Art of Layering

Art is meditative and transformative for me. Even if I stare for a long time, the experience is active within me. Moving through a museum or a gallery, gazing at a painting, waiting to view artwork, standing at a distance to see more clearly, and viewing a sculpture with someone else–all of that is more of an experience than the passive idea of watching or looking at something casually. I try to imagine painters on scaffolding when I see an immense canvas stretching up toward the ceiling. I stoop and squint at the tiny forms in a contemporary sculpture exhibit. There is not a way to duplicate the feeling of scale on a computer-generated tour of a museum, and yet, I encourage online tours and know they benefit so many people.

I enjoy not only going to see artwork in exhibitions, but the art that I view often becomes part of my own creative process. In the exhibitions that permit me to do so, I take photographs of the artwork on display as well as the space where the exhibition takes place. Later, back at home, in the middle of the night, or when I am parked in a line of cars waiting to pick up one of my daughters, I layer the images. The act of layering images pushes my brain into a new creative space and actually helps me to write imagery in my books. I don’t often share my visual processes, other than a photo of places where I run and that sort of thing on Instagram (IG). I did enjoy layering nature and yoga images for a series on IG, but otherwise, I don’t usually share these images and how they inspire me. I’d like to change that and share some of them on my blog sometimes.

This series of images, the most recent I’ve created, uses photos I took from the recent exhibitions at The Frist Art Museum in Nashville: “American Art Deco: Designing for the People 1918-1939” (ended January 2, 2021) and “Medieval Bologna: Art for a University City” (exhibit up until Jan 31).

Immediately, I was shocked to notice a coincidence between the Art Deco exhibition and my new book–that I actually wrote the dates of 1919-1939, in the novel, Ripe for the Pickin’ (forthcoming 2022), as one of the primary time periods. As my friend and I entered the Art Deco exhibition space, the sequined gold flapper dress made me think about my own character’s gold pageant dress in the first book of the series, Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel. Robin and her aunt discover the dress in a Nashville store where they rummage through boxes of designer clothes. In another room of the Art Deco exhibit, I swooned over the fan, as it reminded me of Miss Emy, Robin’s grandmother, who carries a fan everywhere and does not stereotypically “flutter” it, but rather uses it as a judge might wield a gavel. Naturally, I thought of putting together a picture I took of the dress with one of the fan. Unfortunately, I cannot find the titles or artists/designers of these two pieces on the online guide for the exhibition.

I layered my own images with pictures I took at the exhibit, too. Photo 2 is my reflection in the Spartan Bluebird Radio during the exhibit juxtaposed with a forest where I ran this summer and which was inspiration for part of the next book’s setting. Radios are a part of the story since Robin is in a folk band, and I wanted to imagine that one of the characters, maybe her relative, had one of those bluebird radios. I also like that this dates the radio and me, as I’m wearing a mask because they are required in The Frist.


The radio: Walter Dorwin Teague, designer (American, 1883–1960); Sparks-Withington Company, manufacturer (Jackson, Michigan, founded 1900). Sparton Bluebird Radio (Model 566), 1934. Wood, glass, and metal, 14 3/4 x 14 5/8 x 6 in. Collection Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver, 2004.1850.


Photo 3 is a photo I took of a Steuben Glass bowl that contained Jimson Weed by Georgia O’Keeffe, and I layered it with a photo I took of Paul T Frankl’s Modernique Clock. I often write about plants and time, and the confusion of the psyche in trying to reconcile human constructs regarding schedules and nature’s own rhythms and shifts. Plants connect the characters in this book series through generations. After I put the two pictures together, the result reminded me of an Alice in Wonderland-type of image, too.

Of course, to create these images, I am using copyrighted works, but they are my images of those works, and I am not selling, duplicating, or distributing the images, so they don’t infringe upon the original works of art. I’m also citing those original artists. My layered images don’t even come close to using mastery at a level of the original artists/designers, but they do fulfill an artistic purpose for my fiction-writing. (See this website and/or a lawyer for the rules of legally appropriating and distributing copyrighted artworks).


The clock: Paul T. Frankl, designer (American, born Austria, 1887–1958); Warren Telechron Company, manufacturer (Ashland, Massachusetts, 1926–1992). Modernique Clock, 1928. Chromium-plated and enameled metal, molded Bakelite, and brush-burnished silver, 7 3/4 x 6 x 3 1/2 in. Collection Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver, Gift of Michael Merson, 2010.0670.

The bowl: Steuben Glass bowl with Jimson Weed image, 1938 Glass, 14 inches in diameter. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of Mrs. Flora C. Crichton 1997.13.1Designer: Georgia O’Keeffe. Clear glass bowl with Jimson Weed etched in center from design


 Finally, I liked the snail cocktail picks from the Art Deco exhibit layered with an illumined manuscript from Medieval Bologna. There was no connection to my story. I simply like the idea of the slow passage of time symbolized by the snail and the old age of the manuscript.

Nothing compares to the experience of looking at the artwork, standing in front of it, taking in the scale of it, noticing the texture, focusing on the colors and form, how it shows itself in the space. However, I do enjoy this process of layering and creating even more meaning for myself.


I don’t have the details about the snail cocktail picks or the illuminated manuscript, but here are links to all the information online that The Frist Art Museum offers and online tours:

Art Deco Exhibition links

Medieval Bologna Exhibition links

The Georgia O’Keeffe Steuben Glass bowl


When Daydreams Build Foundations

Amazon Cover-01 Most of my ideas don’t materialize. Probably 85-95% of them are only daydreams and nothing more. I daydream constantly. This can be overwhelming for people who don’t know me well…I’ll start building immediately. That’s the way it goes with my writing, too. So, many stories never make it far until they are deleted or made into paper balls for the wastebasket.

