Donna Troy Cleary

Why I went into the woods (or in this case Prospect Park).

Donna Troy ClearyComment

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I pride myself on being a problem solver. I’m usually able to clear things out pretty quickly. Fix this, take care of that and viola!  But I'll admit the stress I've been dealing with over the last few weeks had bogged me down. This one left me ruminating.

I remember the shock of having to deal with a particular person again. I tried to remind myself that this is part of life, which is often challenging. If it’s not, I’m not stretching, not navigating outside of my comfort zone, not living. Stretching means I don’t always have the skills to tackle issues as they emerge but I try to see challenges as opportunities for learning. As long as I can find a way to deal with the discomfort that accompanies the learning curve, all will be well.

I remember Elijah Cummings’ closing statement at the Michael Cohen hearing. “When bad things happen to you, do not ask the question “Why did it happen to me?” Ask the question, “Why did it happen for me?”  I want to pry the lesson out of this situation. What do I need to do differently? 

I’m focusing on how I communicate - a skill I find myself constantly tweaking. There’s room for improvement. At 58, it’s fascinating that I’m still evolving. But I plan on living to106, so there’s still time. 

To deal with the stress, last Sunday, I decided to take my own advice. I took the day off from my shop and went outside.

I knew a walk to Prospect Park would do me wonders. It's my favorite walk, the best place in Brooklyn to connect to the landscape, and a place I cherish. So I was off. I was surprised to see miniature daffodils fully blossoming a block away, grape hyacinth as well. “Twitterpated” birds conjured memories of watching Bambie with my children. They chirped and swooped, gathering material for newly renovated nests. Before moving to NYC, it was impossible to miss this massive transition in the landscape. Busy and warm inside my city dwellings and routines, this period had nearly passed, completely unobserved.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Thoreau

As I approached the park, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to record my thoughts, since I’d been reading about the effect that trees and plants have on our bodies. The scientist in me wanted to document my observations. My concurrent thought was to stop being so analytical - that was the reason I was going into the woods in the first place.

The scientist won. I used “notes” on my phone to dictate what I saw and felt…

The landscape has peeled off its winter coat. Dried, cracked surfaces, newly moistened by rain, respond to warming sun. I notice a poof of salmon-pink in the distance. Not a shrub covered in flowers but crinoline. A spring wedding, what a glorious spot to be photographed. As I draw nearer, I see it is something else, a Quinceanera dress, worn by a beautifully coiffed young woman, also in a period of transition - between child and adult. She sits, surrounded by mountains of cascading fabric - the center of a massive rose.

Brooklyn’s own Arc de Triomphe creates a larger frame around her. A memorial to the first battle in America’s war of Independence, the Arch marks the transition between city and park. Crossing the street, I pass between massive columns topped with bronze eagles and enter the park. The eagle, master of the sky, seer of all below, a powerful symbol from hinduism, the bible, native americans and independent America.

Trees cushion the edge of the park and I turn onto the path on my left, up into the woods, avoiding the road. Skeletons of mugwort and goldenrod line the path - powerful plant allies used in my herbalism practice. Dessicated stalks will tumble as rhizomes push new growth upwards from beneath the surface. I find my eyes searching tree trunks, hoping to spot emerging fruiting bodies - some of my favorite medicinal mushrooms. I remind myself that my goal is to relax. Just be.

We are part of the landscape, one small, essential element, in a network of interdependence. My mission is to connect. I walk by ancient, gnarled trunks resembling vaginal orifices, places of transition, from which life emerges, on the cusp between realities.

My feet twist, ankles turn on uneven ground, reminding me to slow my pace, merge with the surface. Slow walking is underrated here in this bustling metropolis. Even, the prospect of passing an upcoming bench where a man sits and smokes cannot speed up my gate. I hold my breath after saying hello and stroll on.

The landscape is so different from the last time I walked through, in fall. Where before, I was encircled by dense foliage, I now have long vistas, able to see into previously secluded alcoves.   Voyeur.   Flaneur.   Today I am a wanderer. Today I abandon the tasks that have cluttered my mind - taxes, bills, neighbors, my business.

Snippets of lives. Careening toddlers on scooters fly on hills towards me. Others attempt to wield long sticks, muscles not yet strong enough to lift them fully. Barefoot babies, digging in sand. Bare chests, bare bottoms in mid-diaper-change. Sneakers skidding on pavement, near collisions avoided. Newly emerged crocuses. Small black dogs, staring, snorting.

Lily of the valley remind me of transplants taken from my parent’s home. My father had taken them from his parent’s home. Gramma first planted the prolific bulbs on a hilly street in Boston, creating a lineage of white blossoms and heady scents which ended in my move to Brooklyn. I make a mental note to bring some to our new front garden.

Turkey tail mushrooms, transformer of dead trees, survive the winter, becoming supple again in spring warmth. Clusters of yellow buds on thin branches. Pre-teens running behind now-see-through hedges. Hide and seek.

The path turns toward the street, we intersect for a moment. Teens on motorized bikes ascend the steep hill, adults run, a practiced rider, in splendid gear, extremely narrow wheels, fully forward, helmet down, moves at a pace akin to the teens, similar sounds emerge from hyper-accelerated wheels.

Ground covered in round, prickly seed pods and an urge to pick one up to see how far it will fly. Then a vivid memory of the same sized crab apples being thrown, just down the street from my childhood home. 

I approach a corner, where last year, Chicken of the Woods grew abundantly. Any sign? Perhaps - small white bumps. The landscape teaches us patience. Everything at its own pace, in its own time, when it should.

Tiny bugs, in beams of light, hover, like paparazzi helicopters, mesmerized by the drama of fresh growth beneath them.

And then, my phone dies.

The scientist in me was given a moment. Serendipity intervened. My goal of merging with the landscape, accomplished thereafter.


Below please find one of my sculptures in my new series Hybrid. The sculptures encapsulate the whole of my practice as Artist, Herbalist. They are an amalgam of human, plant and microorganism. Created from crocheted yarn, my process echoes Einstein’s improvisational experimentations with his violin. I allow the forms to unfold, in “a wilderness of associations reaching across boundaries of various theories and fields of thought, not as deliberate problem-solving but as unforced … meanderings.” Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

I'm also excited to announce that I will be presenting my work at First Person Plural on May 5th. Details to follow.

Hybrid  2019, 46 x 31 x 24 inches Mannequin, yarn, up-cycled plastic shopping bags (stuffing).


2019, 46 x 31 x 24 inches Mannequin, yarn, up-cycled plastic shopping bags (stuffing).

Let's talk about the Microbiome and other gooey things...

Donna Troy Cleary1 Comment

First, I thought it might be helpful to explain how I came to embody my life as Artist/ Herbalist. It has been a process of choosing, of following ideas, of intentional and dedicated learning, of remembering, of digging in the past and finding. Art is about that. It is a process of discovery, of thinking, feeling and responding. When it comes from the "gut", it resonates. Art isn't only object-making. Art is being, observing, questioning and living. It's a lot like science, which is why the two sit so comfortably with me.

I worked as a Registered Nurse for 13 years at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, a major teaching hospital. I cut my teeth on an acute medical floor for 3 years and then worked in Clinical Research for 10. My mission is to bring science into the tradition of herbalism, allowing those of us who grew up only believing science-based evidence to feel comfortable with a world where plants and their properties are an integral part of human health. Herbalism existed before "science" but the process of experimentation, observation and conclusion is the same. Herbalists accumulated knowledge long before scientific journals and double-blind experiments. Their "clinical trials" lasted thousands of years and that knowledge has been passed on generationally. I spend a lot of time looking for scientific research to back up what herbalists have been doing since the beginning of humanity. The best part is that I always find it.

After leaving nursing, I found art and have been working as an artist since 1995. Being an Herbalist evolved out of my art practice and is my art practice. It is my center, an evolution of self, the embodiment of everything I ever was, everything I ever knew. I'm grateful. It has taken me 58 years to be here. Be patient if you haven't "found" yourself yet. Each phase is part of the whole. Time limits only exist in your mind.

How did I arrive here? I followed my "gut".

The gut. Our intestines. Scientists now call the gut our second brain. So did our ancestors. It is place of autonomy, where the body thrives without checking in with that orb that sits on top of our shoulders. Some say it's a place of instinct, a place of truth, a place our ancestors used for survival. Isn't it curious that as science probes deeper into this place, our core, the center of our being, that we discover it is at risk in 2019, when much of the world doesn't make sense, when fear and doubt dominate the news. We've landed in a place that feels alien. Simultaneously, we are surrounded by people who make perfect sense. Not all of us choose fear. Not all of us allow the tantrums of leaders to dictate our reality. Maybe the differentiators are gut health.

Yes, science has found a connection between our gut and mental health. 

In my shop Spiral Herbal Remedies, located at 435 Broadway, in Soho, NYC, the majority of people I see present with some sort of inflammatory process. During our discussions, I suggest plant-based tinctures, oils, salves, balms and teas that I make myself in Brooklyn. If you've visited me, you know that most discussions also include gut health.

There is a lot of information in this blog. It is meant to be a reference as well as an introduction. After reading it, you might want to press copy and paste it into a word doc. Just remember to reference me if you use it in the future. When this topic comes up again in conversation, trust me, it will, you'll have access to all the latest.

New research suggests an unhealthy gut, or microbiome contributes to 90% of all diseases, including IBS, autism, allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis.  It also suggests that our well being, our mental health, our feelings of security, are tied to our gut and that which lives within it - our microbiome - we have found that gut health is a huge contributor to inflammation, particularly inflammation of the nervous system and brain.

What is the microbiome? (Micro - extremely small, Biome - a community of flora and fauna in a habitat.) Did you know that 90% of the cells on or in your body are not human - they’re microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and viruses? Our skin and the inside of our body is host to millions of living beings that are not human. In fact, your body is made up of only 10% human cells. And that's normal.

Digest that for a minute.

