Seasonal Salon

How I Met Meridel LeSueur and Co-created with Gaia

Gaia and the Sculptor

Karen Sontag-Sattel, the sculptor who brought forth the Gaia statue. This photo was taken behind her lab as she worked on the stone.

In the 1990s I was a member of the WTI group in Minneapolis MN. One of our challenging program requirements is that we create and produce an Integrated Project for each of the three Cycles of study, bringing together what we have learned from several different activities such as feminism, goddess history, and the environment .

As I read the work of Merlin Stone, Monica Sjoo, Barbara Mor, Marija Gimbutas and other anthropologists and historians, I was excited to learn of the many ancient Goddess artifacts from many different cultures that have been found around the world. I longed to do my part to manifest the Goddess reawakening. I wanted to leave a tangible, durable form of Her to remind, excite, and inspire others. I wanted my Integrated Project to reflect that longing.

The idea of a statue occurred to me after living on my land for about seven or eight years. I wanted to represent Gaia to everyone who visited that sacred place. First I thought about creating a work myself. But since I envisioned the work surviving for hundreds of years, and since I had never sculpted in stone, I decided to find a sculptor with whom I could co-create my vision. After a long search of art schools and artists' studios, I found a woman who was accustomed to working on large sculptures--Karen Sontag-Sattel, who had created beautiful sculptures for public art projects in MN.

The sandstone block for my project was one that Karen had found years earlier, left behind as a result of dredging along the Mississippi River to construct a park. We learned from a geologist that the stone is over one billion years old--surely old enough for Gaia! The concept was for a statue of a life-sized, seated Grandmother/Crone holding a bowl. The stone would intentionally not be fully sculpted, to emphasize Her form rising out of the ground, always emerging.

But then Karen said that she would need to work with a human model. Sadly, the woman she had worked with before was not available. We were unable to find the model for several discouraging months. Then Karen proposed 96-year old Meridel LeSueur, who lived locally. I knew of Meridel as a renowned writer, poet, and human rights and labor activist. I already knew two of her granddaughters, and I was delighted to learn that she was still alive in 1996. To our surprise she agreed to our request. Meridel was then living in a geriatric wing of the hospital in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Because of her fragile health, Karen took photographs of Meridel and worked in the studio, while I visited with her throughout the summer. Though I was a union steward, I found in these visits that Meridel had much to teach me about labor unions and the women's movement. She challenged me to "Write!" and at times to co-write with her. I was privileged to spend that time with such a strong foremother, who fought for women's rights and human rights.

Meridel died in November of that year, and all of us who loved her knew that we had lost a treasure. Her memorial service at the Macalester College Chapel was packed with labor organizers, Indians, feminists of all genders, writers, public figures and private friends. We laughed and cried together in celebration of one magnificent life. I am ever grateful that my honoring of the goddess Gaia will always honor Meridel as well.

Watch the Spring Salon for Part 2: The Goddess Journey of Gaia, Meridel, and Val

Category: Winter Solstice 2018