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  • Writer's picturejaneboutwell

Placemaking & Painting on a bus mid-winter.

As this new year is well underway,  my family is re-adjusting to being a household of ‘only’ 6 people. Nothing like living as a household of 10 for a month to make a 6 person household feel so calm! We had the unique experience of hosting my friend and her family from the Netherlands. Tessa  is a documentary film maker with a sensitivity that allows her to beautifully capture the heart of the subject matter she films. This year she is working on a special personal project: documenting the adventure her family is taking together through the United States. 

    They stayed with us in September when they first arrived in the US. Her two children are similar in age and temperament to my two youngest and it was amazing to watch their friendships bloom despite the cultural and language differences. Their family continued their journey and bought a school bus to serve as their traveling home for the year.  Tessa's husband Carlo had done an amazing job of transforming the inside of the bus into a tiny home by the time they came back to spend Christmas holidays with us.  

    While they stayed with us this past time I had the joy of helping transform the aesthetics of their ‘skoolie’. I feel that one of my callings is to place making. I think of it as a form of installation art… the colors, textures, and sense of space shapes the experience people will have when they spend time within a space. And even the memories we hold of special places can change us or give us hope. 

    After several trips to a fabric warehouse with Tessa, the fabric for the window coverings and bench upholstery was chosen. I had a few friends who love to sew come over for a sewing bee day… Tessa kept us supplied with cappuccinos, their traditional pea stew, and delicious Dutch apple pie as we sewed cushion covers for 8 bench cushions. 

    Ever since Tessa and Carlo began dreaming of transforming a school bus back in September we had talked about how awesome it would be for me to paint it for them… well, the time had come. BUT the weather was not cooperating. How often do we paint things without giving that ideal temperature recommendation a second thought? We found ourselves in a spell of crazy low temperatures for this area. When the high for the day is 20 degrees lower than the coldest recommended painting temperature, you simply can't make it work. 

We waited it out for the one day in the 10 day forecast that came close to warm enough.  The paint was still an unusual consistency, but this was our chance to send them out on their journey with a visual message of beauty and freedom. At 11am the temps got close enough to begin the job. I knew I had just this one afternoon to cover the bus before rain and more cold temps would be moving in. I finished the job with a head lamp on, feeling the slight damp of rain in the air.

The design shows the grounding of red earth, the inspiration of mountain tops, and the whimsical freedom of birds in flight.

Tessa's art medium is film, but I've given her a taste of painting playfully and I'll be surprised if she doesn't keep it up!

There is a beautiful blessing written by John O'Donohue that Carlo had in mind as we discussed putting birds on the bus. I added the following words into the painted mountains. They are from O'Donohue's blessing For Freedom:


For Freedom


As a bird soars high

In the free holding of the wind,

Clear of the certainty of the ground,

Opening the imagination of wind.

Into the grace of emptiness,

May your life awaken

To the call of its freedom.

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