McArthur Krishna met Claire Tollstrup at her art show Heavenly Mother and the Wise Women. Claire told her about her own piece on Heavenly Mother—And She Is in the Details— and McArthur was immediately intrigued. Below are interview excerpts about Claire and her artistic journey with Heavenly Mother.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in SLC and have been a homebody. . . . I’ve not moved more than 15 minutes away from my home.
I think I have always been . . . a born feminist. (Feminist being the simple belief that women should be treated equal.) I asked hard questions at a really young age. And I was infuriated by the lack of women’s rights worldwide. . . . I was very passionate about women’s equality from a very young age.
Specifically on Heavenly Mother, my mom taught me about Her. And my mom has tried to include Her. However, I only started to seriously think of Heavenly Mother when I read a poem by Carolyn Pearson, “Motherless House.” . . . I think it’s a very important poem. I saw it posted online and it got me thinking, “Wait a second . . .”
My mom taught me about Her like She is there . . . but then learning more . . . reading that poem . . . She (Heavenly Mother) is there, but we are ignoring Her.
What inspired you to create artwork about Heavenly Mother?
I was sick. We had the most horrible flu going around and there was one day I had a fever . . . and I don’t know the last time I had a fever. I felt so horrible I couldn’t read or watch TV — it was just forced meditation. I lay there staring at the ceiling for hours. I thought I might die. This could be the end. But, I actually just had a long, long meditation. And somewhere in there I just felt inspired, “You need to paint Heavenly Mother.” I had a different idea for the painting . . . and then it evolved into this piece about details.
Tell us more about the piece itself.
I feel like it is my best work. I poured myself into it. . . . There were layers of meaning there. The painting is made up of 53 individual pieces that were tetrassed together. . . . Each had their own unique composition. Plus, when put together, they made one overall composition.
There is one piece in the middle that is brighter than the others . . . and I feel like that is Her. She is both that one piece plus also all around and all the pieces.
Where is the piece now?
My husband decided he wanted this one to be in our family. I had it for sale in the Springville Art Museum and I got inquiries about it . . . but then he decided this one should stay. He is very supportive and understanding about my feminist views.
How has the process of creating artwork about Heavenly Mother brought you closer to Her? What has it taught you about Her?
Through this painting I was just discovering Her for the first time . . . and really searching Her out and discussing with my husband. I think my kids had overheard some discussions of mine, and one of my daughters looked up at me in sacrament meeting and asked, “Who is Heavenly Mother?” We are not talking about Her enough and teaching our children enough about Her. I hope this art helps start conversations.
If you were to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with Heavenly Mother, what would you talk about or ask?
I would ask Her . . . how does She feel about the plight of women over centuries and all around the world. How did we get to this point where we have allowed men to convince us that we should be under their rule and not as capable or as smart? Why has this taken us so long to reject? And how did this happen? Is this important for our learning and growth? To overcome and find ourselves despite that? I don’t know.
What advice would you give to those who want to connect with their Heavenly Mother on a deeper level?
I would tell them to connect by learning from the women around you. . . . We are all divine and all created in Her image, and when one of us has a thought that is good and inspired, we should share it. You can connect with Heavenly Mother by looking at art and reading poetry, that is helpful.
Part of me kind of loves that there is not a lot of revelation about Her because, for me, it makes Her more personal to us.
For example, sometimes God seems Old Testament “angry god” and sometimes you have an image of Him with the First Vision. . . . There is lots in there. And I kind of love that She is . . . more open. We don’t have much information . . . so I can feel like She is just for me . . . and personally connected. When I find Her, She is there . . . not just an image mankind has created. She is THERE.
Claire (and more images of her work) can be found on Instagram at clairetollstrup.art or www.clairetollstrup.com.
“This piece is made up of 53 small paintings, or details. The variety of pieces represents our world and how Heavenly Mother is all around us—from the dark earth and the dark night to the bright sky and all the vegetation in between. The flowers represent Her beautiful and feminine divinity that perfectly complements our Heavenly Father. Together They are our Creators, our Parents.
“I believe She is in the details of this earth; She is in the details of our life; She created us; She watches over us; She is all around us.”