The Story of a Painting by
Danish Artist Tina Kragh Rusfort
In 1993, I spent a few months in Copenhagen. By then my friend Tina had moved out of the ashram and was living in a seaside cottage in Snekkersten. The town was once a fishing village, just south of Helsingør, called Elsinore in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Tina and I had arranged for me to visit her in Snekkersten, and for a reason that is beyond me, I decided to walk there from the center of Copenhagen—about 25 miles along Øresund, the sound in the Baltic Sea that separates Sweden and Denmark. The sea sparkled deep blue, and I passed commercial harbors, enormous villas, and beaches peopled by sunbathers.
I was pretty much flat-out when I reached Tina’s cottage just in time for supper. Over the mantel in her living room hung the painting you see here. It was the first thing I saw after we greeted each other, and I was helplessly drawn into the circle with the dancing figures. I wanted to live with this painting.
Tina told me the painting had been born from a dream. “In the dream, I was standing in front of a huge hilltop. I climbed to the top and then suddenly found myself on the other side, at the edge of an expanse of clear blue water. It was so clear that I could see the sandy bottom, small pebbles and water plants. Nobody else was there. I realized that if I bathed there, I would be alone, and that bothered me. I climbed back to the hilltop and went to the landscape on the other side, to the sea there. Across the sea there was another stretch of land with buildings—a manmade landscape. On my side was the forest, and in front of me a dock, which people dove from when they bathed there. It wasn’t possible there to see the bottom or if any people were in the water. The water was deep blue and green and black, and there were little movements on the surface of the sea. I was aware that I would be out of my depth, but I jumped anyway. The water received me like a cradle, and people under the water danced with me. I felt the joy of weightlessness and trust as they supported me in the dance with light movements, so I could stay at the same level with them without any effort. It was sheer joy.”
The long summer dusk surrounded Tina and me, and we sipped red wine and broke bread and ate food that Tina had made with meaning. She told me what the dream meant to her. “I had this dream before I moved to Helsingør,” she said.
Helsingør was where Tina had moved first after the ashram, which meant she’d still been living in the ashram when she had the dream. “I had the dream before I’d even thought about moving, but the landscape on the left side of the painting looks like Helsingør or Snekkersten to me, and the manmade landscape on the right looks like Helsingborg in Sweden. So I’ve always connected the dream with the choice of sharing myself and my visions and hopes with other people, which I did after I moved to Helsingør. That was a year after I painted the dream—out of the ashram and into another reality. I gave up a lot of security in order to live out my dream of a spiritual community.
“I didn’t find a spiritual community in physical form in Helsingør, but I certainly got closer to other people, trusted and allowed them to get closer to me, and became more honest with myself and others.”
We’d finished eating, and Tina suggested that we walk down to the beach where fishing boats had once tied up. As we listened to the waves lap, she said a few more words about the painting. “Being in the real world is what matters to me now that I have experienced that some dreams may not come true, such as my deep wish to have a baby.” This was before Tina gave birth to her son, when pregnancy seemed unlikely. “I don’t want to withdraw from Rudi and others because of the sorrow and the disappointment, but to stay here with all my feelings, sharing them and not abandoning them. This is the challenge I face this year.”
I spent that night in Snekkersten, and in the morning we ate bread and cheese and marmalade and drank strong coffee at a table outdoors. That was when I told Tina, “If you ever want to sell that painting, I want to buy it.” I didn’t expect it to happen, even though its energy drew me so powerfully, because it had such significance for Tina. But I thought it wouldn’t hurt to mention it.
Several years later, Tina visited me in Christianshavn, in Copenhagen. “I’m ready to sell the painting now, if you still want to buy it,” she said. She’d brought it with her, and I was surprised and thrilled. Almost immediately I realized there was a problem. The painting is approximately four feet by two and a half feet. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get it back to the US. Irene, my ex-partner and one of the most resourceful people I know, came to the rescue. “I’ll pack it and ship it for you after you leave,” she offered. And sure enough, wrapped to withstand a hurricane, it arrived whole in New Mexico a few months later.
Tina had named the painting “Spiritual Water,” and it hangs in pride of place in my living room. I look at it with deep pleasure every day. After Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living was published, a friend and colleague, Diane Schmidt, interviewed me for The Gallup Independent about the writing of the book . She took a photo of me sitting on the couch beneath the painting. A few days later she called me, her voice tinged with excitement. “Have you noticed,” she asked, “that there’s a Star of David right in the center, among the dancing figures?” I should mention here, that Diane has a keen eye for things hidden, for messages from the Universe in places that others miss.
I had never noticed it, but I took a close look, and sure enough, ever so subtle, nevertheless clear, a Star of David shone a little to the right of center among the dancers. My arms and neck prickled, and I told Diane, who is Jewish, that the body of water portrayed in the painting is of the sound over which the Danes ferried the Danish Jews to safety in neutral Sweden during the Nazi occupation. I checked with Tina then, and she was completely unaware of the star’s presence in the painting. This is one of those powerful times when the subconscious makes the art—dream, unbeknownst star, life’s realities. Sheer beauty. Sheer joy.