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Department of Art

Give and Take: Three BYU Professors Publish Book on Art and Motherhood

Tara Carpenter Estrada, Katie Palfreyman and Hilary Wolfley Co-Edited New Book “Give and Take: Motherhood and Creative Practice,” Published in March 2024

Photo Courtesy of Demeter Press

Is it possible to be a practicing artist and a mother? Many assume that an artist must sacrifice family life in pursuit of a successful career. In their new book, “Give and Take: Motherhood and Creative Practice,” BYU faculty members Tara Carpenter Estrada, Katie Palfreyman and Hilary Wolfley aim to counter this myth with firsthand accounts of artist mothers across a variety of disciplines.

Made up of 33 essays, contextualized by research and writing from the editors, “Give and Take” acknowledges the fundamental challenges of motherhood and the time and energy it can take away from pursuing creative work. “Creating a life that combines motherhood with art and teaching, while fulfilling, is also deeply challenging,” said the editors Estrada, Palfreyman and Wolfley. “We felt a need to learn from other women and share their stories.”

Each of the three editors teach in a different BYU academic area. Estrada, an associate professor of art education, focuses her research on the intersection of artists, teachers and mothers and how they navigate overlapping yet separate roles. She invited Palfreyman, a writer and adjunct faculty member in the English Department, and Wolfley, a choreographer and assistant teaching professor in the Department of Dance, to work with her on the book.

Although each of these women teach and create art in separate disciplines, their experiences as artists and mothers unites them and influences their work. All three noted that being a mother has changed their creative process. For Estrada, art has always been a necessary component of her life, regardless of her children’s ages. She said, “As they’ve grown, my art has changed and morphed—both to accommodate the constraints of my situations and in response to the relationships that I have with [my children].”

We felt a need to learn from other women and share their stories

Wolfley uses the physical experience of having and raising children to influence her artistic work. The creative process of motherhood informs the creative processes in dance and expression through movement. “I’ve had the privilege and challenge of growing, birthing and raising three babies while engaged in processes of choreographing, writing and dancing,” she said. “Because these endeavors use the body to express ideas, I often consider the physical, mental and emotional effects of bearing and rearing children and how that informs, changes and inspires movement creation.

Palfreyman knows firsthand how hard it can be to keep up creative practice once children enter the picture. She compares her writing to Christmas lights, packed away in a box and when pulled out again, only half of the lights turn on. “It’s hard to write regularly when most of your brain and much of your day is spent caring for others,” she said. “I’ve found that when I prioritize writing—even if just for a few hours each week on Fridays—my creative lights continue to burn, and this makes me happy.”

Estrada and Wolfley agree that the day-to-day act of motherhood is reflected in their art. Estrada considers how interactions with her family could become visual imagery, while Wolfley has learned to embrace the “messy unknown” of both the creative and child-rearing processes. All three women say that they rely on the Spirit to guide their motherhood and art.

The editors hope to offer insight, inspiration and ideas to mothers and mothers-to-be who wish to continue their artistic endeavors. Wolfley hopes that by talking more about different mother/artist experiences, more people can feel seen and the unattainable societal expectations of mothers can shift to expand the possibilities of motherhood and creativity. Estrada shares a similar sentiment: “I hope that seeing the broad range of experiences will help readers not only see themselves in the work, but also see possibilities that they may not have considered.”

Palfreyman hopes that readers can recognize and honor the divine, Godlike creativity everyone has inside. “Learning requires two things that most moms have in short supply: time and space. Our book hopefully shows moms how to claim time and space to learn, experiment, craft, paint, write, stitch, dance, explore,” said Palfreyman. “More importantly, we hope our book inspires moms to assert their divine right to learn and develop their talents right alongside their spouses and children. The Spirit can help each one of us figure out how to do this.”

From Left to Right: Katie Palfreyman, Tara Carpenter Estrada, Hilary Wolfley
Photo by Lillie Sakai, CFAC External Relations