The Inspired Heart

An Artist's Journey of Transformation

$21.95

In stock

Foreword by Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul

This is the extraordinary story of an artist’s daring exploration into the source of his creativity. In the late 1970s, Jerry Wennstrom was a rising star in the New York art world when he decided that the ultimate creative leap was to destroy his large body of art, give away all of his possessions, and spend the next 10 years wandering, seeking, listening, and trusting God to take care of him. “It was a powerful, holy experience that left me shaken and empty, but exhilarated,” says Jerry of the destruction of his art. Mindful that he was choosing a strange and dangerous way, he questioned his own sanity and the existence of any higher power. Ultimately, he came to the simple, yet radical understanding that every moment in life requires the artist’s creative attention. And with that new perspective, he was able once again to create art without worshiping it as a false idol.

Says Wennstrom, “In the process of letting go, there was a slow build-up to that most importand leap. I experienced it as a leap into ‘being,’ rather than the ‘doing’ of creating art, or the expression of being through my art. I let go of everything I thought was most ‘me.’ I felt like I was making a leap into a new relationship with the most direct and creative expression I could give myself to.”

The Inspired Heart tells of a life lived by the singular requirement of Grace—to remain fearlessly attuned to the heart. It is an upside-down perspective, where what is generally most sought after is relinquished, and conscious entry into uninhabitable terrain reveals a remarkable truth. Wennstrom sees no event as out of place in his world, where anything, from street-corner violence to the gentleness of a stranger, can become a blessing.

The book includes 16 color pages of Wennstrom’s beautiful and intriguing art. Wennstrom’s art and his life story are also the subject of an award-winning film released on video, In the Hands of Alchemy, and his art is featured in the film Mythic Journeys.

Watch the poet David Whyte discusses Jerry Wennstrom’s artistic journey in these videos.

Watch a lecture and slideshow by Jerry Wennstrom at Pacifica Graduate Institute below.

 

Praise for The Inspired Heart

 

Reading The Inspired Heart has been a real gift in which I feel the glow and power of Jerry’s spirit.

—Marion Woodman, author of Dancing in the Flames

The Inspired Heart by Jerry Wennstrom is a remarkable and inspiring account of one man’s journey into complete surrender. We have all read and talked about trusting in existence, and here is a man who stays with that commitment to the very edge and beyond, exploring every angle and corner of what trust can really mean. The fruit of this exploration is transmitted through Jerry’s extraordinary art. This is a must read book for every translucent reader.

—Arjuna Ardagh, author of The Translucent Revolution

A heart shaped stone. A memory wafted in the scent of a summer breeze. A tune you hum without thinking. These are just some of the mystical ways Jerry’s stories carry themselves. Jerry speaks from the place where the magical and holy intersect with the practical and everyday. The name of that intersection? It is”‘transformation.”

—Mary Anne Radmacher, author of Live Boldly

Few of us have emptied our cup as completely as Jerry Wennstrom did when he destroyed his art in 1979, and therefore few have experienced as deep a reawakening to the subtle stirrings of the divine in everyday life. It’s hard for me to convey how deeply I respect what Jerry shares with us in his book, The Inspired Heart, in his art, and above all in his person. Here is a completely genuine voice of creative spirit.

—Chris Bache, author of Dark Night, Early Dawn

I’m sure that many people will find comfort and inspiration in this book. Jerry is able to describe a spiritual journey outside of any ancient tradition or modern system, and I trust that originality. He avoids the many hollow words that sometimes enter contemporary spiritual thought and embodies the idea that you can be fully spiritual and fully secular at the same time. Jerry’s experience shows that simply by being receptive to deep intuition and living intelligently from the heart, you can achieve a degree of holiness.

—From the foreword by Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul

Jerry Wennstrom is an artist who works both with materials and with relationships. This book is truly a story of “pilgrim’s progress” told by a man who risked everything to find his true path and the inevitable spiritual gifts that come from helping each other along the way.

—Christina Baldwin, author of The Seven Whispers: Listening to the Voice of Spirit

In a society where everything is never enough, Jerry Wennstrom’s book is an unconditional gift. This amazing story is chronicled with great humor and clarity. Crazy characters crop up all around him, but he draws each one into the still point which he so effortlessly inhabits. Calm and generous to the core, he survives in ways that can only be called miraculous, as the inspired art form of his life comes full circle. Everything matters. Everything magically fits into place.

