Member Highlight: Pauline Kochanski

Member Highlight: Pauline Kochanski

Image courtesy of Pauline Kochanski.

The work of Pauline Kochanski is not easily pigeonholed. Her artistic career spans both decades and mediums, producing photographs, ink drawings, watercolor paintings, and hand-crafted ceramics. In her early twenties, Kochanski was introduced to photography and eventually earned a degree from Colombia College, then still at its original location on Ohio and Lakeshore Drive. Kochanski worked in the photo and printing industries, but all the while she was drawing. When non-degree courses were offered at the Art Institute and Truman College, Kochanski took part. “I’ve always liked having my hand to draw,” Kochanski says, “That’s why I liked the darkroom almost more than any other part of photography—because my hand was in the work.”

Now retired, Kochanski is able to make time every day for artwork: “I believe that I need to do something every day that’s about writing or visual art. Even if I’m reading about it or going to look at art, I’m participating every day in something that is creative or creates ideas. Because that is one of my main ways of identifying myself. There are so many things that I do. I meditate every day and I do yoga every day. It’s important for me to feel as if I am being myself every day.” 

For Kochanski, being herself means being a little bit of everything at once. She is not simply a photographer or ceramicist, an artist or mindfulness meditation teacher or grandmother. She is all of these things at once. “We are not all one thing at one time,” Kochanski says, “ we have many, many identities. Sometimes when people say, ‘How would you describe yourself?’ I find that a really to be a really difficult thing to answer. At that moment I am whatever I am doing at that moment.” 

Like her identity, Kochanski’s work is similarly multilayered. As Kochanski says, “In my drawings, I layer color over color. So there’s a color often underneath a black background—there’s a little gold, or a little blue, or a little red that comes out because there is always something beyond the outside. There are many layers to everything that we do, everything that we are. So even in my ceramics, the insides are smoother than the outsides, because there is a difference between who we are inside and how we present ourselves. How people perceive us is often different than how we think we are perceived. It’s not a dichotomy that we live with, it’s just that we are many things.” 

As part of our Member Highlight program, Kochanski’s ceramic works are now featured in the TAC Gift Shop. Skillfully crafted but organic in their formations, these vases, bowls, and stones feature natural hews with flecks of gold leaf. According to Kochanski, these bright additions to her work have a touching origin story: “The gold leaf is really important to me. I was doing some ceramics and a piece broke and I got really upset about it. We tried fixing it and it came out of the first firing and the piece broke off again and I just decided to work with it. I had all this gold leaf in the house that had belonged to my husband, he was deceased by that time. So I decided to gold leaf all the broken edges. So it became part of my work. It fits into the end of a poem by Leonard Cohen, where he talks about how ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ To me it really talks about life, it’s kind of a thing that I carry with me. Because there are cracks, we are perfect in our imperfections. We are each individual. No one is like me, no one is like you. We are perfect as we are. But there are cracks that let the light come into us and let the light come out of us. Those are the kinds of things I try to carry.” 

Pauline Kochanski’s work will be for sale at TAC through September. Also, be on the lookout for Kochanski’s upcoming solo exhibition, which will be presented by the North Shore Art League at the Winnetka Community House next summer. Click here to visit Kochanski’s website. 

Are you a current TAC member interested in being featured as a future member highlight? To apply, please fill out the Member Highlight Application, found here, and email it to or bring it to The Art Center office.

Not yet a member, but want to participate? Sign up for a TAC Membership here!

Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories, Part 2: Partition Anti-Memorial Project

On Mourning, Memory, and Monuments

by -Mia Morettini

On July 4 of this year, Highland Park citizens, joined by senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and Governor JB Pritzker, gathered at City Hall to begin a procession through the city. Their march began in somber silence at exactly 10:14 am—the time at which just one year earlier a mass shooting during the city’s Independence Day parade left seven people dead and 48 others injured. This gathering was not only a moment to memorialize a tragedy. It was a reclamation of a community celebration that for the past year has been shrouded in violence. 

