Serendipity = Intention + Work + Connection

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One of the photographs that will be a part of the Minnesota Historical Museum Collection

Serendipity = Intention + Work + Connection

A long time ago I dreamed that someday my photographs would be bought by the Minneapolis Art Institute or some other repository of art. I didn’t know how I might achieve that dream and in fact the dream receded quietly into the back of my mind as something that probably wouldn’t happen.

If it did happen it would take years of dedicated work and a little bit of luck.

Do the Work Because You Love It

All I know how to do to reach that dream or any artistic dream is to keep doing my work, following my joy, and actively seeking out opportunities to learn, execute photography projects and see where they might lead me.

“One thing I’ve found… the road rarely rises up to meet you until you’ve begun walking.”
Michele Jennae

Last year’s photography adventure of living up north near Ely, Minnesota in my beloved north woods for almost 3 months led me to create a series of photographs I call Wild Altars.

I had no intention or even idea of doing this project in the north woods when I went there. My whole purpose was to be there day in, day out, becoming familiar with the light and the landscape so that I could photograph the boreal forest that I love every day in all kinds of light.


Pay Attention to Dreams and Intentions

The idea of creating or photographing altars in nature came to me in a dream long before the trip to the north woods. After pondering the dream for awhile I bought a small wooden hand-made table to use an altar in photographs. Over a period of almost 2 years I worked on various approaches of using the altar in nature photographs. None of my photographic efforts with the wooden altar in nature worked. Something wasn’t right and I didn’t know what it was. I stopped carrying the altar around with me and let the idea settle in the back of my mind for awhile.

Right effort + Right timing = Inspiration

It wasn’t until I was hiking daily in the north woods with my camera and photographing all of the tiny intimately beautiful scenes that nature created that the idea of altar photographs coalesced into my Wild Altars series. Shortly after returning from Ely I created a book called Wild Altars, using that series of photographs. It was my first book project but hopefully not my last.

“Serendipity is not the product of patience; it’s the product of action.”
Audrey Moralez

Do the Work to Spark New Ideas

Last fall another photography practice magically morphed into my current project, Makers’ Hands. I was working with some photographer friends on weekly projects based upon a random word chosen from a list of words we created. One week our word was “form.” The word “form” immediately made me think of photographing the sensuous beautiful process of throwing clay on the wheel, where earth takes shape and form.

I set up a photo shoot with a friend, a talented potter, throwing a bowl on the wheel. The photo shoot and the photographs we created were mesmerizing to me. In most of the photographs I zoomed in on her hands working and shaping the clay on the wheel. The photographs were so intimate and beautiful. I wanted to do more photographs like this!

Connect to what you love

As a child I was obsessed with making things. I loved all things craft and art related and spent many a happy Sunday afternoon perusing a well-worn Make-it book, attempting to make one or another of it’s many craft projects. After the pottery photo shoot I briefly toyed with the idea of taking pottery classes myself (still a possibility, but not right now). Then I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to honor my love of making things by doing a series of photographs of makers’ hands?”

Connect with your tribe

I began contacting artist friends to set up photo shoots. One of those friends is a talented basket maker who recently was chosen by the Minnesota History Museum as a Minnesota artist to follow. The museum purchased one of her early baskets, a current basket, and they plan to purchase a future basket from her. My friend asked me if I would be interested in donating some photographs of the makers’ hands photo shoot I had done with her to the Minnesota History Center to go along with the baskets. I immediately said, “Yes!”

“Sometimes serendipity is just intention unmasked.”
Elizabeth Berg, The Year of Pleasures

From this week’s Makers’ Hands photo shoot


This week I was informed that the curator as the Minnesota Museum of History had chosen 2 of my photographs for inclusion with their collection!



I am so thrilled and grateful to be riding my friend’s coat-tails into the Minnesota Museum of History. Her hard work and persistence in putting her art out into the world and her generous offer to include my photographs have given me this wonderful opportunity. You may never see my photographs at the Minnesota History Center. I have no idea whether the photographs will ever be displayed. But in my heart I will always know that they are there, a little piece of history.

And they are only there because of doing the work, serendipity, and connecting with friends.

I have no idea what other places my Makers’ Hands series of photograph will take me. It is still the beginning of this very interesting journey.

This I do know…

Do the work because you love it, because you cannot not do it, because it brings you joy.

But also hold onto your dreams and intentions even if you store them in some quiet corner of your mind. You never know when your passion, hard work, and dreams will ignite something better than you ever imagined.

May you walk in beauty.

If you are a Minnesota artist, craftsman, craftswoman, artisan, maker, or creator, and you would like to be photographed for my Makers’ Hands project, please leave a comment with contact information and I will be in touch with you.


4 Responses

  1. Josh Adams

    Marilyn, It’s a pleasure to get to know you through your writing and photography.
    The way you described your process with the “altar in nature” theme had medicine for me, I’ll be walking with your story today.
    Thanks for sharing yourself.

    • Marilyn

      Thanks Josh. It was such fun learning more about you and your work. I look forward to next stages of your project.

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