In “Learning to be vulnerable through The Nest Project” I shared an adventure where I participated in Debbie Baxter’s art. That was my side of the story. But what about her side of the story? What I learned was how The Nest powerfully transformed the artist, as well as many of the 400 people who have climbed inside her art structures. Following the adventure mindset tenet of ABC (Always Be Curious), I reached out to Debbie. Here is her story of transformation.
Debbie had spent a lifetime recovering from the trauma of a bipolar mother. On the day Debbie was born, her mom was sent to a mental hospital. Her dad raised her. Over the years she had done so much internal work on herself (including attending a Mama Gena course I’ve attended!) she was ready for healing. As an artist, she must express on the outside what she’s expressing on the inside.
Debbie: My inspiration for The Nest came to me in 2016 while contemplating and reflecting on the idea that I felt done processing my past. I felt done worrying about the story of my childhood. My desire was to make an image that represented this completion. I wanted to create something that gave me a sense of holding myself – instead of the story. From this, the idea came to me to build a nest. Sharing my idea with my young son, we collected sticks throughout my yard and built a human-sized nest.
When I built myself a nest out of natural materials as a way to give myself what I had always longed for…a safe and nurturing home. It was an expression of healing from a challenging childhood. Once I built the nest, I knew that I wanted to step in and curl up but it felt weird to do it with clothes on…so I stripped down first and got down into the fetal position, let myself be held, and had my partner take my photograph. The process of building myself this little home and letting it hold me was incredibly visceral, vulnerable, and extremely powerful.
How does she build them?
One thing I was curious about is how she builds them. “I had no idea how to make one and I had never made one before but it came natural. We wove the sticks and branches into a circular form until we were out of sticks and it looked like a nest. My nest building process has evolved since then. They have turned into sculptures that can be in yards and gardens.” It takes her about a day. She’ll gather materials locally. Hay or moss for the bedding. She’s used palm tree leaves, grape vines, curved branches, twigs and often weaves in lavender, sage or flowers. This video gives an inside look at one of her many nests.
The photographer’s AHA moment
She had set out to do a self-portrait, but what happened to her that day was like an “AHA” moment. When she was in the nest, she felt something powerful. A connection to something bigger than her. Every day she climbed into it, she would say to herself “I’ll love you no matter what.” She gave herself the mothering she had never received as a child. Debbie was finally able to come to terms with her fears of abandonment from growing up with a mentally ill mother. She immediately knew that this feeling she discovered in the nest could also benefit others.
The Nest Project
Over the last 4 years (since 2016) she set out on a mission to photograph as many people she could curled up in a nest. At first she says it was all about the photograph. To get the best expressions and body language, she learned to take her subjects to a vulnerable place within themselves. She asked “What are you giving over to the nest and what part of yourself are you letting the nest hold?”
Helping others transform
Debbie: After the photograph was taken, I would record conversations with people talking about what The Nest experience meant to them. I would listen to the recording and write their words in a story.
It was a powerful process for me and many others. Oftentimes, people came to let go of burdens from their past. I gave my subjects the chance to let go of the story and hold themselves instead. It was vulnerable, raw, deep, and powerful. I laughed. I cried. And, everything in between. I let go of my demons and gave others the opportunity to do the same.
I’ve started going a lot deeper into my work not only as an artist but also as a healer. I’ve been holding space for people to find more love for their wounded parts and giving them a safe place to rest their pain. It’s been a journey for me personally as I step more into this role and go deeper into my own self. It’s never easy to face these things…but it’s so brave and so worth it! And, when we can find more love for ourselves, especially those tender wounded places…it creates a ripple effect to the world around us.
The Nest Book
Debbie has traveled to many different places, with Nests built in Portland OR, NYC, Washington DC, Burning Man, The Big Island of HI, Seattle, Olympia, Nashville, Charlottesville VA and Bali. She has built over 50 human sized nests. Debbie photographed close to 400 people naked in those nests: capturing the vulnerability of the human experience through her lens.
When Debbie first had the inspiration to create a nest, it was to express what was going on inside of her. From that first step, she has built upon each adventure. She has grown emotionally and evolved throughout this process. And by sharing her art in her personal way, has helped many others deal with their traumas. To bring her message even further, she has created a book with select images and stories – because The Nest isn’t just about her anymore! Debbie’s story of powerful transformation is an inspiration to take that first step and follow up with an idea, and then to follow it further as a passion!
To learn more about Debbie, The Nest book and project, check out www.debbiebaxter.com or find her on Instagram @thenestproject #thenestproject. Besides connecting with Debbie directly, these are other sources I used for this post: With Pleasure podcast Aimee Batuski ; Jupiter Hotel Debbie Baxter Nest Project ; Vice.com Debbie Baxter Naked Nest Photographs; New York Post “Why people are posing nude in this giant bird nest”