Roots to Renewal

Episode Eight: Martina Müller on the Enlivening Forces of Art on Our Lives

November 04, 2021 Hawthorne Valley Season 1 Episode 8
Roots to Renewal
Episode Eight: Martina Müller on the Enlivening Forces of Art on Our Lives
Show Notes Transcript

Sponsored by Tierra Farm. Music by Aaron Dessner.

In this episode, Hawthorne Valley’s Executive Director Martin Ping had a chance to chat with artist and educator Martina Müller. Together they explore the many ways that art enlivens our lives – from the practice of observation intrinsic in the experience of making art and its impact on our interpersonal relationships, and even society as a whole – to the way that creativity allows us to access our more divine selves. Martina believes that we’re all artists because we can all learn to make art.

Martina studied art and English at Ruhr University in Bochum Germany and Emerson College in England, and holds a four-year full-time Waldorf Teaching Diploma from the Institute of Waldorf Pedagogy in Witten-Annen, Germany with a specialization in teaching high school art and art history. A faculty member of The Alkion Center at Hawthorne Valley since 2003, and Senior Artistic Director and Curator for the new gallery Lightforms Art Center in Hudson, Martina taught middle and high school art for two decades at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School. An accomplished artist and internationally published children’s book illustrator, Martina is a founding member of Gallery 345 in Hudson. She has exhibited her artwork in numerous venues throughout New York and Massachusetts including Sculpture Now at the Mount in Lenox, MA, Flying Horse Sculpture Show, Hamilton, MA, Diana Felber Gallery, La Mama La Galleria in New York City, Center Point Gallery, in New York City and many others. She creates her paintings, sculptures and installation pieces by bringing meditative content inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner and great spiritual documents from many spiritual traditions together with the living forces of nature. She lives in Ghent, NY where she maintains her studio.

Visit Lightforms Art Center's website
Visit Martina's website
Donate to Hawthorne Valley

Thanks for listening to Hawthorne Valley’s Roots to Renewal podcast. We are an association comprised of a variety of interconnected initiatives that work collectively to meet our mission. You can learn more about our work by visiting our website at

Hawthorne Valley is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization, and we rely on the generosity of people like you to make our work a reality. Please consider making a donation to support us today. If you’d like to help us in other ways, please help us spread the word about this podcast by sharing it with your friends, and leaving us a rating and review.

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Heather Gibbons (00:07):

Hello, this is Hawthorne Valley's 50th anniversary podcast Roots to Renewal and I'm Heather Gibbons. Roots to Renewal is made possible by the generous support of Tierra Farm, a family owned environmentally conscious manufacturer and distributor of organic dried fruits and nuts. Learn more at

Heather Gibbons (00:28):

If you've been listening regularly over the past eight months, by now you know that we started this podcast with the intention of sharing Hawthorne Valley's story alongside those of our friends and contemporaries from around the world who dedicate their lives to meeting the ecological, social and spiritual needs of our time. We felt there could be no better way to celebrate our milestone anniversary and we've been humbled and thrilled to do just that. In this episode, Hawthorne Valley's Executive Director, Martin Ping, had a chance to chat with artist and educator, Martina Muller. Together, they explore the many ways that art enlivens our lives from the practice of observation intrinsic in the experience of making art and its impact on our interpersonal relationships and even society as a whole to the way that creativity allows us to access our more divine selves. Martina believes that we're all artists because we can all learn to make art.

Martin Ping (01:24):

Well, thank you Martina for making time to speak with me as part of our podcast series, reflecting on the first 50 years of Hawthorne Valley Association. One of our founders, Karl Ege, wrote, "Our founding here is a seed, the seed of a living organism, that organism is essentially three-fold: education, artistic and agricultural as expressions of thinking, feeling and willing. Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, part of Hawthorne Valley Association is embedded on a 500 acre biodynamic farm and your beautiful sculpture, Flight, occupies a prominent intersection where the life of the school, which we could say represents thinking and the farm, which one could say represents willing, literally intersect. And I, I find that a rather fitting image, as we begin our conversation about the role of art and the creative process in education and society. And I'm wondering if you could say more about the role of art in addressing the feeling life of the child.

Martina Muller (02:31):

Thank you so much Martin for having me. And, um, yeah, I'd be happy to talk about that. I think we are there to, um, educate the census really and awareness. And I just give you an example. So if you have some, like if you have a child that goes, there could even start in the kindergarten or in first grade, you do all these, um, color exercises with them. And the, the nuances of let's say different blues to a red or a different red to a yellow and all these things get explored every single week. And, and I think this fine tuning of perception that really runs through all the 12 years of Waldorf school, and if you have a child who does this every year, every week, all the way through the year, paying attention to all these fine differences between the tones of color or what happens when you have a strong red versus the very, very finely painted red that, then really actually turns pink.