How is that possible? The truth is that in nature, it is not unusual. That’s the way things works. No one, no thing is completely autonomous. I like to think of humans as one part of a giant macrocosm that we call the planet and universe. Each living being, each inanimate being is part of a whole. We can’t always see it, we’re too close. And our focus has shifted off of our environment and onto our individual spheres of existence. But our ancestors knew. This blog post is a gentle reminder. 

The macro view is interdependence. Now let’s switch to a micro view. If you take a swab of your hand or any other part of your skin and look at it under a microscope, you will find that you’re covered with bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and an organism I never heard of before called archaea - which inhabit hot springs and salt lakes, along with the human body. Those same microorganisms live in our noses, throats and intestines. And the so called “bad” bacteria, viruses and fungi that can make us sick - live there as well. They only become problematic when they're given a chance to proliferate. I'll cover those circumstances below. Here’s the thing, all those "bugs", as the medical world likes to refer to them, are supposed to be there. They serve a purpose. We can't live without them.

We know that these organisms compete for space and resources. They control each other’s growth either by physically occupying space that the others would occupy or by excreting substances that are toxic to the others. In a healthy gut, no one part of this miasma of organisms dominates. Everything is kept in balance and disease is prevented.

We’ve learned a lot about what bacteria do for humans. In our intestines, they aid in digestion, stimulate parts of our immune system and alter our mood. Yeast (a fungi) has even been found to drive our food cravings.

Let’s step back again and think about what is going on. We have a variety of different species living in and on our body. They are our cohorts, collaborating with us and perhaps collaborating with each other.

Interspecies collaboration is not uncommon. When it happens, it’s called mutualism. Each organism benefits in some way from the relationship. For microorganisms - human skin, the intestine, nose and throat are a warm and (mostly) moist environment where they can thrive, sustained by a ready supply of nutrients. And we benefit from their presence.

We don’t know as much about why the fungi and viruses are there but a brilliant example of mutualism is how fungi work in the landscape, serving trees. This will give you a framework for thinking about them. Did you know that fungi create networks between the roots of same-species trees? These networks literally connect the trees together, allowing them to transfer nutrients amongst themselves. The trees will feed kin that are weak or sick, so they heal. "Mother" trees will send nutrients to their offspring. Trees chopped down hundreds of years ago have been kept alive by their kin - maybe because that tree was at the center of the network before being chopped down and keeping that stump alive allows the nutrients to travel to trees that can't be reached any other way. Keeping tree-kin alive creates groves and living in a grove creates microclimates where moisture and temperatures are stabilized. The trees thrive by working together and fungi, an unrelated species, are responsible for that tree-collaboration. What’s in it for the fungi in this mutualistic relationship? Access to nutrients they can’t produce on their own.

It's safe to assume the fungi are happy to have us as their hosts, since they're alive and well within and on us. But what's in it for humans? One study found that fungi might be responsible for controlling inflammation in the gut.

We’re still not sure why viruses are there but give that time too. Or, how about this… just trust that they serve a purpose. Trust that there is some sort of order and reasoning for their existence. Granted, it’s really cool when we understand the details too.

Another benefit of a healthy microbiome is that it keeps foreign, potentially toxic microorganisms from setting up shop in our bodies - there is no room for them. Trouble happens if one group of microorganisms is killed off, like when we take antibiotics, eat a lot of food with preservatives or for a host of other reasons listed below.

Antibiotics and preservatives kill bacteria, leaving gaps in the microbiome landscape. Those gaps are quickly filled by other multiplying microorganisms, throwing off the balance, allowing one group to proliferate. You might start with a bacterial infection but after taking antibiotics, you can end up with a yeast infection or an infection from a different bacteria that wasn’t killed by the antibiotic.

Keeping a balance of all the “good” and “bad” bacteria, fungi and viruses, etc. is important to our health but how do we accomplish that? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Add fermented food to your diet daily. Or even better, several times a day. Fermented foods contain “probiotics” - a mix of healthy bacteria and often yeast as well. This will help build up and sustain a colony of healthy microorganisms in your gut. You want to have a diverse colony of microorganisms, so eating a variety of fermented foods daily has an advantage. Humans used to ferment food to keep it from spoiling. It was a normal part of our diet. Preservatives and refrigeration have eliminated the need for fermentation. Add it back into your diet.

    *** Foods high in probiotics include: Kimchi, Kombucha, Kefir, Sauerkraut, Pickles, Natto, Kvass, Raw Cheese, Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, Brine Cured Olives, Tempeh, Miso, Fish Sauce,Yogurt (if it has live cultures), raw milk, cheese, etc. Pasteurized milk products have been boiled at high temperatures. This kills all of the natural bacteria in the milk, which is great if it’s old milk. However, fresh raw milk and raw milk products from an organic farmer is loaded with good bacteria/probiotics.

  2. Avoid processed foods. Cook at home with fresh ingredients more often. Processed foods not only contain less nutrients, they’re loaded with preservatives. Preservatives are designed to kill the microorganisms that spoil food. They also kill the microorganisms in your gut.

  3. Avoid GMO’s. Genetically modified plants have been designed to survive herbicides/weed killers (usually roundup). Entire fields of crops are now regularly sprayed with herbicides. The weeds are killed but the crops survive. Herbicides remain on the crops and we consume them. Some plants have been Modified to excrete pesticides, which we also eat. There is evidence that the combination of these two modifications are particularly toxic and damaging to our gut microbiome.

  4. Add more fiber to your diet. Probiotics (bacteria and yeast) consume fiber. Feed them. This includes fruit, veggies and whole grains. (For those of you who are gluten intolerant and can't eat grains, try organic, non GMO grains. See above.)

  5. Cut back on your consumption of sugar. Yeast loves sugar and will proliferate, disrupting the balance.
    ***When I mentioned food cravings above, this is what I was thinking about. Some research suggests that when there's a lot of yeast in your gut, the yeast signals your brain to eat more sugar. Seriously. A microorganism is dictating your behavior.
    ***Watch this video to see how another fungus, cordyceps, dictates the behavior of infected insects. 

  6. Modify your alcohol intake. Alcohol kills bacteria. 

  7. Avoid taking antibiotics unless necessary. This includes those hand sanitizers that kill microorganisms on your hands. Wash with soap and water instead. This way you only remove the bacteria, etc. You're not killing everything.
    ***Spiral Herbal Remedies' Gone Viral tincture is an alternative. The plants it contain have been found to kill Strep and Staph along with the flu virus without killing your "good" bacteria.

  8. Try to quit smoking. Aside from damaging your lungs, it kills your microbiome.
    ***Think about switching to Spiral Herbal Remedies' Chill Your Bones smoking blend to wean yourself off of tobacco. It relaxes you while you're decreasing the amount of tobacco you consume.

  9. Emotional stress, a lack of exercise and poor sleeping habits also have a destructive impact on your microbiome. 
    ***Spiral Herbal Remedies' CBD oil has been shown to be effective on the Nervous System, calming it down. It also contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
    ***Check out my last blog post  for other ways to control stress.

  10.  Switch to organic, preservative free skin products. There is a connection between your gut microbiome health and your skin microbiome health and vice versa. 60-80% of what we put on our skin is directly absorbed into your blood. Don't put toxins on your skin.
    *** Spiral Herbal Remedies' skin products were designed for that reason. Try switching out one product a month. Or make the investment and switch all at once. Several of my clients have done this. 

I hope you find this blog post helpful. Feel free to write in the comments with questions or feedback. Of course, if I've missed something, I'd love to hear about that as well.

My Herbalism shop is Social Practice. I am becoming the Healer, Wise Woman, Shaman, Witch. Don't worry, "Witch" refers to a word used in the middle ages to kill millions of Female Herbalists. These peasant women were organizing against wealthy landlords who claimed common land for their cattle and sheep. The landlords and church instituted a law that made it illegal for these women to heal their community because their knowledge didn't come from the church, it came from the landscape and their pre-christian pagan beliefs. The women were said to be dealing with the devil and were burned alive. Read Witches, Midwives and Nurses for an eye opener. 

Check out the rest of my website for some of my recent projects.

Becoming an herbalist is an act of resistance, a political statement, a powerful feminist move. I descend from Irish healers that practiced in the Middle Ages. I am reclaiming my ancestral knowledge.

All rights reserved. @Copyright Donna Cleary

39. Stressssssssssss and the Immune System.

Donna Troy ClearyComment

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Finding Home and Stresssss....

Two Things.
First and foremost, Spiral Herbal Remedies has found a NEW HOME. We landed in one of the busiest shopping areas in New York - Soho!! @ 435 Broadway in ManhattanWe have more space and new products available for your Holiday Shopping. We've also stocked up for the Cold and Flu season.

Of course, your favorites are still here and they're still 100% organic, including CBD oil, salve and lube, Wild Medicinal Mushrooms, Ginkgo, Beyond The Sea Face Serum (I found the recipe for La Mer and took out the toxins). Come visit! We're open 7 days a week,
Tuesday-Saturday 11-8, Sunday-Monday 11-7.

Now let's talk about stress and its effect on your immune system. 

At Spiral Herbal Remedies the majority of people who visit my shop have some sort of inflammatory process going on. People present with eczema, chronic hives, asthma, arthritis, Hashimoto's, celiac, IBS, etc. 

Many of these problems are the result of our immune system being in overdrive. The immune system is designed to keep us free of infections and mutated cells. When it's healthy, it detects invaders and switches on to eliminates them so we don't become ill.

Sometimes the immune system becomes confused and switches on when there are no invaders. Often this happens after an infection or physical damage to the body. This is what is referred to as an autoimmune response. Essentially, the body is attacking itself, causing inflammation that isn't the result of an infection.

Stress can be a contributor to an inappropriate immune response. Emotional stress can stem from trauma, isolation, job insecurity, relationships, threat, poverty, etc. Physical stressors can come from food produced by industrialized farming practices utilizing preservatives/pesticides/genetically modified plants. Animals treated inhumanely and then consumed literally add stress hormones to our bodies. When stressed, the animals also release stress hormones. When we eat them, they enter our blood. Air and water pollution contribute as well. Excessive use of drugs, tobacco or alcohol, even living in the city, spending large amounts of time indoors on the computer or on our phones can increase our stress level. Think about your body being exposed to toxins all day.  It's like it's being attacked constantly. In addition to being chronically inflamed, it wears out the immune system, leaving us susceptible to disease.

