Maggie & Michelle

Michelle Knickerbocker's "with the sun" and Maggie Brewer's "and the moon" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Michelle Knickerbocker’s “with the sun” and Maggie Brewer’s “and the moon” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Maggie and Michelle sent us their narrative before we met them at Third Street Stuff on a warm night in December. Because we had read their words, we expected to have fun photographing and chatting with them. And we did! They are indeed as colorful and charming as the complete rainbow they make when they are together.

“Michelle says: Maggie and I both enjoy the Lexington arts scene and when we learned about the Lexington Tattoo Project we were so excited. We knew immediately that we wanted to be a part of it because we love poetry, Lexington, and Bianca Spriggs. But we were too late. We found the project right as it was finishing. So when we heard about Love Letter To the World, we knew we wanted to be part of the movement. We read the poem. And we reread it. We were so moved by the content, we seemed to struggle to find which lines we wanted to represent. I wanted to represent the whole poem, the whole connection we humans have with our amazing planet and our amazing individual lives and our mistakes and successes and everything. How could I pick just one part? I had almost decided on the title as my piece. And then Maggie and I started talking about the lines, which ones we liked and why. We started talking about how we related to the poem, each other, and the world. We realized that we were right there in the poem; we had chosen our symbols before this project was even considered. Maggie has always loved celestial imagery and has moons and stars all around our house and lives. I grew up in sunshiny Florida, loving the year-round rays. I still spend too much time soaking up the sun, laying there, wondering if that’s what Superman must have felt like when he was recharging. Because we both favor the celestial, just by different imagery, early in our relationship we began referring to each other as ‘the sun’ and ‘the moon.’ I was making quiche for her one weekend and arranged her refrigerator magnets into a little love poem that included the sun and moon as representations of us. So when we were pouring over Frank’s poem together, we kept coming back to the lines ‘with the sun’ ‘and the moon’ and we decided to have lines that didn’t just connect us to the project and the poem. The lines we finally chose connect us, our relationship, our love, and our whole hearts to the heart of this poem, the hearts of the participants, the world, and the heavens.

Maggie says: When Michelle and I were first dating, she would often make quiche on the weekends.  She would wake up early while I was still asleep and sneak into the kitchen to cook.  I had a set of magnetic poetry on the side of my refrigerator and she sometimes wrote me little poems but one day she wrote this:

She who is moon
and me the sun
bring good change to this
thick life
full of every color

Imagine our rich shadow dance
turning through time and seasons
between here and there
a gentle morning cloud rounds into
the hard dark happy night

her and me
that beautiful
cold red
hot blue
sky
makes we

I have always loved moons and stars and Michelle is from Florida and embodies sunshine so we see each other as yin and yang in this way and many other ways.

When we read Frank X Walker’s poem, Michelle felt like these would be perfect lines to get together.  I wanted to get them in cool colors and warm colors, not only to represent the sun and the moon, but also to show that when we are together, we are the complete rainbow.”

Note: If you’d like to see more photographs of Maggie’s and Michelle’s tattoos, watch the video artwork that includes all the photographs of Love Letter To the World participants we’ve received and taken. Keep refreshing and playing it again–it is different every time!

Sunlight

Last summer, as we prepared to travel to Black Rock City to photograph Burners with Love Letter To the World tattoos, we realized we were facing a problem we had not encountered with our city-based tattoo projects: many people who got Love Letter tattoos seemed to forget about photographing their tattoo or about uploading a photo to the website. (With the city-based tattoo artworks, each participant is photographed by a professional photographer.)

How did we know this? Not only by the number of times each tattoo phrase had been downloaded from our website (hundreds of times), but also through our own experiences. Every so often folks would tell us about encountering someone with a Love Letter tattoo. Frequently, after talking about that person and their tattoo, we would realize that we didn’t have a picture of that particular tattoo. When these participants were friends of friends, we would contact them and try to photograph them ourselves. But we also knew there were many many tattoos we had never even heard about.

So last summer we came up with a way to both include more people as participants and to capture photographs of some of the phrases we were missing. We were headed to Burning Man, we knew that Burners like to play along, and we also knew the sun is intense in Black Rock City.

That’s how we came up with “light tattoos”: we would use sunlight and a laser-cut mirror to project the designs of tattoo phrases onto the skin of fellow Burners.

We spent the mornings at Burning Man photographing some of the hungry folks waiting in line for our famous Kentucky Fried Camp breakfast. We gave everyone a choice between two phrases, either before or just after they had received their shot of bourbon and their fried bologna sandwich.

Here is a small collection of images. You will see many more on the website once the full-length video goes live (soon).

Note 1: Once our video is live, we will also post a collection of images of our KFC campmates sporting light tattoos. Many of them were early ambassadors for Love Letter To the World, getting their ink before Black Rock City 2014 and proudly wearing them at our own first Burn in 2014.

