Creating His Own Mythology

Ryan Converse

In Ryan Converse's hands, Evergreen's moss woods have been transformed into a work of art enlivened by fantastical beings and his unique vision of the landscape.

That vision, he says, "is a synthesis of all my learning at Evergreen." A senior who hails from Pullman, Wash., Converse parlayed the knowledge he gained from programs covering comparative mythology, aesthetic philosophy, storytelling and film theory into a multimedia project documenting the natural surroundings of his home in Olympia.

With the support of a Foundation Activity Grant, made possible by donations to Evergreen's Annual Fund, he was able to finish a short film he developed called "In the Valley of the Leafling." The film—which was shot in various locations on campus—reveals a modern mythology of place, one he conjured from the Cascadian wilderness of the south Puget Sound area.

Ryan ConverseHis main characters, a cast of whimsical woodland creatures, are embodied by the elaborate wearable sculptures he fabricated from clay, liquid latex, faux fur and other materials. Wild and woolly, green and leafy, they move through a world imbued with what Converse calls his "act of mythopoeia," a self-created synthesis of various traditional archetypes, imagination and a sense of place. "These woods have a lot of meaning for me," he says. "The film was a way for me to actively explore and understand my place here."

To produce the film, Converse assembled not only the handcrafted masks and costumes that spring to life on screen, but also a team of a dozen volunteers— actors, musicians, photographers and others—who collaborated on the project, which he scripted and filmed for his Mediaworks program. His activity grant helped him purchase some of the materials he used to construct the creatures and props, as well as buy and process the 16mm film he shot for the 12-minute movie. The finished product represents nearly a year’s worth of work. Converse, who is always surrounded by creative projects in various stages of completion, says he could not have completed the film in the way he envisioned without the activity grant.

"In the Valley of the Leafling" has been shown to audiences at the Olympia Film Festival and in Seattle. To complement the film, Converse is producing an accompanying narrative photo book that he hopes will be published by an arts press in Portland. Both the film and the book are part of a larger multimedia project he has christened "The Golden Antler."

This work is the manifestation of Converse’s artistic and academic journey, one which he says gave him the tools to not only "transform ideas into more tangible objects," but also to "bring new layers to ideas." It is also a portal into his creative spirit, where wild things emerge from sketches into 3D pieces that are set free to inspire others.