Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Elana Wolff Interviews Artist Regine Kurek (Part Three)

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Elana Wolff Interviews Artist Regine Kurek (Part Three)

Regine Kurek, born and raised in Germany, holds a degree in anthroposophical Art Therapy from the Kunststudientstatte, Ottersberg, Germany and a diploma in Biographical Counselling from the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland. Regine emigrated to Canada in 1983 and in 1989 established in Toronto, Arscura, a school for art in social and healing fields, based in anthroposophy. Anthroposophy, meaning “wisdom of humanity,” is the name Rudolf Steiner gave to the modern spiritual path which seeks to connect the spiritual in the human being with the spiritual in the cosmos. The mission of Arscura is to cultivate this connection through art.

Arscura graduate Elana Wolff gets Regine talking about the Arscura initiative, its birth and growth, the evolution of her own arts path, the mission of art in contemporary society and the series of books she’s currently working on.

Continued from Elana Wolff Interviews Artist Regine Kurek (Part two)

EW: You were sitting in front of a five-year contract to revamp the curriculum at Tobias School of Art &Therapy, and at the point of signing you suddenly realized you didn’t want to stay in England — even though professionally that might have been the thing to do. This reminds me of that earlier time when you knew you didn’t want to follow your Bauhaus mentor, Martin Domke. Instead, you went the therapeutic art route, the anthroposophical way. In 1996, in England, in a similar stroke, you knew you had to return to Toronto.

RK: Well I thought, if I sign this five-year contract, I’ll be fifty — and where do I want to be at fifty? I immediately envisioned the Canadian landscape.... It was like the fulfilling of a promise. I needed to pick up where I’d left off. And that’s what happened. I actually came back through the Rudolf Steiner Centre. The program I proposed and they accepted was called Arscura, Art for Life at the Rudolf Steiner Centre. We worked out of a space on Merton Street from 1997 till 2001. During that time, Art for Life was a two-year program, but as it is with these things — they have an organic way of unfolding. People wanted more and by asking for it, brought it about. When the Merton Street location closed in the summer of 2001, we didn’t quite know what would happen next. We were hovering there — in the city. A few times we were on the point of signing a lease and then things fell through. We came to a place where something else was needed and an opening came up in Richmond Hill. It was interesting — the whole work moved into a deeper rooting with the move north, and with the group of people who came to Arscura at that time. The class of 2002 became the first group to go through a full, three-year training. They finished the two years and there was no way they were going to stop. Also by that time I’d worked enough with Jef — we’d worked on the practicum side together — so we were ready to go forward. From 2002, we had first, second and third year classes running concurrently at our present studio on Rutherford Road at Bathurst.

EW: You mention Jef — your husband Jef Saunders whom you met while in England. You and Jef have a collaborative relationship at Arscura. Can you speak of the division of labour in your professional life and what it’s like to work creatively with your spouse?

RK: It was always my dream to work with a partner, and the work connection between Jef and myself was there from the beginning. We met in the winter of 1997 when my last task at the Tobias School was to hire a counselling instructor for the art therapy program. Jef was one of the people I interviewed. We had a conversation and found our views to be remarkably similar. We both considered art the dominant carrying impulse in therapy and art process as central to therapy. Jef became interested in pursuing an active role in development at Tobias and then heard that I was returning to Canada in spring of 1997. He came to Toronto for a visit at Christmas — to see what I’d been developing. Things then took a more personal turn. He decided to proceed with immigration, accepting a position as Development Officer at the Rudolf Steiner Centre and the following August, 1998, he came to Canada as a landed immigrant.

EW: Did Jef work with you at Arscura from the beginning?

RK: He realized that in order to understand Arscura fully, he’d have to go through the Art for Life program, which he did — from 1998-2001. And as he was going through it, he was also helping to develop it. He brought his counselling expertise to the program and we instituted Core Studies, which serves both Art for Life and Biography. He started to facilitate the courses in Adult Learning, Counselling Skills, and Observation and Diagnosis when he was in third year. The full Core Studies program, concurrent with all three years of Art for Life, began in 2002.

As for working creatively with my spouse, I have to say that the work never ends. We’re lucky to have the same interests and we always have a project on the go. But we have to consciously create time for individual pursuits. I like yoga, walking, skiing— fitness and the outdoors. Jef is passionate about film. We both like to travel and try to get together at least once a year.

EW: A lot of what we do in the classroom — certainly in the Art for Life, feels, from the perspective of the student, like therapy. We work on ourselves through the art. Do you see yourself as both instructor and counsellor in the classroom? Are the roles discrete or is there a merger?

RK: There’s an overlap. Already as a program it facilitates healing. How one learns is often a therapeutic process — to comprehend something in a new way. And things inevitably emerge that are transformed non-verbally. But one also has to be very clear. I’m not doing one-on-one therapy in the classroom; I stopped seeing private clients in 2006 to concentrate on education. Jef works in private practice. And we have therapists who know the Arscura program to whom we refer students — if something comes up in the classroom that needs to be dealt with one-on-one.

