The Emergence of Athena

Athena came to me upon a suggestion of a friend. Sometimes that’s all it takes. A mention of a name and you feel in your gut that there is more to be had, more to explore. Athena. Yes, I’ll learn more.

A goddess of seemingly opposite endeavors – warfare and creativity, wisdom and strategy, action and contemplation. All of it. To me, I saw the possibility of forging my way into the world with my creative visions, using my intuition, my inner wisdom, in union with strategizing the needed action steps, all the while in a place of stillness. A perfect blend, a union, of the sacred masculine and sacred feminine.

Great Goddess, Mighty like a storm,

Gentle like a breeze,

Thunderbolt booming,

Whisperer like trees.

I hear you.

(From Iron Man proem, by Odysseus G. Osborne)

All well and good, yet it took me five years from that single mention to actually complete her. Sometimes really embodying a new concept takes awhile. A long while. I started in 2010 with a trip to Nashville, Tennessee where there is a replica Parthenon with a recreated statue of Athena inside. The exterior is uber impressive.





The inside is equally breathtaking. Athena in all of her golden glory stands at the end of the huge entrance hall.


She rises 42 feet and when you get up close you believe it.




A couple of close-ups.



Athena’s shield portrays the story of Perseus slaying Medusa with her help. An ever-present reminder of what she was capable of when combining her wisdom with action.



A day in her presence left me properly inspired to move into my studio and get started. The process started with a sketch of her image, projected onto a 3×5′ canvas.



(Don’t you just love Aditi’s feet in the foreground of this photo?)

For some reason, I knew that I wanted her to be leaning out of the canvas. I didn’t fully grasp at the time that this was about my own emergence or anything profound like that. I just thought it would be cool. Those little niggles that turn into something are the best parts of creating for me. So to that end, I took to making plaster casts of my daughter, Alex’s, face, hands, leg and foot. Such a good sport.


These pieces laid around my studio for awhile (ahem…six months) until I took the time to figure out how to attach them.






And then it sat. Stark white. Not moving, not changing for…count ’em…18 months. Have I mentioned that sometimes emerging takes time? I complained one day to my friend, Regina, that I may be a little stuck and quite tired of looking at the white blankness. And frankly, I couldn’t bear to tell one more person that I did indeed intend to do something about this deal sometime. She told me to just break the inertia and slap some color on that girl. So I did.

First layer - acrylic

Then she sat like that for a good long time. (How about we just stop counting.) But this time, while she sat, I could feel myself reconnecting to her and to the concept of moving out into the world more boldly with my creativity. I began to see her in different ways – no need for the Medusa snakes, but rather something less typically Athena and more me. The laurel leaves on her arm not quite right. The spear too fierce. Hmmm…the vision was churning.

One day, I decided the color and those original designs had to go and so I piled on the gesso and brought back most of the white including this time some remnant lace curtains given to me by Regina.


A little too white and thus I painted the lace yellow.


Not quite colorful enough for me which I took as a good sign that the boldness I was seeking was starting to seep into the creative process. I tore off the lace and painted red below. Red is a great grounded, sacred feminine color!


And here she is as I reattached the yellow lace and experimented with some other things like her face, the border, and the shield. Things were moving!


Throughout the time that the pieces above were coming together, Athena had her dress fitting. By now I had realized that the more dimension, the better. She was starting to feel real to me and needed depth, thus, flat painting just wasn’t feeling like enough. So her blue dress got whited out with gesso and real fabric came into the picture.




20150507_145332 (1)

The sticky notes above were notes to myself for when the dress pieces were soon removed and completed with the sewing machine. Also above shows the beginnings of Athena’s shield. Typically this is the head of Medusa as seen in the Parthenon photos at the beginning of this blog. I understood that this was a symbol of what empowered her, what she was capable of when she acted from her wisdom, and so I sought something that demonstrated that for me. The multiple goddess images in this series were just that and thus a portion of each brought together on one canvas was printed and attached. You can see and read about each of those goddess pieces in the Goddess Oil Paintings section of this website.

And below shows the final choice (after many options explored) of her belt.


You may have noticed that Athena’s face in the above photos has a butterfly painted around her eyes. Butterflies symbolize transformation and emergence and so what better way to have Athena embody that theme than to have a butterfly right on her face, right? The thing is, it felt cold to me. Too stiff and intense. And so I decided to scrap that plan and repaint her face. Here is her transformation:







Her face was now a little more welcoming and warm, yet I was still in search of the butterfly theme. In Greek lore, Athena typically carried a spear that symbolized her strength and ability to aid in war. I wasn’t so keen on bursting into the world with such force. A bit gentler was more my style and so I shifted her spear into a burst of butterflies. They are indeed delicate, but they are also the result of a complete transformation in DNA, unrecognizable from their previous form – the only species to do that. I felt a little like that, that is, transformed entirely.


Her other hand needed a little something as well and thus a spider web splaying out was the obvious choice for me. I have a thing about spider webs. I love how the spider weaves and reweaves her web continuously no matter how many times it gets damaged. Her life depends on it. The concept of our lives depending on us repairing and reweaving the web of life that connects us all feels relevant and powerful to me.


Athena’s first live-and-in-person appearance was at my art exhibit at Wunderkammer Company. You can see photos and read about my experience with that show here. And you can read more about Athena and see high resolution images of her here.


One Comment on “The Emergence of Athena

  1. I loved reading this, Ellen, and I love being part of your story.

    Honored. Thank you. Regina


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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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