Sanctuary Wall


4 inches wide, 12 inches tall, 5 inches deep, steel and wood panels with acrylic paint and mixed papers, hemp binding, hand-stitched letters


Back when all the build-the-wall talk was in the news, I decided to build my own wall. A readable, moveable, foldable wall. And what a long, strange book it is.


It took many mess-making failures to make this dang thing work and I have a whole new respect for galvanized steel and the unexpected torque of a wire screen.


The catalyst for the piece was the news that the proposed southern border wall would bulldoze through the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, shredding the fabric of a biodiverse haven for hundreds of species of butterflies, migrating birds, and endangered animals.


Displayed with its pages standing at right angles, the book includes two hidden pictures only visible from either end of the wall. From just the right angle, collage paintings on vertical strips of wood merge to reveal monarchs amidst flowers and an ocelot gazing out at us from the brush. How aware are these creatures that their world is splitting apart?



The book displays a range of silhouetted figures up against both sides of the pages. Cages. Laboratories of longing with dark corners of stockpiled fear. Beyond the allusion to asylum-seekers at the border, this project had me pondering all the walls we humans erect both around us and inside us to protect ourselves from ‘the other.’ Walls forged with fear, casting shadows, slicing through shrinking sanctuaries of serenity in each and every wavering mind.



If walls could talk, would they tell us they can’t protect us for long? Would they ask us: is anyone truly safe while someone else is not? On which side will you find true sanctuary? Can you peer through the spaces and make out any light on the other side? Can you see the writing on the wall?

For anyone interested, a hand-assembled pocket-sized paper version is available for a nominal cost at my Etsy shop: Climbing Tree Press.


More to come around the bend…

6 Responses to “Sanctuary Wall

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    This is stunning—visually and emotionally! I have been sharing it because it is so profound and beautiful.

  • Elsa Southam
    5 years ago

    Such a wonderfully creative way to bring attention to these endangered butterflies, and the need for us to be aware of the dangers faced by creatures in our world, including humans. It’s a unique and lovely book. The topic of walls and the need for sanctuary was highlighted by our visit to Canada’s fantastic Museum of Human Rights, in Winnipeg, just prior to us reading your post!!

    With pride and love,

    Mummeth, Dad, David

    • I am glad the topic is getting the attention it deserves! I appreciate your comment, thanks 🙂

  • Cassandra Mccann
    5 years ago

    Karen, this is amazing


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