We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Tenney and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa, as a parent, what do you feel is the most meaningful thing you’ve done for them?
I suppose that one of the most demanding and rewarding roles that I have played in life would be as a parent to six human beings. As parents, we can get lost in the role of taking care of our children. For me, turning parenthood into an opportunity for making art was a way to connect with my young children when they were growing up and it also fed my soul. (I should add, that parenting with a solid partner made it possible for me to also develop an artistic life alongside motherhood…thank you David!) Developing my own visual voice in the background of raising our kids gave them a different view of me. I was not only their mom, but I was being creative and influencing others to be creative. Relationships and community, enlightenment and growth all happened while doing art, teaching art, talking about art and life. Now that they are grown, I am keeping my two young grandchildren and so the balancing act continues: my responsibility to care for others AND my responsibility to fully show up in the world as me: an artist and a person with a passion for the spiritual side of iife.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m Lisa Tenney, and I’ve named my studio “Serene Chaos” because, on the one hand there is the serenity side of my vocation in the role of Spiritual Director. It is grounded in prayer and meditation, intentional silence and solitude, coupled with listening and companioning. On the chaos side of life, led by curiosity, experimentation, and exploration as a visual artist–messes abound. I can, in fact, make more messes in a morning than the average toddler! Additionally, chaos is from a Latin root word meaning vast. As a visual artist, I experience the vastness of possibilities as I embark on creating the unknown. What I create today was unknown to me before I began. In the quieting of mind and heart while leaning into creativity, I have found a path that has the potential to heal the human soul. Ways to reconnect the soul with the knowledge that: we came into the world as beloved, and a big part of life’s journey is to return to the deep knowledge of being fully beloved. This being beloved is a human birthright, and it is often obscured by our human life experiences. Speaking of life experience, what a year 2020 has been! For me personally, it has looked like this: Covid, Cancer, Apocalypse, Chemo, Covid, Recalibration. While we were just getting used to the Covid lockdown life in late April/early May, I was diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma. So, amidst lockdowns and protests, I underwent chemo treatments for five months. I posted on Facebook what I was facing and was overwhelmed by the heartfelt responses of many, many people who were praying for me and loving me back to life. Staring down death is no joke. While this was happening, a new awareness of the depth and breadth and prevalent existence of systemic racism came into view. What had been hidden in plain sight and was known instinctively, was and is now being methodically communicated, broken down, and, in many sectors, heard. Hoping for my physical healing became intertwined with hopes for the healing of our societies, our planet, and for relief from this pandemic and more. On the heels of these huge life events, as I recalibrate and regroup, I am starting to return to that blessed creative energy. I am working on several art pieces: I have continued creating collaged trees and focusing on the architecture of trees. During chemo, I did an experimental piece that plays on the rings of trees as a metaphor for the seasons of our life. It is named “Luminous”. On my easel right now is a large scale painting of two fall leaves that appear to be dancing. Another recent work, still in progress, is inspired by a magnolia tree which resides at the Villa de Matel Convent. “Bride” is a quiet tribute to the late Sister Adeline, who began and led the Ruah Center, a silent retreat space within the convent, for decades. In 2019 and early 2020, I was able to lead several retreats at Ruah focused on the inner life, meditative prayer, and art. There is such a deep permission to just “be” when we set aside the need to speak. Much clarity can be gained from times of silence: both exterior and interior. (Unfortunately, at present, the Villa de Matel property is closed to all visitors due to Covid.) So most of my current work is tree related. I am in love with trees and many of my imaginative meditations include trees: whether I imagine being rooted like a tree, imagine climbing a tree, or imagine walking in a forest. I plan to do some recordings of these imaginative meditations in 2021. So, at the moment, life feels a little like I just went over the sudden drop of a waterfall. It was scary and exhilarating, and the deep bubbly water at the bottom is providing joy and space for a bigger creative life.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Day 1: We would head to Buffalo Bayou Park, walk the trails (bring a bike or a skateboard if that is your thing!) and we would do the tour of The Cistern followed by brunch or lunch at the Dunlavy (@dunlavyhouston). For dinner, we would order pizza from George’s Pizzeria (the best!) Day 2: We would pick up breakfast at the Original Kolache Shoppe (@originalkolacheshoppe) and then head to Spring Street Studios (1824 Spring St.) to look at art and especially a fun stop at the Jewelry Instructor’s Bead Bar (@thejewelryinstructor)! Every visit there leaves me smiling. We would then drop in at City Orchard Cidery (@cityorchardhtx) where my son Paul works as a Production Manager. The outdoor courtyard includes a labyrinth…so cool! Day 3: Smither Park (@smitherpark) for amazing mosaics (I had a hand in a bench there) and photo ops and lunch at Bohemeo’s (@bohemeos) in Eastwood. Day 4: Japanese Gardens in Hermann Park, and perhaps an Art Museum or two (Craft, Modern, Lawndale Art, MFAH, or the Menil). Afterwards, eat in the Village…Hungry’s, Salento’s, or Torchy’s Tacos. Day 5: We would drop by the Texas Art Asylum (@texasartasylum) and pick up some things to use in art-making and grab some amazingness at Crumbville Bakery (@edubalicioustreats), where they have vegan and regular baked deliciousness. After a day of creating in the studio, we head to 13 Celsius, the best in the city, for a glass of wine served by my daughter Claire, wine sommelier. Sipping the best wine, we plan your next trip to Houston, because we have only begun to scratch the surface of all we can explore and enjoy here!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I am dedicating my shoutout to the Tia Norman of A Contemplative Space and Awakenings Movement and to Lee Ann Hillbrich of Daring Discoveries: During February and March I began visiting Awakenings Movement for their Solace and Serenity gatherings on Sunday mornings. I had visited before, but this time was different, I was feeling as though each time I went, I left grounded and built up, ready to do not just another week, but life at a new level of full reality. On March 14th, we gathered in person for the last time, not knowing it would be the last time. There was some talk of Covid…but no one knew what was about to be our new reality as we lingered at Bodegas for lunch afterwards. I am so grateful for that day, for spending it connecting with these people. So the pastor of Awakenings Movement, Tia Norman, in response to the lockdown, began offering live meditations online. She, for over six months, offered her presence and leadership on Instagram three mornings a week. A little covid meditation community formed. I wasn’t a part of it immediately. But once I partook, I tried to make it every time. This became and still is, a steadying rhythm and a reinforcement of the discipline that I was already wanting to have in my day to day. In the fall, when Tia shifted to a once a week free mediation on Instagram, we as participants, were ready to walk a little more steadily through the days of lockdown. Tia and Awakenings Movement can be found on Instagram: @2btia, @acontemplativespace, @awakeningsmovement, Insight Timer app: Tia Noman. Additionally, I had incredible support from Lee Ann Hilbrich (https://www.
All photos taken by Lisa Tenney; Settings for art provided by: @artroomsapp