The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic marked a time of loneliness and confusion for many. For artists, the pandemic halted art shows and fairs, creating many financial challenges.
For Tina Kelsey, an artist in Athens, the beginning of the pandemic was about finding a form of art that would keep her calm and grounded. Checking in with some of her other friends, also artists in Athens, she found they were devastated and struggling to even make their way off their couch.
“It was hard on everyone but on creative people it's a little different,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey knew she had to find a way to help her fellow female artists and produce an outlet for them to express themselves and their feelings. With this thought in mind, Kelsey came up with the idea of creating a group for female artists in Athens to gather during the pandemic, ultimately creating the Circle Circle.
“I have been working with circles for a long time,” Kelsey said. “Circles are very healing, and they're joyful and fun. My thought was, why don't I start a group of women artists in town, and study circles as a form of healing and getting our creativity started again and supporting each other.”
With a few messages via Facebook, Kelsey began to form the group. Meeting twice a week through video chats, the artists found healing in touching base with each other and having a way to release their inner creativity. The members began by sitting and cutting out circles and, for some members, cutting out a circle took two to three weeks.
“It did help – that action of cutting something in a circle,” Kelsey said. “It's very methodical; it's very meditative.”
Cindy Dubielak, artist and member of the Circle Circle, said the beginning of the pandemic was difficult financially, especially with the hard work and dedication given everyday by herself and everyone else. The pandemic provided a new perspective on the idea of making money and what really mattered. For Dubielak, health, family and friends were of the utmost importance.
Dubielak said joining the Circle Circle was an opportunity to work with women she had known and supported for a while.
“Creating with the support of friends was a way to stay connected and not fall into a depression during the time of no physical contact,” Dubielak said in an email. “I live alone so that part did impact me. In fact, we spoke on the phone regularly through (Facebook) messenger. I was one of those who did not regularly join in…but when we zoomed at Christmas for our Christmas exchange I was so damn happy to see everyone.”
Nancy Baur, artist and member of the Circle Circle, said the group was able to overcome technological hardships and stay in contact with each other. The group was able to find ways to safely transfer art to one another and contribute to each other's art even though they had to stay apart during the pandemic.
Baur said the group gave the feeling there was always someone there to contact when needed.
“It was really important how to keep everybody connected and support each other,” Baur said. “We had people who had sick loved ones and people passed away, and everybody knew that we were there for each other.”
The support the group offered was the number one priority. Be it group or individual support, someone would be there to cheer another on. The women supported each other to take care of themselves, continue their artistic talents and remember their contribution and importance to each other.
In the atmosphere of the 11 women, they felt a safe haven was born. It became their safe place to speak about the hard parts of life, while also celebrating the joys. The women were there to find out what they could do to help one another and, for some, that was giving artistic input so the artists could gain confidence in their work.
Together the group began to come up with project ideas they could work on as a whole, yet individually. The first project consisted of each artist finding ten circle shaped items and giving each woman in the group one of their circles. With the new ten circles, each artist had six weeks to create their art and show it to the group, socially distanced.
However, one of the groups most recent, and most sentimental, projects was one consisting of aprons. Kelsey said aprons are a form of protection and she’s been wearing one for a long time, creating a passion for them.
Every artist was given an apron and every two weeks the aprons would rotate. Eventually, every apron had been rotated through every artist. After the aprons were completed, all of them had an imprint holding significance to each artist.
It wasn’t until the art show at ARTS/West the artists were able to see all the completed aprons in their full glory.
“Each apron was for me a chance to express my appreciation for each woman,” Dubielak said. “I would spend days contemplating what I would do; then I would sit down at my machine and work the day before it was ‘due’ to move on to the next person in the circle. I guess we never outgrow the creative time needed even for patchwork and rickrack.”
With the fulfillment of creating an expressive way to show themselves to Athens, the artists are discussing their next steps for the group. The women have been able to grow through collaboration and become good friends with one another. They all helped each other through a hard time and found refuge in their fellow artists.
“The power of the circle actually did work,” Kelsey said. “We don't want to quit. We just don't know what it's gonna look like moving forward.”
Kelsey said the group may potentially open up to new groups of women to foster even more collaboration.
Once one finds their passion, Baur believes they should find others who share the same passion as them and share the love – just like what the 11 women in the Circle Circle did.
“I encourage anyone, no matter what their thing is – no matter if it's comic books, drawing, gaming or coffee – whatever your passion is, get with other people and talk about it,” Baur said. “ I think people need to learn how to reconnect after being separate for so long.”
All of the women believe the Circle Circle is an example of the impact and execution of women supporting women.
“I’d like to close by saying that it’s a rare thing to have a group of friends like these women,” Dubielak said in an email. “It’s a good group and a creative group and that’s what I needed to stay the course.”