Born and reared in Bulgaria (and now a proud citizen of the U.S.), Eva Koleva Timothy is the mother of 3 young children whom she homeschools. She is a Media/Communications graduate with a B.A. from the U. of Utah, and has studied at the Oxford School of Photography. Eva has received numerous accolades including Best in Show in the 2005 UK CACC slide competition; her work has been shown at the Said Business School at Oxford University, The New England Institute of Art. Her most recent project, Lost in Learning, about which I've asked her to provide the back story below, is designed to be a national traveling exhibition. She loves collecting shells at the beach, dancing with the music turned all the way up, and Bulgarian cooking.
In casting a lens upon the great explorers, artists and scientists of the Age of Exploration, Lost in Learning is meant to encourage us to embark upon or continue our own voyage of discovery.
As I've considered the course navigated by these discoverers, I have crafted the acronym S.A.I.L. which stands for Story, Angle, Immersion & Light. This acronym not only outlines the process of exploration, but also pays homage to Columbus whose journal inspired this exhibit. Each of the S.A.I.L. elements has figured prominently in my own life, beginning with the stories my dad told me when I was still a young girl.
His words would whisk me off to lands of far away and long ago.
Some of the stories were fantastic, fairy tales, Arabian nights, Bulgarian folklore and the like. Others were based in European history and about Alexander the Great, Da Vinci, Columbus and other larger-than-life figures. And though the stories were from long ago, because I grew up there, they didn't seem so far away.
Bulgaria, in particular, has been at the crossroads of every major civilization for over two millenia, and under a foreign yoke for most of that time. First, Alexander the Great, then the Greeks, followed by the Ottoman Empire and finally the Soviet occupation.
Growing up under Communist rule, I yearned for freedom. When I told people of my dream to live in the U.S., most people just laughed. At that time, leaving a country so tightly controlled by the Soviet bloc was ludicrous. The stories my parents told me about history's great explorers and independent thinkers helped me remain hopeful that some day I would come to America. .
Communism is so much about directed collective thought and attempts to manage perception. Under communist rule, the economic climate was dismal, but ‘spun' as an era of glory. I wanted no part of this world, and potentially could have become embittered. Fortunately, my artist father continually highlighted the exquisite beauty in day-to-day life: the wonder of nature (the play of light at sunset, reflections in puddles) and urban architecture (from archways to power cables). This artist's angle, taught to me by my father, helps see a world filled with potential no matter how difficult or busy life becomes.
When seeking to keep a positive perspective in a society as depressed and sullen as Eastern Europe was, my ability to focus was a very useful skill. It does, however, make me one of the world’s worst multi-taskers. Even at the dinner table, I like to stop, talk about, and really savor our meal.
When I was 14, and the Wall had fallen and there really was a chance that I could come and live in America someday. There was just one minor obstacle…I didn’t speak English and I needed to pass the University Language test the TOEFL.
I’ve never wanted to learn anything so much in my life (besides maybe photography).
I took 3×5 cards to the movie theater when watching sub-titled American films and I would write down all the phrases I could pick up from the actors. I started reading Shakespeare during my Russian class and got sent to the headmasters office. I talked with every American I could find and while books had never been a favorite birthday gift, I fell in love with the huge English-Bulgarian dictionary my parents gave me on my 15th birthday.
I did pass the test and thanks to the generosity of Richard and Linda Eyre and the friendship of their daughter Saren, I was given the wonderful opportunity of realizing my dream and coming to study in the U.S.
Often times it happens when we aren’t expecting it.
I’ve found though, that when I've toggled to seeker/explorer mode, I am much more likely to be struck by light or inspiration.
For example, I remember sitting one day reading a book by Daniel Boorstin, former head of the Library of Congress. The book was titled The Discoverers and detailed the history of discovery.
At one point he writes about Columbus’ preparation for his journey westward and how he wrote copious notes in the margins of one of his geography books. Adoring history as I do, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to see the book with his actual handwriting!”
I had recently taken up photographing a series of old books I had brought with me from the year our family lived in Oxford. Then thinking about Columbus' book had written, I had the idea to photograph manuscripts, instruments, artifacts in a way that would tell the story of these amazing men and women I was reading about.
So I did.
I found a copy of the Imago Mundi with Columbus notes and putting it together with an old compass, the project was born.
From there I visited the Harvard Collection of Scientific Instruments to photograph the Renaissance era artifacts. I acquired copies of facsimile manuscripts by Galileo, Newton, Hooke, Handel, Da Vinci and others. I also visited antique shops to find period spectacles, prisms, a miniature spyglass and a beautiful old magnifying glass to add a unique artistic perspective to the photographs. These lenses, which granted new sight, focused light and enabled learning in that era became in many ways a symbol of the project.
They also came to remind me that the discoveries we now celebrate and teach about were made possible not simply because of raw intellectual power, but mostly because of how these men and women opened their eyes to see the world with curiosity, imagination, and a desire to explore.
In Eva's notes about S.A.I.L., she compares the reasons for learning in The Little Prince, which are fame and fortune, to learning because we hunger to know more about a topic. I wonder if when we are famished, we are on to our dream.
The first element of discovery is Story. Eva's father is a storyteller, and encouraged her to see herself as the hero of her story. Are we reading books that encourage us to be the hero of our story — and for children to be the heroes of theirs?
The second element is Angle. We all tell ourselves stories. The perspective we have, the kinds of stories we tell, determine whether we pursue our dreams, or not.
The third element is Immersion. What do we find ourselves focused on? One of the best ways to figure out what our dream is, is to observe what we think about when we don't have to think about anything.
The fourth and final element is Light. How does the creative process work for you? In what areas of your life are you most creative? Do you find yourself wanting to visit the Lost in Learning exhibit? Me too.
We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall this week. How fitting that we are hearing from Eva. Can we, as Mr. Gorbachev did, tear down the walls that are keeping us from our dreams?