My latest novel, just released, Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel, began as a short story in Barry Kitterman’s graduate fiction writing course. I was writing from my daydreaming head all of this surrealist drivel, trying to emulate writers I thought were considered cool by people who knew these things. Barry invited a guest author, and she asked, “How many of you are from Tennessee?” A few of us raised our hands. For the next assignment, she asked us to write about our place in the world–to consider what we have experienced, and then to write the fiction story for the next class session. I started “Family Medicine Wheel” with the main character, the country midwife Zona Ballard, who was mysterious, witchy, and creative. That was in 2003. Barry encouraged me to revise the story and put it through the workshop with the class. Instead of listening, as a student will who thinks they have a better plan, I chose a different story to put through the workshop, and experienced something like a battle with my peers over this new story. Later, my wounds healed. An experienced professor who works from awareness and kindness won’t let you down. Barry breathed life back into that story and submitted it to the Languages and Literature Department for consideration in the Dogwood Award. The story won Best Graduate Fiction in 2004.

I graduated, started a family, taught college classes in English, and then a friend recommended that I submit the story to a journal, The Round Table, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. To my complete surprise, not only did they publish it, but they also chose it as the winner of the Robert Penn Warren Award in Fiction. That was 2009.

In the meantime, I had other daydreams, and they were becoming another book. A book that I considered my first, as pieces of it were written in another creative writing course taught by Barry Kitterman. So, the book, Multiple Exposure, became Thorncraft’s publishing debut in 2012. I forgot about “Family Medicine Wheel.”

My daydreams for Thorncraft began to grow, and I wanted to help other women authors get their work out to the world. I learned about publishing from my experience as an Editor for Her Circle Ezine, an online magazine that focused on women’s arts and activism around the world with a heavy emphasis on literature and visual arts.

Thorncraft grew with Beverly Fisher’s novella Grace Among the Leavings (2013) and Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo’s novel, The Mosquito Hours (2014). A good daydream doesn’t remain in that realm–it leaves a paper trail.

My friends and family who read “Family Medicine Wheel” long ago, or knew about it, continued to ask if I would ever build anything substantial out of that daydream. Last year, I returned to that world and made a novel out of it by merging it with Poke Sallet Queen, a NaNoWriMo novel draft I wrote in 2011. From its beginnings on paper, that dream has taken 10 years to materialize. Finally, we are here, and I invite you all to celebrate with us at the book launch.

BOOK LAUNCH: FREE & open the public. PARNASSUS BOOKS, Nashville. May 9th, 2 p.m. Click here for Parnassus website: http://www.parnassusbooks.net/event/author-event-shana-thornton-author-poke-sallet-queen-family-medicine-wheel

Book will be available for purchase from Parnassus Books at the book launch. The author will read and sign copies. The author will also donate a minimum of 10% of her royalties from the book launch to Clarksville-based food bank and shelter, Manna Cafe Ministries. Also based in Clarksville, Thorncraft Publishing strives to consider our impact on the world and make it a better place.

Facebook Event page

Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel advanced praise:

“Reading Shana Thornton’s highly original novel will make you want to get your own family stories to the page. You’ll meet larger-than-life characters like Hoot and Zona, Aunt Cora and Jane, Miss Emy, and Nenny, the matriarch, who rolls her own cigarettes and knows all the secrets of the family medicine wheel. You may even find yourself signing up for a writing class like the one that sets the narrator, young Robin Ballard, to interviewing her aunts and grandmother, tracking down her homeless father, and digging out the family secrets, lost journals, and recipes that make Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel a most surprising and satisfying fictional family history. (At least, I think it’s fiction!)” –Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Turk and My Mother, and The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

When Robin Ballard takes a writing course in college, she goes searching for answers about her homeless father and wanders into the secret lives of her relatives as they gradually reveal their personal histories. Set in Nashville and the surrounding rural towns, Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel offers a look into the superstitions and changes of a middle Tennessee family from the 1920s to the 21st century. Based on novel events, homework assignments, old magic recipes, drunken revelries, senile remembrances, midnight songs, some tall tales, some folk tales, and the lost journals, Robin Ballard tells a “true” Tennessee family history.

“When I’m given a book to review, I like to open it up at random and see if what’s on the happenstance page resonates at all. This time I found the heroine Robin Ballard singing Mother Maybelle Carter’s ‘Wildwood Flower’ at a beauty contest she does not expect to win. She is someone I recognize, who trips over a cord as she’s leaving the stage, whose family’s knowledge ‘comes from the dirt’ not from ‘parchment scrolls and crests that open doors.’ This character is humble and honest, and the book refreshingly natural and just different enough. I like it….” -Rheta Grimsley Johnson, author of Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming

“Vibrant in detail! Meet and fall in love with the characters of Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel and along the way, learn the secrets of great story-telling.” — Bud Willis, author of Marble Mountain: A Vietnam Memoir

“Shana Thornton has a fresh, unique voice and talent. Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel is a lyrical tale of love in the lush Tennessee hills, of generations gone by, of people appreciated for simple things as much as the passing on of their history. There is mystery, sorrow, laughter and knowledge in these unforgettable characters. Shana writes a magical story that stays with you long after the final page. As with one of the characters, ‘She knows real magic.'” -Virginia Brown, author of Dark River Road and the Dixie Diva mystery series

Visit Thorncraft Publishing to read more advanced praise and to browse all of our titles and events.