—Laura Chester, author of Holy Personal: Looking for Small Private Places of Worship

Jerry Wennstrom’s life is his art, and his art is his life, a seamless flow from inner to outer expression of light and dark, multileveled, joyously humored and lit with authentic experience of being in service to its Source. This artist has learned to listen to the language of a larger life as it wishes to be lived through him in all its joy, creativity, reverence—and as healing power for our time.

—Claire Dunne, author of Carl Jung: Wounded Healer of the Soul

In giving up everything—possessions, attachments, even speech and food—Jerry Wennstrom found his true self, and something more: the wellspring of human nature. The Inspired Heart chronicles his journey and the Holy Fools he met along the way. His art reflects that deep level of knowing that links each of us to the part of our nature which is eternal.

—Deloris Tarzan Ament, author of Iridescent Light: The Emergence of Northwest Art and Dark Visions: The Art of Annihilation

If you have the patience or the tolerance to listen to what Jerry has shared with us you will know how our wisest healers deal with the people in our world. Each person needs someone to “listen” to them. Jerry has brought us to the inside of listening. Thank you Jerry for your compassion and your true and generous gift of listening and allowing us to eavesdrop. Dahadubul, you have honored each of us with the words shared in this book. These words express your beautiful gift of honoring life in all of its forms.

—Vi Hilbert, Salish Elder, author of Haboo: Native American Stories from Puget Sound

We have in Jerry Wennstrom’s work something that is very needed for our current times: a life placed in service of the soul’s depth. This surrender to a deeper calling and the conviction necessary to craft a life that supports such a response is medicine for our troubled times. If we could all dip into the wellpsring of creative faith that Jerry has manifested then our world would be a better place. Jerry is an artist that shows us how to have the courage to bring healing to our world. This is one of the highest callings any of can have and we owe a debt to Jerry for helping to guide us on our collective journey.

—David La Chapelle, author of Navigating the Tides of Change

This artist’s thoughts and experiences of living on the edge will expand and challenge your vision of life’s possibilities. The book is full of daring incidents and fascinating characters, and exemplifies why the spiritual life can be stranger than fiction. Travel along in the ‘now’ as Wennstrom surfs the waves of life and carries the most colorful people with him.

—Joe Kulin, Publisher, Parabola Magazine

A needed true to life mythic story—Jerry Wennstrom’s narrative is piercing and irresistible. His courageous quest for spirit and meaning in a world blinded by consumerism is a modern fairytale to find the source of art and inspiration. His stories invite the fearless heart to open.

—Laura Simms, storyteller and author of Our Secret Territory

Jerry Wennstrom is a rare and courageous individual, with an unusual talent for deeply inspiring others and expanding the sense of what is possible. A master storyteller and a brilliant visionary artist, Jerry weaves a powerful alchemical magic into his mythic creations. Jerry’s faith and openness to the cyclical rhythm of life has brought him a bounty of spiritual wealth and ancient wisdom that he is eager to share. The Inspired Heart is a wise and precious document, revealing the timeless secrets of simplicity and holy revelation. Your perspective of the world and yourself will be forever changed after you read this beautifully crafted, shamanically transformative book.

—David Jay Brown, Mavericks of the Mind and Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse

Without hesitation, I can say that The Inspired Heart describes in content, style and intention, everything that is near and dear to my heart. It is, indeed, beautifully written, magically intimate and readily available to all who might pick it up. If we could somehow put it into a form that would dissolve, I think it should be put into public drinking water! An odorless and colorless substance that could protect the soul from calcification and nurture it into deep-rootedness in all aspects of life.

The very attitudes and courage required of you in making this extraordinary pilgrimage are the same required…nay, demanded…by any soul worker – counselor, analyst, therapist, or otherwise. How few really understand this when wanting to be present for another. Being truly present for another requires a ferocious trust: It requires the ability of the ego to completely step aside and to remain steadfast and committed to the Unknown. It is this trust that can heal, that can foster a capacity to love when one can find nothing to love.

What is describe in this book is the very thing that is needed at this time in the world, for this understanding is in danger of being forgotten, or hidden. Stories such as these are absolutely critical, both as inspiration and as documentation.

