Photo by Joe Del Tufo
While navigating postpartum depression, Veronica ‘Vero’ Chandler turned to painting—and a sacred Pueblo doll—to heal.
Veronica Chandler knows what it feels like to desperately try to swim up from the depths of postpartum depression. It’s dark, it’s painful, it’s an unrelenting wave. “I completely lost who I was and didn’t know what was wrong with me,” Chandler says. “I couldn’t remember me anymore. I remember most days thinking, I just can’t do this. I was overwhelmed and crying every day.”
Chandler says she began healing with the help of an “incredible team” at ChristianaCare. But she also worked through the pain by embracing—and then painting—a certain subject.
Not long after the birth of her daughter in 2018, Chandler, still navigating postpartum, was on a trip to Arizona when she discovered kachina dolls. “Before that trip, I felt like an empty vessel,” she recalls. “But after I discovered the kachina, I began to slowly fill up.”
A kachina is a sacred ancestral spirit in the mythology of the indigenous Pueblo people, Native Americans from the Southwestern United States.
“In the kachina I saw representations of healing, blessings from a higher power, a connection to nature and Mother Earth, and a portrayal of the strength and empowerment of women,” explains Chandler, who grew up in an Incan/Catholic household in Quito, Ecuador. “I also felt a bond to my native country, where the indigenous people there are such a large part of the national culture and conversation.”
Stumbling upon kachinas also awoke in Chandler a dormant passion for art, which she began studying as a 17-year-old but left behind after a graphic design career didn’t leave her feeling fulfilled.
At first, she started doing “deep mediation doodling,” she says. “I couldn’t believe what I started to feel: joy; escape. I could breathe. No panic attacks, no chest pain.”
Doodling soon gave way to a kachina series, and not a moment too soon. “I told my doctors in early 2020, I think it’s time for me to graduate,” Chandler says. “I was feeling great. And then the pandemic hit. And it was like…now I’m hiding in a closet from my children, trying to cope all over again.”
Chandler has continued the series of paintings—which garnered notice and were shared by Vogue—and even opens her home up to other mothers struggling with PPD. Together they paint, they talk and they feel the things they need to feel. “It’s about love of self,” Chandler says. “That’s what we’re trying to get back to.”
The paintings themselves are a fever dream of Native symbols, geometric dazzle, vibrant color, raw energy and rotund pregnant bellies.
Many are on display in the women’s health building at ChristianaCare. “My care team are some of my best buyers,” Chandler says.
“I look to incorporate many of the native symbols of healing, harmony, blessings and nature,” says Chandler, who might paint a cresting wave across a woman’s face or etch a delicate crescent moon across a collarbone.
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“Women are power, and women are deeply connected to the earth,” she adds. “My art is about our femininity, our divinity. We are all goddesses. Our biggest enemy is our own mind. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m so glad I had my journey. If it weren’t for that darkness, I wouldn’t be here with the light.”
To view Chandler’s paintings, visit @kachina-mami on Instagram.