Once the body is in overdrive with an autoimmune response, what are some things that can be done? Get out into nature. Recently, the New York Times published an article about a study that evaluates humans after spending time walking on a tree or plant lined route. The study found that your body actually relaxes - confirmation that what your mom has been telling you since your youth. Get outside, walk, get some fresh air, slow down, pay attention. 

Medicinal mushrooms can be helpful as well. Some medicinal mushrooms, like Reishi, Chaga and Turkey tail modulate our immune system. This means they calm the immune system when overstimulated. They will also boost the immune system when we’re coming down with an illness. These mushrooms contain antihistamines, anti-inflammatories, antimicrobials and anti carcinogenic properties. Reishi is called the mushroom of immortality for that reason. 

Here’s the best part about the mushrooms from Spiral Herbal Remedies - I found all but one kind in the wild - in the deep woods of Eastern PA, upstate NY, western MA or CT. Foraging mushrooms is one of my favorite activities. It's a good excuse for me to be out in the woods. Wild mushrooms contain more medicinal properties because they have had to survive the harsh climate of the Northeast and in doing so, have built up defense mechanisms to fight off the same diseases we are susceptible to. Ganoderma Lucidum mushrooms don’t grow locally but I grew them outside on a log. When mushrooms are grown in warehouses it stands to reason they don’t contain the same amount of healing properties as wild mushrooms.

Mushrooms are actually our ancestors. They breathe oxygen, exhale carbon dioxide and are susceptible to the same diseases as us. Some believe we should share a genus - the groupings that separate plants, animals, etc. Watch this TED talk by Paul Stamets to gain some insight into our origins. Mushrooms were the first living organisms on the planet. They were responsible for breaking up the soil so plants could then grow and the entire process of populating the planet could ensue.

I plan on taking my Reishi Purist blend as a preventative for the rest of my life. It’s made from Ganoderma Lucidum and Ganoderma Tsugae. Both are a type of Reishi mushroom. Both modulate the immune system. My Super Reishi Plus contains some mushrooms that only boost your immune system - so it is intended for use during an illness. My Nerve Blend, is a combo of Reishi and Lion's Mane. In laboratory studies, Lion's Mane has been found to regenerate damaged nerves.

Come by my shop to talk with me or write and ask questions. It's the best part of my job.

You can also visit my online shop Spiral Herbal Remedies where I've linked research to the plants I use - blending science with tradition.

My art practice is about becoming the healer, wise woman, shaman. Check out my art as well if you're interested. 

Our new shop at 435 Broadway in Soho.  Come visit.

Copyright © 2018 Donna Cleary, All rights reserved.

The reishi I found this past spring growing in CT. The white mushrooms are black staining polypores. I thought they were miatake but it was too early.

The reishi I found this past spring growing in CT. The white mushrooms are black staining polypores. I thought they were miatake but it was too early.

38. Strange Alliances and Shifting Locations

Donna Troy ClearyComment

Two Things:
First and foremost - WE MOVED!!
Spiral Herbal Remedies is happy to announce our move to Union Square through the end of December.  You can find us at 37 Union Square West - at Dusty Diamond Holiday Market, right across the street from the big Union Square Holiday Market adjacent to Barn Joo. (See map below)  There are new products and old favorites, it's not far from our old shop in Williamsburg and even closer for some of you.  Come check us out!

I wanted to share some info on an herbal favorite that served me so well recently.  This is the stuff that revs me up - strange tidbits of information unearthed as I delve deep into the practice of herbalism.  How about this for weird - this herbal remedy is composed of two completely different organisms cohabitating ... in the same body. 
You heard that right. Usnea - a weird name for an even weirder multi-organism - is a lichen. It is part algaeand part fungi in a mutualistic relationship, meaning both organisms benefit from their unlikely alliance. The fungus provides a solid form for the algae - which is normally floating in water - and the algae provides photosynthesis for the fungus.
There's an interesting parallel to this relationship that exists in our own bodies. We too have a mutualistic relationship with microorganisms. In fact, 90% of the cells that exist on or in our body are NOT human. 90% are bacteria, virus and fungi. In the medical world, these microorganisms are called our "normal flora".  The microorganisms compete for space on the surface of our skin and on the surface of our colon. In that competition they maintain a balance, no one of them overpowering the other. When they're in balance, we don't feel sick and don't have infections.  
What does this have to do with Usnea? Usnea it's an antiseptic, which means it's an antibiotic, an anti viral, anti fungal and anti-parasitic.
I'm sure you're familiar with the downside of non- herbal antibiotics and how they affect your normal flora or what is now being referred to as your microbiome. Bacteria have become resistant to many antibiotics. Bacteria easily mutate and are able to render antibiotics ineffective. Antibiotics also have a bad habit of killing off our normal flora, disrupting the delicate balance between bacteria, viruses and fungi. When bacteria are killed the other microorganism have a chance to spread out and we end up with viral and yeast (fungi) infections.  
The cool part about Usnea is that it doesn't kill ALL bacteria - it only kills gram negative bacteria such as Strep and Staph but not gram positive bacteria such as E Coli, which is an important part of our microbiome. Usnea is selective - which benefits our mutualistic friends. Usnea is also an anti-viral, anti- fungal and anti parasitic, so if the balance happens to be disrupted, it can take care of any overgrowth of the other microorganisms.
Do you remember the last time you had a strep infection?  Remember how painful your throat was?  Can you recall how painful an infected cut can feel?  The other amazing part of Usnea is that it also contains a painkiller. It is a beautiful mix of properties that deal with all aspects of an infection.
I hate to admit that I'm human sometimes but I did have the flu or strep a few weeks ago. There were some irritants in the air of my living space that made my nose run like crazy. The constant nose blowing irritated my respiratory system, which left me susceptible to an infection.
When it hit, it hit hard.  My throat felt like someone was sticking a knife in it, I developed a fever and I had all-over body aches. So I mixed some of my favorite herbs together, including Usnea, and made a tea. (I'd given away or sold all of my Gone Viral Tincture, so tea it was.) As I sipped the tea, my sore throat went away immediately. Within a half hour, I felt much better. A few hours later, my fever broke.
Unfortunately, my nose continued to flow. That's when I realized I needed an air filter. With that in place, everything cleared up. 
See below for the picture of the Usnea I found while visiting family on Cape Cod. A drive down an abandoned road had me jumping out of the car constantly to pick up fallen branch after fallen branch covered in Usnea. Usnea is like the canary in the coal mine. It's an air-pollution indicator and only grows where the air is crystal clear. The cape is great for that.  
It's important to only harvest usnea that has fallen to the ground. It thrives in the high branches of trees and starts to break down after a few weeks on the ground. It's not a parasite to the tree but it attaches itself to branches, using yet another organism to suspend itself in the air. The best time to harvest is shortly after a storm. Mature usnea falls off in high winds, it's profile is larger with its reproductive parts. Any Usnea growing on dead branches also lands on the ground. The usnea I found had probably been knocked down last week in that snow storm. Most of it wasn't in contact with the ground but the pieces that were needed to be discarded.
Usnea is being added to my Cold and Flu tincture called Gone Viral.  I am thankful to my teacher Karen Rose of Sacred Vibes Apothecary for introducing me to this lichen. I'm also grateful to the plants, fungi and lichen themselves that live around me, making themselves known just when I need them the most.
Come by Spiral Herbal Remedies at Dusty Diamond Holiday Market this holiday season. Stock up on Care Packages for those you love. What better holiday gift is there than the gift of health. The market is open daily except Tuesdays and holidays.
37 Union Square West.
If you prefer, just switch over to the tab on this website that says Spiral Herbal Remedies
I hope you enjoy some family time over the holidays!

Our location at 37 Union Square West. Across the street from the Union Square Holiday Market, adjacent to Barn Joo.

Our location at 37 Union Square West. Across the street from the Union Square Holiday Market, adjacent to Barn Joo.



37. I spent a weekend in Ceremony.

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I spent a weekend in ceremony.
Months ago, I ran an idea by curator/artist Katya Grokhovsky, describing the costume I wanted to make for an upcoming exhibition and festival. Art In Odd Places takes place every year on the streets of New York City. The festival pulls art out of the gallery, into the public realm – to interact with those who might not normally be exposed. It is the brain-child of Ed Woodham and has enlivened 14th street since 1996.
Katya said, “Yessssss. Make it!!!” A classmate from grad school, Kathy Halfin and I then collaborated on a performance and accompanying sculptures for the exhibition.
The idea was for the two of us to respond to the current political climate, bursting with the histrionics and chest pounding of power-mongering men, whose disrespect for and desire to control the female body has flooded news and media for the last year. The #metoo campaign exposed the near-universal experience of sexual assault and harassment of women. Our president continues to illustrate a systemic lack of accountability and the ease with which blame can be flipped onto survivors. Kavanaugh perpetuated the notion that if you’re a white man, efforts to uncover truth can and will be thwarted by a brethren of con artists and thieves - who also fear the spotlight of inquiry.
Since both my collaborator and I had been sexually assaulted, we wanted to expose the public to the trauma it causes, bringing its effects out of silent hiding places, onto the streets of New York City, while creating an opportunity for us and others to heal.
I based my performance on becoming the Irish Creator-Goddess Cailleach - a symbolic reclaiming of my divinity. It is thought that the statuary and relief carvings of the Sheela na gig, found over doorways of 14th century churches and castles in Ireland, represent this Goddess. Sheela na gig is a fear-evoking, grimacing, old woman, holding open an enlarged vulva. The Sheelas are thought to be an homage to pagan traditions that revered the feminine divine, the earth mother and the unique ability to create and sustain life. The vulva also represented the flow of life between planes of reality - pre-birth, life on earth, post-death. Hence the placement over a doorway.
My costume became a hybrid of the Tree Goddess and Cailleach, drawing on my connection to the Irish landscape, the sacred Oak groves of Celtic Druids and 3 years of training as an Herbalist, wherein I developed a keen reverence for plants.
Kathy’s costume pulled from the Hindu Goddess Kali. A powerful goddess of death, time and doomsday, Kali is associated with sexuality, violence and the creator/mother.
Our performance started in the gallery, where we stepped backward in our minds to the moment of our assault, remembering the fear and confusion that accompanied it. We vocalized our thoughts around this pivotal moment and moved physically through those memories. When done, we covered our palm with green paint and placed it over our mouths, marking ourselves.

