Mary Coffey is an artist who explores spirituality through creative expression. This is her first installment in a 4-part series as Artist Strong’s Artist in Residence. You see the art as she creates on Instagram @artful_spirituality. Visit her website and subscribe to Studio Updates at

The Crone Project with Mary Coffey

Thank you to Carrie at Artist Strong for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be an artist-in-residence and the gentle nudge to blog weekly instead of every once in a while!

Over the next four weeks, I will be sharing with you two things. First: I’ll be sharing with you a behind-the-scenes unfolding of my new Crone Project. I will not finish the project by the end of my artist residence in November, but I invite you to join my newsletter so you can continue to follow me on the journey!

Second, I’ll share the stages in my creative practice as taught to me by the fabulous Connie Solera in her Ignite Teacher Training Program. These stages aren’t linear and as you’ll see, I spend much more time (too much time?) in some of the stages than others, primarily because of the kind of artist I am. Your results may vary.


I am on a mission to redefine the word “crone.” That is what I hope this project accomplishes. 

What is a “crone?”  The dictionaries define a “crone” as an unpleasant or  ugly, old woman. Who would want to identify with that definition? I turned 65 last month, so I definitely identify as “old” though hopefully not terribly unpleasant.  

In our society, old women are invisible and disposable. Although we are urged to keep striving for that elusive fountain of youth with products, potions, and starvation diets, we are dismissed as useless because we no longer reproduce to keep the species alive. What value can we provide? There are valid answers to be found in other cultures and even in parts of the animal kingdom where old females are revered for their wisdom; not so much in American culture.

The Triple Goddess of ancient mythologies includes the Crone as one of the goddess archetypes along with the Maiden and the Mother. She is represented in mythic lore as the goddess Hecate, the older wiser woman with the alchemical power to transform the trials of life, grief and sorrow into the gold of wisdom.

An acrylic and collage image of Mother Teresa with her quote "We are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful."

Here is an example of where this could go. I painted this picture of Mother Teresa a while back along with a favorite quote of hers

While too many institutionalized religions silence and erase women from their sacred texts, the Bible reveals a strong feminine divine presence in the Wisdom Tradition. Hidden in plain sight, the books of Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon portray the wisdom of God as the female Hagia Sophia. Sophia’s characteristics include gracious goodness, life-giving creativity, and a passion for justice. Present with God since the creation of the world, Sophia is a healer, a comforter, and a messenger of truth, perception, and guidance. 

My interest in this project has ebbed and flowed for years, but caught fire when I read a series of compelling Facebook posts on the “witch craze” by Perdita Finn. She points out that there is very little awareness of what actually happened, about how pervasive and extensive the killings were, and that there is almost no public commemoration or sorrow around the innocent lives lost to such fearful hysteria. The majority of victims were women, especially poor and elderly women. Her post of October 19th called “Season of the Witch part two” invites us to respond to the egregious treatment of old women by talking to them and listening to their stories. “Even now they have within them what we need going forward.” 

My soul resonated with this invitation, realizing the importance of telling their stories to validate their existence, capture their hard-earned wisdom, and record for posterity that they were here. The Crone Project is my response to that invitation.

I want to paint older women in all their dignified, glorious beauty, and record the stories of their strength, courage and wisdom. By collecting the portraits and stories of wise old women, I will make the invisible, visible. I will tell the world that old crones do indeed have something to offer, things that this world desperately needs: the intuitive, nurturing, compassionate wisdom of women. 

Photograph and pencil sketch of author's mother

One of the wisest people I know – my mother!

And that is something to celebrate!

Now that the inspiration for this project has taken shape, let’s begin to witness its unfolding. My creative process consists of five stages. This week I invite you into what is for me the first and longest stage:


Whether it is inspiration, reference photos, or learning new techniques, I need to gather certain (potentially endless) information to create a piece of art. I spend a lot of time in this phase for a couple of reasons.  

  • I am a “mind-centered” artist, as opposed to a “body-centered” artist or a “heart-centered” artist, so I tend to spend a lot of time in my head, thinking through various angles of the project or piece I am considering.
  • I am also a life-long learner so I love to gather on-line art classes (notice that I did not say that I actually complete them!), new books about a topic or technique, of course new supplies (I know I’m not alone here) and reference photos. I enjoy painting faces, many of which you can see here, so I am always looking for reference photos of intriguing faces for future paintings. 
  • Plus, I have spent years gathering information – I am really good at it! Thus there is very little risk in the act of gathering. We’ll get to risky behavior in the creating stage.

So I am beginning my project by gathering a list of women who I consider “crones” in the best sense of the word! I will gather images of these wise women and start sketching them out. I also need to figure out some technical pieces, securing their permission for inclusion into the project, arranging for interviewing the women (those who are still living), probably on Zoom, and exploring options for what the final project will look like. 

Join me next week for the next stages of the creative process: document and create!

If you are interested in joining a community of Wise Souls who are looking for a safe space to raise questions and explore your spiritual journey since leaving institutionalized religion, please email me at and I will add you to our circle!  We are having our first gathering on Thursday, November 17th at 7:00pm eastern.

Every month, 1-3 artists show up in our Artist Strong community to share their artistic process, journey, explorations with us over the course of a month.

The goal is to normalize the MANY, VARIED experiences of being an artist.

And if YOU  want to apply to be an Artist Strong Artist Resident, subscribe to our weekly updates to hear about the next time applications are open.