Martina Muller (03:33):

And what do all these color interactions actually do with, with one another? I think one educates a very fine sense for nuance. And then I, you know, and then I think, well, this is what people carry out into their work life or into their relationships. And, um, you know, being partners in a marriage or in whatever life, um, connection people have, how much, how much perception is there for the nuance of the other person, even the nuance of their, uh, you know, what, what, they're, what they look like at that particular moment, do they appear tired or worn out or happy and flushed and vibrant. And I think there's this, this, um, tool of perception that, which that we school through this artistic process is really spilled out into the social life and makes people so much more aware of what is the other person going through.

Martina Muller (04:34):

And really creates a reading capacity or a reading tool that enables people to read much more nuanced and much more closely. I've taught a lot of observational drawing and observational painting. And, um, I'll give you an example from a recent nature study class that I taught with the Alkion students out at the Hawthorne Valley pond, then people sit there and then start looking and they become so much more aware of, oh, this tree is this high compared to the height of this tree. And this green is like that. And there's a silver kind of shimmer in this. And what does the reflection in the water look like? And how do I make it look like water, and on and on and on, and this growing awareness and letting nature come to you and actually understanding nature and letting yourself be taught by nature and expanding your own vocabulary of form and perception.

Martina Muller (05:33):

You never, never, never sit there and you go, oh, I prefer this tree over that tree, or I like this particularly more than that. No, you just, you just always ask, well, what is the beingness of this and how is this? Yeah. What is, what is the best color expression for, um, this particular tone and the water right in front of me. It just really observation makes you non-judgmental. And the more you observe, the less you judge, and I can't think of a better tool for society to move forward with all these issues that we have with racism and with climate change. And, uh, you know, all the, all the problems we are facing between people socially and so on is to observe more and to judge less. And I think the arts are a fantastic way of, um, of training that. And I also teach, um, kind of meditation classes that we have at the Alkion Center. I teach about Buddha's Eightfold Path, and I always want to add a ninth exercise to that.

Martina Muller (06:41):

And that's the exercise of observation. And, um, I feel very, very, very strongly about what observation can actually do to heal relationships of humans to the earth and the plant and animal life, and also amongst each other. And the withholding of judgment that comes from the deep appreciation of what you see in front of you. All of the subjects that we teach at a Waldorf school, also the scientific subjects are as supposed to really be taught so that the head, the heart and the hands, all interacting in that field. So for instance, if you teach like a class on geography or a class on like animals studies and things, so this is where the arts come in so strongly in Waldorf education is that the child will then also be led through an artistic exercise where the scientific aspects of let's say an elephant, then get also brought into an artistic expression.

Martina Muller (07:42):

When I have taught painting classes about, let's say drawing or painting an elephant, I always try at the same time to also bring a lot of scientific facts into my presentation. The environment that the animal lives in and the most prominent qualities of that environment, be it like heat or the Savanna or the different plant life. And, um, and then also what's the mood of the animals. So an elephant, you know, is this large, animal that will dominate a landscape and how do you express it in color? And so I think there are so many different aspects that come together, which is science is informing the artistic process. And then the artistic process in turn makes it so that the child would probably never forget a lot of facts about the elephant when they have made a drawing or a painting of it.

Martina Muller (08:36):

And I think this is really where, and this is where head, heart, and hands come together in one, in one project. And where, for instance, the art teacher can really work with the main lesson teacher in bringing, uh, you know, an otherwise maybe a little bit more dry content to life and to get the feeling life of the child engaged. Out of all my over 30 years of teaching experience, teaching art, I can say that the creative process as such really gets to the core of the human experience. And, and then so many of my painting classes, you know, when the hour or hour and a half is over students go, no, why is this over now? How can this be over? This went so quickly and that people feel so enlivened in who they are as in their humanity. You really, when they're in a creative process, that time just flies. They, they make a very, very positive connection to what they are doing. Just this morning, for instance, I was working on a clay where I was with my four year old granddaughter, and then, you know, the course was kind of getting to its finished stage. And then she took the knife and she wanted to make the hair of the, of the animal. And then she said, let's pretend we are God. We are creating. And I think she really kind of went right to the core of the creative process as we feel our creative and more divine self at work when we are creatively active.

Martin Ping (10:09):

That's so beautifully said, I remember, uh, one time listening to the program on public radio from the top where they're highlighting musicians, like, and, and they're this musician who played so beautifully when they said his name afterwards. I said, I know him, he's a Waldorf student up in Vermont and he said something so amazing. And I felt so true in just kind of following this thread where he said, when you're playing a piece of music and you're connecting to the composer who composed it, who was actually connecting to source, and you're now then also connecting to source whatever that may mean to different people. But it's, it's clearly something of a, of a, you know, a deeper mystery that brings us right to the whole process and questioning the miracle of creation itself. So it's wonderful to hear you describe that experience with, um, with your granddaughter.