Note 2: Because everyone we photographed in Black Rock City 2015 loved our light tattoos, we will be using this same process for creating images in a new artwork in 2016!

"on humanity"

“on humanity”

"to cool a fever."

“to cool a fever.”

"wide and deep."

“wide and deep.”

"your love."

“your love.”

"is your shiver,"

“is your shiver,”

 

"your hemispheres,"

“your hemispheres,”

"at your navel."

“at your navel,”

"hot flashes"

“hot flashes”

"How our earthquake"

“How our earthquake”

"once covered"

“once covered”

"with ice"

“with ice”

Rena Gibeau’s “gotten right”

Rena sent us her story on Monday, Dec 21. She had been working on it for a while.

“Today, on my mother’s birthday, I finally finished my essay. A fitting way to celebrate her life.

From the moment I learned of the Love Letter To the World project, I wanted to be part of that global community. For my tattoo, I chose the phrase ‘gotten right’ to honor my parents, Richard and Arlene Gibeau, two people who have inspired me to become better every day.

I always said that my parents set the bar high, and the impact they made on the world around them was astounding. Modest and unassuming, they lived a life of servant leadership and dedicated their energies to making their community stronger. Intensely engaged, intelligent, and creative, they embraced all forms of the arts and worked tirelessly to make them available to everyone. The memories we created together are filled with a celebration of music, art, and dance.

Father was a brilliant writer and read voraciously. The walls of our home were lined with books on every topic, and as a family, we read together and recited poems as a matter of course. Father loved the outdoors, and delighted in planting trees, vegetables, and flowers to beautify our surroundings. In his senior years, he did not slow down a bit, serving as a trustee of our public library, laying the foundation for an award-winning library system.

Mother sparkled with humor and creativity, and could do anything she put her mind to. She inspired everyone around her with her excitement and appreciation for life. In her youth she danced professionally, and would burst into song spontaneously when the spirit moved her. She had her own unique and remarkable style. As a child, I remember watching her create gorgeous hats, and her sewing skills contributed to our wardrobes. As her children became more independent, she and my father became more involved in addressing the need for creating strong community arts programs. Through their vision, an empty Carnegie library building launched a new career as an arts center, and with Mother at the helm it became a jewel of our city, contributing to the success of many local artists. Even after she retired, she never stopped volunteering to bring art into unlikely places, and was an ardent advocate for local artists. She believed that ‘Art is for Everyone.’

In addition, these two wonderful people embraced everyone from everywhere, from all walks of life. They taught us to appreciate all cultures and truly believed that every man and woman was deserving of equal respect and opportunity. To spend time with them was to see the potential that lived within each person, and the promise of the arts to unite us.

I met Mr. Walker in 2007, when one of our fledgling writers at Covington’s Frank Duveneck Arts and Cultural Center’s Voices of Grace writing programs invited me to attend her award ceremony at Thomas More College in Northern Kentucky, where she was to be recognized for her achievements as a student writer. The event featured Mr. Walker as a speaker, and he reinvigorated my appreciation of poetry when he read some of his poems. Afterwards, I was inspired to approach him to tell him how much I appreciated his work, and in our conversation we discovered a common thread. Several years earlier, he had donated his time to teach writing workshops for youngsters at the Duveneck Center in a program coordinated by my mother. After our discussion, Mr. Walker offered to hold a writing workshop for adults at the Duveneck Center. Lovers of words, my parents and I decided to take this workshop together, a unique shared experience that is one of my fond memories of the later years with them.

It is utterly fitting that the poem by Frank X Walker, ‘Love Letta to de Worl’’ is at the core of this tattoo project. When I read the poem, I fell in love. It captured my heart and seemed to speak to the life’s work of my parents:

“Our own efforts to mimic your vistas are what we dare call art and dance, music and poetry, architecture and language, and love. It is the only thing we have ever gotten right.”

And did they ever!”

Rena Gibeau's "gotten right" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Rena Gibeau’s “gotten right” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Madison and Abigail

“To be part of something bigger. To capture a season of life that’s filled with so many highs, finding oneself, and spontaneity. To have a tangible display of a bond that’s shared with closest friends and strangers from around the globe. We share the same passion, the same peace, the same appreciation for our world—that’s why we decided to participate in the LLTW tattoo project.

I’ve always wanted a tattoo, but couldn’t think of a significant image I would want permanently displayed on my body. I fell in love with the Lexington Tattoo Project, but found out about it too late to participate. The captivating concept intrigued me and I knew if I were to ever get a tattoo, I wanted something that shared this same idea. I was so excited when I found out Kurt & Kremena had masterminded Love Letter to the World—I knew I had to participate. For me, the comma signifies the importance of taking a pause. To think. To respond. To remember that I am not always in control. I also loved the fact it was the smallest portion on the poem (first tattoo here, people) and that I initially thought it was a semicolon (…for months). It reminds me that life is a funny funny gift and that things aren’t always as they appear.