—Cedrus Monte, PhD, author, The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine

Jerry Wennstrom is an artist who has found the courage to base his life on following the truth of his creative spirit. Through surviving the natural cycle of death and rebirth of his creative vision Jerry has been initiated into a place of mystery that is reflected in his artwork—a place where he touches the vast complexities of the collective unconscious. His stories of the synchronicities that surround his work are remarkable. I have been honored to have him speak to many of my classes at Pacifica Graduate Institute over the last three years. His lectures are always received with a deep appreciation for how he so naturally embodies much of the theory that we discuss in the realm of depth psychology. The students always find Jerry’s talks refreshing in that they are centered in the lived experience first and the analysis of that second—if at all. He is humble and humorous, brilliant and inspiring all at once!

—Ana Mozol, Ph.D., Pacifica Graduate Institute, Adjunct Faculty; Adler School of professional Psychology, Core Faculty

I found this book called The Inspired Heart sitting around the house and I picked it up and, as I like to do, looked through the pictures. Well, they were certainly spectacularly engrossing in their originality, color, cleverness and beauty. But, then it happened: I saw how painlessly short each story was, so I risked reading one. I haven’t returned the book since then. It is wonderful. I started with the chapter “Healing the Bloodline” and it so rang true in my—in my own experience—it really touched me. Jerry shares his life with such simplicity and candor. I don’t know quite what I’m trying to say, but I felt that if everyone on Planet Earth could see themselves with that same lack of self-consciousness and with that same consciousness of the self, we would all feel closer, and have more understanding and compassion, as human beings. Well, I’m savoring this book and whomever was next on the list to read it will just have to wait (I can’t be compassionate ALL the time)!!!

—Andrea Kulin, early childhood teacher and storyteller

Format

Length

8 hrs.

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In 1979, up and coming New York artist Jerry Wennstrom destroyed all the art he had created, gave away most everything he owned, and began to consciously empty himself of his identity. Thus, he began a new life – an unstructured way of living, an immersion into spontaneity and a letting go of resistance to whatever life presented. In releasing the form of the known, Wennstrom began his move towards formlessness – a deep, intense journey into the hollowed out, bare bones presence of here and now living.

Sometimes it was easy. Friends brought food; strangers serendipitously offered up messages from God; things took on a dreamy, shape-shifty sort of feel in which deep lessons were learned in a spontaneous flash of beauty.

Sometimes it was hard. People came and dumped their feelings on the floor, regarding the strange, quiet man as a kind of guru, hoping for, expecting, or – worse yet – demanding answers, insights and blessings. There were days without food; weeks of weariness, headaches and worries; dark hours of sharp-edged despair and broodingly heavy, damp blankets of thought.

Through all of it, however, Wennstrom followed his own longing to be open to the energy of life itself. In trusting and learning to appreciate the significance of each moment in his journey, he followed the signs offered to him by everyday living, relying on his intuition, listening to the deeper nature of his inner feelings and honing the grace-carved wisdom of his heart. Thus is the title of this well-written book really quite perfect. For Wennstrom’s journey is one of evocative transformation – and not only for himself, but for his reader, all of us, as well.

“We are at a rare time in the history of our world,” he reminds us. “Consciousness is attempting to come through the spirit of our lives. It brings with it all that we need to live out its gift. At the same time, our old ways of being on the planet are beginning to fail. Our social forms and structures are radically changing and breaking down. Our mother, the Earth, is ailing! We are truly in uncharted territory.”

It is precisely in this sense that journeys such as Wennstrom’s are so important for our world. For it is in the process of releasing our old, outdated ways of knowing that we come to discover they really are much more a projection of what we thing we know than what is truly known. Thus we are freed to move ever onward into the new – into the mystery. In such a grand adventure, stories such as these offer guidance. And, they offer promise.

“A time may come when you are asked to let go of everything you think you are and all that you think you possess. If you can give yourself to this process, what will emerge will be a truer self in a truer world. All will be well. All that you had hoped for, all that is most important to you, all that seemed to be impossible or gone forever will be sanctified and returned to you.”

In short, this profoundly moving book offers not only a personal journey of finding one’s true self, but a universal sharing of the awe and wonder of life becoming.

—Dawn Brunke, Alaska Wellness

Like a patchwork quilt, each story and each connection in Jerry’s life is a patch, a snapshot in time, of his life journey of self-discovery, deep within and beyond the surface level of appearances, which normally reveal only a reflection of what the eye can see. No longer satisfied with this surface level of identity, Jerry decided to embrace what he refers to as “the mystery” of life, the essence of life, beyond illusion. He needed to let go of all forms of identity; this included what he and others identified him as—an artist, a reflection of his passion.