We moved to the street outside of the gallery. Kathy chanted a rhyme in Russian, (the language of her childhood), meant to frighten children. Placing our hands back over our mouths, we screamed in silence. 
Keening and ululating, we moved in procession down the street, away from the gallery, mourning the death of innocence and lack of reparation.
As we approached a grove of Oak trees on the corner of 8th Ave and Jane Street, our cries transformed into a rumbling anger. Reaching the grove, we wiped our faces and bodies with the scent of sage, lifted from the plants growing beneath the trees, cleansing. Speaking loudly while Kathy echoed my words, I recalled a waking dream, where I traveled down through the center of the earth, across a body of water, into a forest, down a long path where I came upon a giant tree in a clearing. I walked into the tree and found my ancestors. They turned to greet me saying, “We have been waiting for you.”
Oak groves represent a sacred place of transformation for the Irish and Oak leaves resemble hands. In this ceremony, hands were converted from something traumatic to hands that held and supported us. We remembered and embodied our Divinity, buoyed by our ancestors.
Then our anger was unleashed. Like the Wild Woman or Irish myth, we released our unbridled rage, daring people to “grab” us, chanting “Beware the wrath of a woman scorned.” and “I am a maaaad woman.” We jumped off of fences, tree surrounds, hung from scaffolding. Then, like bears, we pawed our anger into trees that lined 14th street. Bands of young men somehow found and taunted us. They were rebuked by our power. Staring them in the eye sent them running.
Anger is difficult to sustain and after the trees, we tired. Feeling release, we transitioned into a place of calm energy, walking in this energy for another block, humming and singing lightly. Coming to the Salvation Army building, we turned our backs on our audience, in defiance. We waited in silence before reciting the inscription written in large letters on the wall inside the gate. It is the voice of a General who stated his intent to continue to fight for those who suffer. We created new meaning, in feminam vocem.
Arriving at the intersection of 6th Avenue, we lit Mugwort smudge sticks. Smudging uses the smoke of sacred plants to lift negativity and trauma out of the body and the spaces around it. Mugwort is also used in dream work and is very calming. We continued our healing by smudging ourselves. Inviting others to participate, we smudged them as well.
After crossing 14th Street, we headed west, towards the Hudson River. Standing in front of the YMCA, we cleansed and smudged more who chose to participate and then continued walking slowly.
Our next stop was a dance of reverie. This symbolized our contentment, free from anger, fear and suppression. We stopped in front of a pre-arranged building and danced beneath the tree that grew in front of it. Kathy had decided to add ritualized mud-cleansing to this part of the ceremony, referencing a lake near her childhood home where locals and visitors retreated to heal with mud baths and body-wraps. She pulled a small bag of moistened soil out of her costume and washed her face with it. This removed the green hand print that had been placed over her mouth at the beginning of the ceremony. It also left a bit of dirt on the sidewalk. 
During our dance, the doorman of the building, (whom we had spoken with a few days earlier, telling him about our upcoming performance in front of the building), came running out saying, “Ladies, you can’t do that here!!! Ladies!!” Engrossed in our ceremony and not wishing to engage with negativity, we ignored him, finished our dance and proceeded slowly down the sidewalk, singing and smudging as we went. 
50 yards or so from the building, a police car came to a screeching halt next to us. A police man and woman exited the vehicle, walked in front of us to stand on either side of us. They looked angry. The woman was putting on black gloves.
Surprised, I asked, “Are you here for us???” And the man replied, “Yes, someone complained that you left a mess in front of the building back there.” I told the policeman that we were part of Art In Odd Places, an art festival, doing a performance on the street. The police woman told me to put out my smudge stick. I did and then explained that my collaborator had rubbed some mud on her face and some of it must have spilled on the sidewalk. He told us not to do it again. We agreed and walked on. They returned to their car, turned around and drove off. 
A few minutes later, they were back, yelling out the window that we needed to go back and clean up the dirt. We told them that we were in the middle of a healing ceremony and promised to go back when we finished. The police woman told us we had to, “GO BACK NOW!!!” 
As they stood watch...we used our feet to kick the dirt into the area around the tree. Then the doorman came out with a broom. I took the broom and looked him straight in the eye, no expression on my face. He ran back into the building. I asked Kathy to hold my smudge stick and said ironically, in a calm voice, “I want to make sure I get every last bit of dirt.” Sweeping widely around in front of the building.  “Because, you know, New York is so clean. Especially, this part of the city, where there’s no trash, no homeless people, no cars. It’s important that no dirt is left on the sidewalk.”
At that point, the Policeman said “I think that’s good enough.” I walked back to the door of the building, handed the broom to the doorman, told him to have a nice day and walked off, never looking at the police. This building exists on a filthy, tourist filled, car packed, loud, smelly street in downtown Manhattan. The doorman had told us a few hundred square feet could be purchased for $1.5Mil - $7Mil.
In front of this building, a man was ignored. 
So, he called the police. 
And they came. 
Later, while reviewing the documentation of our performance, I saw that the policeman had his hand on his taser when he stopped in front of us. The policewoman had attached a can of pepper spray to the front of her belt. That is why she was putting on gloves. 
I can only imagine what the doorman said about us that incited the police and put us in danger of being assaulted again … this time by police.  
We finished in 14th Street Park, a green oasis nestled between 11th and 10th Avenue, where we performed a limpia ceremony. Using fresh Mugwort and Fever Few, we swept our bodies of any remaining negativity and pain. Visitors to the park told us how beautiful this part of the ceremony was.
We repeated the performance the next day, taking another route. 
In the week since the performances, I have felt lighter. I found myself responding differently to challenges. Instead of my hackles going up, jaw clamping tight and voice quivering when speaking, my mind went to peaceful solutions, body calm. I hadn't been aware of how much anger lived right below the surface. This year has been trying, to say the least. There was something about crying, wailing and yelling angrily in public - releasing emotions into the universe - that healed me. 
A few days after the performance I was sent the images from the interaction with the police. I felt vulnerable and angry again.  But it did not last.

like police
trained to hear angry men
will attack
like dogs

signaled by a whistle

More images of my performance

photo credit Emma Yi

photo credit Emma Yi

36. Honestly!

Donna Troy ClearyComment

"People ask me why it's so hard to trust people. The real question is why is it so hard for people to tell the truth." Unknown

Recently someone encouraged me to embellish a little regarding some of my herbal remedies.  I told them that the center of my practice was trust. If I just make stuff up  a) I lose credibility and  b) it will be written all over my face. I'm the worst liar and I'm actually proud of that. It's something I've never aspired to be better at and it's not a quality I admire in others.

So why do people lie? Sometimes it gives them an upper hand but I've found, it is always temporary. And by the way, I always know when someone is lying. Ask my kids...  In a way I feel sorry for them because they literally never got away with anything. Sorry guys.  :)  

I haven't always trusted my BS meter but it has always been extremely perceptive. Something in my body reacts. It's a physical thing. I feel tense, my heart flutters a bit and all my senses turn on. Suddenly I'm paying attention to the lowered eyes, the fidgeting, the yawn, the subject change and bingo! - I've caught them.

As women, in this culture in particular, we're trained to be nice, to give people a second chance, to not prejudge, to give the benefit of the doubt. That doesn't always serve us. We have powerful instincts, designed to keep us safe. We might not have to avoid predators in the woods anymore but the lies of others are often damaging to us. Our bodies are giant geiger counters, finely tuned to pick up other's intentions. Take some time to hone that.

I suppose if someone is in an oppressive situation and their very life depends on a lie, that's one thing but what about serial liars? What about seemingly successful people who can't utter a sentence without spewing a falsehood? We have a shining example of that in our current government. How were they made? Why were they never called out? Is it safe to assume that they were never taught, at a young age, to own their mistakes and own the consequences? What makes them think they can get away with it? And how do they manage the guilt?

In the end it's really not about them. It's about how you manage the effects of the lies on you. I know I tend to linger in outrage for a while, probably longer than I should. But lately, I'm finding that if I let that outrage sit for a day or so before responding, I can transmute it. This keeps me from striking out and saying something mean or defensive that actually hurts me in the end. If I sit on it, I can see it more clearly, the motivation behind it and respond accordingly. 

Rest assured that the truth will always out, as they say. Be patient. Maybe you didn't get the job you wanted, the recognition you deserve, your moment to shine, maybe somehow your name has been tarnished. Assume that others are picking up the blips as well. Maybe they have been burned by this person too. Some might be persuaded initially. Trust that their BS meters are sending them signals. Those who are practiced at manipulating the truth will have their moment in the sun... perhaps at your expense... but eventually they will turn their lies on someone else and all will become clear.

Then you can quietly gloat, revelling in the inevitable justice of sweet, sweet karma. Your time will come.

Indulge me for a moment... Let me try that again.

Then you can sit quietly, knowing that all is well and your time will come.

34. Fear of Falling

Donna Troy ClearyComment

Do you remember how it felt when you first met someone that made your heart go pitter patter? Remember thinking about them constantly? All you wanted was be near them, circle their orbit, touch their skin and kiss? The physical longing was somewhere on the edge of pain and sheer delight.  

How many times has THAT happened to you? It seemed to happen more often when I was younger. Somehow every good looking guy that could string a sentence together, make me laugh or twist my brain with a new perspective, had the potential to leave me spinning with excitement. 

I had a long talk with some of my women friends last week. Men and dating seem to come up often when we get together. New York is tough for dating. What is with these men? What is with unrealistic expectations about beauty, independence, age or whatever other fantasy-based list of must-haves that this city has conditioned them to expect. Who, exactly is fulfilling that list? How long can the women they do choose keep up the guise that the list is realistic?

