fabrics from a time long gone brought me so much happiness and pride…and constant worrying about moth damage.

Moths were always on my mind. They seem to be all around me. They come in parcels with tapestries from halfway across the world. Hummingbird clearwings on the summer nights in my all-white moon garden. While I brush my teeth they’re beating on the window of my bathroom, attracted by bright vanity light, shedding gold and silver fairy dust off their wings. Back in the old country (I’m Ukrainian originally) we call them night butterflies and we trust them to take our wish messages to the moon…one night I went to sleep thinking about them and woke up with a beast of an idea.

My first moth wasn’t much, and second wasn’t any better. My husband watched in amusement an array of prototypes climbing the walls of my library and sitting perched on the kitchen table and finally asked if we should designate our covered porch for my permanent studio. I still have all my early attempts, the ones that weren’t “it”. They were ok, but they didn’t tell my story, and my idea was to create “storytellers”. They would fly through the night looking for open windows and when they find one they would fly in and perch themselves on a headboard and tell sleeping person stories and the sleeper would see it as a dream. About Moon and Sun, about hearts broken and mended, about the hare sleeping under the tree dreaming of summer. About places far away—and under our noses, sometimes simultaneously.

My work is part of my self-healing process. It’s a reminder of how to keep on living with heart pain—and love every minute of it. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We delight in a beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve this beauty”. I’m a witness to this process, from the time our dreams shattered, to going inward and feeling dead inside, all my nature rearranged, all my experiences erased to make space for new ones, and, finally, the light of a different kind of life, different kind of dream.

Oh no, I’m not “there” yet. I hope I’ll never be because if I “get there” well, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. “There” is an end of the journey, and I don’t want the journey to end. There’s so much along the way. Everything inspires me. Fairytales, music, cultures, religions. My garden is a continuing source of inspiration to me—and the place to find balance when my reality shifts. Living in a lucid world of my dreams where—almost—everything is possible, where butterflies are giant and moths tell stories—it’s easy to lose your footing, dive too deep, run out of breath and desire to go back to the real world, rewind your life, live backwards to that sapphire in your heart when you’re a little girl, barefoot, chasing butterflies in grandma’s garden.

Winged creatures will always be my favorites, symbols of absolute freedom.

So maybe that’s where it all began, that many years ago. Childhood nostalgia, precious memories. My parents would bring me to the country at the end of the school year and I’d spend long (endless, if you’re a child) days of summer doing whatever I pleased. There was no routine, no agenda. I’d wake up, grab a bite of breakfast, and just go. Anywhere, as far as my legs would carry me. The only rule was to get back before complete dark. That sense of absolute power of decision making, how to spend my time, where to go, what to do—that is all the magic a child ever needs. Everything is possible, in a way a bird chooses its path in a sky, or butterfly—its next flower.

My process reflects this freedom of choosing direction—and changing it if it needs to. I start a new piece with a clear idea what I want to say. But somewhere in a process, new thoughts start sneaking in, the mood changes, I feel different. I let it all happen, I let my work guide me, I let it flow. If you overthink your work it becomes a tough piece to chew on. There’s a perfect Italian word for it, “pentimento”. In painting, pentimento is “the presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over”. It indicates that the artist had a change of heart. The original idea is still there, now layered under new ones, a naturally occurring metamorphosis, a never ending parade of life, there’s no point to reach, no theory to prove, only a never-ending story of beauty and terror.

“God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly hear: You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me. Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand.” —Book of Hours, I 59 Rainer Maria Rilke