The Story of the Film
In the Hands of Alchemy is a portrait of artist Jerry Wennstrom whose work and life have become one -- a spontaneous exercise in joy and inspiration for all who aspire to make art out of life.
By the 1970s, Jerry had acquired a loft space in Nyack, New York and was leading the life of a successful artist, frequently delving into the dark side with his work. However he eventually "painted himself out of painting." Unattached to his creations, he decided after a lengthy fast that the ultimate leap was to destroy all his work. "It was a powerful, holy experience that left me shaken and empty, but exhilarated," says Jerry.
He walked out of his loft and for the next ten years lived with nothing, trusting God to take care of him. His journey eventually led him to Whidbey Island in Washington where he met and married teacher/singer Marilyn Strong. Here he birthed a new art from his unconditional soul.
"Jerry Wennstrom is an ordinary man who has made the extraordinary choice to live, work and be in relationship in a state of surrender to the will of divine energy. This choice affects everyone he comes in contact with. In the Hands of Alchemy is a documentary of this choice and its effect." (Written for Parabola's "Cinema of the Spirit" festival, New York City, October 2000. The film was selected by a committee chaired by director Martin Scorsese.).
The film by Phil Lucas and photographer Mark Sadan features friends and colleagues as well as the monks of the Depung-Losleling Tibetan Monastery. Interviewed are artist Deborah Koff-Chapin, poet David Whyte, Christina Baldwin, Erica Moseley, and Nanda Milton.
Appended to the half-hour In the Hands of Alchemy video is a film from 1979. Titled The Works of Jerry Wennstrom, this 20-minute documentary by Deborah Koff-Chapin and Mark Sadan shows a partial record of the enormous body of work later destroyed during Jerry's process of letting go. One day, the film crew arrived to find that Jerry had destroyed his art.
"The film makers showed up one day to film," explains Jerry, "and the work was gone.I was in a very raw and empty place when I spoke in that first film. I had just destroyed all of my art and had given everything I owned away. I think no one including myself, knew quite how to interpret the experience. I was on an interesting edge. One of the first people to call when they heard was Jean Houston. She and her husband were doing creative mind research at the time working with artists. I had a lot of respect for them. Jean called concerned, I think she knew I had been fasting a lot so I was not sure myself if perhaps I had 'gone off the deep end.' I just knew at a cellular level that I just did the most important thing I could have ever done. Destroying the work was such a deep and meaningful experience for me that I was able to talk about it with the film makers.They were very upset and also very moved by the experience. It was when they decided to do an interview and have me tell the story that the film became about something archetypal and larger than all of us. It was no longer just about 'art.' "