Category Archives: Talking Suitcases

Reflective Women

Mirrors and Reflective Women

Last winter I was hired by Melinda Lockhard to assist her for a second time in her Reflective Woman class at St. Catherine’s University. It’s a writing class with themed writings, and the final section is about self-reflection. Melinda had the brilliant idea of having her students make large mirror artworks about themselves–and that’s where I come in. I bring supplies and guide the students in reflecting on themselves and creating a mirror artwork about themselves. It’s a really fun project and lets the students think creatively and deeply about who they are and what matters to them. They do a final piece of writing about their artwork, which they present on the final day of class along with the mirror.  Sometimes the stories are very moving, with personal details, recent struggles, and even tragedies, along with the art that evokes their stories.  It is a chance to see more deeply into their worlds–what they value, what has shaped them, and what their dreams are.




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Visiting a student from 3 years ago…..

What a pleasure to visit Sonu, a student from 3 years ago who has kept her Talking Suitcase.

Then she was in fourth grade and had been in the U.S. only two years.  Many of her stories were from India where she lived in an orphanage till she was adopted and came to the U.S. to live. She still remembers her best friend Mona who was like a little sister to her; the terrace of the school where she once saw a giant snake killed, and where she stood protected from the rain. She remembers celebrating holidays there, throwing a statue of Ganesh into the river, eating sweets, and staying up late. Everyone was her friend there; not like in the U.S. where girls seem to pick their friends.  Sonu’s Talking Suitcase is full of color and sparkle, surely you can see that the orphanage she left behind was not a pitiful and sad place; but held many precious memories.

Just last year Sonu got an award for creating a beautiful Indian outfit herself – designing and stitching it – and I am not surprised at all at her style – it reminds me of the cover of her Suitcase.

Sonu’s mother says that the Talking Suitcase project was the first time in the two years she had been in the U.S., that Sonu was able to talk about the orphanage and world she lost when she came here.  And look at it…so sparkling and rich. Even now, the Suitcase helps her remember and share her stories.  Today it was so moving for me to re-enter that lost world with her, and hear about her life now – to see how she has grown, and how too she continues to remember.

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Hmong American Partnership

Check out a short video by Justin Schell about Talking Suitcases at Hmong American Partnership.

Talking Suitcases at Hmong American Partnership from Justin Schell | 612 to 651 on Vimeo.

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Remembering Southwest High…


This student said her mother called her and her siblings “the stars on her cross.”   What a great expression!   She made a little object to represent this and stuck it on the upper right of her suitcase.   And then she got it as a tattoo!

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Talking Suitcases at Stonecrest

MnCAAN  residency this week with elders in  Woodbury.   Met some wonderful people with great stories.  Marlys here is an artist who created the farm she grew up on, with flower gardens, windmill, tractor, and the farmhouse that is no longer there.  She told me that the windmill used to make the water come up and go into the tank so the animals could drink.

She made her mother in a flowered dress and apron and curled her hair. She’s holding a flower. 






David, another participant made a swimming pool and mud settling pool that he used to play in and make all kinds of whirlpools and current patterns.  He spent hours there causing the water and mud to take different shapes and patterns like you see on weather maps today.  He grew up to be a meteorologist.









Bev, another participant, remembered her 20’s and 30’s when she had four kids and a full time job.  Below is a photo of her box showing a seesaw and her trying to balance home life with no indoor plumbing (on the left is an outhouse!) with her office job.  In her 40’s she went back to school and studied  “future studies.”


P.S. The seesaw can really rock back and forth, and the office chair has rollers on it.  Details!!!

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He was pretty small....


When he was two, he ran away to the Dairy Queen (his mom is chasing after him.)

(from Dawson; Family Stories)

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Family stories from rural Minnesota

Just back from Dawson, MN.  Two weeks of Family Stories – funny, sad, crazy, moving stories…brought to life by 2 classes of terrific sixth graders.  A baby squirrel clamped to a dad’s finger, kids lost in the cornfields, a brother brought over from Russia, a cousin’s  leap out of a barndoor, a horse and buggy taken apart and reassembled atop a school (by a great grandfather), a kid’s hand rescued from a meat grinder, a mom eating mangoes as a girl in Guatemala… so many stories, so many unique objects created for telling them.

At the end of the project we had a community celebration, with students  showing off their work and telling their stories.

One parent said:  I just got off work and I’m so tired, but I could sit all night and listen to these stories.

And the art!   So fun:

By the way, this year I heard lots about the BAD BEHAVIOR of Dawsonites across the generations.  Who knew?


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