Our Little World

The world is a den of thieves, and night is falling. Evil breaks its chains and runs through the world like a mad dog. The poison affects us all. No one escapes.Therefore let us be happy while we are happy. Let us be kind, generous, affectionate, and good. It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world.

– Oscar, in Fanny and Alexander

What others think about my art’s importance concerns me at times more than I like to admit.

When I was young, I learned a Hindu myth about a parade of ants. In the tale, the god Vishnu in the guise of a boy draws a powerful king’s attention to ants passing on the ground at his feet. The boy tells the king that each of those tiny creatures had once been a king like him, enlightening the king to the truth that no matter how large a life’s work might seem, in the grand scheme of things it amounts to no more consequence than a single ant in an infinite parade.

I recall this parable when I remember there are an estimated 15 billion paintings in the world.

An endless parade of ants.

So the notion of my art – anyone’s art – being “important” is absurd, and my need to seek external affirmation for my work equally so. And yet, sitting with the truth of my insignificance before the vastness of human art can be paralyzing:

Why does art – mine or anyone’s – matter at all?


Just months after my daughter’s passing in 2014, I went to see Healing Wars, a multimedia production by choreographer Liz Lerman addressing (among other things) the emotional price healers pay during wartime. It was a profound experience for me, coming as it did so soon after I’d lived for years on the front line of my daughter’s substance use disorder, fighting for her wellness – now feeling pain so keenly at her death from overdose.

To see that performance was to have my suffering from overwhelming loss and grief affirmed.

Death would have us believe we do not matter; art that speaks its name can be an antidote to that.

For me, that’s what art does best: dance toe-to-toe with death and all its attendant fears, and deliver light.


Fanny and Alexander was Ingmar Bergman’s final film. It is semi-autobiographical, based in large part on Bergman’s own childhood in Sweden. In the movie, Fanny and Alexander’s father, Oscar, offers a moving tribute to the modest theater he runs – a monologue on why the “little world” of art has value (see the epigraph, above).

I’ve not seen the movie in decades and my recollection of it may be faulty, but something about that part of the film has always stuck with me. In the end, this titan of stage and film celebrates not the fame or wealth art can bring, but rather its intimate power as an aria to life, a rejoinder to the night that is falling; to death.

That is why art – this “little world” of ours, in all its billions of manifestations – matters.

Illustration above by Peter Bruun, originally appearing in Yarrow & Cleat.

Hannah Brancato

Handmade paper, created by Hannah Brancato, Sanahara Ama Chandra, and collaborators.

“Lately I’ve been making paper,” says Hannah Brancato, an artist and educator based in Baltimore.

Beautiful paper – like mottled leaves, puckered as the barnacled hull of a boat, textured as the moss-covered shingles of a country cottage.

Surfaces surprisingly alive.

The paper is for Dreamseeds, a project Hannah is creating with collaborator Sanahara Ama Chandra, a healer and sound artist. The project culminates this fall as “an installation of textiles, sound, and interactive components that invites current and budding activists and visionaries in Baltimore to develop visions for the future,” according to Hannah’s website.

The idea for the project arose in the wake of Move Slowlyher 2021 project exploring “the toll activism can take on our bodies, relationships, hearts and minds.” Built around recorded conversations with creative activists, Move Slowly revealed to Hannah the importance of hope as an antidote to the burnout often experienced by those who fight for change.

“The challenges can feel so overwhelming,” she says. “It’s important to take time to reflect and rebuild your reserve – to retain your belief in possibilities for the future.”

In planning Dreamseeds, Hannah and Ama kept returning to the notion of kindling hope; regenerating a sense of promise for the future. This brought the two to composting – taking something old and spent and transforming it into something new. Turning fibrous pulpy remains into usable sheets – making paper – became the perfect metaphor for what they were after.

As lead-up to the exhibition, Hannah and Ama have been conducting workshops, taking participants from diverse community groups through the process of making unique sheets of paper, then having them write their visions for the future on it. The completed pieces (the “dreamseeds”) will be part of the installation.

With Dreamseeds, Hannah and Ama are creating a forum for people to reflect on and express hope.

Hannah is no stranger to such community-oriented work.

In 2010, she co-founded FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, an art and activist collective dedicated to ending sexual violence and building a culture of consent. FORCE is best known for the Monument Quilt, a project including more than 3,000 quilts, each with a story written, stitched, or painted onto it by a survivor of sexual or intimate partner violence, or an ally. Representing a worldwide community of hope and healing, the Monument Quilt had its 50th and final display on the National Mall in the spring of 2019.

The Monument Quilt on the National Mall, 6/9/19, Public Art Project by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture; photo by Nate Gregorio

It was an immense undertaking, one especially well-suited for Hannah’s need to connect to others in ways that matter and effect change.

“My art practice is rooted in my desire for personal and social transformation,” she notes. “I work collectively, value the process as much as the end product, and understand myself as a part of something much greater than any individual person.”

From FORCE to Dreamseeds and everything in between (Inheritance of White Silence, a 2020 project interrogating her own white privilege; Resistance Monument, a 2018 commission for the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Annapolis), Hannah has always pursued work that is, in her words, part of a “personal and collective journey.”

Both personal, and collective.

And a personal aspect she has only recently begun to share publicly is the part Emmeline Jeanne Brancato – Emmy – plays in it all.

