Altar & Amazing Grace      

Using the discarded, unwanted and unclaimed items of my mother’s home, I documented her dementia. This installation included a book which chronicled her memory lost, found in the center of the maze.



My friend Jim Hebert was diagnosed with brain cancer in the summer of 2002. Jim was a brilliant software engineer and a great supporter of my work as an environmental artist. As soon as he began taking the drugs that kept him in the full swing of life for the next 3 years, his new wife Ronni began sending me all of the medicine bottles. In October of 2004 my closest friend Frances Lyn was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer, which had metastasized to her brain. Jim lived well and passionately with his cancer for 3 ½ years. Fran did the same for 2 ½ months.

When invited to do this show, I knew I had a place to open Jim’s boxes and deal with the contents. In the first box, I found, along with lots of other bottles, at least 6 bottles of seizure medication. I had opened a box of courage. When going through my house, looking for all of the boxes that Jim’s wife Ronni had sent me, I found a small bag of medicine bottles from Fran. Fran and Jim were friends, and Jim had been very supportive of Fran through the whirlwind of her diagnosis and death.

I make this altar out of love for my friends and all they have given me. Fran died 3 years ago, in February. Jim has been dead for almost a year and a half. These friends were an important part of my life, and the memory of their friendship is a vital part of my life as well. When I think of them, I understand anew--each step I take, each breath I breathe--I am here, I am alive--I have a job to do--to live as well and as truthfully as I can, each day, each hour, each moment.

Several weeks ago, after hearing about the rapid death of the partner of a childhood friend, another good friend emailed me this, “Bryant, I am sorry about the loss of your friend.  When I was working at Baptist (Hospital) in a counseling intern capacity, I met a professional medical person who said, ‘we all have cancers--some develop and some don't.’  I try to take care of myself more and more.  Who knows?”

To take care of ourselves and to love what we love--these days--that is all I know. I wrap the courage and love of all my friends around me like a soft blanket and go out into the world. I read poetry, which tells me the only answers are those that speak to us through our hearts. I am grateful for the sustaining love of my friends and for the mystery of wonder which gathers its strength in the dark of the night and arrives each day on wings of light.

Bryant Holsenbeck


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2008 — ARTISTS MAKE ALTARS Long View Center, 118 S. Person St., Raleigh, NC

2000 — Greenhill Center, Greensboro, NC

1999 — Durham Arts Council, Durham, NC