MONTCLAIR, NJ -  In 2013, Amy Tingle and Maya Stein founded The Creativity Caravan, initially and still a mobile trailer, as a way to introduce and share art around the country without the limitations of location.

When they are not traveling, The Creativity Caravan holds monthly art shows at their intimate space in Montclair. This year focuses on female artists, and through June 4, the “My Mother’s Keeper” exhibit displays works created by 22 women from the United States and Canada, dedicated to their mothers who suffered or currently suffer from mental illness that was diagnosed, not diagnosed properly, or not diagnosed at all. In partnership with Halfway There: A Reading Series in Montclair, NJ, The Creativity Caravan also hosted an evening of readings on May 15, written by writers who too have faced such circumstances, to complement the exhibit.

“My Mother’s Keeper” aims to destigmatize and raise awareness about mental illness with multiple portrayals. The pieces, each unique in nature with styles ranging from paintings, photography, poetry, and prose to sculptures, fabric, and conceptual displays, surround the gallery. They also vary in tone. One piece is an altar meant to honor and show gratitude toward a mother, complete with flower petals frequently replenished by artist Claudia Sabino, whereas a giant painting simply of a butcher knife represents artist Betty Haskin’s suppressed childhood memory (she was told about this incident by her father at a later age) of her mother chasing her around the kitchen with the object.

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There is also a place where people can scrawl down messages to their own mothers and put them into an accompanying bowl. These messages will be burned at the end of the exhibit as a form of symbolic release and closure.

Beside each piece is a personal explanation written by the artist, whose life has been shaped by her mother’s experiences.

“It makes you pause and really take in the content and context that they’re creating in,” explains Stein, “Sometimes a piece will speak to you without having to read anything about it. You have a visceral response to something. But there may be pieces that you pass over because you aren’t drawn to them visually, but the stories behind them are insightful. When people stop and read, they start to connect to the exhibit as a whole. It gives you a lot of insight into the story. That’s really interesting, when you find out what discovers someone to make a piece of art.”

The show has drawn in many art therapists, including family support counselor Renee Folzenlogen. Folzenlogen actually approached Stein and Tingle about this idea for this gallery and even contributed her own artwork to the show.

“My Mother's Keeper gives a voice to the often overlooked family role: the adult child of a parent who struggles with mental illness. We wanted to let people know they are not alone, and I am thrilled to be a part of this, not only as a co-curator, but as an artist with all the other women. For me, this show is more about healing, compassion, and resilience, than it is about illness. It's about honoring our mothers' struggles, and using art to make sense of it. Thanks to Amy and Maya for creating a stigma free zone for this conversation to happen.”

Because of The Creativity Caravan’s flexible hours of operation, patrons interested in viewing the “My Mother’s Keeper” gallery are encouraged to reach out to Stein and Tingle first to make an appointment. Some, not all, of the pieces are also available for purchase.

Creativity Caravan 28 South Fullerton Avenue. Montclair, NJ 07042 (201) 259-9801