The story began with surgery and the specter of cancer. On the afternoon before his scheduled surgery my husband checked into the hospital and we went to his room. It was on the eighth floor, and when we got there I looked out the window and saw birds circling around in the air. I couldn't figure out what they were doing there, but I enjoyed watching them - a distraction I was glad to have.
All the next week from the window I noticed the reappearance of the birds. One afternoon I saw a tiny lady dressed in black moving slowly along the sidewalk pushing a shopping cart. On January 26, 1977 I wrote in my journal:
Thinking of the "bird lady" - I'll look for her today. Her daily visits to the lot across the street are a reminder of Life going on while our attention is focused on ourselves. She must cheer hundreds of people with her daily visits. I wonder if she knows that she is providing care for people as well as for birds. I hope I can spot her as she approaches today.
That afternoon, as the sky filled with birds, I watched from the window, and for the first time I saw the woman as she approached the vacant lot below. I didn't see where she'd come from or where she went. The next day I took my camera to the hospital room. As the birds began to gather I stood at the window, and when I saw the woman in the distance I began snapping pictures.
After that day, for many weeks I continued to think about her. I never saw her face and didn't know her name, but for me she'd become a symbol of the spirit of life. A few months later, when I saw an article in the newspaper I learned she was "Lavina...just use my middle name" and she was quoted: "People think I'm a little strange, but that doesn't bother me. The birds are always hungry and that's what matters."
The negatives of the pictures I'd taken had been poorly exposed and scratched and I'd never made proof sheets. When I read about her, learning her name and what she'd said, I went back to my darkroom. During the next four years, in an effort to transform the story into artwork, I experimented with alternative photographic processes including cyanotype and brown printing.
I printed a series of images so tiny that the flaws were not visible. I used Kodalith photographic paper, originally intended for map making, and created painterly prints. As I looked at the images in sequence again and again, I recognized within them the essence of life process: a beginning almost imperceptible, vulnerability and determination, obstacles and perseverence, and finally completion with the possibility of new beginnings - a reassuring meditation. Time made visible.
Seeing patterns and rhythms, I began to think of the individual frames as they related to the whole story. Soon I found myself wanting a symbol, a glyph, to represent each. The first calligraphic symbols, created in 1980, were related to Lavina's posture and the birds; gradually they became more stylized.
In 1981 I completed "Lavina's Gift - Wings of Her Song." It tells the story in forty small prints each individually framed with its corresponding glyph drawn on the mat. As I was creating the work, I envisioned it along a hospital corridor. In 1997 it was exhibited at Benham Gallery in Seattle. In 2002 the work became part of the art collection at Swedish Hospital.
In 2010 the project was revitalized when the information on my damaged film was translated to digital format. Computer technology made it possible for me to return to the original images, repair them and modify their content for clarity. The images in the book are the result. Thirty five years after Lavina came into my life the story was shared anew.