The Making of Vía Láctea

In Ellen Waterston’s verse novel Vía Lactéa: A Woman of a Certain Age Walks the Camino, launched November 15, 2013 by Atelier 6000, the reader joins peregrina (pilgrim) as she walks her way to unexpected answers to many of life’s questions along the ancient pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. In this fictionalized accounting, the peregrina finds herself not only in conflict with herself, but also implicated in a battle between a caricature of the Catholic church and Camino Woman. The many real and imagined characters met along the Way, the variety of voices, poetic styles and forms, make this collection a provocative and lively promenade. 

And just who is Camino Woman?

Waterston states: “It was never my intention to write about my experience, but when I got back to Oregon and was sorting through brochures and mementos of the trip, I stumbled on a map of the ten Camino routes that converge in Santiago. What jumped out at me, looking at that small map, was the stick figure outline of a woman leaping. In that moment Camino Woman was born in my imagination and she wouldn’t let me go. She insisted on being written. Fleshing out her fictional character, as the embodiment of all holy women marginalized by patriarchal religions, allowed me to then create and incorporate other characters.”

And the origin of the title?

The Camino de Santiago is sometimes referred to as the Vía Lactéa, a reference to the fact that the Milky Way is always overhead when walking the Camino. This observation by early day pilgrims inspired the legend that the Milky Way was formed by the dust kicked up by pilgrims’ feet.

The Creation of the Art Book

The collaboration between writer, artist, typographers and book designers has resulted in an elegant, limited edition art book of Vía Láctea featuring 15 original hand‐pulled engravings by artist/illustrator Ron Schultz.

Ron Schultz’s engravings, lithographs and etchings have been exhibited extensively in California and Oregon and are included in many private collections. He has also worked as a book illustrator, landscape designer, technical illustrator, and graphic artist. In earlier years, he was involved in the many aspects of the book business, from publishing to retail. He currently instructs printmaking at Atelier 6000 in Bend.

The book artist draws from a wide range of book structures including scrolls, fold-outs, concertinas or loose items contained in a box, as well as bound books and re-purposed books known as altered books. Combining literature with book sculpture, taking a book and retranslating the pages into form, morphing the traditional outward appearance expands the tradition of the handmade book.

In addition to Ron Schultz’s outstanding print work, the elaborate faux leather book binding and the design and hand set typography by Thomas Osborne of Bend and Sandy Tilcock of Eugene, Oregon make the limited edition of Vía Láctea an exquisite example of the book as fine art.

Atelier 6000 is a nonprofit working studio specializing in original prints and books arts. Located in Bend, Oregon’s Old Mill District, Atelier 6000 has been in operation since 2007. The studio is dedicated to advancing printmaking and book arts as contemporary art forms. Support from private foundations, corporate giving programs, government programs, and generous individuals helps make the publication of Atelier 6000’s books possible.

Praise for Vía Láctea

Many pilgrims who walk the Camino reach some form of new understanding of their life and its direction. A fair proportion of these wish to share their insights but words don’t lend themselves easily to describe the inner workings of the soul. Great sensitivity is required and this is where Vía Láctea bridges the gap so skillfully between the sacred and the mundane. Vía Láctea should be in everyone’s backpack, or at least on their bookshelf.
— John Brierley, author of premier guides to the Camino including A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago
I greatly valued you before, having read [Then There Was] No Mountain with its searing honesty. I love you now, having read Vía Láctea. Why? I can only offer a meager account: I know a real person; I know a real journey; and I know the raggedy tangle-tango dance with the joy and horror of it all when I see it. So how can I not?
— James Hollis, Jungian analyst and author of numerous titles including What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life
I’ve just read Vía Láctea and wanted to send you a Brava! I was immersed in the story, on all its levels, and delighted by the poetry. I love the way you have combined the droll, the wondrous, the profound and the daily. I appreciated the variety of formal structure and the brazen feminism that runs through it, neither common these days.
— Ruth Gundle, Professor, Department of English Literature & Writing, Marylhurst University; Former Director, Soapstone writing retreat; Co-founder, Flight of the Mind Writing Workshops
Ellen Waterston is our guide, our pilgrim, our compass through these beautiful and human poems. One feels as if you are walking next to the poet, your heart full— the sky all starlight.”
— Matthew Dickman, the author of All-American Poem, Mayakovsky's Revolver, and co-author of 50 American Plays
‘We all walk endlessly,’ states the peregrina, the seeker whose voice begins and ends this Chaucerian tale told in an impressive array of forms. Ellen Waterston calls on many voices to recount a Camino pilgrimage—voices that offer wit and satire, voices that prickle with gritty observation, voices profane and sacred. One is the embodiment of the female principle. In place of the archetypal Cosmic Man who contains all men, the poet gives her readers Camino Woman, an entity composed from countless women pilgrims—those too long discounted by patriarchal orthodoxy. Another notable voice, the compassionate hospitalero, urges the peregrina to “…listen to the language of your prayers.” And the peregrina—in Vía Láctea’s final poem— responds: “Asking/help from a distant deity/is a waste of time. Prayer/is a reporting, a telling…” Indeed, Waterston tells her tale eloquently by speaking to us in the language of poems.
— Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate and author of Understory
This book is a story told through a number of poetic forms that seamlessly carried me along the Camino de Santiago. The narrative pulls readers along, yet the poetry insists that they linger with the music of words and the often-surprising images. In a time when paths and “old ways” are the subject of much writing, Ellen Waterston has found an entirely new way to record her footsteps as they seek out a new direction in her modern life, even while following old traditions. A free-thinker, she is respectful but independent of the Catholicism all around her; honest about her own lack of clarity, she is able to find humor as well as pain in the sometimes grueling task of putting one blistered foot in front of the other. Those who don’t usually seek out poetry will find this a compelling read, while those who do will appreciate the craft and creative innovation.
— Judith Barrington, author of three volumes of poetry. A fourth, The Conversation, is forthcoming in 2015
In this original and mesmerizing work, we join with author and poet Ellen Waterston in a dance chiaroscuro, spiraling heavenward, stirring the dust of the pilgrim’s path on the Camino de Santiago. This stunning collection of poetic forms rhythmically and lyrically, give movement to this fine work of art and reflection of a seeker for whom there is no cure except to walk. By embarking on this literary and spiritual path before you, the Vía Lactéa, you too consent to undergo the three stages of the camino itself: exhilaration, pain, surrender. With enviable and original skill Waterston articulates in image and form, shade and light, insight and honesty a way that itself is a means of ”illuminating the raven abyss.” Her journey at once destined and random is “exposed to more and more light”; so is the way when we walk in time with our life.
— Marianne Borg, a retired Episcopal priest and founding director of The Center for Spiritual Development, an outreach educational ministry of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland Oregon. After 18 years at the Cathedral she recently retired to Central Oregon where she continues her ministry of spiritual formation, teaching, leading retreats and pilgrimage