In “Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories, Part 2: Partition Anti-Memorial Project” on view at The Art Center, Pritika Chowdhry offers her own reclamation of history. The exhibition is a reenvisioning of the historical narrative of the 1947 Partition of India, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh—a division that is historically celebrated as the independence of India from the vice grip of British imperialism. Far less acknowledged are the long-term effects of partition: masses of displaced people, violent border disputes, and ongoing crises in the region of Kashmir. 

In her approach to commemorating the Partition as a moment of empowerment for formerly colonized nations and great devastation in its social reality, Chowdhry remarked, “India’s independence in 1947 is forever linked with its ghostly twin, the Partition.” Spectrality is key to approaching Chowdhry’s work in its form, content, and significance to the Highland Park community.

By meticulously casting latex segments of significant monuments to the Partition in Delhi, Lahore, and Dhaka, Chowdhry is able to bring great stone and marble monoliths into the intimate space of The Art Center’s gallery. These casts bear only the traces of their architectural sources—an emboss of relief carvings and brick and mortar—and gain an embodiment reminiscent of flesh or fauna. While the original monuments are popular sites of tourism and pilgrimage, Chowdhry’s casts float from ceilings, bear visible wrinkles and blemishes, and cast semi-opaque shadows as light streams through their thin skin.

Chowdhry allows the monuments to take on a life beyond their didactic roles as markers of history and sites of remembrance. She presents them as works of art—sculptures to be studied closely, situated amongst, and contextualized within contemporary discourse. Moments of familiarity and definition in Chowdhry’s anti-monuments are overwhelmed by the new interpretations and interactions they take on in the gallery. These efforts illustrate her counter-memory lens—that is, a memory formation built through lived experiences and social realities rather than widely acknowledged historical narratives. In her fleshy, haunting notations of the partition, Chowdhry illustrates that history is not a fixed point outlined by a handful of monuments, but something strange, personal, present, and ever-shifting.

For the sake of healing, counter-memory work could be an important project for Highland Park. While ostensibly distanced from the histories Chowdhry’s anti-monuments reference, this audience can find companionship with her approach, perhaps even a rubric to take note of– challenge the ubiquity of American mass shootings, remember together– in small moments and grand gatherings. And in the act of memorializing, hold space for celebration, challenge, strangeness, even haunting. History lives within and through the present day, and it is our task to continue to reckon with it.



Toy Gun Teddy Bear Installation

Blog Post Written By “Toy Gun Teddy Bear” Creators Beth Enterkin, LCPC, Julie Ludwick, LCPC, ATR-BC, and Adrienne Weiss, LCPC, ATR. 

This grassroots community art project was born when Marion Greenwood posted a question on a Highland Park community Facebook page asking what could be done with the toy guns that her children owned. Marion and other Highland Park families no longer wanted these painful reminders in their homes and were seeking responsible ways of disposing of these toys, which cannot be recycled.  Upon seeing Marion’s post, Beth Enterkin responded that perhaps they could be turned into art.  As an Art Therapist who has focused her career on the healing of trauma survivors, Beth’s belief is that transforming our trauma triggers creates space for healing in a way that goes beyond simply disposing of them.  She saw this as an opportunity to do something transformational by taking an object that represents something terrifying and coming together as a group to reshape it into something beautiful, empowering, or comforting.  

Other Highland Park parents and community members began commenting that they and their kids wanted to be involved, too, and as the interest grew, it became clear not only that there was support for this project in the community, but also that it was a powerful and all too rare opportunity for kids to get involved in the healing of their town, not just as recipients of support and care, but as young, growing agents of change themselves.  Kids wanted to turn in their toy guns and wanted to be part of the process of transforming them into something new.  In mid-July 2022 The Art Center Highland Park allowed us to set up a collection box in their entryway where kids could drop off toy guns in a symbolic act of standing against gun violence.  In just a short time we collected many Nerf guns, squirt guns, and other gun-like toys that children were willingly donating to the project.  Every toy gun used in this project was donated by a child from Highland Park, in the wake of our community trauma.  Of course, we do not seek to shame other families for choosing to keep toy guns in their homes, or to erroneously link playing with toy guns with future violence (studies have not found a clear link.)  The goal of this project is to honor the families and children who decided that they no longer want to own or play with toy guns, and chose to donate their toys, by creating something meaningful out of them.  

