The Cyclical Nature of the Universe is Part of the Journey

By Sheila Mullen

On April 16, 2016, at McColl Center for Art + Innovation’s Studio Party, my husband Sean and I purchased the ceramic piece called Avis Oroborus by 2006 Alumnus Artist Jeff Pender.

I never know why a piece calls to me, but over my eight years of being part of the McColl Center family I have learned to trust my intuition, the process, and the journey. During this time, I have had several roles as a Board member, Board Chair, Medici Donor, and collector. Then in July of 2014, I was fortunate enough to join the staff as the Director of the Innovation Institute.  

When the Avis Oroborus arrived at our home, I began research to discover why the piece might have called to me or, truthfully, to give it a good story to tell guests. A quick Google search revealed that avis is a Latin word meaning bird. Interestingly, my Dad’s nickname for me is Birdly. Delving into the word ouroboros, I learned it is a Greek word meaning “tail devourer.” Slightly frightening, I must admit, until I discovered it’s deeper meaning. It is considered one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world, symbolizing the cyclical nature of the universe and the integration and assimilation of the opposites into wholeness. Pretty profound for a little ceramic sculpture, don’t you think?

I reached out to the artist, Jeff Pender, to get his thoughts. “It’s really fascinating to hear what others see in the work,” he said. “That really completes the process don’t you think?” In that moment, I realized that, as collectors, Sean and I had actively participated in the artist’s creative process. The universe had also aligned to demonstrate the cyclical nature of all relationships. The simple act of completion gives reverence to the process and the journey. Once again, art and artist are the teachers.  

In two short years, Susan Jedrzejewski and I have collaboratively given new life to the Innovation Institute, revitalizing and stabilizing its business and operations. In that same time, we delivered on the promise of the Innovation Institute by unleashing the creative capacity of 4,500 leadership professionals and 60 organizations. It has been a labor of love and a worthy pursuit. I couldn’t be more proud and more grateful for this experience. It is a time of celebration and completion. 

As symbolically represented by the Avis Oroborus, it is time to embrace the cyclical nature of the universe. At the end of May, I will be concluding my role as Director of the Innovation Institute. I want to say thank you to the entire McColl Center family for eight wonderful years of seeing with fresh eyes and being actively involved in the process and journey to provide artists the opportunity to be catalysts for change. 

Before I go, I want to share a few lessons I have learned from Artists and McColl Center over the years.

  • Art and artists are catalysts for change and a fresh way of seeing. 
  • True creative collaboration means bringing out the best in each other.
  • Exploration and experimentation is a necessity to discover the novel.
  • There is magic in the mess.
  • Play is needed for creativity and is the highest form of research.
  • Creativity = Curiosity + Courage.

“That really completes the process don’t you think?”


Sheila and Sean Mullen (Courtesy of the author)

Image: Jeff Pender, Avis Oroborus, ceramic, 16 x 14 x 2.5 inches (Courtesy of the artist)