To Be Creative in New Ways

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer

For University alumna Karissa Wheeler and local creatives Brigid Stewart and Cheryl Lankhaar, the year 2020 pushed them all to be creative in new ways. Wheeler had recently moved to New York City following her graduation from the University in 2019, and she was struggling to make things work once COVID hit. Both Stewart and Lankhaar, locked in their homes and isolated to protect the community, quickly began to feel the ramifications of a year gone wrong.

Fortunately for the three of them, art finds a way.

This resulted in the publishing of “Reveal of the Royal Puppy” by Wheeler and “The Monteagle Assembly, Kinsley’s Story” written by Stewart and illustrated by Lankhaar.

Each of the books was inspired by different things, but it was because of the shutdown due to COVID-19 that these three artists were able to dedicate time to their crafts.

“Pre-pandemic, I was teaching and training simultaneously in New York, but with COVID, I landed back in Nashville. Experiencing the grief of what seemed to be a loss of a dream, I sank into a depression and was diagnosed with anxiety. My counselor suggested thinking of ways to unleash my creativity while theaters were closed and production shut down that would still allow my artist heart to have a means of expression. So, I began to write,” Wheeler said. “I am incredibly excited to be able to bring the book to the kids in Sewanee, and it’s even more special because of my years spent in school on the Mountain. The Domain will always hold a really special place in my heart.”

Stewart mentioned that the inspiration for Kinsley’s story partly came from the childlike curiosity she experienced when driving past the gates of the Assembly to take her children to school at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee. Lankhaar, who is originally from California, added that her inspiration came from stories she heard through friends at the Assembly.

Many are excited to finally learn what the Assembly is about because they “always wondered what was inside those gates.” Others relate to the story just because they remember their childhoods playing in creeks and nights by campfires, or just spending time with older relatives, family, and friends.

The story centers around a fictional 11-year-old who is the seventh generation of her family to spend her summers at the MSSA, but the overall story is one that people seem to relate to in general, especially for those who grew up around this area.

“We were trying to embody some of that precious memory of childhood and the wonder that we felt in the Assembly through this book, and we’ve met so many wonderful people through working on this book. We interviewed many families, and this is sort of the collective story of all the families that have been going to the Assembly for years and years,” she said. “This place is old, but it’s still new. Every generation adds something new to it. These stories are constantly evolving. I wanted to tell the story of how it’s a story of past and present and passing on that tradition of love and community.”

Stewart added that in a year of isolation and time spent away from the larger Sewanee community, this story is particularly poignant.

“This was a wonderful COVID project. There were so many negative feelings associated during that time, and it was so wonderful to work on something that was positive and something that brought people together. This is a story that I think — you may not belong to the Assembly, but if you belong somewhere, you can relate to this story. If you have connections, you can relate to this book,” Stewart said.

Wheeler said that despite the stories being about different things, each of them have a universal message.

“This book is written for younger hearts, but this story will remind all readers that having a grateful heart makes difficult situations bearable,” she said.

For more information about buying books and prints from “The Monteagle Assembly, Kinsley’s Story,” visit their website at <> or email Stewart and Lankhaar at <>. Copies of Wheeler’s “Reveal of the Royal Puppy” are available wherever books are sold, and more information about her work can be found at <>.

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