The next step, determining what to do with the toy guns that had been donated, was more complicated.  We were inspired by the artist Corrina Sephora, a blacksmith who transforms real guns into works of art with the hopes of creating a dialogue about the impact of guns on our communities and society.  Corrina talks about a traditional belief that there is a type of spirit in the metal she works with, as a natural element from the earth.  She works with a concept that she can “set the metal free” or spiritually transform it from a gun into something beautiful.  It quickly became clear that the plastic guns we had collected were materially quite different.  We spoke to experts in plastics recycling and engineering, and discovered that this material is incredibly difficult, and even dangerous, to work with.  Melting them down would release toxic fumes.  Smashing them would release shrapnel.  Disassembling them would be very time intensive. From a practical and safety standpoint, we would have to leave the toy guns whole, and so we began to think about how we could transform all of the donated toys together, as a group, using them as building blocks to create a sculpture.

After discussing many possibilities with the group of parents, community members, and Art Therapists who came together, the idea of the teddy bear was chosen because of its poignant symbolism of childhood and innocence.  If the goal is to transform the toy guns, what could be more transformational, more different from the idea of a gun, than the idea of a teddy bear?  Corrina Sephora often transforms the real guns she works with into flowers, birds, and other organic shapes, returning the metal to a natural form.  The plastic of these toys was man made, and intended for children as a plaything.  So it felt fitting to return it to the form of something playful and childlike.  Interestingly, the symbol of the teddy bear has an inherently pacifist history, having been named after Teddy Roosevelt who infamously refused to shoot a bear.

There is a push and pull between the imagery of toy guns and that of a teddy bear.  Although both are childhood playthings, one symbolizes innocence and comfort, the other aggression and even, to some, trauma and violence.  The cognitive dissonance of seeing toy guns inside a teddy bear highlights the dissonance we face as we navigate parenthood and childhood after a mass shooting.  Viewing this piece calls up many uncomfortable questions:  What is the significance of the toys we give to our children to play with?  How do we raise children in a society where mass shootings like the one we experienced here in Highland Park occur again and again?  (see footnotes and)  And, as one community member who helped to collect the donated guns put it “when there are so many toys available to kids to spark the imagination, why imagine shooting?”  We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but confronting our own discomfort and dissonance is an essential step. As Art Therapists, guiding communities and individuals to find safe ways to express and explore their own cognitive dissonance about troubling subjects is often a part of our work.

Before even putting this piece on display, we have wrestled with a variety of responses from those who have viewed the sculpture, ranging from gratitude and enthusiastic support to anger.  These reactions are a reflection of the polarization in our society, as well as the shattering, splintering nature of trauma.  People may see their own traumas and biases reflected in this piece, and as such, viewing it might not be comforting to everyone. Although the sculpture we have created may be viewed as provocative, the process of creating it was a healing experience for those involved.

For those of us who worked on the piece together, we enjoyed a sense of community and benefited from talking about our shared experiences while actively making something with our hands.  We had discussions about the impact of the shooting on ourselves and our families and ways we have chosen to act and take care of ourselves in the aftermath. We supported and empathized with one another. We found grounding in the repetitive nature of building a structure out of chicken wire.  We also experienced the frustrations of working with materials that were not always forgiving and enjoyed the group problem solving efforts we took on together.  We celebrated milestones along the way, the finishing of certain elements, the relief and joy that certain parts were taking the shape we hoped for. The ups and downs of our art process mirrored the ups and downs of our own healing processes and grew more pronounced as we edged closer to the anniversary of the shooting.  We felt immense pressure to complete this sculpture in time for that date and felt an equal sense of relief when the majority of our work was complete in time for us to rest and regroup with our own individual communities and the larger Highland Park community over the July 4th weekend. 

