By Maren Johnson
Pilgrimage is something that many Sewanee students are familiar with, from the Camino de Santiago to the Appalachian Trail. These represent traveling to a destination, both physically and metaphorically. Julie Püttgen has undergone several pilgrimages, two of which have resulted in a B.A. in Studio Art from Yale University, as well as a M.F.A. in Drawing, Painting, and Printmaking from Georgia State University. These degrees have left her with an aptitude for designing and planning art exhibitions, just like the one she recently brought to Sewanee.
For the Inner Beauty Pilgrimage, Püttgen was initially interested in how the cosmetic industry affected perceptions of self. Sometimes these products are marketed by targeting the insecurities of women. Through this exhibition, Püttgen seeks to encourage ideas of self beauty and kindness, regardless of whether one wears makeup, but it is not a criticism of wearing makeup. Püttgen has made her own “shrines” to beauty, compacts that contain a meditation and quotation on beauty. Her other beauty products include lipstick, cream, and a beauty kit. She is sharing her artwork throughout the East Coast in a project funded by a Kickstarter campaign. She has traveled through New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, and will continue her journey in Atlanta, Georgia, and will end on the West Coast.
Along with her unique brand of cosmetics, the Inner Beauty Pilgrimage offered a series of meditation spaces. Several tents were set up with pillows in them, and participants were encouraged to sit in the tents long enough to feel safe and loved. Püttgen encouraged people to feel safe, free from the anxieties of life, and thankful, for having the necessary things to live, like food and shelter. She also reminded people to feel loved, since one of the nagging human doubts that everyone experiences is, “does anybody love me?”Püttgen also explores how people can make themselves feel more content, beautiful, and kind to themselves by asking them what makes them free. She created an exercise with two people, one who holds a mirror and asks the other “What makes you free?” three times, then asks “What makes you not free?” three times. For the first set, the mirror faces the answerer, who answers to themselves. The second set is answered to the sky seen in the mirror. Then the two participants switch. Identifying and listening to what makes people free and what makes them feel restricted can help pinpoint the areas of life that should be focused on in order to feel more kind to they leave with the realization that someone finds the self. For Lauren Crider (C’17), “It made me think a lot about what I valued and how those values were connected with my feelings of freedom.” At the end of this exercise, the participants give each other blessings, which are symbolized in thread bracelets.
The idea of partnership continues into the drawing exercise. Sitting across from one another, two people look at each other and draw the other person, without looking down at the paper. This encourages the participants to focus closely on their partner, in an intensity that people generally avoid in everyday contact. Recognizing what makes the other person beautiful and unique is an intensive task, but it pays off in the end when the participants share what they drew. As Alexis Benedict (C’16) said, “By the end of it you feel like you know the person really well, and you also notice things about the person you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.” It becomes clear to both parties that they possess beauties they do not think about, and them beautiful. These stations were available throughout the day in the Spencer Quad, as the night fell, they moved to the Social Lodge. With an array of potluck dishes and shelter from the rain, more people were able to attend. This time an additional station was added for feet washing. As Püttgen explained, in life we don’t allow other people to take care of us, and we tend to be too busy to think about caring for others. Although initially uncomfortable and very ticklish, Phoebe Layne (C’18) at first, “felt pressure to make sure I was washing her feet ‘right,’’ but after realizing there was no ‘right’ way, “it reminded me of the fact that there is no ‘right’ or perfect way to love someone.” By washing someone’s feet, a person humbles themselves and takes the time to do something for another person. By having one’s feet washed, the other person is able to realize that he or she deserve care. Although this initially felt uncomfortable for most participants, after they experienced it, they understood its value.
Along with a general feeling of wellbeing, some participants left with Inner Beauty Passports. Püttgen designed these as a reaffirmation of identity. They provide documentation for the acceptance of each person’s many names. 108 Names of Now is a part of the exhibit which encourages people to reflect on their many identities, with religion, relationships with other people, and the other things that they feel make them who they are.
The Inner Beauty Pilgrimage left those who experienced it feeling happier, and with a new awareness that daily life can wear down the kindness people show towards themselves. With this new consciousness, perhaps the participants will remember to be kinder and will maintain these feelings. As Phoebe Layne said, “Unexpectedly, I was able to glean love, self-love, and humility on a weeknight.”