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Betye Saar’s Assemblage

Betye Saar’s Assemblage

The power of story told through Objects and Artifacts

Betye Saar has been creating art since graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1949. Now ninety-six years old, her body of work has been exhibited at so many museums and galleries and has received so many awards that it takes roughly seventeen pages to list it all on her CV. The New Yorker magazine has called her “one of the most significant philosopher-artists of the past century.”

Saar began her career in design and printmaking before developing her now signature style of visual storytelling through assemblage of found objects into sculpture and tableau. “I am intrigued with combining the remnant of memories, fragments of relics and ordinary objects, with the components of technology,” Saar says. “It’s a way of delving into the past and reaching into the future simultaneously. The art itself becomes the bridge.”

The photo of her at the top of the page, taken by photographer Michele Mattei, feels like a still-life assemblage of Saar herself. Posing behind the silver branch in her silver necklace, with her silver hair, she evokes both the wisdom of her years and the incisive social and cultural commentary of the pieces she has created throughout her career.

Since so much has been written about her, I will point you to profiles of her by The Hammer Museum at UCLA, Apollo Magazine, and The Museum of Modern Art, as well as to her own website to read more about her life and work if you are not familiar with her already.

In this space, I simply want to offer an acquaintance with her in her own words.  The first video, a two-minute studio tour, takes us into her space where she talks about how she finds objects and how the stories inside those objects reveal themselves to her.

In the second video, she describes making her sculptural tableau “I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break,” a moving piece that connects slave ships and the slave trade to an old wooden ironing board.

I make my art in silence. The materials conjure ideas. The ideas conjure images. The images conjure art. The art conjures feelings. The feelings are the goal.

Betye Saar

Story Triptychs

Story Triptychs

A Story Triptych by Performance Artist Leslie Grasa

Colorado based artist, teacher, and healer, Leslie Grasa uses the term “Story Triptych” to describe the performance piece she shares with us here. As part of her Capstone project for her Master of Divinity degree from Naropa University, she performed this short telling, in which she recounts a single story from her childhood three different times. Each time, she adds new layers to the narrative. In doing so, she deepens her understanding of the event, along with ours, as she goes.

Seeing this piece reminded me of a writing prompt I worked with several years ago in a workshop led by spiritual memoir author and teacher, Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew. Elizabeth asked us to take a familiar story from our lives and write it exactly as we’ve always told or heard it. After finishing this version, she asked us to “put on a different pair of glasses”—a new perspective from which to look at the event in question—and to re-write the story through that lens.

I had chosen a childhood story that always gets a hearty laugh, in which the punchline is that I was a precocious, mischief-maker as a five-year-old. My first thought when Elizabeth encouraged us to choose new glasses was Fear. But I sat for a long while with my pen motionless, not wanting to look at the story through those glasses. When I finally did, I had a moment of new awareness that stunned me. In the middle of a busy workshop, I had a transformative realization that helped me hear my own story, not the version that had always been told about me.

In Leslie’s performance piece, called The Fire Pole, this idea of reframing—of mining our memories for new understanding—is demonstrated with a warmth and fearlessness that draws me in immediately.

More about Leslie

In addition to being a performance artist, Leslie is a Reiki Master in the Usui Shiki Ryoho System, and has been initiated in the Hungarian Bacsa Shamanic tradition. She is also a Laughter Yoga Ambassador and Leader, facilitating laughter yoga for 150 people from around the world almost every night. “The magic of that process I can’t even explain,” she told me. “Language is not a barrier because it is unnecessary.”

Of her artistic mission, she says: “I weave the power of energy work, contemplation, and laughter with the world of theatre and story to support people in accessing higher levels of consciousness and remembering their Basic Goodness and the perfection of their own unique hero’s journey. Whether working with clients and students, or performing original work inspired by dreams and fairy tales, I am passionate about the ancient practice of using stories and ritual to bring healing to individuals and communities.”

For more of Leslie’s work, visit her YouTube channel at


Aliveness springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us.

Ann Belford Ulanov



Welcome! Before we begin in earnest, I thought I should tell you who I am and why I created this space. So I wrote you a letter. If you’d like me to read it to you, you can click the audio player below. I assume you got here by first visiting the StorySpeak homepage, but if not, I suggest you hop over there to read a few more details about my plans for this site.

Please say hello in the comments section. If you are willing, I’d appreciate hearing what you think of this idea and if there are particular topics related to story that you might like to explore in community with other art makers.

Dear You,

a letter to tell you about this space