It's all in the cards


BRATTLEBORO >> With many Vermonters priding themselves in upholding an optimistic mind-set or paving the way to tackle climate change, it is likely that a New York artist will be well embraced today for his travelling "performance."

James Leonard of Brooklyn, N.Y., will bring alive some of the deepest concerns in the human mind around environmental threats through his "climate-change divination readings," with "The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies." Situated under a tent with its interior made from rainbow colored recycled clothing, Leonard creates an atmosphere for contemplation, where participants are encouraged to slow down, articulate questions, and find clarity. Leonard will host these readings today from noon until 5 p.m. at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. The tent will be set up on the museum's front lawn.

Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.

"There is a misconception that divination is supposed to be predictive in the same way science is, but it is about developing a culture relationship with something bigger than yourself," said Leonard.

In 15 minutes, Leonard may not have the end-all solution to climate change, but his tarot card readings mix the science of climate change with the emotions that the phenologies may trigger, whether that be fear or anxiety about what the future may look like, or hope and compassion. The first stage of the process begins with a question asked by the person receiving the reading (the querent) and then Leonard the diviner uses the cards to try and piece the puzzle together to answer the question.

In 2014, Leonard spent over 500 hours creating the "Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies," with the help of several assistants, including seniors from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. "The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies" tour began on June 26 of this year at The Center for Symbolic Studies in New Paltz, N.Y., and Brattleboro is Leonard's 21st out of 27 total scheduled tour stops, with additional academic talks to follow.

Ultimately, Leonard said it is difficult for him to pinpoint one ultimate goal for these climate-change divination readings, but he said as an artist he felt it was best to "start enacting the culture shift."

"Even if the majority of the human population is to disappear, human life will still continue. There will be people falling love, creating families, enjoying a good meal even if food is hard to come by, people mourning. The human experience will be changed but will still exist. We need to find a way toward culture that cannot just survive but thrive, and as an artist I felt I needed to contribute toward whatever that culture may be."

Leonard noted that he has had a range of questions thrown his way through these readings. He recalled one gentleman who was engaged and was planning to join the Coast Guard who noted his fear that storms have become increasingly worse. In addition, the young man noted his fear of experiencing post traumatic stress disorder from the job, asking questions such as how will he feel when the time comes when he is supposed to rescue six people, but can only grab four.

Leonard said it's not only best to come prepared with a question or point of concern, but also an open mind.

" I will ask that they suspend disbelief for a little bit; it is set up like theater but for one person," said Leonard.

This experience is an environment designed for contemplation. Leonard notes that deep questions and such may be thrown around if sitting around having beers with friends, but his tent is more of a "ritual space, where storytelling is surrendered to the tools."

He added that much public dialogue is given over to debate, but the divination readings offer more open and shared imagination.

Interested persons can find Leonard along with his assistant, Molly Gallentine, of Jersey City, in Brattleboro on Aug. 27 from noon until 5 p.m. at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. The tent will be set up on the museum's front lawn, where Leonard will give free, private, climate-change divination readings, each one lasting about 15 minutes. Readings will be scheduled in 15-minute increments on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information about Leonard visit his website,

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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