Artist Mary Heebner assembling prayer flags. | Credit: Macduff Everton

Inspired by a combination of her travels, concern for the planet, and reflections during the recent pandemic, multimedia artist Mary Heebner’s new exhibition, Prayer Flags & a Tale of Longing, is on view at the Architectural Foundation Gallery from September 10 to November 5, with an opening reception on Friday, September 9, from 5-7 p.m.

Discussing the inspiration for her book, Prayer Flags & A Tale of Longing, Heebner said it came in the midst of the COVID pandemic. “This prolonged period of distress is also a time of reflection, perhaps of hope. Mother Earth is certainly taking a breather, as we suffer our losses and envision how best to move forward, as it becomes unavoidably clear that this whole world is connected, is one, and that there is no return to what we called ‘normal’ — only a move forward, with eyes wide open, somewhat together.”

Mary Heebner’s two-sided prayer flags | Credit: Macduff Everton

Heebner’s daughter Sienna Craig, an anthropologist whose work focuses on culturally Tibetan areas in Mustang, Nepal, and abroad, taught her that the colors in traditional Tibetan prayer flags refer to each of the five elements — yellow for earth, green for air, red for fire, white for water, and blue for aether. “So I set about writing my own prayers to those elements as I reflected on them during this era of global warming, climate change, environmental distress, extinctions, and social migration.”

The Artist at work. | Credit: Macduff Everton

The exhibition consists of Heebner’s two-sided prayer flags; a spiral-bound artist’s book, Prayer Flags & A Tale of Longing; and a booklet, Elemental Offerings — all of which originated with Heebner’s travels to India to see how prayer flags were made. 

Prayer Flags & A Tale of Longing, a limited-edition book, is handwritten in cursive (“I wrote and rewrote the text dozens of times before I could get a nearly perfect page. I felt like a monk!” said Heebner) and printed on letterpress, with hand-painted, foil-stamped covers. “This story is derived from journal notes I made in 1993 during a trip to Sikkim, an Indian state bordering Bhutan, Tibet, and Nepal, and specifically to Rumtek Monastery. Upon reviewing my notes in 2019, I realized that they told a tale about longing. What are we longing for when we encounter another’s culture and other ways of being in the world? What do we expect from the experience, and why?” said Heebner. 

The tales’ accompanying prayer flags are presented together as a set in a ribboned cotton pouch inside an acrylic sleeve. The booklet, Elemental Offerings, contains Heebner’s five prayers to the elements, printed digitally, accompanied by a colorful set of five cotton flags, and placed in a cotton pouch. 

Heebner’s artworks are held in numerous public and private collections, including the Santa Barbara and San Francisco Museums of Art, the U.S. Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art, the New York Public Library, and UCSB’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum, as well as its Special Collections Library.

The Architectural Foundation Gallery (229 E. Victoria St.) hours are Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, visit

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