Along the way, he met some incredible people, with whom each had a story to tell. Jerry unconditionally accepted them, regardless of what difficulties they were going through at the time. With that often quiet stillness and presence that he allowed, uncontaminated by the mind, he was able to be in that space openly and freely, which allowed others to share in that space openly and freely, without fear of judgment or ridicule. The usual illusory walls of separation found in most human connections crumbled and disappeared into thin air when the people he met and encountered for the first time felt that unconditional presence and love.

In being there for them, he was also able to be there for himself, unconditionally. Regardless of what difficulties arose for him along the way, he found that each one worked itself out. The mystery and his intuition carried him forward. Regardless of which direction it took him, he went with the flow of life, with complete acceptance of every experience, every moment, and every outcome.

He awakened to the true essence of life, which has no identity, no labels, just pure awareness. Free from attachments, now he is able to create art, unconditionally, without expectations, without judgment, without attachments to it or to the outcome. He is now able to go beyond appearances and dive deep into the unknown, into the mystery of life, which is now reflected in his artwork.

—Pamela J. Wells, SelfLess Being

Highly recommended

The Inspired Heart is artist Jerry Wennstrom’s episodic memoir, beginning shortly before his infamous destruction of his artworks and tracking his spiritual journey to a point where his creativity reconnected with the creative source.

Wennstrom explores the individuals who moved in and out of his life and contributed in their various ways to his profound spiritual experience. He analyses even the most mundane – approaching everything from a point of grace and openness.

In the 1970s Jerry Wennstrom was a prolific artist making a name for himself in New York. When Jerry eventually admitted to himself that he’d chosen a career in art because it was the part of a lost relationship that he loved the most, the realization marked a shift in his thinking.

A number of synchronistic events followed: an aging artist losing his eyesight, a mystical encounter with a wise woman who had asked her god for clarification when her career path suddenly shifted, finding a frame with the canvas cut out of it. Jerry began to realize that he needed to let go of his paintings in order to end the external influences on his soul, and free himself to seek his true internal and spiritual experience. After a month of soul-searching he destroyed his art and gave away his possessions.

At the time a documentary about Jerry’s art was close to being wrapped up. The end of film tied in with the destruction of his work and he was interviewed about his decision. By the time the documentary was screened, Jerry didn’t intend to view it, but serendipitously ended up attending with a Jewish friend and a Middle Eastern lawn ornament seller. He says the screening of the documentary was to be the most powerful night of his life, as he came to understand that destroying his artwork had converted it into an “empowering life force” that would begin to impact the world more radically than it could have done intact.

Wennstrom believes that art is a form of reverence for the source. His early work was reckless – produced one after another like a production line, without stopping to listen to what it was the piece was trying to draw out of him before moving on to the next. As deep as those pieces may have been, Jerry was only connecting with them superficially.

For the most part Wennstrom reserves judgment and analysis of both his own and other people’s actions and life journeys, and doesn’t attempt to solve the world’s problems by suggesting an alternative way of existing. Instead he illustrates one person’s peculiar and profound experience, with the hope that others can draw inspiration and understanding of their relationships with others and the world.

Jerry’s straightforward, pleasant writing style and the short, episodic format of The Inspired Heart make this an easy read despite the unusual and sometimes intense subject matter. I found it energizing and I highly recommend this fascinating book.

—Elsa Neal, BellaOnline

This is a book that gives a whole new meaning to the term “Starving Artist.” It is for all those who ever wondered what would happen if they cast their fates to the wind and let life unfold as it would. Jerry let go of the illusion we call “control” when he destroyed all of his artwork and walked away from his artistic career to find his unique spiritual path. Individuals among us have always left the tribe to find a different way to see the world and eventually bring that vision back to the tribe to continue our evolution. The information that Jerry brings back could not be more timely as we watch the inevitable shortcomings of excessive materialism.

Lotus Guide

Spiritual Food for the Soul

Allow Jerry to take you on his magical and enlightening soul pilgrimage. As he invites you to accompany him along his life adventures, he introduces you to selfless acts of deep, human spirit and his fascinating relationships. Often, by chance encounters, Jerry immerses the reader into impromptu stories of surrealistic wonder and actual life experiences.

From his friendship with two, elderly sages; or E.T., the street kid – Jerry’s autobiography inspires the uninspired, captivates the soul and brings a vital spark to everyday monotony. Jerry illustrates and exhibits the simplest of miracles – through soul journey.

