In mid-November of 2020, Kelly Pattison quietly strung weavings through three trees in Palmer Square, Park with plans to leave them behind as an offering for the land.
Pattison has been a Chicago resident for over two years and they are currently pursuing their Doctorate of Psychology at Adler University. Pattison studies complex trauma and the ways it is “passed on through oppressors and those who have been oppressed.”
The subject matter is personal to Pattison, who spent years healing familial wounds that began when their ancestors abused people and land after arriving in the Americas. However, while Pattison studies the formal science of trauma, their own healing work has taken place “outside of the framework of psychology,” a discipline which they acknowledge has deep and harmful roots in white patriarchy. Instead, Pattison chooses to heal by building community and relationships with people and the earth.
Much of this has happened in Chicago. This summer, Pattison was present at uprisings for Black Lives Matter, where they experienced police violence. They described the experience as a trauma but said that the act of looking into cops’ faces and saying “no” felt like an embodied rejection of their ancestors’ beliefs and actions — a physical pathway to healing was opening.
Since then, Pattison has been playing with the unity of seemingly oppositional archetypes: warrior and healer. They explain how they’ve learned that — through community — these roles can be borne simultaneously. Neither healing nor fighting must pause for the other when a strong network is in place.
However, Pattison sees the barriers to this communal effort in Logan Square, an increasingly white neighborhood, where conversations surrounding race can often fall into a rut of passive knowledge-gathering or guilt.
Pattison wonders how often their neighbors fully internalize anti-racist teachings, while remembering how they began their own ongoing process of unlearning through the patience and care of community. Because of this, Pattison views gratitude and community as essential avenues to change and wanted to showcase this in their art installation.
Pattison, whose grandmother was a weaver, wanted to learn the skill for some time before the opportunity arose. Their roommate, an artist experienced with textiles, eventually offered to teach them using tree branches. To gather these, Pattison set out to Palmer Square, a park they felt drawn to, where they’ve frequently spent time sitting with the trees. They carefully selected sticks through deep listening, then offered the boughs tobacco in return. Back home, after finishing the weavings, they resolved to offer them back to the park. It was fitting for them to share this expression of their thanks with the place where so much of their own healing had unfolded.
“Often we do a lot of taking from the land and taking from each other, so relationships aren’t reciprocal,” Pattison said. “So quickly on, I decided that what I wanted to do with the weavings was offer them back to the trees and the community, because I feel like I’ve been gifted so much, just in building community here. With people, with trees, with land.”
Pattison returned the three woven branches to the park, along with accompanying poems and letters to passersby. As the days passed, new offerings appeared.
A scarf. Patterned fabric. A doodle of a dog. Faux flowers. A branch wired with beads. A blue paper crane. Dried oranges. Poems by James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka, copied onto red gift tags now fluttering in the wind.
Photos: Paulina Fadrowska
The neighbors had found Pattison’s materialized gratitude and responded in kind. They left their offerings in the park with no expectations and felt touched by the response.
“What’s so beautiful about [cycles of gratitude] is that they’re kind of endless,” they said. “I learned from the trees, I offered back to the trees, and then other people saw that and then they, you know, offered back to the trees and community as well… I can go back and revisit that and I feel like there’s a lot of beauty in that for me. I find healing in that.”
Over two months after Pattison left their weavings, new gifts continue to appear. The cycle of gratitude keeps turning, gently nudging neighbors towards healing.
Featured photo: Paulina Fadrowska