by Christine Henson
As a new class of students contemplates the treasures found within the Hollow Bones Zen Sutra Book under the teaching of Abbott taiso Byran Bartow and Executive Director Umi No Nami Don Rotnem, it’s interesting to look back at another impression of the sutras, one expressed without words, in the work of Green Bay Zen Center sangha member Chelle Diederich.
Chelle is an emerging visual artist and new practitioner of Zen Buddhism. While studying the words and poetry in the Sutra Book, she was inspired to activate her talents as a painter in response. “I felt that the beautiful poetry and deep meaning found within the verses was open to personal interpretation, and as I worked through my thoughts, an artistic response came naturally. What I love about this practice is that it’s not ‘one size fits all.’ As I dug deeper into the phrases, the artwork naturally developed and the pieces I created were titled based on areas of the book that were especially thought provoking for me.” Four paintings inspired by these reflections comprise her Off the Cushion collection: “Mysterious Unfolding of Truth”, “Twisted Karma Erased”, “Thunderous Voice of the Dharma”, and “Where Do We Find the Buddhas?”
Chelle has been practicing with GBZC for about eighteen months, and especially enjoys the fellowship and opportunities for involvement in the Green Bay Community that the sangha offers, including after-service Sunday Coffee and the monthly gathering featuring noodles!
Growing up in Wisconsin, Chelle was drawn to art as a child. She majored in art at Monmouth College in Chicago, and returned to the Sheboygan area once graduating. After college she worked in corporate environments, but has since been drawn to fully explore her artistic calling through her own business.
The Off the Cushion paintings feature the beautiful arrangement of jewel tones, which was a surprise to Chelle as she was creating them. “The paintings exemplify the questions and thoughts I was working through as I studied the book, and I initially envisioned these concepts being expressed with muted and somber tones, but that’s not what happened. The palette changed to bright tones as a switch flipped in my head. Areas of individual color appear within the painting more than once, to illustrate the reflection of the Buddha that we see in each other, and the interdependence we all have despite the unique parts and pieces we each offer as human beings.”
Chelle is excited about continuing quest toward self-employment as an artist. Her work will be shown in a solo show at her alma mater Monmouth College this Fall, entitled, Love Letters to Myself.
Chelle Diederich has given HBZ non-exclusive rights to display her paintings on our website. Find out more about her work on her website.
Christine Henson is a volunteer staff writer and sangha member of HBZ.