It seems no one I know is falling head over heels anymore. At least not in this city.  My friends range in age from 20 to 40 something - so it's not about age.

I'm in the dating game. I say to myself, "Maybe it will get better. Maybe he's just busy now and it will ease up. Maybe he just needs time to feel comfortable. Maybe I need to help him communicate better. Maybe MY expectations are too high... Maybe this is enough."  

Ugh, that last part is a killer. Since when is "enough" enough? Honestly, I think fear has a lot to do with our ability to fall in love. That initial high, at least to me, represents danger. It clouds all judgement. It keeps me from really seeing the person. You get your heart knocked around a few times and suddenly, offering it to someone else is like asking to have your hand chopped off, without anaesthesia. I'm wary. And I've thought, often, that I'm better off alone. There was only one time that I allowed myself to fall completely. I made a choice to open up, bare it all, dig into the deepest of places. I realized I was capable of that. It was an accomplishment and I have no regrets. The thing is, it was by far, the most difficult when it ended. 

Recently, that ah-ha moment came when I reminded myself that despite it all, I'm still alive - maybe more than ever. I've grown and evolved and I like who I have become. 

It's only recently that I realized the conundrum I've placed myself in. How am I supposed to figure out if someone is compatible if I've put the wall back up? How can we find footing if they never see that vulnerable part of me that is pure joy, that giggling, shiney light that radiates within me, that peace that orbits the planet, circles my body and penetrates deeply?

How do I not bring fear to the table or bar, coffee shop, park, bike ride, museum? Could it be as simple as deciding?

First things first, he has to show up. Then, I think, it's all up to me.

"The biggest risk is not taking any risk."


Here are some updates on what's happening with my Art and Herbalism!

I was interviewed by Kimberly Ruth for Art Uncovered. Kimberly managed to guide the discussion in such a way that I learned some new things about my own work.  Check it out.  The interview starts at around 6:40.


I'm teaching again at Mildred's Lane this spring in the Session Wilding, Wasting, Workstyling Session.  So honored to be part of this impressive group of artists, including J Morgan Puett herself - the cofounder with Mark Dion of Mildred's Lane. I'll be taking participating fellows on plant walks, identifying, gathering and drying plants for remedies.  June 18-24th.  It's just around the corner.  


I've been selected to participate in Art In Odd Places, New York!  I'm doing a performance called Becoming Cailleach. Cailleach is the Irish Creator Goddess. It is thought that the Sheela na gig, found carved in relief all around Ireland is a manifestation of the Goddess. She dons an oversized vulva through which all life passes and an angry grimace as if to warn those who see her of her all-encompassing control over life and death. I've crocheted the costume out of yarn and integrated the Tree Goddess, found in sacred groves - the site of Druidic ceremonies. Kathy Halfin (embodying Kali) and I will be perform healing ceremonies while interacting with audiences along 14th Street in Manhattan this October.  Details to follow.

The event is accompanied by an exhibition at Westbeth Gallery in Greenwich Village.  Can't wait!!  This exhibition is curated by Katya Grokhovsky an amazing artist as well.


I started a business!  If you haven't heard from me in the last 3 months, it's because I decided to throw my hat in the ring and start an herbalism business. It's called Spiral Herbal Remedies. I've created a line of preventative remedies, along with variety of products designed to treat specific ailments.  I've also developed several non-toxic alternatives to Big Brand products. So many people I see at my shop are inflamed. I believe it has to do with toxins in the processed foods and products we consume and use. They are for "Detoxing" and designed to get to the source of the problem.  

Spiral Herbal Remedies can be found at Artists and Fleas, Williamsburg every weekend from 10-7 and online @ Spiral Herbal Remedies


Becoming Cailleach .  This October in Art In Odd Places, New York.  

Becoming Cailleach.  This October in Art In Odd Places, New York.  

One of many alternatives at  Spiral Herbal Remedies.   Again, available at @artistsandfleas Williamsburg, every weekend from 10-7.

One of many alternatives at Spiral Herbal Remedies.  Again, available at @artistsandfleas Williamsburg, every weekend from 10-7.

33. What a pain.

Donna Troy ClearyComment


First some news, followed by some ponderings... about the avoidance of pain.

Please come this Saturday, April 14th from 6-9 pm to Gallery AWA in Greenpoint for a panel discussion that aligns with the exhibition, Sacred Luminosity 2: Shakti

The Goddesses Amongst Us

Joining gallery artists Anshula Tayai and Tara Boirard will be Daria Dorosh, Jayanthi Moorthy and I.  After a lively brainstorming session about what to cover during this panel, it is sure to be fascinating!! 

***You can imagine how much this concept appeals to me as I continue on a path to embody the Cailleach/Sheela na gig/Healer/Wisewoman.


And now for some reflections...

So much of life can be painful. In fact, our entrance into this world is arguably, one of the most painful things we'll ever experience. It's so traumatic that we literally block it from our memory. (Do any of you remember being born?) Imagine being squeezed so tightly that your head is forced into a cone shape. 

Have you ever cried out during a deep muscle massages? What if the masseuse intentionally forced both of your shoulders downward or maybe folded one up and the other down and pushed you through an opening half your width? And then your neck was pushed backwards at an acute angle, while your bones and muscles were squeezed with so much pressure that you were literally propelled forward. You survived. You, a tiny, fragile being. Now think of your mom. You've seen the Try Guys experiencing simulated labor? Right. So many of us moms choose to go through that more than once. 

This reminds me of watching a documentary about a cave a while back. After entering a cave filled with water, the main character's goal was to reach a massive cavern on the other side of the cave wall. It was only accessible through the tiniest of passageways. She had to dive through a hole near the bottom of the water-filled cave. It was barely wide enough for her body and several yards long, with no room for turning around. Once she committed to swim, that was it.

The risk was running out of breath before reaching the other side. She dove nonetheless, head first, kicking calmly and strongly.  She was unable to use her arms, they had to be stretched out in front of her to fit. And then she was at the point of no return. She had swum in as far as it was to reach the other side. Pushing herself backwards was no longer an option.

So often we are faced with these passages, the lure of something unexpected revealing itself. It's frightening or difficult and it might seem easier to stay stationary. Instead of scoffing at it, we notice that it feels familiar - like family - like it is part of us. Like it was meant to be. Once we decide to engage, worry can cause mental and physical pain. Like being faced with the idea of swimming head first into a tiny hole. And then we realize that everything we've done to date has prepared us for this. We've actually had hundreds of practice dives. 

When we finally lift your head out of the water and breathe deeply, not fully understanding how this new space holds enough oxygen, we fill our lungs completely with fresh, clean air. Air that few, if any have ever breathed and it's as if we're taking that first breath of life all over again.  

It seems like so many people I've spoken to lately are transitioning in their lives. I'm there as well. I've lost sleep worrying about launching Spiral Herbal Remedies at Artists and Fleas in Williamsburg. Can I do this? Will I be able to help people? Will people respond?  (I'm there every Saturday and Sunday from 10-7.)

I forgot how much I enjoyed teaching. In this case, about our plant allies, the plants and fungi that occupy the same space, live in the same air/soil, experience the same trauma from our shifting ecosystem and still want to help us heal. 

I worried about other facets of my life as well. What about my art career? Will the art world understand?  I'm not just giving my life a philosophical framework, I'm living it. 

Malidoma Some', a West African Elder of the Dagara people, calls these transitions "Initiations" in his book, The Healing Wisdom of Africa. He reminds us that transitions signal the onset of tremendous growth. Indigenous cultures have always framed them with ceremony, which brings focus to the transition and creates an atmosphere of support. What has happened to our ceremonies? What can we do in our daily lives to resurrect them?  Do you give yourself permission to slow down and contemplate your life or ask for help?

Malidoma will be coming to Brooklyn this Fall. My elder and teacher in Herbalism, Karen Rose, of Sacred Vibes Apothecary and my Herbalism sisters are making arrangements for him to speak.  I will share details as we draw closer.

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

See below to view a performative costume:  Becoming Cailleach

Copyright © *2018, Donna Cleary All rights reserved.

32. Art and Herbalism

Donna Troy ClearyComment

Join me this Friday, April 6th, 6-8 pm at A.I.R Gallery

An Evening of  Stories from Ireland and India between artist/healer/wise-woman Donna Cleary and artist Jayanthi Moorthy in conjunction with the exhibition Daria Dorosh: Take Back Your Body. A discussion of the legacy of the matrifocal cultures of Ireland and India and their impact on these artists and their art.  Come for an experience of the senses in taste, touch, scent and sounds.

(see the similarities between the Sheela na gig and Kali below)


Coming up at Mildred's Lane - I'll be a Visiting Guest Artist for the Wilding, Wasting, Workstyling session June 18-24th. There is still time to apply and entangle yourself with a dynamic pedagogic lineup of artists at Mildred's Lane including J. Morgan Puett herself, the powerhouse behind this ongoing project with Mark Dion. You will have an opportunity to harvest and process local medicinal plants while learning the traditions of wildcrafting, an ancient practice that acknowledges the necessity of respect and reciprocity between humans and the landscape, along with many projects by other artists.   Donna Cleary, Daria Dorosh, Athena Kokoronis, Kristyna and Marek Milde, J. Morgan Puett, Shelley Spector, Amy Low Stein and others.

(see photo of the vast landscape that is Mildred's Lane, below)


And of course, Join me weekends with Spiral Herbal Remedies at Artists and Fleas in Williamsburg.
Come sample a variety of healing plants, including Super Reishi Plus - a mix of 6 medicinal mushrooms that I ethically wildcrafted in the deep forest and meticulously made into a Preventative tincture.  I also have a line of CBD products including tincture/oil and salves.

Sheela na gig (Ireland)  and Kali (India).

Sheela na gig (Ireland)  and Kali (India).

Part of the vast landscape that is Mildred's Lane.  

Part of the vast landscape that is Mildred's Lane.  