–Madison Osborne”

Madison Osborne and Abigail Watkins (photograph courtesy of

Madison Osborne and Abigail Watkins (photograph courtesy of Madison Osborne and Abigail Watkins)

Katie Brewer’s “on harmony”

Katie Brewer's "on harmony" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Katie Brewer’s “on harmony” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

“Ink first found its way under my skin two years next month when I participated in the Lexington Tattoo Project. My chosen phrase—‘of the Universe’—hurt like hell while it became a permanent feature of my body and myself. (Seriously y’all, think long and hard about those chest pieces.) As it healed, as I grew accustomed to this new addition on my ribcage, the words began to take on a deep meaning for me, one that I had a hard time articulating and that didn’t find its full form until I decided to become a participant in Love Letter To the World as well.

Let me try to explain.

For as long as I can remember, I struggled with anxiety, depression, and an overwhelming feeling that I just didn’t belong anywhere. I moved through life with some sort of purpose, sure, but I was lacking something. Passion maybe? Happiness? Love? I looked high and low, here and there, inside and outside of myself.

I found what I was missing in the most unexpected of ways. During my final year of college, I adopted a bracelet that had belonged to my late grandmother (this in itself is a story for another time). Simple, delicate, and beautiful—a silver chain from which dangled a small kaleidoscope of butterflies, each with an affirming word engraved upon its reverse. This bracelet meant the world to me and for a short time I wore it every day. Then, one of the charms fell off. I was devastated until I looked down whilst walking to class one day to discover a shiny little winged creature just in front of my feet.

‘Harmony,’ it said to me.

And I realized that was exactly what I needed, what I should strive to achieve. More than anything else, I needed to find peace with myself, with my surroundings, with my place in the universe. I had always considered harmony to be something unobtainable and intangible, something that only existed within the most perfect combination of musical notes. But that day I realized it was something I could find within myself and my own heart. And I began to do just that.

Enter the LLTW poem. Frank X Walker’s words touched my soul in much the same way Bianca Spriggs’ ode to Lexington had done not long before. As I listened to him read, over and over, I felt at one with the world and its joy and its suffering. The words ‘on harmony’ were an obvious choice for me—I knew it was something I would be dwelling on and living with for the rest of my days.

I scheduled my appointment. I got my tattoo. I once again became part of something beautiful and so much bigger than myself. My note, my voice added itself to the worldwide symphony of LLTW tattoo bearers. In harmony.

On Harmony. Of the Universe.

I am both of these things and I am beyond grateful.

– katie b.”

Jeni McDaniel’s comma

“The first time I read Frank X Walker’s ‘Love Letta To de Worl’,’ I was struck by his perception of how every individual on this planet has a personal impact on the future of our existence. Many of my friends from the band I play with, March Madness Marching Band, had already gotten tattoos from the Lexington Tattoo Project. I had felt saddened by the fact that I had not kept up with Facebook to be able to be an integral part of that artwork. Mind you, I am not computer illiterate at all. In fact, that is exactly how I make a living. But I seldom have the time to keep up with some of the social media that permeate our lives so completely.

This past summer when I was faced with an absolute diagnosis of stomach cancer, I felt the need to ‘pause’ in my life. To reflect on what I had and what I may lose. And to contemplate the reason for my existence and the reason for my possible passing.

Five days before my surgery was scheduled, my stomach surgeon told me he wanted to do another endoscopy to put his ‘own eyes’ on the tumor, so he could tell me exactly how much of my stomach and surrounding tissue he would have to remove. (The previous EGD had been performed by a Gastroenterologist.) He finished the procedure and told me that the mass was gone! Basically … by some blessing from the universe, the tumor that had been in my stomach had simply disappeared!

At that point I became intrigued by the LLTW project again, by the fact that many wonderful, loving people were ‘paying it forward’ to give folks like me an opportunity to share in this lovely tribute to the world. Just a ‘comma, a ‘pause’ in my life, which was all I really needed to commemorate the five months of uncertainty I had been dealing with, part of an already chaotic life I had been living for several years.

I am eternally grateful for the woman who made this possible for me. She is a beautiful, loving person who has always been there for me. And she is always there for those who need her.  Isn’t that what makes our world a better place? To be blessed with people in our lives who really matter? Who give without expecting a return? Who ‘pay it forward,’ if you will, just so that the world can be a better place. I know it may sound cliché to some, but it’s really not.

So with immense joy I would like to share my comma with all who care to share it with me! After my last EGD in October, I was cleared of having to endure major stomach surgery! I will have a follow-up in January. I have positively decided that cancer does not ‘fit’ with me. I love life and the people who surround me with love and happiness!