Martina Muller (11:08):

This really, this invigorating process that takes place when people become creative, how much joy there is in the room, how joyful they become, and this very, very active striving towards, I don't want to say perfection, but towards an idea that they hold within their heart of what it is that they want to create embodying this desire to express and that's just beautiful to watch. I've always felt very, very privileged that I got to teach art where people really display their, their full humanity at work in such a joyful way.

Martin Ping (11:44):

An earlier guest on our show, uh, on this podcast was Herbert Dreiseitl, also an artist and an amazing urban designer landscape architect. And he reflected so beautifully about the impact that one of his teachers had in his life. And I think all of us can kind of relate to that. You know, that, that there have been people, uh, oftentimes teachers who have had that kind of, um, memorable impact. And, um, I'm just wondering you, you teach in Waldorf schools, but you're, you also went to a Waldorf school yourself and as an artist and entrepreneur now, is there a particular teacher or a moment in your schooling that you feel defined or connected you to your life's path in the arts?

Martina Muller (12:33):

Absolutely. I was 17 years old and I was standing in the high school art studio, which was a very fine studio at that Waldorf school in Germany, where I went and, um, and this teacher was talking to us about, I don't know, some kind of exhibit she had seen. And then she mentioned the book by Wassily Kandinsky about the spiritual in art. It was as if a huge bell went off and I thought what you can combine the spiritual and art. And it just, it just rocked my world to be honest. And I, you know, back then, of course there was no online or anything. So I made my way straight to the university library and took that book out and started studying it. And that has really been my mission since I was 17 years old. Um, yeah. Kind of finding the spiritual in art.

Martina Muller (13:23):

And I mean, recently we've had this incredible revelation in the art world of the work of Hilma af Klint, who was, of course also connected to the work of Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy, and the absolute fascination that people have and had with her work. And it was the most successful show for instance, the Guggenheim has ever put on. They put it on three years ago. And, um, and to see this connection between what is a spiritual experience and how does it express itself in the physical, in art-making. And I'm sure many of it was also a question for Hilma af Klint, the way it went, you know, the way it manifested itself. And that has been my life's path to just try and find an expression for the spiritual and the physical. Many of the adult students that come to me look, um, with really quite a one for, um, mood back at their childhood and said, well, when I was seven years old, my teacher told me I couldn't sing because I sang out of tune or my teacher told me I can't draw, or I'm not talented.

Martina Muller (14:34):

And, um, you know, and a lot of what we do also in the Alkion program is to kind of heal that relationship because I personally think everybody is an artist and everybody can make art. And there's so many different pathways into the art. And also so many techniques where one can teach people to become artists. One really, really, really can learn that. And, um, it's just incredible to me to see how many schools let all of that drop. And one of our students recently said never in my life, have I told a story before. And, you know, she was in her mid-twenties and was in our program and had to tell a story for the first time in her life, or people really don't know how to read music or how to sing. And there is so much incredible brain research on what music does for the rest of intellectual processing and the brain. Nothing develops the brain as much as music.

Martina Muller (15:33):

And I cannot understand why people push that out of the school curriculum, because it really does something for the sciences and the brain as well. And so many musicians, they're are just so talented in so many other areas too. And I think there's a lot to learn from, and that's where I also feel Hawthorne Valley School has made an incredible commitment to the arts. So everybody sings. Everybody does eurythmy, everybody paints, everybody draws. Everybody does all these things. And as an art teacher, I was always so glad that we had arts four times a week. And just recently I spoke to a student who joined Hawthorne Valley School in 11th grade. And he said he couldn't believe how lucky everybody was and how lucky he was to actually have arts four times a week. And I think there's just this deep, incredible satisfaction of being creative and finding your whole person in the creative process.

Martin Ping (16:32):

You've, you've mentioned Alkion. And I mentioned that you were both an entrepreneur and an artist, because in addition to teaching in the Waldorf school, you are one of the founders and carrying forces of Alkion Center for adult education and of the teacher training and arts intensives that happened there. And you recently opened Lightforms, the art gallery in Hudson, just in time, I might add for a global pandemic and all that came with it. And I'm wondering if you would share the mission of Lightforms and maybe say a little bit about how the gallery is doing, uh, at this particular moment in time.

Martina Muller (17:14):

I mean, the gallery was actually founded by a group of people, um, with really going back to when I was 17 years old, inspired about the spiritual and art. And of course it was, um, I mentioned Kandinsky's book, but of course I also read a lot of Rudolf Steiner's work on the spiritual and art and how the spiritual can enliven art. And then when we opened Lightforms a little over, what, almost two years ago, um, our second show, we were extremely lucky to get work by Hilma af Klint, world famous, really world famous revolutionary artists. And, um, that of course put us on the map and we put tremendous work into, um, you know, mounting that exhibit with all sorts of, um, well different also engaging other artists, contemporary artists to illustrate some of Hilma af Klint's more obscure and abstract work.

