A Vision in Pajamas AVAM's all-woman Great Mother Goddess sleepover was a feast for the senses, with mysticism, mammograms and massage thrown in for good measure.


The Goddess of Short Fuses cannot abide delays.

Do you know what it's like to be late for the very first Great Mother Goddess Pre-Millennium Sleepover and get caught in Ravens traffic? Out of the way, you baseball-capped thug in your sports utility vehicle!

This is not your usual stand-up-and-starve gala at the Sheraton. This is a lavish Left Coast experience at the American Visionary Art Museum. It's a night of spiritualism and shopping. Guests will wear floral garlands, listen to Sufi music, confer with psychics, munch on Mediterranean chicken, beautify their hands with hot paraffin wax and bid on wearable art.

Intended to raise operating funds for the museum, the all-woman, $250-per-person event would gather roughly 180 artists, social workers, teachers, volunteers, physicians, attorneys and free spirits to spend Sunday night celebrating the singular visions of untrained artists and the single-minded vision of AVAM founder Rebecca Hoffberger.

The Goddess of Incredulity gapes when she enters the museum's tented courtyard. Rose petals are scattered throughout. At the registration table, women toting pillows and carpet bags accept wreaths woven with roses and leaves. Goddesses, young and old, craggy and unblemished, greet one another and ponder when to sign up for the tarot cards and when to go for the facial. A woman in Riviera-sleek shades and a vintage gown brandishes a fish net and announces herself as the Goddess of Pfiesteria. Other women in flannel pajamas pad around the chilly courtyard, light sticks dangling from their necks.

A trail of rose petals leads to a wooden wedding altar created by British visionary artist Ben Wilson. For now, the structure has been transformed into a traditional Jewish harvest shelter, with eggplants, peppers, plantains and other forms of produce.

The women thumbtack blessings to the wall. Some are pre-printed messages such as, "May the Source of Everything Who brings light into our hearts give us faith to wander into the unknown." Others are written by hand: "Thank you for my mother; keep her strong and well."

Hostess Hoffberger, wearing a floor-length black Mexican peasant dress, her long strawberry blond hair loose, presents homeless advocate Bea Gaddy with the "First Mother Goddess Life-Time Achievement Award" for her work in East Baltimore. A series of speakers zig-zag though topics including civic responsibility, the ancient meaning of the goddess, women's health and Cherokee spiritualism.

Throughout the evening, such sudden leaps can set one's mind reeling: A discussion about the homeless can seamlessly segue into the benefits of aromas like sandalwood and ylang ylang.

And there are times when the Goddess of Skepticism just has to chuckle, quietly: Autoharp vibration therapy? The ministry of menstruation?

Luckily, some of the visions at this fund-raiser are sublimely traditional: Chocolate chip cookies and milk.

"The city has never seen anything like this," proclaims Baltimore States Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

True enough. But if Hoffberger had allowed the Goddess of Conventional Wisdom to prevail, this place wouldn't exist at all.

"This whole museum seemed an impossible thing to do, but it was done because somebody had a vision and the tenacity to make sure that it happened," said attorney Susan Leviton, founder of Advocates for Children and Youth. "A lot of times people think women can't do this sort of thing; Rebecca and the museum really stand for the fact that they can."

"Rebecca makes it exciting, Rebecca makes it engaging," guest speaker Sen. Barbara Mikulski says, punching her fist in the air.

By the time the Goddess of the Buffet arrives at the Great Goddess Feast (immediately following the parade around the outside of the museum) the crepe line stretches almost into the next millennium. Guests wend their way through a spread of delectables that includes curried chicken, dark, chunky tapenade, crabmeat, mussels, foccacia and fresh strawberries supplied by local catering deity Sascha Wolhandler.

After refreshments, it's on to the great corridor of massage, where women queue for the chance to shed their party clothes. One woman even abandons a pre-Raphaelite red wig and strips down to a leotard for a rejuvenating rubdown. Another, seeking more youthful-looking hands, dips them in melted paraffin, then lets them toast in electric mitts.

Conversations are conducted in a sort of code:

"Hi! What have you had done?" one participant asks a friend.

"A little Reiki," she answers.

Upstairs, in the hatha yoga area, women stretch and hum in sweatsuits and flannel PJs. The card and palm readers huddle with clients; they are quickly booked through the night.

Angel medium Jayne Howard of Upperco offers vibrating prayer-songs, which she plays by placing her autoharp against a visitor's chest.

"Angels are cosmic cheerleaders. ... They're here to motivate us and encourage us and uplift us in many ways," she says. "You don't have to believe, but as you open up to other realities and dimensions, there are parts of yourself that you're opening up to."

A cruise through the museum's current show of apocalyptic visions produces a memorable fusion of art and artist: a meditative musician playing the sitar under a colorful triptych of the zodiac that spreads above him like wings. "Harold and Maude," the quintessential outsider movie, is playing in the all-night movie gallery, where a popcorn machine offers all you can eat.

There are mammograms and mehndi (Indian body painting). Hair dos and don'ts. There is a silent auction of items ranging from movie passes to an Afghani prayer rug. And to keep the energy flowing, there's a 3 a.m. sock hop with recordings by those Goddesses of Motown, The Supremes.

As early morning arrives, some guests actually do slumber, cat-napping on movers' blankets and bedding donated by Land's End. Others giddy with no sleep chatter and wait for breakfast.

By 6: 30 a.m. the day is dawning, purply mauve. About 60 women drink coffee, nibble pastries channel the Goddess of Gab. Soon they will participate in a sunrise ceremony led by women drummers.

By this time, the wreaths are looking a little wilted, as are those who wear them. Hoffberger still scurries about. It's time to bid farewell to her friends and release their energy into the bracing morning air. Bull sessions and makeup lessons are all well and good, but this morning, AVAM's Goddess of Slumber Parties must yield to the Goddess of Down to Business, and fine tune her strategy for raising money on the Home Shopping Network.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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