Rinne Allen, longtime friend and current collaborator, adopted the phrase “permission to wander” several years ago from her friend, artist Hope Hilton and Hope’s work. As Rinne told The Bitter Southerner, “I think many of us don’t allow ourselves idle time … permission to be idle. We think we have to fill most every hour with productivity. Deciding to give myself permission to wander — without a set outcome, destination, or expectation — has been a turning point in my creative process and in my role as a mother of young children. It is now a vital part of my seasonal rhythm. I take time every few months to step away and just be quiet, and I come back feeling full … of ideas and inspiration, but also like my tank is full … ready for whatever comes next.”
Hope’s work, Walks, is featured in our Permission to Wander collection. Walks is a meditation of sorts. The ideas inspire movement, participation, and stillness. In this special edition, Hope also shares 20 individual “Walks for Alabama” written in homemade ink on cotton paper. No two are alike.
Hope is an artist, educator, and artistic curator who focuses on experiential spaces and centers her work on what she calls, “responsive facilitation.” Advocating active participation in art, combined with self-reflection, she seeks to inspire engagement with the world as a space for learning. Hope’s art encourages inner work, but also invites collaboration as part of a collective, creating experiences that bring people together.
Walks by Hope Hilton
Much of Hope’s work has been centered around the concept of self-exploration through some form of “wandering.” In 2007, she and her brother walked and hitchhiked a 60-mile memorial path, mirroring one that an enslaved person named Henry made to announce the birth of Hilton’s great-great-grandmother. That same year, she participated in a project at the University of Regina in Canada, “Open Engagement: Art After Aesthetic Distance.” She has made silent walks commemorating the Black Heritage Trail in Boston and walked through San Francisco, California, using only strangers’ directions for 30 days. For the past few years, she has been creating experiences through silent walks with others in various places across America. She says, “Not everyone loves silence like I do, so I’ve definitely taken walks with participants that had to really put in a huge effort (thanks, Dad) and participants who put forth no effort. The walks are not documented as it’s very important to me that attention is paid. It’s impossible to determine or have a scale of success. Every walk I make is a success just because it happens.”
For Hope, she approaches her creative process as “slow art,” in reference to the idea of “slow food.” She says that her studio is “everywhere”, and part of her approach to work means slowing down and spending time with nature. An element of her work as a southerner and an artist in the South has been investigating her family’s history and, particularly, their past as owners of enslaved peoples. “The Recognitions” has several elements: photography of her family’s home, a study of plants used as medicine by those who were enslaved, and recreations of paths traveled, and spaces inhabited by the enslaved. One part of the project, “The Recognitions: Mrs. Harriet Powers, Bible Quilt” recreates in paper a quilt (now housed in the Smithsonian) crafted by a formerly enslaved woman who lived in Hope’s hometown of Winterville, Georgia.
Hope has often quoted writer and activist Lucy Lippard, from On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art, and Place: “Travel is the only context in which some people ever look around. If we spent half the energy looking at our own neighborhoods, we’d probably learn twice as much.” Part of Hope’s work aims to create a sense of place, highlight connections to history, and inspire “permission to wander.”