Just some of the products available on this website under Spiral Herbal Remedies. Also available weekends at Artists and Fleas Williamsburg.  Come visit to sample some herbal remedies!

Just some of the products available on this website under Spiral Herbal Remedies. Also available weekends at Artists and Fleas Williamsburg.  Come visit to sample some herbal remedies!

31. Is Time on your side?

Donna Troy ClearyComment

"How did it get so late so soon."  Suess

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.”  Jean de La Bruyere


Do you spend time thinking about time?  What if you knew that you had enough time to do everything you wished?  Would it change the way you spend your day?  

A few years ago, I flipped the narrative and stopped acting like Alice's proverbial bunny.  Of all things, it was a random internet meme that shifted my perspective - one of those questionnaires that predicted how long I would live.  I would live to be 106.  And for some reason I believed it.  For some reason, it resonated with me.  It made me smile.  Suddenly anything was possible.  If I had another 50 or so years, I imagined all that I could accomplish, all that I could do.  

What followed was a peace of mind I hadn't experienced before.  Time was on my side for once.  I gave myself permission to explore every tangent, the abandon to examine and mine every sweet distraction.  The script was tossed aside and regimented, single minded, repetitive, boring, frustrating pursuit of some imagined path to success, fame, peace, love and joy was abandoned.  Instead, I followed my mind.  If something interested me, I leaned in.  If leaning in brought me to some other place of fascination, I leaned into that.  And so on.

This gift has allowed me hours of reflection and insightfulness.  When the past rises up, I experience it again but through a new lense.  I have time to dawdle, to rest... or not rest, to stay out late or stay home watching senseless movies or working on a project until the early morning.  Time has become my patient friend, ever present, no longer annoying.  If I don't get to something?  It wasn't meant to be, something else always comes up.  

And here I am with a perimeter of practices, friends and family that buoy and embrace me.  Crocheted fertility sculptures and performative costumes, a project space that supports and builds community, a (mostly social) book group accompanied by friends and literature that trigger thought and action, Herbalism which aligns me with ancestors, provides an outlet for knowledge acquired as a Registered Nurse and Mother and anchors me with a deeply inspiring community.  My two adult children give me time when they have it.  I no longer worry about how much.  They have rich, full lives.  My parents are thriving and happy, also living rich, full lives.  My siblings pick up the phone, respond to texts and our time together is precious, without guilt.  Old friends visit, circle, communicate and connect.

Today, my gift to you is this: You will live to be 106. 

Just for today, allow yourself to believe.  Just for today, notice if anything shifts.


If you're curious about some of my tangents, see below.

I'll be part of a panel discussion at A.I.R on April 6th during the Take Back Your Body exhibition by Daria Dorosh.  We'll be talking about the Sheela na gig, thought to represent the Irish Deity, Cailleach, whose likeness adorns hundreds of Romanesque churches around Ireland and Britain.  She is the goddess of summer and winter, creator of life and death, mythical crone, wise woman, Healer.  

I'll also be participating in a panel discussion at El Museo de los Sures, on March 24, 5-6pm. for the exhibition, Darkness Visible by Simone Couto   We'll be talking about the landscape and our relationship to it as humans.

Come June, I'll be returning to Mildred's Lane as a Visiting Guest Artist, for the Wilding, Wasting, Workstyling Session, June 18th - 24th.  I'll be sharing Herbalism knowledge while foraging, drying and processing plants and fungi during this inspiring Artist Residency run by J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion.

And lastly, Spiral Herbal Remedies will return once again to  Artists and Fleas in Williamsburg.  (Every Saturday and Sunday from 10-7).  The shop carries Medicinal Mushroom Tinctures, CBD Tincture and Salve, Salve for Eczema, a Tincture for Memory and More.  This week I'm introducing Comb Again Serum, for Hair loss due to Alopecia or Male Pattern Balding.  And Yoni Yes! a Yoni healing, CBD infused lube, for pain during intercourse.  Did you know that this affects a third of all women, regardless of age?  

This weekend at Artists and Fleas and coming soon to my Spiral Herbal Remedies website.

Below is a preview of a costume I'm making for an upcoming performance:  Becoming Cailleach based on the Sheela na gig, whose likeness appears on hundreds of Romanesque churches throughout Ireland and thought to be an iteration of the Cailleach.  She has merged with Yoni, Tree Goddess, and the Willendorf Venus, representing the cyclical nature of life and death, abundance and infinity.

Becoming Cailleach.jpg

30. Setting up shop!

Donna Troy ClearyComment

This weekend I'll be setting up shop at Artists and Fleas #artistsandfleas in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Come sample and buy Ginkgo and Reishi tinctures along with Body Butters, salves, balms and sprays.

Talk to an Herbalist. Learn about preventative medicine that every New Yorker should use.  Everything is Organic, freshly made with ethically wildcrafted herbs, using the best ingredients.  No water, no air (the butters are not whipped), no glycerine, no toxins.  

Come check it out!

29, Chronicles of a Witch in Training

Donna Troy ClearyComment

I started this blog in March of 2017 after returning from a trip to my ancestral land - Ireland.  There, I received affirmation that I was on the right track with my life - as it all came together in my art, project space and herbalism practice.  I discovered a history of Herbalists on both sides of my family which formulated a conceptual framework for everything I do - from being a mom, making ceremonial and fertility sculptures, running an Herbal Remedy Shop and providing opportunities for cultural exchange through 184 Project Space.

The posts are in chronological order, starting with #1, so you'll have to scroll down to get to the beginning.  In them I illuminate a series of coincidences, serendipity - magical experiences in Ireland.  These are followed by of the history of Herbalism in Western European countries and how we lost our rich traditions.  I started my Herbalism Shop in the spring of 2017, so you'll find me talking a lot about the specific herbs and fungi I work with.  And sometimes I just contemplate life and all of its idiosyncrasies.  

Thanks for your interest.  Enjoy!


27. Out of the light and down a big hole.

Donna Troy ClearyComment

Have you noticed..

...that as artists we have a built-in need to be in the limelight, on the radar?  It compels us to keep ungodly hours, say yes to every opportunity, push ourselves past the point of exhaustion and even common sense.  We jump on the treadmill for months at a time, "eye on the prize", onward and upward.  Maybe it's New York, maybe it's art, whatever it is, it seems like the last year has been an all-out sprint.  And I've loved every second of it.
But I've been taking a break.  Over the last two months, I've dug myself in and retreated to my rabbit warren.  I've said 'no' to people who have asked me to do projects with them.  I'm catching up on the rest of my life.  It's winter.  It has been frigid outside. This helps.  I've settled some nagging financial issues, "found" money in the process, have been reading, researching, making art, making medicine and even... making space mentally for a love interest. 
New York is challenging for women, considering the ratio of men to women.  But in all honesty, I'm not sure I've been in the right mindset to have a man around.  I'm ambitious, I have goals and maybe I have been a bit unwilling and nervous about setting aside time, again.  Life has a way of giving us what we ask for.  So I'm dialing it back and focusing.  And it feels right.
Maybe the list above doesn't sound like time off.  Technically, it's time off from putting my efforts towards creating opportunities for others - curating ate up a lot of my energy.  It is something I love doing but it was time to turn inward, focus on me, making, my needs.  These shifts in focus tend to be cyclical.  Like the seasons, I move from one state of mind to another.  Funny enough, in my contemplative period, despite some anxiety about taking my foot off the gas and not actively looking for opportunities, they kept presenting themselves.  I have a teaching opportunity coming up.  I will be sharing how my art practice has come to embody all aspects of the wise woman/healer/medicine woman, including making ceremonial objects, medicine and creating spaces for shared cultural experiences, (curating and my Project Space).  I've been asked to do an interview for an art publication and will have an article published in another.  I have also been invited to be on a panel in gallery in March.  We'll be talking about feminism and the Irish, Pagan deity, the Sheela na gig, who has been in the center of my thinking over the last months.  (Details later...)
For now, back to the point.  Is this frantic phenomenon unique to New York?  Is it the 21st century?  Is it normal to set such a crazy pace for ourselves?  I've lectured my son about his insane schedule as a Neurosurgical resident and couldn't fathom why my daughter would work until 8 or 9pm on a regular basis.  But I was doing the same. 
These schedules give opportunities for our bodies to succumb to illness.  We have limited supplies of energy and we need to dedicate some of it to healthy eating, cleared minds, focus on loved ones and rest. 
How much is enough?  How much is too much?  Who decided this was what our lives should look like?  And more importantly, does it actually serve us?  Are we happier?  Are we more secure?  What happens when we take time for ourselves?  What happens when we spend more time with family, friends, loved ones, with people who support and honor us? 
I have a magnificent group of friends here in NYC.  These are people who will show up if I ask for help.  I know this.  They have, routinely.  This gives me solace.  Do I want a partner too?  Yes.  What will that look like?  How will he fit in?  I haven't found the proper balance in the past.  I've given too much, not enough or a combination of the two at various times.  Maybe it has to be cyclical, like my work.
I'm asking these questions because I know I'm not alone.  I've talked to many of you and I know that this is what we do.  I look around and I see exhaustion and equal ambition in my peers.  I'm wondering how often you take your foot off the gas and take a break, take some time off, slow it down, take a nap (!), think, read, research and live the rest of your life? 
Maybe it's time.

As usual, this post started a newsletter, sent out to my mailing list and now it has become part of this blog, where I share strange coincidences, experiences and insights that have shaped my life and practice. 

If you're interested in Herbal Remedies from a trained Herbalist (me), or want to check out some of my ceremonial objects or Social Practice, please do.

I write these posts in a conversational tone and I'm always thrilled to hear from people.  Don't hesitate to comment below to continue the discussion. 

a seat at the table, 39 x 26 x 21 inches  Yarn, upcycled grocery bags (stuffing), stool.    Continuing to abstract the feminine body as ceremonial object/fertility sculpture, this full figure has taken her seat at the table.  See more  here .

a seat at the table, 39 x 26 x 21 inches  Yarn, upcycled grocery bags (stuffing), stool.   
Continuing to abstract the feminine body as ceremonial object/fertility sculpture, this full figure has taken her seat at the table.  See more here.