His words, “…In the shadow lands of life’s most terrifying experiences, something inherently noble in the human heart unexpectedly enters in and renders the voices of good and evil mute…” Poetically expressed, Jerry’s wisdomful words echo transcendental advice into the inner-knowing and evolutionary, inner-peace process.

Broken down into humankind’s most simple form, Jerry withdraws from “normal” human existence to fully embrace life’s spiritual side. (His eventful life, in my own opinion, somewhat parallels the life of the so-called Jerry in the film, Down and Out in Beverly Hills.) Noncomedically however, he lived purely off chance and engaged in most uninspiring conditions; and made do with what life had to offer – never complaining…only transforming.

A human, but humbling experience, Jerry relays how his internal transformation came full circle. A book that promotes personal growth and comprehension of the mortal experience, The Inspired Heart is awe-inspiring, and an exceptional read.

—C. Bailey-Lloyd, Holistic Junction

The Inspired Heart: An Artist’s Journey of Transformation is an autobiographical account by artist Jerry Wennstrom who, at the age of 29, turned his back on a successful career, destroyed his prolific corpus of work and gave away all of his possessions. In a similar vein as Kerouac, Jerry went out on a decade-long search to find those vital truths that many are never so inclined to look for.

The Inspired Heart details in stories from Jerry’s experiences the results of this great experiment in surrender as well as the conclusions he draws from them. Through the stories you’ll meet the colourful characters Jerry came across and explore the places which became the settings for his experiment, living simply on whatever came his way in a spirit of surrender, or “letting go” as Jerry calls it. This letting go can be directly likened to a Kierkegaardian leap that not only transformed him as a person, but unleashed more vital currents in him as an artist.

A spiritual journey, yes, but The Inspired Heart has escaped from the cliché catch-phrases and stock images that have become part of other such testaments; this gives The Inspired Heart a credit and sincerity lacking in other works. The result is sincerely spiritual rather than pseudo-spiritual.

You may find some aspects of Jerry’s philosophy debateable: is, for example, the “singular requirement of Grace,” as Jerry writes, “to remain fearlessly attuned to the heart?” Or is Grace what it is because it is free of any requirement at all? No one, however, can argue with the sincerety of the spirit which he reveals in these pages, which matured through honestly-won experience.

In addition to the black-and-white photographs which illustrate these stories, The Inspired Heart contains 16 pages of colour photos of Jerry’s recent sculptures. His sculptures, which are interactive, life-sized and multifaceted, speak to us as artifacts from a lost, formerly unknown civilization. But this civilization is not lost, having come to us from inside Jerry’s own spirit. The Inspired Heart is the story of how Jerry Wennstrom the artist got to this point.

—Eaom Graham, Bohème Magazine

 

Jerry Wennstrom’s book, The Inspired Heart, moves me so deeply that I am tempted to lather my review with lengthy quotations as I struggle with the relative inarticulateness this task evokes in me! Not doing so is the best way I can pay tribute to its profundity and depth. There is a kind of simplicity about Jerry’s way of describing the episodes and relationships that have filled his life which reflects the purity of his own inner process as he brings it to bear on the choices he has made and the consequences of those choices — on the people he has danced with, loved, learned from, helped to heal, along the way.

His is no ordinary life, and the fact that he makes it sound so simple, so inevitable, merely reflects his “way” of living it — as does the form of his art. Complex, beautiful, many-layered, hieratic, visionary, somehow ancient in its sense of knowing — these are all terms that apply, both to Jerry’s art and to his life.

There is an autobiographical substructure to Jerry’s narrative throughout his book which functions as an armature for the sculpture that is his real life as a soul embodied — necessary as a support for the emergent sculpture, allowing it to hold its shape — but, like the armature, only the basic shape or pattern upon which the sculpture itself will be fully realized. Manifesting that fullness of its form constitutes the real narrative of the book.

The Inspired Heart is most assuredly what has moved Jerry from moment to moment, from year to year, in his art as in his relationships and choices. In the Hands of Alchemy, the title of a video made in recent years of Jerry’s life and his art, is an equally accurate description of the manner in which Jerry has learned to live — with no pre-set assumptions about what may need to happen at any choice point, and with trust, openness and humility that his life belongs not so much to himself as to what he calls “formlessness” — which impells him to surrender to a kind of “knowing unknowing” — a kind of holy foolishness that is only valid in retrospect as a living principle but must be “sweated out” on each occasion that calls for a choice.