EW: What about your own art? Do you paint, draw, or sculpt regularly? Do you exhibit your work?

RK: I used to devote time to my own art and sell it. I never pursued the gallery route — mostly because teaching took all my efforts and that’s where I’ve put my energy. I often participate in the classroom and I work on course-related art at home, but I’m not developing my own work in an ongoing way. Though I’d like to open up a place for this....

EW: Is there a cohesive group of artists today who have come through Steiner’s stream and would identify themselves as anthroposophical artists? If so, would you consider yourself part of this group?

RK: Steiner had many pupils who were artists. I mentioned Kandinsky, who attended Steiner’s lectures and became a theorist in his own right, and was influential in furthering the idea of the spiritual in art. There were many others who worked with Steiner directly, and there’s been a steady stream of artists who’ve worked with his indications. The first generation — those who knew and worked with Steiner directly as a group — included the painters Hilde Boos-Hamburger, Maria Strakosch-Giesler, Henni Geck, Margarita Voloschin and the sculptress Edith Maryon. A second generation, who worked from Steiner’s impulse, would include Beppe Assenza, Gerard Wagner and Liane Collot d’Herbois. They also wrote about their work and developed individual schooling paths. Then there was the art for therapy stream that arose in the 1960s with Doctors Margarethe and Rudolf Hauschka. A third generation of artists continues to work out of the anthroposophical impluse, yet more individually. They are not a cohesive group — artists like Ninetta Sombart, Van James, Michael Howard. Artists have sought to free themselves from an outward expression of anthroposophy, from any appearance of sameness. Joseph Beuys, for example, was an anthroposhophist who worked all his life with Steiner’s ideas, yet you wouldn’t know this from his art.

As for myself, I started out with art and call myself an artist because I want to bring the spirit of creativity to everything I do. For the most part, professionally, my art is my teaching now. But I’d like to free up more time for painting — for some collaborative work too — murals, installations....

EW: But you’ve got a lot on the go to divert you from your art. In addition to Arscura, you’re involved in the Anthroposophical Society and you’ve also been active in establishing and promoting AAATNA — The Association of Anthroposophical Art Therapy in North America — that’s a mouthful...

RK: I became involved in founding the Canadian section of AAATNA in 2002 because I felt we needed an organization here for recognizing and promoting people working out of the anthroposophical therapeutic art stream. I wanted to give Arscura graduates a professional home for meeting, sharing, and engaging in artistic activities — a networking resource for linking up with others in the city, country and beyond. AAATNA was a very natural next step, but I don’t hold an AAATNA office — all the people at AAATNA are my colleagues. I’m a member like everyone else.

Participation in the AAATNA conferences is something I decided to take up last spring, and I was the seminar facilitator for the third AAATNA conference in November, 2009. The first conference was guided by a doctor and the focus was on physiologic and pyscho-spiritual aspects of depression. The second conference focused on how healing is approached in other streams — how anthroposophy lives in the world in the language and traditions of others. For the third conference, I wanted to return to the sources — to emphasize recognition in the world rather than a striving for accreditation — to show that we have something unique and valuable to offer, and to deepen our own understanding and connection to the spiritual forces that guide and support us in our work. I hope I planted a seed for research and that others will take up a theme and present papers and art that arise from anthroposophical sources.

EW: I’ve heard tell you’re writing a workbook that will set down, in practical language, what you teach in Art for Life. And what you’ve said about your intention for future AAATNA conferences seems linked to your writing project; namely — you want to present people with the tools for taking this work forward on their own.

RK: I’ve been working on the book project for some time now. It’s a set of workbooks actually — a kind of schooling that people can take up as they want to, and work on individually or in groups. It’s a distillation of the seven artistic terms of Art for Life — the practicum terms would still take place at Arscura. There’s a threefoldness to the content of the books: the cognitive part — the teachings; the feeling part — excerpts or reflections on the work by those who’ve gone through it; and the willing part — the art exercises. I envision seven separate volumes. I’ve completed three and am working on the fourth. The first three volumes are in the "testing stage" — being used by people working on their own.

EW: Do you see this set of workbooks as a way of giving your work to the world?

RK: There’s a value to having the course in book form. The whole course would live differently in the world — it would be more than just me teaching it at Arscura. It has to be given away. And if it would be out, I’d be free to really work on something new. I need to honour all my students too — to gift all those who’ve gone through my programs. I see the workbooks as a kind of completion of this work. It’s to have that record, and to free me to go further.

EW: A closing question, What do you see as the mission or purpose of art in our time?

