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The Artists Upstairs

Meet Phyllis Bishop and Jon Knight

When and how did you two become part of the “artistic renaissance of downtown Elmira”?

In 2017 we approached Lynne Rusinko at Community Arts of Elmira about becoming exhibiting artists at CAE. Lynne was very welcoming and eager to support us. We talked about plans for a show combining our work that was mounted by CAE in the fall of 2018. In January of 2019, we were invited to become members of a group of 12 to 15 artists that meet every Friday at CAE to talk about art. We became permanent members of the group and have gained a wealth of support and most importantly friendships.

We found ourselves driving to Elmira three to five times a week from our home in Veteran so we decided to sell our country house and move downtown where we could walk to stores, restaurants, museums, etc. and where there were artists and a diversity of people living in close proximity to one another. Part of what enabled us to move was that Mary Jane Eckel invited us to convert two upstairs office spaces at the church into adjoining studios.

How was that downsizing process - any suggestions for the rest of us?

Once we decided to make the move from country to city, the hardest part was, as Bob Seger put it “...knowing what to keep and what to give away.” Making a list of our priorities helped us to evaluate the pros and cons of each decision. For example, we wanted a place downtown, but also one that would enable us to see the river and hills. We wanted a place to comfortably and safely age into – and one that would be ecologically as green as possible.

We gave away a lot - which we have yet to miss - and in the process we felt less encumbered by our “stuff” and more empowered by our decisions. Flexibility was the key – we tried to embrace rather than fear the changes. We had to get honest with ourselves about our time of life as we age. We needed the closeness of community and realistic plans for accessibility, smaller space, less maintenance and more freedom!

What are you creating in your upstairs studios at The Park Church?

Phyllis: My art is creating textile pieces using fabric. Some are quilts. Some are pillows. Some are wall hangings. In 2018, I created a triptych to express the horror of the Rwanda genocide of 1994. My husband and I were in Rwanda in 2014 during the 20th year remembrance of the genocide. That triptych was a part of the show Jon and I presented in 2018 at CAE. Right now, I am finishing a small quilt that is meant to be uplifting, joyful, nothing serious. Jon: I am currently working on several paintings to put in a show at CAE – Moment to Moment: An artist’s journey through confusions of time. It will be on view June 3 to August 27, 2022. The works focus on my response to pandemic, political chaos, racism and global warming and also the beauty that continues to be found in the midst of it all

How have your travels and your spiritual practice affected your artistic endeavors?

Phyllis: The first serious piece of fabric art I created was after our trip to Israel in 2013. That artwork hung in a show in Ithaca in 2014. In Israel we hiked 40 miles across the countryside where we were fortunate enough to meet farmers, merchants, workers, and others. Some were Arab Israelis, and some were Jewish Israelis. All were Israeli. All the people we met wanted only peace.

Jon: That Israel trip presented a clash of cultures, yet showed us people breaking through anger and hate. We stayed for several days at Neve Shalom-Wahat as- Salam, an intentional community where Jews and Muslims and Christians live together - learning together how to creatively relate to one another through conflict and differences. Then in 2014 on our Rwanda trip we witnessed healing after genocide – it was genuine yet precarious – a glimpse of the possibility of forgiveness.

My spiritual practice consists of reading scripture, especially the Psalms. They force me to be honest with my feelings and beliefs and connect me to the power of community, the Mystery of the Holy One and the presence of hope and love. We value intentional time spent with close friends to share our fears, hopes and struggles. I listen to music while painting – jazz, classical, rock, blues, Gregorian chants, etc.

Edited by Jenny Monroe

Ode to Pandemic Quilt by Phyllis Bishop


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