Martina Muller (18:13):

And, um, and then two weekends in, we got shut down because of the pandemic. And that was of course heartbreaking to have such monumental work of such really worldwide importance in our place in Hudson, at Lightforms, and then to have to shut down two weekends into it. And, you know, for the opening, we had like 600 people coming through over the course of the evening and it was so lively and there was so much interest. And then we were completely shut down for two and a half months and opened again early in June in 2020. And, you know, people were very shy and they didn't come out and, you know, in the large numbers that we had seen before the pandemic, but then over the course of the summer, um, people ventured out more and, and came to that exhibit so that it still felt worthwhile that we had put it on.

Martina Muller (19:11):

And, um, yeah. And since then, we've, you know, always try to mount exhibits that have, um, a theme that have this, that still move this question of the spiritual in art, around in, you know, different, different artists have different practices. And many people also come in and say, well, all art is spiritual. And, you know, there's a part of me that would really agree with that as well. And, um, yeah, and I think the most beautiful thing about Lightforms is, uh, the incredible dialogue and conversation and new friends that we have made. And, um, and all the artists that have come towards us and all the visitors that have come towards us and the experiences they have had. And what's been really sad and challenging is that we couldn't have events like artist talks and openings and concerts and storytelling performances, and, you know, all sorts of ways for people to get together and to gather in a space that has art, because I feel very strongly art should really be where people are, and it's much harder to get people to come to the art.

Martina Muller (20:24):

And so if when combines a visual exhibit space with events that people feel drawn to come to like a performance, then they would also linger longer in this space and take the art in more deeply. And I think that's been the challenging and the sad part about the pandemic and Lightforms. And, um, and then of course also financially, it's been really tough. So I am hoping that things will improve. And we have also seen many more people come out and more freely enter the space. And even during the pandemic, people said, you know, the people that did come, they said, oh, this is just so incredible to have the place to come to where we can experience culture. And, um, and we knew ourselves by taking in the art and they thank us many, many times for having Lightforms during such tough times, and that we just continued our programming and stayed open to the public. And of course we don't take an entrance fee. Everything's by donation. It's really free to anybody for anybody to enjoy.

Martin Ping (21:30):

I would encourage anyone who's listening to this podcast that if you haven't already been to Lightforms in Hudson, you make it a destination. Hudson is already an exciting place that draws a lot of people. And I would submit that Lightforms is one of the real, most exciting, uh, highlights of Hudson at this point in time. It's really incredible what you've opened up. To call it world-class is, you know, is an understatement. It's really quite, quite beautiful. We're lucky to have it in our area. And I hope we can find the financial support to, uh, to keep it open. It's essential for all the reasons that you've so beautifully articulated, uh, in this, in this short time that we've had together today. Thank you for really being available to, to have a conversation. It's been really, it is wonderful always. And, uh, the, this is on the radio. So people don't know that I'm sitting beneath one of your, one of your beautiful paintings, which I absolutely love to have here in my office. It's just a source of inspiration. Keep my mind creative. I'm really humbled and grateful for, for your wisdom and your sharing this afternoon. So thank you so very much and keep creating.

Martina Muller (22:53):

Well, and thank you so much for the opportunity. And of course, everything that Hawthorne Valley is doing. Um, it's been amazing for me as a person, as an artist and, um, for my family as well. Thank you for the opportunity of this conversation.

Speaker 4 (23:13):


Heather Gibbons (23:14):

If you'd like to see some of Martina's work, you can visit her website at or visit our campus to experience her sculpture, Flight, which is installed in the garden area near our Farm Store. We encourage you to visit Lightforms Art Center Gallery in Hudson. Their next exhibit is a group show of nature, photographs and runs from November 12th through January 9th. Visit their website to learn more.

Heather Gibbons (23:44):

Thanks for listening to Hawthorne Valley's Roots to Renewal podcast. We are an association comprised of a variety of interconnected initiatives that work collectively to meet our mission. You can learn more about our work by visiting our website at Hawthorne Valley is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization. And we rely on the generosity of people like you to make our work a reality. Please consider making a donation to support us today. If you'd like to help us in other ways, please help spread the word about this podcast by sharing it with your friends and leaving us a rating and review. Special thanks to our sponsor, Tierra Farm, who makes this podcast possible and to Grammy Award winning artist, Aaron Dessner, for providing our soundtrack. We'd also like to thank Aaron Ping for once again, lending his editing expertise. We are so grateful to Martina for the time she spent sharing her philosophy and wisdom about the impact of art and art making on both children and adults and for the invaluable contributions she has made and continues to make at Hawthorne Valley.