Scholar Fridays is a weekly series on Bearings Online where we feature 2017-18 Resident Scholars. Susan Sink recently interviewed Lynn K. Prouty, who spent October 2017 at the Collegeville Institute as a short-term Resident Scholar. Prouty is an artist and founder of the Impact Gallery in Bismarck, North Dakota. During her residency, she worked on a writing project titled Brace Yourself. To view previous Scholar Friday interviews, click here.
Tell us more about your project titled Brace Yourself.
Brace Yourself is a survivor’s story. I started writing it in November of 2012 at Saint John’s University after Monsignor Gene Lindemann said, “It is time for your story to come out of the darkness into the light and sprout new growth.” It chronicles sixteen episodes that shaped my life, ten traumas and six success stories. Twists and turns abound. From living in Bermuda, the richest country in the world, to wanting to end it all. I have experienced tremendous successes and failures as an entrepreneur since age 18.
Ups and downs are a given in life, for us all. How you handle them is my message of hope. The connection that binds every episode has three elements: resiliency after adversity; my gift of art as a creative outlet to heal; and strong faith going forward.
You were here for the opening of The Saint John’s Bible (SJB) gallery that was part of the library renovation. As a calligrapher, did you get to spend any time with the SJB and how was that experience?
The dedication and ribbon cutting of the SJB gallery was a sacred experience. That evening at the panel discussion I heard how the face in the mirror was chosen for the illumination “Wisdom Woman.” “An old woman,” the speaker said. “Someone you would want to grow old with. Her wrinkles are her jewelry.” The SJB was exhibited in Bismarck and I taught a calligraphy workshop. It was then that a student suggested I come to Saint John’s.
My favorite passage is “The Parable of the Sower and the Seed.” It was the first “mistake” in the SJB when a line was left out. The team of calligraphers creatively solved the problem with “the line of return,” writing the line at the bottom of the page and using creative means (in this case a bird lifting the line on a string) to show where it should be. I strongly identified with that as a metaphor. I use the SJB in teaching calligraphy. My mission is and will continue to be: to keep the art of writing alive.
How did your religious identity impact your project or your stay at the Collegeville Institute?
It is astounding to me that Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB, started the Collegeville Institute 50 years ago. I am Catholic, but I embrace all cultures and religions. “All these religions, all this singing, one song,” as Rumi wrote. I love the diversity of people I meet from all over the world when I come here. Different is good and equals growth. Every encounter is enlightening.
I hunger for the intellectual stimulation I receive at Collegeville. I enjoy attending Liturgy of the Hours or Mass with the monks and have benefited from spiritual direction at the Abbey. I went to the Episcopal House of Prayer with scholar Rev. Dr. Beverly Goines for their weekly contemplative prayer during my first stay and we remain friends to this day.
Did you have any surprising conversations with other Resident Scholars while you were here?
During a 2016 residency, I asked a Scholar from Italy how she found out about Collegeville. She worked at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML). She looked at me and said, “HMML is world famous!” We don’t often understand what’s in our own backyard.
Being a private person, being able to speak openly about my story is most helpful. Sharing my project with access to the best and the brightest is inspiring. These people are uplifting mentors who reinforced that I was supposed to be there telling my story. Kathleen Cahalan is forever encouraging and introduced me to research material. Collegeville staff offer direction and support affirming that I am on track or not. I appreciate the honesty exchanged during writing critiques. I was humbled when a reader expressed she felt that she was reading something sacred. Epiphanies will strike during prayer or while spending time talking to a monk. Without the intrusions of running a business, I am free to focus on writing in the solitude and serenity at Collegeville.
If you could do a studio visit to any artist’s studio throughout time, who would it be? What would you ask?
Michelangelo in Rome. He was a tortured genius who suffered from mental illness. Today we are capable of making designer babies. Manic depression is reason enough to abort a pregnancy. This troubles me greatly. If not for Michelangelo, we would not have the Pieta, David, or the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo was not born a mistake. In today’s world he would be at risk of being eliminated.
I taught teens in foster care for 10 years that art heals, using our heads, hands, and hearts. I’ve taught handicapped people and Native American teens. They have illnesses and are injured. They are not mistakes. God doesn’t make mistakes. I would ask Michelangelo, “How did you live to be nearly 89 years old?”
How do you think your work going forward might be impacted by your time at the Collegeville Institute?
If not for the Collegeville Institute, my book would not be a reality. It is an honor to be accepted to write here. The Collegeville Institute has a prestigious reputation and many well-known authors have written here. It is my safe place to work. I am grateful for the Benedictine hospitality and respect I always feel. As Collegeville Institute Executive Director Don Ottenhoff says, “As you write, you heal.”
The writing review sessions I have with staff along with input from other Resident Scholars is invaluable. Alcuin Library is an extraordinary resource. I plan to finish Brace Yourself where I started. I am returning to Collegeville in September 2018. I am bursting to share my message and help people navigate the complex puzzle that is life. I will always give credit to the Collegeville Institute. The majority of Brace Yourself was written there.