Born in Oklahoma and now based in Portland, Oregon, Rachael Rice is the creative mind behind Cosmic American - a collection of hand-and-custom made dreamcatchers, jewelry, and other accessories. She describes her art as "inspired by a blend of the natural world, indigenous cultures, mysticism, camp crafts, and rock ‘n’ roll culture," and you can certainly see these influences in her whimsical and eclectic pieces. They seem both wild and precious at the same time. Strong and powerful on the one hand, dainty and subtle on the other. Rachael identifies as a "professional dreamer," and she works both figuratively and literally with dreams: in addition to creating dreamcatchers, which according to legend are supposed to protect the owner from bad dreams while letting the good ones pass through, she leads classes in her Dream School - a project aimed at helping women recognize and realize their passions and dreams.Her interest in dreamcatchers emerged from an upbringing in Oklahoma, a place rich with Native American tradition, and where she first caught glimpse of the traditional objects. Meticulously made, her pieces reflect a truly innovative and unique vision that comes out of a true love for the craft and art of creating. She makes sure to be conscious of where she acquires her materials by going straight to the source(for example, she obtains feathers from farmers that have collected naturally-shed ones) and using salvaged leather, lace, and trims. We wanted to learn a bit of the history behind the culture that produces dreamcatchers, better understand the significance behind her choice of materials, and get to know the woman that combines all this knowledge to create such beautiful pieces. Read our interview with Rachael below and find out why it's a bad idea to dream and drive, what music zens her out, and much more.
What was your first experience with dreamcatchers?
Growing up in Oklahoma, I think I saw dreamcatchers around -- at the fair, and that kind of thing. Some of the streets were in Cherokee.
Right -- well, I think folks often attribute spiritual significance to them, but I've also read that they were simply put above children's cradles as a mobile. So they can be viewed as aesthetic objects, rather than as religious ones. Certainly in the 60's and 70's they became politicized as symbols for the Pan-Indian movement. But their origins are in the Ojibwe (Chippewa) nation.
Where do you find your materials? Do certain materials carry special significance (feathers, for example)?
I try to use salvaged items as much as possible. You can find a lot of feathers just walking around. I don't like buying feathers at craft stores very often because they're usually sourced from China and are of questionable origin with respect to animal cruelty. I have friends who raise birds and send me feathers that are naturally shed -- and I have found lots of farmers online who collect and sell the feathers of their birds. If you go to a furniture store, you can find leather samples that they don't need, or even a thrift store for lace, trims, and other vintage items. I've used items from retail store displays that were going to be thrown away, old leather jackets, random paper that I paint on, rusted chains I find in the street, whatever I come across. Sometimes I add something very intentional like a word, or someone's name, or a mojo bag with certain herbs and stones. I work a lot with lavender, amethyst, and quartz. Sometimes people mail me items to put in their pieces that are significant to them.
I learned to make them as a child, growing up in Oklahoma. Probably at camp. It was the late 70's - early 80's when multiculturalism was starting to be a thing, before the pendulum swung the other way and people got upset about cultural appropriation. I became a public school art teacher during a time when it was considered essential to explore all manner of art and craft from all over the world. I am particularly interested in non-western creative expression and folk craft, as I spent so long studying Renaissance painting I got pretty sick of it and felt much more captivated by, say, the Aborigine dreamtime dot paintings, or Japanese grass lettering. I like stuff that children make, and things that don't require a college degree, or a gallery to display them, you know?
Where is the best place to have your dream catcher?
I see a lot of them in cars, and I'm like WHOA, DON'T DREAM & DRIVE PEOPLE! Haha! They're beautiful, they don't have to go above your bed. They look great hanging on a wall of contrasting color, they don't have to hang freely.
I'm a super vivid dreamer. I remember dreams from when I was a very young child. I've had a lot of dreams about the end of the world, airplanes flying backwards, and apocalyptic stuff....and also aliens, ancestors, and dreams about my mom, who passed away when she was 49 of an aggressive cancer. My dreams aren't always scary, but they're usually super weird and crazy and surreal -- like movies. I tend to remember them, and sometimes the feeling states they evoke stay with me for days.
Do you find any colors to have specific spiritual/cosmic significance?
People tend to respond to pieces I create that have a limited palette, or are mostly neutral. It's interesting. I'm thinking of doing a line of pieces based on the chakra system, which has colors associated with each energy center in the body. I go through phases of being obsessed with certain colors, and I love fashion, so sometimes I'll go crazy and do a bunch of neon or something in my pieces. Then I'm like, hang on! Let's use some gray again.
On another note, we wish we could take a class at your dream school! It's great to see a successful woman sharing her experience and advice with those of us in a similar position (working to see our dreams realized). You work both figuratively and literally with dreams, in both cases providing support for the positive dreams and striving to protect from the negative ones. Do you see the two roles as fulfilling similar goals?
Right -- it's great to hear you picking up on that. I feel like a professional dreamer. All my conversations with people tend to eventually come around to what their big dream is. I can't help but be so curious about what people are REALLY wanting to do with their lives. I'm like a living, breathing, dreamcatcher.
You are one busy lady! How do you keep up with it all! Any tips?
I say no to a lot of stuff. A LOT. Sometimes I disappoint people, because I can't get my own creative work done AND go to all the awesome live music events, art happenings, parties, and stuff that friends are doing. I use the Desire Map (affiliate link) to help identify my core desired feelings, and then I ruthlessly pursue them. I make sure to identify inspiring people who are living the kind of life I'd like, and try to draw close to those people in a supportive role. It's all about relationships. It helps that I don't have a "straight job" and hopefully never will again. It IS possible, if you're very creative, and very focused and driven, to make a living on your own without having a boss. My soul is my boss. I do whatever it tells me to do.
Oh, and I have a small Dream School group on Facebook that's open to anyone -- lots of tips there, too!