After spending a decade avoiding her past, artist Stephanie Calvert revisited her old, abandoned home to face the thing she was so ashamed of. She turned her parents’ hoarding into a powerful series of artworks and a way to help her heal.
When Calvert was 11, her family moved to Thatcher, Colorado – a rural, unincorporated area where they lived in an abandoned schoolhouse without plumbing, heat or electricity. Her parents had hoarding tendencies and the cavernous, isolated building was largely taken over by her mother’s things.
Her parents eventually left the schoolhouse to live in a nearby town called Trinidad and Calvert moved on to New York. Two years ago, her mother suffered severe brain damage from a bike accident. Calvert was making regular trips back to help her father and finally decided it was time to face her past.
The Shame to Pride project is the artist’s way of coping, making sculptures out of the hoarded items left in the building. She spent last summer working in the abandoned schoolhouse completely isolated, without a cellphone, Internet or anything other than her memories and family history.
Calvert told Yahoo Makers that she spent two months in the schoolhouse, making trips to Trinidad “every so often” to help her father care for her mother, shower and buy food before heading back to work on the project.
“With my mother’s damaged mind, I am not able to communicate and connect with her as I did before,” she writes. “This project is also a way for me to learn about and connect to her through the lifetime of things she has held onto, and a way to use my challenges as fuel to focus on and create beauty and love.“
Calvert hopes to exhibit the Shame to Pride project in New York and has launched a campaign on Indiegogo. She hopes to inspire others who have experienced shame or loneliness.
“For many years I was ashamed of where I am from, and I felt very much alone in what I was going through,” Calvert writes on Indiegogo. “It takes courage to dig into unpleasant memories and expose our wounds to the light, but it’s the only way to come to a complete healing.”
As for Calvert herself, the wounds have been exposed and the healing process has begun. She said her family has been very supportive of the Shame to Pride project. Her father helped clear things out of the building and brought her supplies, and her sister helped create the campaign and shoot the video to go along with it.
Though it’s difficult to know what Calvert’s mother thinks of the project, the artist always felt she had her family’s support to pursue her creative passions.
“I know my parents wished they could have provided more to us as children, but I recognize now that they really did the best they could with what they had, and there was always a lot of love and creativity in our home,” she said.