RK: Art in our time is more important than ever. Most activities nowadays are mechanized in some form. We love to "save time" and in many different ways find it desirable to have technical support in everything we do. What’s happened to hands-on experience? How about exploration from scratch, with paints and pencils and clay? What about engaging in a risk to make a mess, or creating something less than perfect, yet genuine? Art will more and more become one of the very few areas of free space — where the soul can breathe out and our spirit can experience itself as unique, fresh, and new every day. We need to realize that art is never just art for art’s sake. Art is, and maybe always has been, a great educator. It helps to develop and exercise so many faculties. It helps us to take risks in life, to explore new things, to feel safe in unknown situations, to be creative in all fields of life. It helps to heal. We need art more than ever — in our health institutions, our communities, our schools. Absolutely everybody should do something artistic. What good we do to our physical bodies through the right nutrition, we ought to do through artistic activities for the health of our soul life too. Alongside fitness studios we need art spaces for inner fitness — to make us happier and more effective in daily life, and to reconnect us to the fact that we are spiritual beings. Art draws on this spiritual kernel that we all have, and that we share with everyone else. This is the paradox: when we connect to art, we experience our own uniqueness and at the same time our own humanity — that which we share and are one with.

EW: I’m convinced, Regine. Thank you. And may you go from strength to strength!


Macro- and Microcosmic," gouache on prepared canvas, 48 x 41"

In the Garden of Life," mixed media collage, 53 x 36"

"Sun Eclipse," mixed media collage, 53 x 36"

"Ways to Go," graphite and Conté collage, 28 x 20"

Photos by Elana Wolff

Elana Wolff has published three collections of poetry with Guernica: Birdheart (2001); Mask (2003); You Speak to Me in Trees (2006), winner of the 2008 F.G. Bressani Prize for Poetry. She is also co-author with the late Malca Litovitz, of Slow Dancing: Creativity and Illness, Duologue and Rengas (Guernica, 2008). Implicate Me: Short Essays on Contemporary Poems is forthcoming with Guernica in spring 2010. Elana divides her time between writing, editing and facilitating therapeutic art.


I have known Regine since her arrival in Canada and taken some of her workshops. She is an amazing teacher and human being. Her work is enriched by her beliefs. It is fun to do art with her.


Consultant and poet

"Journey" is one of Regine Kurek's key notions-- along with experience/experiential and non-verbal transformation. In a therapeutic learning process, there is never an absolute "end result." Every ending marks a new beginning and another step towards integration/healing. Thank for your perceptive reading of this interview and your perspicacious comments on all three parts, Karen.

"How one learns is often a therapeutic process". I think that this is such an important concept. It is so easy to become caught up in the end result of our exploration, and miss the journey of getting there.
Kudos to Elana Wolff for facilitating this interview with Regine Kurek. These questions were asked with obvious understanding, and respect for Regine's philosophy.

As Waldorf teacher Elyse Pomerantz intimated in her post to Part One of my interview with Regine Kurek, the healing work of art really does require experience as a first step. You mention the rich profundity of your experience
at Arscura-- "experience" being the operative word. The deep healing work of process art does not occur in the realm of ideas. Thank you for accentuating this point, Beverley.

Having been involved with the Arscura process for the last seven years, I must say that my ability to access and heal the deeper soul parts of my being has in many ways saved my life.

It is always wonderful to hear Regine's words and to read them as a more objective observer now. I can only hope that more and more people have the opportunity to have an experience as richly profound as I have. Art heals.

Thanks Regine and Elana.

Beverley Golden

"bring the spirit of creativity to everything I do" and "artistic activities for the health of our soul life" Those phrases really jumped out at me. For me this is what 'Art for Life' is all about. I think this really comes out in the interview with Regine. Thank-you for your good work Elana

What has impressed me as the three interviews progessed is the symbiotic relationship between the artist Regine Kurek and her interviewer Elana Wolff. Elana Wolff's insightful questions seemed to draw Regine Kurek out and the reader is made aware of Regine Kurek's incredible talent as teacher and artist. Regine's work is beautiful and I am particularly impressed with the mixed media collage "In The Garden of Life" Art does heal and I am grateful to people like Regine Kurek and Elana Wolff who are champions in their chosen fields. Thank you to both of them.

I also find Regine's closing remarks wise and powerful. Her view that "Art will more and more become one of the very few areas of free space — where the soul can breathe out and our spirit can experience itself as unique, fresh, and new every day" resonates personally with me. In my work facilitating therapeutic watercolour processes with older adults, I hear similar comments from my students-- they say they feel refreshed, renewed, and freed by the processes. These are the words they use. They say they feel very much a part of the group, yet also experience an enlivened sense of individuality and creativity. Many students also take the initiative to buy their own materials and continue the processes at home. In effect, they take up the practice of 'art for life' on their own, enthusiastically and spontaneously.
Thank you for your comments, Sophia/Colleen.

The importance of and need for, this work in the world cannot be over emphasized or overstated. As an Art For Life, Arscura Graduate (2006), I can testify to the truth and wisdom of Regine's closing remarks. The healing, mirroring and power of connection inherent in this all inclusive and accessible process and path, holds simply, the key to the survival of humanity. Regine's work is a gorgeous, profound and timely gift to mankind that is quite beyond measure. No one who immerses themselves in this process or who is even touched by this work in some small way, is ever the same again. Arscura indeed heals and transforms lives!

Gratitude to Elana for helping to further Regine's work and for spreading the word about its tremendous beauty and value. Thank you also, for a fine interview of a most courageous and inspirational woman.

Colleen Daly
Therapeutic & Expressive Arts Facilitor
East Aurora, NY

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