Emmy and Hannah were sisters, Emmy two years older. Growing up, the two were close, reading and creating art all the time, and making sense of life together. In college Emmy became a cultural anthropology major studying sustainability, and her passions challenged Hannah to think of the world in larger ways than she had been.

“She was a role model to me, always pushing me to see the bigger picture,” says Hannah.

In July 2005, just before starting her senior year, Emmy died in a car crash.

For Hannah, the loss was as transformational as it was devastating.

In a TEDx Talk earlier this year, Hannah talked about how losing Emmy 17 years ago activated her in ways she could not have imagined, setting her on a path of understanding her own trauma, and the role collective grief has in social justice work.

“I felt really isolated in my grief,” she says. “I felt that people in my family couldn’t understand what I was going through, and I think we all felt that way; we all had a unique relationship with Emmy. Mom helped us see the connections between what we were all dealing with when in her own process of grieving she began to cut apart and piece back together clothes and embroidered garments my sister had made, making memory quilts and giving them to her friends and loved ones. By having one I began thinking of myself as a member of a community impacted by a shared trauma.”

Memory Quilt for Emmeline Brancato, created by her mother Shelley Kappauf for Hannah Brancato

For Hannah, this was an indelible experience of communal healing from quilting – an early seed of FORCE’s Monument Quilt project.

“FORCE fully came out of Emmy for me,” says Hannah. “Though I’ve never said that before.”

Those who have experienced transformational loss understand grief manifests in layers and over years. We grieve, taking on only as much as we can bear, and only in ways effective in the moment. For a long time, Hannah’s grieving demanded from her a major public art and social justice project.

“The grief of losing Emmy felt completely overwhelming, so I found something really big that I felt I could have a handle on. Telling the story of all sexual survivors everywhere was what I felt I could get a handle on, which is really ironic – that feeling easier to manage than dealing with my individual grief.”

And now, with Dreamseeds, ready for her individual grief, Hannah’s sister is much more in the foreground.

“Emmy was years ahead of me, even though she was just 21 years old when she died. She had a better grasp on how tough things were in the world, and her response was to study the environment and sustainability. Now, with Dreamseeds, on the handmade paper, people are writing visions for the future about the way we live in relation to the environment, and that makes me think of Emmy and her work and research.”

As a teen, Hannah imagined collaborating with her sister when they grew up; maybe now, finally, she is.

Ethereal as a ghost, clear as a muse, in lovely leaves of paper, with each dreamseed: Emmy – right there with her.

Surprisingly present; a gift.

Hannah Brancato is an artist and educator based in Baltimore. Hannah’s art practice is grounded in collective storytelling, and creating public rituals to bring people’s stories together.

I Love to Draw

It had been weeks since I’d made any art – a summer hiatus had made sense. Now, it was time to return to the studio. I still did not know what to make.

There is a reason it is called an art practice. If I waited for inspiration, I might rarely (if ever) make art. A practice can jump-start things.

I went into the studio. I looked around. I moved a table there, took that art down, put those works on this wall. I pinned fresh paper up. I settled in: clearing space for making.

I quieted my thoughts, opened my mind, and visualized new drawings. Charcoal drawings.

I used to draw with charcoal all the time: it is my most native medium, one I feel most fluent with. I love the nuance I can get with lines: narrow, sharp, broad, dry, crisp, wavery, clear, errant, erased, pronounced. These seductive marks not just for their own indulgent sakes, but to serve what the image wants to be. Almost hallucinogenic, the art of drawing can be like watching a dream unfold its own story, while I am wide awake. Bearing witness; along for the ride.

I love to draw, and rely on my practice to reveal what I want to draw. Need to draw.

This has been a summer of family and friends. Also of Covid (still). A “normal” summer in some regard (first in several years), and also a reckoning with what has changed in the intervening time. I am not the same: my relationships and wants have shifted. The world has spun, and with it the threads connecting me to those I love have altered – like gossamer webs dancing in a breeze.

The pirouette of love through time.

In my studio, in my mind’s eye, I picture what this looks like.

My hand traces what I envision, Conté crayon and charcoal like contrail from my imagination’s flight, like prose in black and red, like a mantra of elastic love.

Line on top of line.

Lines must be true; they can too easily become untethered from their source. Rework becomes part of the work.

Erasure and retouch and touch again, contour uncovering its truth – my truth – the truth of my love pirouetting through time, a dance between holding and having, missing and slipping, reaching and withdrawing, rising and receding.

My breathing heart: It’s why I have an art practice.

It’s why I love to draw.

September 2022

This Can Be Yours

With each newsletter, we offer a work of art by Peter at a deep discount. This 14″ x 17″ watercolor, gouache and pencil drawing from 2016 can be yours for just $15 if you are the first to email Peter to claim it (see a large version of the drawing here). If you want to see more art for sale, visit the sales gallery at the Bruun Studios website.

Introducing the Cameo Conversations Series

Each issue of Out of Place, we include Cameo, an in-depth look at an artist or arts professional. Starting this month, you will have the opportunity to join Peter in conversation with those we feature, starting with Hannah Brancato. Watch your email for an announcement with details coming soon!

Thank You!

The Maine Arts Commission, a state agency supporting the arts in Maine, selected Peter for a $2,500 Project Grant in its 2022/2023 grant cycle. We are grateful for the support!