While one of our goals in creating this piece was transformation, we also sought to provide containment.  Containment for us meant to make these toys less accessible, to in some way, at least symbolically, neutralize the threat of potential violence.  To accomplish that, we created containers, armatures constructed from chicken wire, to encase the toy guns.  We also wrapped some portions of the armatures in plaster gauze, both obstructing the viewer’s eye from some of the guns and creating more of a barrier to accessing the items that are locked inside. Perhaps the most debate we had during this project was whether to cover more of the sculpture with plaster or to leave it as is (plaster covering the teddy bear’s head plus a t-shirt with a window in the center).  Questions we asked ourselves included: What feels safer? What reflects our intention more strongly?  What does the community need? And aesthetically, what works better? Feedback from community members and our group’s own perceptions fueled some concern that we did not provide enough containment, enough safety in our sculpture for the community to be able to view it safely.  We had to dive into our own trauma reactions and check in with the pulse of the community and where it was taking them.  In the end, we have decided that the toy guns need to be seen to have the intended impact, but with sensitivity and acknowledgement to those who may not be ready or able to view objects that symbolize violence and potentially trigger trauma reactions.  We intend to provide some word of caution, so that viewers can make a decision for themselves about whether to view the sculpture or not.  These toys, so easy to obtain and often used without consideration of what they are modeled after, become a strong symbol when viewed within the context of the shared experience of our community and the larger society that is impacted by gun violence. We realized in processing this dynamic, that our art process mirrors the internal struggle we share in wrestling with the fact that we have not been able to take away the threat of gun violence from our families and communities. But what we have done is come together in a powerful way and we hope to share our experience and our art with the Highland Park community and beyond.

We chose to wrap the teddy bear in plaster gauze, the same material that is traditionally used to create casts for broken bones; a symbol of healing.  Some of the children and families who originally donated their toys to this project came out to help with the construction of the bear and the application of the plaster gauze. As we worked, we discussed the white color of the plaster gauze we were working with. Should we leave the bear’s face, neck, and t-shirt white? The white color of the plaster gauze caused us to reflect on our racial identities. We discussed gun violence in the United States and acknowledged that BIPOC communities and individuals are more likely to be affected by gun violence.  It is important to recognize that BIPOC communities are disproportionately affected by gun violence while simultaneously typically having less resources to support healing in the aftermath. Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide.  Hispanic and Indigenous people are more than twice as likely to die by gun violence than white people. 

In light of the impact of gun violence on communities of color, and the whiteness of the plaster material, we wondered if we should paint the bear, covering the white gauze with color. In the end, we chose to leave the bear white to support our original intention to symbolize a cast, viewing it as a symbol of a healing material rather than of skin color.  We invite anyone who may feel so moved to use a sharpie to write a message of hope for healing on the bear, much the way you might write “get well soon” on the cast of a friend with a broken bone.  Although it is our psyches, our community, and our society’s relationship with real guns that needs healing, not the toys inside this sculpture, we hope that the symbolic acts in this process, from donating or giving up a toy gun, to wrapping a sculpture in plaster gauze, to signing the outer cast, can provide some opportunity to be a part of a process of transforming the pain that our community has endured into comfort, hope, and dialogue about change.

Special Thanks to all the children who donated toy guns to this project, Marion Greenwood, Steve Sarowitz and family, and The Art Center Highland Park

  1. Highland Park’s parade shooting was one of 636 mass shootings in the US in 2022, according to Every Town for Gun Safety
  2. Including Highland Park’s parade shooting, there were 720 mass shootings in the US in the 1 year from 7/4/22 to 7/4/23