Jerry is basically a teacher — and, like the Sufi masters of the past, his teachings appear in the form of stories — either verbally or in sculptural form. His statues are spiritual biographies, using found materials and surrendipitously acquired artifacts. Multi-layered, they express the complexities of human ambiguity and depth — as well as the process of spiritual growth.

—Mary Leue, Down-to-Earth Books

Trusting the Deep Intelligence of the Universe

Artist Jerry Wennstrom shocked the New York art community in 1979 when he destroyed his paintings at the pinnacle of his illustrious career. Guided by an inner passion to connect directly to divine consciousness, Wennstrom gave away his possessions and began a journey based on complete surrender to life experience. The Inspired Heart shares Wennstrom’s personal journal of how he lived for years in a state of grace and faith, discovering divine intelligence and inspiration in a wide breadth of experiences. Wennstrom at various times fasted, experienced the sublime joys of sharing special moments with neighborhood children, and faced potential muggers with loving kindness…to receive loving kindness in return. The Inspired Heart shows us how, “Enlightenment is not a grand finale that leaves us blissfully risen, Buddha-like, above the suffering of the world. It is a deep and unconditional surrender to what already exists and total trust in the larger inherent intelligence, which is willing to lead the way.”

I love the color pictures of Wennstrom’s art in the middle of this book, and the way Wennstrom’s autobiographical short stories weave themselves in dreamy fashion through the places and times of his fascinating life. The Inspired Heart shares the raw and simple beauty of one man’s pure heart as it shows us how miraculous, magnificent and rich our lives can be when we let go of everything and allow ourselves to be fully present in this moment, now.

—Cynthia Sue Larson, Reality Shifters

I highly recommend Jerry Wennstrom’s soul-filled work. In The Inspired Heart: An Artists Journey of Transformation, Jerry beautifully tells simple stories that speak of the charity of the soul, painting pictures of the secret meanings in magical moments and interconnection of all life (and death). His alphabetic canvass speaks the songs of God and how being touched by simple acts of kindness lights the way in a still sleeping world. He provides a guiding beacon through the uncharted waters of our evolution by recounting his life’s stories.

—Peter H. Rosen, Creativity.net

It is probably tempting for many to resort to psychology or judgement on reading Jerry Wennstrom’s story in the press release: he realized he was becoming too attached to his identity as an artist, destroyed his works of art and gave away all he owned. For fifteen years he lived on practically nothing. His is an extraordinary journey, and on reading the book and viewing the video, you may find you are able to scrap the psychology and heartily crush your judgmental inclinations.

Jerry is not only an artist, he is a storyteller, and is as skilled with words as he is with paint and the material of his sculptures. His explanation for the decision to destroy his work is simple, profound, and strangely acceptable. If you were still to feel the urge to lament the destruction then remind yourself that those paintings were his to destroy as much as to create, as much a part of the artist as his own body and spirit. They were deeply beautiful, sometimes haunting, always essentially personal. Thanks to video and photographs, are they any more lost to us than the Old Masters jealously guarded in private collections or obscure museums? Jerry quotes Albert Einstein, “Matter never dies, it just changes form.” For him, his destroyed art had become an empowering life force.

Jerry’s story is one of faith and courage; he believes that we each arrive at a time in our lives when we choose how much faith and courage we are willing to give ourselves to…..do we choose the safe life or do we choose the Mystery? The book leads up to Jerry’s leap of faith and continues full circle to his returning to the world and to art. It is a spiritual journey, a series of stories told effortlessly in which everything matters. His topics are various. Referring to sex, he talks about “carefully and reverently exploring the territory…..with innocent openness and trust in an attentive stage of diffuse awareness…..The only alternatives to this exploration are reckless, destructive behaviour or adherence to religious and moral rules that promise safe, unlived lives.” A choice which we may apply to aspects of our lives other than sex and art, both of which are pieces of the puzzle rather than the puzzle itself.

Many people will be greatly inspired by Jerry Wennstrom, and that inspiration may not lead to great leaps, but small steps of courage, faith and trust towards a truer self in a truer world.

—Issues Magazine

An amazing personal story, chronicled with great humor and clarity. Jerry was a rising star in the art world when he realized he was too attached to his identity. So he destroyed all of his art, gave everything away and spent 15 years wandering, seeking, listening, and trusting. Crazy characters crop up all around him, but he draws each one in with calmness and generosity. In giving up everything he found his true self, and something more: the wellspring of human nature.