Visit my shop   Spiral Herbal Remedies .  I've created Organic Herbal Remedies for healthy bodies and minds.  All orders are accompanied by a unique, handmade talisman, made to order by me.  The talisman is a physical reminder to focus your intention on healing.  It can be carried on your person, worn or placed somewhere you will notice it during the day.

Visit my shop  Spiral Herbal Remedies.  I've created Organic Herbal Remedies for healthy bodies and minds.  All orders are accompanied by a unique, handmade talisman, made to order by me.  The talisman is a physical reminder to focus your intention on healing.  It can be carried on your person, worn or placed somewhere you will notice it during the day.

26. Healing and Love from Plants

Donna Troy ClearyComment

Introducing Spiral Herbal Remedies

Now available on this website in addition to my Etsy Shop 

spiral megalith.jpg

You've all been reading about how I've come to inhabit my family legacy as a Medicine Woman, Healer, Wise Woman, Herbalist - with roots that trace back to 15th century Ireland.  I'm now offering some of the herbal remedies that have transformed my health and life.
(If you haven't been reading along, check some of my previous posts below.)

Start Shopping

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What better gift than that of health and love.
Fight disease with Reishi Tincture Double Decoction (Left), which contains medicinal properties for your Immune System, Heart, Lungs and Liver. It contains Antiinflammatories, Antihistamines and more. Used by Chinese and Japanese Herbalists for over 4000 years, Reishi was once reserved for Emperors and is called The Mushroom of Immortality. I ethically harvested mature Reishi Mushrooms in a Pennsylvania forest and made this medicinal tincture.  Try it blended with Elderberry for a yummy flavor!

And how about a Love Potion?  Be a Love Warrior!  This intoxicating Wild Rose Water spray (Right) can be used as perfume or a room cleanser.  Made from Wild Rose Petals and a touch of lavender, it opens hearts and brings out your fierceness.

View other products »

$5 Shipping on everything!

For future reference, I have added a menu on my website with the same products.  So you can buy from the Etsy shop link above, or directly from this website.

25. Go inside, Go outside

Donna Troy ClearyComment

25. Go Inside, Go Outside

Perception - our ability to understand our lives and the world around us, has been on my mind.  I guess it's part of having lived for 57 years and extracting myself, to some degree, from the day to day chaos of working in a hospital, child rearing, grad school, etc. I'm on the other side.  It's not to say I'm not busy, often insanely busy, but the busy is my doing or at least it seems that way.  So I spend a lot of time thinking.  Or maybe I just give myself that time.  I've learned to question everything and one of the biggies is, "What is real?"

How much of our life is our own construct, framed by a series of decisions made consciously or unconsciously?  How much has to do with a legacy passed down generationally?  How much has been interrupted by events that, on the surface, seem completely random but with deeper investigation, seem consistent with patterns that were established long ago, long before we made our entrance on this planet?

And so we come to the subject of Spirituality.  It's a word that triggers a gut response for many.  It has associations with authoritarian and overbearing tendencies or some new age, West Coast, hippy vibe.  So I think it's important for me to define what I'm thinking about when I say Spiritual.  It's the idea that we are not autonomous, that we are part of something bigger, that we are not completely in control of all that happens around or to us.  As an adult, I've always considered myself spiritual.  I left the church at as a teenager and have since rejected a great deal of the ideas I was taught.  It has been a slow unpacking.  The creation story annoys me.  That a woman (Eve) is responsible for our fall from paradise, that woman grew out of a man's rib and is not an autonomous being, that woman and her relationship to the serpent (phallus) was evil, she is a temptress and cannot be trusted.  It was the church, after all, that accused female healers of "dealing with the devil" starting in the 13th century.  The healers had beliefs that didn't align with or follow the doctrine of the church.  They maintained a spiritual connection with the planet, the landscape, flora and fauna.  For such a crime, they were burned at the stake - as witches.  And what about love?  For whom?  Is it conditional?  Who decided that some were less, that some were "other", that some were unworthy, that some did not deserve agency or independence, that some were incapable of making informed decisions?  

As I've immersed myself in Herbalism over the last year, I've met a group of people who are deeply spiritual. Their spirituality stems from traditions that preceded "church", traditions that were preserved despite church, traditions that were passed forward generationally, in the home, around the table, in neighborhoods, amongst family and friends, under oppression, often beside but not completely separated from church.  These powerful woman have found strength in traditions that honor the feminine, along with their otherness.  

Getting to  know these women, I've become aware of the lack of my own traditions that acknowledge and honor the feminine and my ancestors.  I've written in this blog about my experiences in Ireland, where a series of coincidences and events sent my mind whirling. The spiritual traditions of my Irish ancestors were subsumed, shunned and replaced with Christianity/Catholicism and later under British, Protestant Colonizers.

I searched for and found clues to these traditions in the traces of an earlier culture, remnants that remain in Ireland - the Stone Alignments, Circles and Tombs that I visited.  In those spaces, I felt a strong connection to an energy in the air - on a bodily level.  The scale of the stones, greater than human but only by so much, felt both looming and comforting, familiar and foreign.  They were sited in a way that insisted on respect and awe, taking advantage of the spectacle of the landscape around them  - they were sited at the crest of a hill, in the center of a valley, along the shore of the Atlantic, marking the celestial bodies that aligned with them and the epicenter of a spiritual community.  The sites felt sacred even without ceremony and the stones still stand today, more than 5000 years after being laboriously lifted into unnaturally upright positions. 

Recently, I re-discovered the Sheela Na Gig.  Stone relief and sculptures, "figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva" with "the explicit gesture of opening the vulva" as if opening to the infinite, the possibility of creation, the cyclical nature of life, of death and rebirth.  While highlighting their feminine physiology, they also wear grimaces, a threatening countenance.  Some experts compare them to the "Cailleach, 'the old wise-woman healer, a multifaceted personification of the female cosmic agency' with deep roots in Irish mythology as simultaneously life-giving and nurturing as well as hostile and destructive."  They can be found, ironically, on 14th century Romanesque Churches throughout the island - over 200 of them.  They appear to be from an earlier period than the churches, pre-dating the stonework that surrounds them. Their form mimics fertility sculptures from other cultures - strong, powerful feminine deities.   

I've made a conscious decision to release myself from skepticism and my complete reliance on science as an explain for all phenomena.  Science is another belief system, full of its own flawed logic and doctrine.  It is, after all, under the guidance of human minds and we, by default are flawed.  I have a Bachelor of Science.  I worked as an RN in a major teaching hospital for 13 years and in Clinical Research (research on people) for 10 years.  A flawed scientific belief, for instance, is glaringly obvious regarding dietary recommendations.  All recommendations in the past have been based on "firm" scientific data but you might have noticed that they change every few years.  Much is an educated guess.  And much theory is built on those educated guesses and with some consistency, they are proven wrong.

Let it be said that some things leave no room for doubt in my mind- what is happening to this planet for instance and the effects of mankind on it.  Do not think I've dismissed everything that has been discovered since the Age of Enlightenment's insistence on "proof".  I'm saying that some things cannot or have not yet been proven - that's where belief plays a role.  Semantics - belief... spirituality... the unknown... proof.

In letting go of my need for proof, I have had uncanny experiences in ceremony with these women, I've felt myself exit my body while learning Reiki.  I've seen how belief, when placed alongside medicinal plants and fungi, can bring healing to mind and body.  (By the way, I've also seen how belief in science has also led to healing in a hospital setting and how it has failed many in that same setting.) 

The tricky part for me is finding what is authentic, my own history, a history that resonates with my DNA, my Irish ancestry and its spiritual legacy.  My ancestor's trip across the Atlantic, under oppression and duress, under the threat of death from starvation and disease, did more than separate my family from kin and powerful landscapes, it severed us from traditions.  Maybe it was our whiteness, our ability to blend in visually, to be seen as part of those who "belonged".  We didn't look like "other". Maybe that allowed us to assimilate and sever ties so deeply.  In the process, we gave up our roots, our knowledge of plant medicine, our ceremonies that linked us - through respect - to all beings that share this planet.

I've written in previous posts about Plant Intelligence. Specifically, an article by Michael Pollan, who shared fascinating research and insight about plants as sentient beings.  He brings scientific proof to what some cultures have always known ... or believed.  We diminish plants because they have a different relationship to time.  Their responses to stimuli are slower and more difficult to perceive. Therefore, in our eyes, they don't exist.  Indigenous cultures have consistently prioritized plants over humans/animals.  They see their resilience and intelligence, their willingness and ability to heal us. Those cultures recognized our interdependence and couch interactions with respect, reverence and gratitude - an entirely different philosophy our current culture that would rather dig up the planet in search for fossil fuel, strip forests bare or pour poisons into water and loam, than seek renewable, planet-sustaining solutions to our existence. These practices stem from an arrogance that our human needs come first, that our actions have no consequence, that mutualism and respect fall into the realm of the weak or less ambitious.  I believe It also comes from the loss of ceremonies that intentionally create connections between all that lives on this planet.

Part of my spiritual explorations have been through suggestion from my teacher,  Karen Rose, at Sacred Vibes Apothecary, who advised me to look deeper inside myself - Go Inside.  She suggested I start experimenting with Divination tools.   Remnants of my Catholic sensibilities still twitch a little when I admit this but as they say, the proof is in the pudding.  I started with Oracle cards.  When I asked the deck to tell me which goddess I would be working with, out of the 50 possibilities, from all over the globe - India, Native American cultures, South America, Africa, etc, I drew a Celtic Goddess.  And her advise?  Go Outside.  Be with the plants.  Coincidence, serendipty, sychronism, proof, scientificly-measurable data, fate, faith, spiritualism, call it what you want but it keeps happening and I'm paying attention.

I've been busy in the studio as well, creating fertility sculptures - stretching and elaborating their forms.  Again, fertility is not just about reproduction, it represents the possibility of life, renewal, death, regeneration, the cyclical nature of existence.  It recognizes and honors the necessity of both male and female energy, its union and cooperation.   Check out some of my new sculptures on my website.  