I’m not ready to leave this world, for sure.

As Frank X Walker put it, “… And yet, every day you continue to humble, inspire, and move us to tears with your natural beauty … our only efforts to mimic your vistas are what we dare call art and dance, music and poetry, architecture and language, and love. It is the only thing we have ever gotten right.”

‘Thank you, world.’

Thank you, Frank, and … thank YOU, World!

~Jeni McDaniel”

Jeni McDaniel's comma (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Jeni McDaniel’s comma (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Note: Jeni’s comma will be one of the hundreds of photographs included in the Love Letter To the World video artwork, which will premiere on Winter Solstice Day, December 22. Visit the artwork website to watch the video!

Lonna Jo’s “and petty squabbles”

Lonna Jo's "and petty squabbles" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova

Lonna Jo’s “and petty squabbles” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova

“One of my favorite words is maktoob. I learned this word from reading Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist. maktoob is an Arabic word that means ‘it is written’ or ‘destiny.’ I am a believer in destiny, that life is a journey. We are all connected and intertwined, including our destinies. That is why I would have to say that my Love Letter To the World tattoo began in 2008 when I met my friend Karyl Anne.

I went back to school to complete my degree after having been a stay-at-home (for the most part) mom of five kids and wife (twice) for nearly 20 years. I had to retake some core classes because my credits were too old to use. I met Karyl Anne in an English Literature class. That was in the fall of 2008. Fast-forward to May 30, 2014 and my friend invited me to a poetry reading. She was earning her MFA at Spalding University and her mentor was one of my favorite authors, Silas House. She knew how much I loved him and Frank X Walker, both of whom would be reading that evening at the Brown Hotel.

After the poetry reading, I began following Frank X Walker on social media. In August 2014, I learned through his Facebook about the Love Letter To the World tattoo art project being done by Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde. I fell in love with the whole concept and poem; therefore, I posted about it all over social media to encourage others to participate.

All throughout 2014, I was always finding myself in the presence of dragonflies. Being an introspective person, I took this as a sign that there needs to be a change. I felt unsatisfied with the way things were going in my life because I felt trapped behind a mask. By December 2014, I felt the need to voice the transformation I was ready to make, inspired by the LLTW tattoo art project. To love the world, to love other people, to love life, we must begin by loving ourselves by being faithful to our own nature.

This past year of 2015, perspicacity brought me to an opening; my spirituality bloomed fully with a deeper understanding of the unity of our world … of the universe. I began meditating and visualizing. I strove to understand human connectedness and energy. I grew. In mid-August, there was a posting on the LLTW Facebook page, offering a free tattoo to two people. The tattoos were sponsored by Kentucky for KentuckyTo enter, one had to tell of a legend and had to pick one of four designs from the poem Love Letta to de Worl’: ‘our own efforts,’ ‘it shows off,’ ‘everything we do,’ or ‘and petty squabbles.’ I submitted two legends. One was of the Pope Lick goat man at the train trestles; the other—of Steve Dehart, from Nada, Kentucky, who purportedly killed off all the black bears of Eastern Kentucky in the early 1900’s. I chose the words ‘and petty squabbles.’ I felt that tattoo was mine and imagined it was already inked in my skin.

The day before my 44th birthday, I was notified that I had indeed won that tattoo! I was ecstatic! A year in the making … seven years in the making … or longer; at least a year after falling in love with the poem and the artwork, I was going to be able to get one of the tattoos from it. On September 13th, I went to Twisted Images in the Highlands of Louisville, Kentucky, where Irish S8N was ready to ink the words and design into my skin forevermore.

I love my tattoo. I love being part of a global art project. I love the poem Love Letta to de Worl’. In the beginning, I had chosen the words ‘healing waters.’ Swimming is an activity I love: flowing gracefully through water. Water is purifying; think showers/baths, ablutions before prayer, and being baptized. Purification of body and soul always requires the healing of waters; what is more healing than tears?

The stanza that holds the words of my tattoo is as follow:

When you weep, daily, 
over our continued ignorance, 
our epic failures and petty squabbles 
–our every transgression, 
your waters 
break and we are born again.

As a mom of five, I have cried over my children’s petty squabbles with one another. As a Bowen (maiden name), I have shed tears from the petty squabbles within my clan of hillbillies living on Hell Hill (it is named Bowen hill, but nicknamed Hell Hill due to the fighting). As a human being, I have sobbed over the petty squabbles that affect our world dividing us into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Tears are healing waters by way of their cathartic effect and sadly ‘our continued ignorance,’ ‘our epic failures,’ ‘petty squabbles,’ and ‘our every transgression’ ensure that there will always be a continuous flow of ‘healing waters’ from our faces and that of our earthen mother, Gaia.”