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Chart Your Own Course for Healing

When grief left her adrift, Jennifer Ewing found solace in spirit boats.

Photography by Leo Germano

Jennifer Ewing didn’t set out to become a shipbuilder. After the 2004 death of her father, the San Francisco painter and sculptor began meeting with a curandera, or Native American healer, to work through her grief. At the time, Ewing had been painting Italian hill towns, working at capturing the geometry and a sense of place. But she couldn’t shake the boat imagery that appeared to her in her counseling sessions—and the following year, the devastating images of New Orleanians escaping the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina in lifeboats. Deeply mourning her own loss and the national tragedy, inspiration struck. Over the next few years, Ewing became preoccupied with boats as powerful metaphors for drifting, navigation, and survival. She began cutting up plastic water bottles to create hulls, decorating the tiny vessels, and eventually exhibiting her newly constructed totems. In January 2011, she was the artist in residence at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, where she held drop-in workshops for museum-goers to create their own works, “Spirit Boat Directions: Totems for Personal Journeys.” Ewing was …

To help build our Pinterest Spirit Boat board, send a jpg of your own spirit boat to our art director, Sandra Salamony, at [email protected] 

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