—Alternatives

Suggested Reading

This book is excellent if you want to follow the events of someone’s life that is totally surrendered to the universe. For 15 years the author lived and wrote down his experiences as he surrendered bit by bit.

When he saw that his identity was wrapped up in the art work he was doing he destroyed them all and then began his journey of self discovery. His center was love and surrender. Eventually art came back into his life as well as the world, which continues to unfold in new and unique ways. His is the path of duality of celebration of life. A sincere rendering of his own inner and external journey, which is now still on the road of a shamanistic bent. Going from celibacy to tantric and shamanistic leanings, growing and expanding to include sharing what has been gained. He has led an interesting journey which is still in motion. For any on this type of road, it is well worth reading.

—Swami Ganga-Puri Kaliuttamananda-Giri for The Meditation Society of America, The Inner Traveler Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 2

If you read the blurb on the back of Jerry Wennstrom’s autobiography, The Inspired Heart: An Artist’s Journey of Transformation, you’d think the man is a crackpot. This truly talented New York painter gave away all his work and his possessions in the late ’70s and became a full-time Zen wanderer. He dropped out in order to find himself and commenced to contemplating the universe, often going for long periods without speaking a single word. Along the way he was groped by a dirty old man, scolded a violent Mafioso, claims he was directed to hidden money by God, invited a street gang into his studio, coaxed a teenage troublemaker into a supposed interlude of clairvoyance and surrounded his schizophrenic friend with a pack of friendly wild dogs. These are the kinds of things that can happen when you leave behind modern hubbub and decide to bob along helplessly like a cork in the ocean. These days, Wennstrom’s art resembles life-size humanoids carved from wood, with secret chambers and working machinery inside.

Riverfront Times

In 1979, Jerry Wennstrom began an experiment to find out if there was a god. At the time he was a successful New York artist, but he decided to destroy his paintings and give away all his money and possessions. He began to tune his inner world into the natural patterns and rhythms of what he perceived to be the perfect order of the outer world. He asked for nothing from any human being, relaying on unconditional trust and non-interference. If food became available, he ate, and only if necessary, he spoke. He had to confront his own fears and those of others, but only by fully committing to this way of life on the edge could he create the space for miracles and come full circle to re-enter the world of creative expression through art. This is an account of the true stories that unfolded as he made this transformative journey.

Pilgrims Mind Body Spirit

Whidbey Island artist Jerry Wennstrom tells his story of living on the edge and finding his true path. While a successful artist living in New York City, Jerry destroyed his art work and abandoned his apartment, career and all tangible forms of security. For ten years he lived in the present, open to whatever life offered. During his spiritual journey, he lived life from the heart and trusted his intuition. He chose to quit trying to control what happens but to accept what comes. Jerry eventually returned to art. His book includes color prints of his work. At his web site www.handsofalchemy.com/ you can see photos of some of his incredible sculptures, though to enjoy them fully you need to see them in person to get the full effect of their wiggling parts, flashing lights, boiling water, opening doors, sound effects and other fun surprises.

Whidbey Island Writers’ Association Newsletter

Autobiographically written by Jerry Wennstrom, The Inspired Heart: An Artist’s Journey Of Transformation is the story of an artist’s journey in search of truth. In 1979, New York artist Jerry Wennstrom destroyed his own paintings, gave away his money and possessions, and sought to purge his personal identity, and in the process, open himself to wonder. This remarkable artist’s memoir is enhanced with black-and-white photographs and a 16-page inset section of full-color plates showcasing a series of magnificent interactive box art. The Inspired Heart is a unique and quite remarkable contribution to 20th Century Art History reading lists.

Midwest Book Review

The Library of Congress categorizes this book as a “spiritual biography,” a term I hadn’t heard before, but which is quite fitting. Jerry Wennstrom was an up-and-coming painter in the late 70s, when he decided to destroy all his work, give away his belongings, and live moment-to-moment, seeing what the universe had in store for him. The book is made up of dozens of short vignettes and insights about people he met and experiences he had during his 15 years of seeking God. At various points, Wennstrom lives without money, food, sex, racism, talking, time, fear and other cultural items we take for granted as “basics.”

In his introduction, Thomas Moore says that Wennstrom reminds us that “being open to life is ultimately more rewarding than trying to control it.” Wennstrom is amazingly open to the people he encounters, examining whether they have wisdom for him, whether they be schizophrenic, homeless, damaged, angry, or loving. He rejects the notion that we must keep our distance from others, and allows himself to experience interactions that most of us would refuse to enter, from conversations and confrontations with strangers on the street, to allowing anyone who asks to enter his home. In powerful lessons, he moves beyond embarrassment, discomfort and fear, trusting that if he stays with an experience, the final result will be as it should, often ending in respect and even love.

