Symbolism and Stories in my Art

There are lots of symbols and stories being told with my art. I’ve had a long facination with symbolism.

One of my favorite books on archetypes and symbolism is “Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. One can learn many lessons about life from reading the stories in this book. The author’s explanations about the symbolism in these stories is really amazing. I love that the theme of some of these stories is in similar stories throughout the different cultures of the world. Which to me demonstrates how we are all connected. Connected by the stories passed on from generation to generation.

I use tree images a lot in my work. One of my recent paintings titled “Women in Rhythm” for Bend’s City Walls at City Halls art exhibit called Place:Twelve, used tree symbolism and tells a story.

Let me explain some of the symbolism in this painting and what it represents to me. I don’t usually explain the symbolism behind my paintings because I want the viewer to make up their own story for the painting but I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts regarding this particular painting.

The  theme for the show is about how our past inspires our present and the future. Thirteen artists were juried into the Place:Twelve show. I’m honored to be one of those artists.

Each of the artists was to choose a photo from a book about Bend’s history and then paint  a conceptual painting inspired by the photo.

I chose a photo of Klondike Kate.

Kate Rockwell aka Klondike Kate
Kate Rockwell aka Klondike Kate

This is what I wrote about my painting which was difficult to write because I hadn’t finished the painting yet when I had to submit the artist statement for it.


When I first heard about Klondike Kate (Kathleen Rockwell), I was just a child. I might have learned about her from lessons about the Yukon Gold Rush and its many characters, from both that period or from the movies.

When I moved to Bend and saw a sign posted near Brothers indicating that Klondike Kate’s home was in the area, I was surprised and delighted that this lively and colorful woman had lived near Bend. She moved to Bend from Brothers, Oregon in 1917, but she also lived in Seattle and New York, as well as in Dawson City, in the Alaska Yukon.

A July 21, 2010 Bend Bulletin article about Kate said that she was “A truly liberated woman, adventurer and entrepreneur, hero and harlot, Kate had few peers yet many friends.” She was a humanitarian who helped during an influenza outbreak in 1918 and befriended Bend’s voluntary fire department. She even helped purchase Bend’s first Fire truck. The “Klondike Kate Awards” are still presented by the Bend Fire Department today to people “who are not members…yet who have made significant contributions or volunteered resources.”

My painting is in honor of all Bend women who give of their time and effort to the community. They can be inspired by Klondike Kate, a woman who spent 30 years here, and who lived her life on her own terms, as an adventurer, a business woman and an entertainer. Kate lived through life’s ups and downs, through fortunes gained and lost, and through hearts filled and also broken. She was a strong woman who gave to others and who helped the Bend Community with her humanitarian contributions to the fire department and the local hospital. She made people laugh and feel happy and that is what I want of my art; to lift the spirits of others!


I chose the photo because I liked that Kate helped the community and that she was an adventurer and traveler. She seemed to have a colorful past with being an entertainer and business woman. She had lived in New York City and Seattle and so have I.

So my idea was to show an image of Klondike Kate and somehow show how she has inspired others with her humanitarian contributions to the community. I wanted to show how she has helped to inspire the giving, nurturing efforts of today’s women who give of their time and energy to helping the Bend community.

So I started a painting that had women holding hands which represents the past,  the present and future beings being connected.


I pretty much finished this painting when I decided it didn’t feel right. It felt too cliché and forced. So I tossed it aside and started fresh.

This time I began with the idea of Klondike Kate being a tree with deep roots. The roots symbolizing the past and the history of Klondike Kate. I used her hour glass figure as part of the trunk of the tree. The tree’s foilage is colorful and bright to represent Klondike Kate’s past as an entertainer and her colorful personality. Her arms are spread wide open to symbolize her open, generous spirit.

This shows the first couple layers of painting.

I wanted her to be surrounded by women figures holding hands t0 symbolize the connection we have to each other. One of the women holds a heart which represents a caring nature.

More layers added.

The row of house-like forms across the horizon represents the Bend community. I added a river running infront of the building images and behind the figures to represent he flow of the past to the present and future. Bend has the Deschutes River running through it so it also represents this area.

I started to add a bird in a nest to the lower right corner to represent the nuturing nature of women but I deleted it because I decided it didn’t need this image.


Below is the final painting “Women in Rhythm”. I framed it with a white mat and a plain black wood frame. I like the simplicity of this because it keeps the focus on the painting rather than the frame.

Women in Rhythm, Acrylic on Paper, Framed 30" x  24", $825
Women in Rhythm, Acrylic on Paper, 30" x 24" framed, $825

So do you usually like it when an artist tells you the story behind the painting or do you like to make up your own story?

I think it’s fun to get a hint of what the artist was thinking and usually I get that from the title of a piece. Generally I don’t want the whole story because I like to make up my own interpretation when I look at art. So I hope I didn’t spoil it for any of you by telling you some of the symbolism behind this painting.

Place:Twelve Art Exhibit

Opens on Friday, May 6th and runs through the end of July.

City Hall in Bend Oregon

Artist Reception, May 6th from 5-9pm

3 thoughts on “Symbolism and Stories in my Art

  • January 6, 2017 at 6:43 am

    Hi Lindy, I’m an artist too and really enjoyed reading your post. I also like the image you discarded. Is this image available to see anywhere?

    Thanks Prith

    • January 8, 2017 at 9:45 am

      No, the one I discarded got painted over. Looking at it now and revisiting this post, makes me want to paint something similar to it. I kind of like it now. 🙂

  • May 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    What a great story and what a great painting Lindy! It has to be something about the name “Kate”… I have one you know, and I named her Kate (Katherine) because it is such a strong name and I want her to live her life by her own standards. I think you have captured that spirit BEAUTIFULLY! And I am so glad you shared the story!


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