I also wanted to share some press from the exhibition that just ended in my Project Space.  Based around the need at times, to rage in the face of heartbreak and inequity.  MIS has been a joy to live with.  I extend great thanks to David Willis, who wrote this article for Medium Magazine.  And I'm thankful to Stephanie Maida for her insightful review for Guest of a Guest.  I also owe a lot of thanks to the artists who participated, Leah Dixon, Alison Kuo, Pik-Shuen Fung, Nadia Haji Omar, Junhee Mun, Barb Smith, Miryana TodorovaJulia Oldham, and Graciela Cassel.

And lastly, the exhibition Up-Root at Periphery Space in Providence, run by artist Babs Owen, comes down next week.  Many thanks to all who made this jewel happen, especially artist and co-curator Tiffany Smith who brought new artists into my orbit along with thoughtful and powerful feedback on the project's direction.  Other artists in the exhibition include Marilyn Narota, Star Montana, Tori Purcell, Dana Davenport, Heesun Shin, Stephanie Lindquist, Simone Couto, Kathie Halfin and Jean Carlos Rodea.





24. More Press but this time it's about me as the owner of 184 Project Space.

Donna Troy ClearyComment

For the full article, see this link.



What It's Like To Turn Your Apartment Into An Art Gallery


    by Stephanie Maida · November 1, 2017

    Imagine opening your door and immediately confronting a $3500 sculpture. There is a performance artist in your closet, a virtual reality mannequin in your bathroom, and two daring art films on loop inside your television. The idea certainly gives new meaning to the term "interior design."

    Such is life for Donna Cleary, the artist and curator behind 184 Project Space, a Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment turned live-in art gallery. According to the space's Facebook page, the goal is to "facilitate community amongst artists, curators, writers and collectors by staging exhibitions and events in a domestic setting. Through these exercises Donna explores Derrida's ideas surrounding Hospitality."

    And hospitable she is. Walking into the brightly-lit, modern, but cozy home during an artists' dinner celebrating the latest exhibition, I'm immediately welcomed by creatives of all ages serving up potluck dishes, chattering and laughing around the kitchen island. Donna introduces herself and seems genuinely happy to have a stranger in her space, happy to share an experience and introduce me to the people behind the works. On her website, Donna describes herself as a healer, interested in the practice of herbalism and the ceremonies, rituals, and belief systems that surround medicinal vehicles. With her soft-spoken and easy ability to bring people together, Donna can definitely bring peace of mind and relaxation to a room.

    For Donna, 184 began as a way to reconnect. "When I first graduated from my MFA program, I moved to Brooklyn and I didn’t know the space, I didn't know any of my neighbors, and I felt really disconnected from my classmates. So as a way to bring them back into my life, I decided to curate them into it. And then it occurred to me that I could do this more regularly, so it's evolved into a project that I do on average about three times a year."

    Since 2014, she has been helping artists to connect "in a place outside of the white cube, where they can have these intimate conversations and people actually want to talk to you about the arts." Within an art scene as notoriously fickle as New York's, the project feels inclusive in a refreshing way. Homey. But that's not to say there isn't some criteria

    "I need to be able to live with the art. So it can’t be something that has taken over the entire space. [There have been] really beautiful and unexpected responses. Like things in my shower, things hanging from the kitchen cabinets, I’ve had somebody performing in my closet. People in my bed as a performance," she says. 

    It's also a way to push creators out of their comfort zones. "It creates a space for the artists to do something outside of what they would normally do. So the challenge is that. How do you make something that somebody wants to live with, not putting it in storage? So that’s the objective."

    As romantic as that idea sounds, it's also extremely practical. After all, art is a business and in order to be lucrative, a work needs to be buyable. What better way to show collectors how a piece fits into their home?

    Mis, the inaugural exhibition at 184's new location, happens to highlight works by femme artists, however inadvertently. Though it is an interesting facet when looking at art through the lens of domesticity.

    This show, in particular, has Donna considering the pieces in new ways. "I have been to a show before where the art was really big and it took over the whole space and I had a reaction to it. Like a body reaction. So I was thinking the gestures here are a lot more subtle and it occurred to me that it was like the way I feel about old friends. They can exist in your peripheral thoughts, you think about them now and then, but they’re not screaming at you demanding your attention." Of course when they get your attention, you're once again reminded why you love them so much in the first place.

    Mis runs through November 9th at 184 Project Space. Viewings can be made by appointment here and here.


    23. Press for MIS !!!!

    Donna Troy ClearyComment

    I'm so excited about this write up by the brilliant David Willis for Medium Magazine.  Thank you!!!  To see the full article with photos, follow this link


    Dave Willis

    Founder of Willis Art Advisory, a bespoke firm providing corporate clients and private collectors with access to investment-grade contemporary art.

    Oct 27

    “MIS”: A Group Show Curated by Donna Cleary at 184 Project Space


    Julia Oldham, “Coyote Woman in the Cascades,” 2016, Archival Inkjet Print on Hahnemuhle German Etching, courtesy of the artist and 184 Project Space

    I had the pleasure of meeting Donna Cleary in 2013, when we collaborated with the artist Jesse McCloskey to curate a pop-up exhibition on The Bowery. The show was a success, and inspired by the experience, Donna decided to hold exhibitions in her own apartment the following year. She named the project after her apartment number in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and thus, 184 Project Space was born.

    Conceived as a means of building community by bringing together artists, curators, and collectors in a casual context, 184 Project Space has since held thirteen exhibitions over the past three years, serving as a valuable platform for artists and curators (my self included) to experiment with installing contemporary art in a domestic setting.

    Donna recently moved location to Bed Stuy, and to inaugurate her beautiful new sun-soaked apartment, she has curated a stunning group show of seven women artists working in diverse media, including video, sculpture, performance, installation, augmented reality, and painting (both analog and digital).

    The show is titled MIS, in reference to a character of the same name from Irish folklore who, bereaved at the loss of her father in battle, is metamorphosed by grief and rage into a fearsome creature with both feathers and fur. The title “MIS” carries associations with both the negative prefix “mis-” and the standard feminine appellation “Miss,”thereby highlighting the fierceness of this all-woman cast, emphasizing their power for transformation of—and through—art.

    The exhibition theme is addressed most literally through the work of Julia Oldham, who’s “Coyote Woman in the Cascades” (2016) hangs above the living room couch, depicting a woman in the woods, seemingly contorted in agony as she transforms into a coyote. The image is in fact a photographic self portrait, digitally collaged with an image of a coyote and then painstakingly “painted over” with a stylus on a computer, such that the hybridity of the wolf-woman is reflected in the hybridity of the art process. The bottom half of the image is intentionally left checkered like the ground upon which photos are manipulated in photoshop, a knowing wink to the growing pains of the artist living on the cusp of a new media revolution.

    A leading player in that revolution is the artist Jung Hee Mun, who’s site specific augmented reality installation, “I;therefore;Exist” humorously occupies the 184 Project Space bathroom. Invisible to the naked eye save for a few stickers pasted around the room, the installation is viewed through an android tablet, which when pointed at the stickers, uses image recognition technology to activate animated sequences.

    Most of the stickers depict “the mouth of truth,” a stone-faced fountain in Rome which is fabled to clamp down its jaw on the hand of anyone who tells a lie; when these fountain-faces trigger the software, they begin to spout water all over the place, and a strange woman appears, and begins to worship at the porcelain altar. Her skin is a textureless checkerboard, echoing the unfinished background in the Oldham print, and suggesting that this could be an avatar for any of us.

    Another sticker reads “This Is Not An Exit,” triggering thoughts of Sartre, as well as a sequence in which our protean every-woman rocks back and forth on the can, as if lamenting some tragic loss, or perhaps suffering from extreme constipation—which, in the context of creative expression and technological experimentation, might be read as a reluctance to let go of the old and embrace the new.

    The show makes use of the entire apartment, with work installed not only in the living room and bathroom, but in the bedroom, the closet, the hallway, and the balcony as well.

    Of these, my favorite work was the understated sculpture by Barb Smith, lovingly placed at the foot of the bed. Titled “Memory of a Tip Toe,” it traces foot prints in a folded piece of foam, which rather than reverting to its “natural” form, has instead been frozen in time through a chemical treatment devised by the artist. The sculpture appears porcelain at first glance, highlighting the poignant tensions between its soft appearance and its hard surface, or its hefty weight and its tender, yielding plinth.

    The presentation of the Barb Smith sculpture stands out, in that all of the other works in the show occupy the space of the apartment in a very natural way; an ephemeral painting on glass by the artist Nadia Haji Omar is inocuously installed on the bedroom mirror, and the Leah Dixon sculpture in the hallway looks so good in its spot that I almost wish it were a permanent installation.

    Such is the beauty of 184 Project Space, as well as other, equally exciting unconventional galleries across New York (such as Sophies Tree, an apartment gallery in midtown; Paradice Palace, which occupies a Bushwick basement; or Hotel Art, a freestanding shed converted into a micro-gallery in a Brooklyn backyard): they provide us with an chance to experience art in an intimate setting, enabling to us to put ourselves in the shoes of the collector.

    What’s more, the viewing experience is necessarily humanized by the setting, since viewings are by appointment only, making for a refreshing change from the often alienating experience of going to a large and impersonal art gallery.

    MIS runs through November 9th, 2017, and appointments can be made through the 184 Project Space facebook page.

    Go check it out; this is not a show to be MISsed 😉

    Participating Artists:

    Leah Dixon, Pik Shuen Fung, Graciela Cassel, Miryana Todorova, Alison Kuo, Nadia Haji Omar, Barb Smith, Julia Oldham, and Jung Hee Mun

    • Never miss a story from Dave Willis, when you sign up for Medium. Learn more

    22. Reishi for you too.

    Donna Troy ClearyComment

    If you haven't already read about my experiences with Reishi mushrooms, the mushroom of immortality, please read my previous posts.

    I've made batches of a tincture with the reishi I have been gathering.  I've also been using the mushroom medicinally since April.  The tincture is now available on my Etsy shop