I like this idea of “spiritual biographies,” books to remind us that life is not just a series of events, but a journey with meaning. Seeing how others have approached their own path can help us take the unexpected curves of our own.

—unfolding.org

This very well-written, full-color illustrated, first-person account of the creation of the re-born Jerry Wennstrom and his marvelous art is a transformational classic, in my humble opinion. When I was given this book, I devoured it immediately. I was humbled, inspired, stimulated, and changed by reading the details and viewing all of the wonderful photos of his remarkable journey.

I loved this book, related deeply to its message, and I think I will likely always consider it one of the jewels of transformational literature.

—Joe Bankhead, editor of A Journal of a Wanderer on the Way of Transformation

As Jerry Wennstrom realizes, it is the way of the Holy Fool, the one who grasps the simple idea that being open to life is ultimately more rewarding than trying to control it. Joseph Campbell once wrote that Aphrodite can be seen today standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. The timeless spirits and the timeless truths are ever-present, if disguised in ordinary clothes and personalities.

Talent Development Resources

In September 1979 Jerry Wennstrom, a successful New York artist, sold his possessions, destroyed his paintings and dedicated himself to God. He became celibate, refused to work for pay and lived as a kind of secular monk for the next twelve years. In the early ’90s he moved from New York to Washington State and began to ease himself back into society. He is now married and has resumed his career as an artist.

When you live by faith you enter the real world. That’s the gist of Wennstrom’s book. The real world is very different from the world as it normally appears to us. The rules of the real world are those of the Sermon on the Mount — you must give in order to receive, die in order to live. In the real world miraculous coincidences happen all the time. You are starving for want of cash and a five dollar bill falls out of a library book you felt compelled to open. In the real world prayer is answered.

Wennstrom tells his story not as linear narrative, but in a series of nuggety little narratives. He encounters street kids, drunks, gangsters, society matrons. In some of these encounters he’s the guru and in others he’s the disciple. The technical term for such narratives is pericope (hey, I was a theology student once). As religious teachers in every tradition have found, there is no better way of conveying spiritual truth.

The pericopes are great. When Wennstrom tries to glue them together with a bit of theory he loses focus and precision. He’s a mystic and an artist, not a theologian and his religious theorising amounts to a cherry picking of ideas from what Malise Ruthven calls the divine supermarket. Sometimes his ideas are hard to follow. Sex makes him come over all coy and poetical and I didn’t understand a word he had to say about it.

Wennstrom is a first-time author. When he sticks to the facts he’s entertaining and smart. This is a book I enjoyed. Not only that, it got me thinking about my own life. The colour plates of Wennstrom’s quirky, spooky and amusing art works are a real joy.

—Tony Grist for New Hope International Review

about the author

Jerry Wennstrom

Jerry Wennstrom was born in New York on January 13, 1950. "I don't have much of an impressive bio," he admits. "All I could do was paint, and because there was nothing else that I could do very well, painting was what I most identified with as a human being. It didn't hold though, did it? I let it all go, became nothing, and found everything."

Jerry was trained in art, however. "I went to school for three years at Rockland Community College and the State University of New Paltz, both in New York. The one teacher who believed in me and saw how committed I was as an artist said to me, 'What are you doing here? Why don't you just go out and do it?' He said the one thing that I knew I needed to do, but was afraid to. Even though I had almost completed my degree program, when he said this to me, I walked straight out the door, never to return. I do have an A.A. degree, for those interested in my minimal credentials."

At age 29, he set out to discover the rock-bottom truth of his life. For years he questioned the limits of his creative life as a studio painter. After destroying all of his art and giving away everything he owned, Jerry began a life of unconditional trust, allowing life to provide all that was needed. He lived this way for over 10 years and then moved to the state of Washington, where he married Marilyn Strong and produced a large new body of art. Marilyn and Jerry's charming Whidbey Island home is now filled with his unique sculptures and paintings. He also built a 40-foot meditation tower, the Flaming Stupa, on his property.

An award-winning video of Jerry's life and work, In the Hands of Alchemy, is also available. Jerry can be contacted for film showings, speaking engagements, and workshops with his wife—singer and adult education teacher, Marilyn Strong—through his website, www.handsofalchemy.com.