Green Feedback Loop Part 2: Soul Sustainability with Santa Fe Artist Patti Bear

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Patti Bear inside Sweat Lodge.  Santa Fe, NM

Valuing The Self with Patti Bear

I had the pleasure of talking with visual artist Patti Bear, of Santa Fe New Mexico, about sustainability and spirituality in the context of our world today. We also explored how her creations reach out to others as reminders of connectedness to self and the environment.

As Bear answered each question with passionate thoughtfulness, I was reminded of the poignant intimacy between our individual experiences and how we experience our environments, as well as ourselves within the environment. We are undeniably weaved into the larger tapestry of this planet and the universe.

Values that resonate with our own self-concept are the self-motivating forces behind our commitment to particular behavioral choices. [Verplanken, et al. p. 445.]. “This demonstrates the innate nature of how value systems might function, which thus can be considered as a symbolic self-defining property of human beings” [Verplanken]. It is the relationship we have with ourselves that informs how connected we feel to particular values, and the behaviors we choose to engage in are directly related to the values which have been activated and result in behavior choices.

Hurricane Sandy Relief Image Courtesy

We are at a tipping point on this planet and our world is moving faster by the minute. Melting glaciers and increasingly severe weather patterns attributed to global warming, the struggle to keep GMO foods at bay, rising costs and scarcity of non-renewable energy, and seemingly endless ways in which industry is negatively impacting our oceans are in the backdrop of our exponential growth in new technology across the science, communication, transportation, and renewable energy spectra.

“Sustainability is your first connection with the Earth….if you are not sustaining your soul, you are unconscious” – Patti Bear

People across the nation are answering the call of becoming more grounded in their connections to our planet while simultaneously strengthening their connections to their communities. Patti Bear does so by not only connecting to others with creation in art, but by practicing and teaching the art of connecting to the self.

Art Imitates a Connected Life

Journey Quilt by Patti Bear

What does living sustainably mean to you?

It is your first core connection with the Earth and the elements. Water, land, air the animals. There’s no separation. My experience is your experience.  It is your connection to spirit and your soul. If you are not sustaining your soul you are unconscious.  When you are putting yourself above the Earth and the elements, and are destroying it for your own illusion of material gain, you are not living sustainably. Living in harmony with all life is sustainable.

What do you feel gets in people’s way of people behaving in a sustainable manner?


Say more about that.

Being in a place of isolation and disempowerment.

You do a lot of healing work as well as promoting healing through your creations. Do you see your art as also promoting a sense of connection to the Earth, elements, etc.?

Spirit, Earth, talk through me and work through me.

My quilting work with people is a reflection of family and community and what their histories, legacies, and ancestral stories are. All of these stories are a thread, in a large web of life. Sometimes this place of remembering through quilting can make a person uncomfortable as it can bring one back to wounds and masks used to hide those wounds. People don’t want to look at wounds. These stories reflected in my work bring a person back to themselves.

Soda Kiln Fired Porcelain Bowl by Patti Bear

The aspect of clay in my work, which is dug from the body of the earth all has to do with nature and the elements, and brings it back to that connection to Earth. The clay is fired with an outdoor kiln built by the community and the elements of air, fire and earth create the container used to eat which is taken back into the body. It’s a circle. It’s a way of living. All of my pieces are connecting a human web. People do their own healings. I’m a facilitator of that space.

You mention connectedness to spirit with respect to living a sustainable life. Does spirituality play a role in the choices and behaviors which can lead us to living responsibly on this planet?  

To get to a place to be silent, to sit and listen to look at all nature around you, you will find simplicity. All is revealed to you, and all flows easily. There’s nothing else but that. To me, that’s everything.

The Guardian by Patti Bear Hand Painted Wood Carving and Quilt

When I look outside of myself and ask “why”,  I am now able to sit back and take a look within myself for guidance. When I was young, I blurred my eyes while teachers humiliated me. I’d think “You cannot see me, hear me or hurt me” and I put this mask on at a young age. When I realized it was me who put that mask on, I realized I didn’t have to carry it anymore.  It’s when your knowingness knows.

Sitting on the porch and the beetle keeps hitting head on to this pipe. That’s seems true of a lot of us. We are pushing and pushing. The bug can go left or right, and finally goes to the right. Yet, listening and watching closely, I see that this this bug is teaching me, to go to left or right, or to stop pushing.

All of nature’s rawness is demonstrating lessons if we choose to take them.

So what you are saying is that when your spirit is quiet, it can receive the message from nature itself as to what needs to be done to live in harmony with it, yourself and others?

Well yeah, there’s no separation in it. It is all one.

As adults we are conditioned to quiet down that connection.  Children do this. It’s important to keep that openness with kids and allow self-expression and freedom of their creativity. We really need to listen to the kids.  They have a fearlessness of experience. That’s soul sustainability.

Simple Choices for a Larger Impact

Bear values the contribution toward a smaller carbon footprint with simple choices in everyday living.  She takes care to

Fire Bear Artworks Logo by Patti Bear Carved Wood featuring a symbolic representation of the artist, her work, and the connectedness to the universe.

  • Use kitchen towels instead of paper towels
  • Buy cloth at thrift stores
  • Participate in clothing swaps with people
  • Go to free concerts on the local plaza
  • Make and brings her own food for pot luck dinners with friends
  • Bring the community together with women’s  circles,  hearing and supporting the concerns of others
  • Recycle clay used in her art pieces
  • Buy sheets at rummage sales or church sales

Patti Bear is an inspirational multi-faceted artist creating with love of community, self and Earth through a deep sense of spirituality. She’s traveled throughout the US, Jamaica and Nepal to learn and create with like minded world citizens.   For over 25 years Bear has facilitated spiritual retreats all over New England and in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  These retreats bring adults and children in her community together to experience their personal connection with spirit through the creation of art.

Cloth drum bag, featuring quilted Whale and Golden Eagle by Patti Bear

Her fan base is as diverse as her work. Bear has been commissioned by patrons to make a range of meaningful art from large sculptures to clothing adorned with her artistic vision.  When she is not working in the studio or with her clients, she can be found caring for her sustainable garden, collecting found objects such as  rusted metal and bottle caps for her work,  or quietly meditating during long hikes among nature’s own creations.

For more on Patti Bear, her journey, work with children, healing practice, and artwork please visit Fire Bear Artworks or email her directly at

This series is part of our Urban Times Pychology of Sustainability Feature, an exploration  of individual behaviors within the context of sustainability. We’d love to hear from you.

Next up on Green Feedback Loop: Part 3: Local Farmer Laura Tangerini Redifines the Norm