“The conference during which this exhibition takes place, Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Cross Borders and Boundaries, invited presenters to consider border and boundary crossings in terms of ethnic and religious heritage, gender and sexual identity, geographic borders, private and public spaces, or disciplinary expression. The artists included in this exhibition most often cross lines in order to experiment and question, to make statements, or to think back through time.”
Artists in the exhibit included: Teresa Braun, Jen Dyck, Kandis Friesen, Jayne Holsinger, Jerry Holsopple, Mary Lou Weaver Houser, Gesine Janzen, Lora Jost, Audra Miller, Jennifer Miller, Teresa Pankratz, Jessie Pohl, and Karen Reimer.
“Does This Make Sense?” is a ballpoint pen drawing on clayboard (18″ x 14″) that I recently completed for an exhibition in conjunction with next summer’s conference, Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Encounter Borders and Boundaries, at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA, June 22-25, 2017. Rachel Epp Buller, Associate Professor of Visual Arts and Design at Bethel College in N. Newton, KS, will curate the exhibit.
This piece includes words that have personal meaning for me about critical thinking. Borders between cultures, between different ways of thinking, between different sets of values, even between groups within a shared culture offer both a dividing line and, if we can look across these borders, the possibility of thinking critically about the ideas on each side of the line. And I am of course never fully on one side of the line or the other at any given time; these borders are permeable. Who I am is formed out of ideas and values from my Mennonite heritage and from my experiences and commitments in the wider world. When I think across borders I often find myself asking the important age-old question, “Does this make sense?” By looking both ways, I find new ways to engage my commitment to decency and peace.
Animals–mostly birds but other critters too–have taken up residence in my art for many years. I didn’t exactly invite them. Like squirrels drawn to my bird feeder, I don’t recall intending to focus on critters but they have been drawn into my art. And yet I did put up the feeder, and I did create these images, and so of course I invited them. Birds, frogs, cats, cicadas, squirrels and other critters are with us in life and so too in my art. In Steamed (2011), a squirrel chatters noisily like so many colicky babies (or whistling teakettles), clamoring for attention. In Stir (2010), birds with human legs spring forth to dance or fly. And in Composition With Goose (2009), a calm cat and a very wound-up goose hold forth and argue.
But more recently, in the past half-year or so, I’ve changed a little. I am thinking more intentionally about critters, my relationship to them, and the impact of human activity and climate change on them. I think of my pictures as a stage and the animals and people in them as characters playing a part. But instead of using birds or squirrels to tell stories that are really about people, the critters I’m drawing now are playing the part of themselves and are part of the story. In Frog, My Friend, for example, a frog, a casualty of the South Lawrence Trafficway, is carried off by “Death.” Or maybe the frog is our pet frog that died because we just couldn’t take care of him right. Either way, the frog in this story is a frog. In Run!, a Prairie Chicken plays its own part, too, on the run from Death due to habitat destruction and Kansas politics. In Passenger Pigeon: Abstract Memory, a cloud of extinct Passenger Pigeons becomes abstract and fades from memory. In Robin, Been and Gone, a robin is depicted along with several robin-silhouettes, symbolizing presence and absence, a reminder of what pesticides can do to birds. These are of course my images for my very human purposes, too. But I hope that by thinking more about the role of animals in my work, I can remind viewers that we have a relationship with animals, and that this relationship is fragile.
Making work about the negative impact of humans on critters is a new direction in my art, the beginning of a
larger body of work. I was moved to think more about animals in the broadest sense of the word after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. Her book includes story after story of scientists worldwide documenting the process of animals becoming extinct because of human-caused global warming. Animals are leaving us now, and they are never coming back.
In my new work I am guided too by collaborating with my composer-friend Lynn Gumert, of Hightstown, NJ. Lynn and I have talked on the phone and we have exchanged emails, images, and sound. We are working together on loosely-related themes in our work, themes that include the impact of climate change on weather, animals, and us. Lynn is working on a series of related short saxophone quartet pieces, and eventually our work will be presented together. Her first notes to me depicted a river. Building on her compositions I am also playing with images of saxophones and literally drawing their “sound,” as in River Song. In this piece, a Mourning Dove plays a saxophone-river. This, too, is another experiment in visual storytelling.
Please join Karen Matheis and me for our two-person show at the Phoenix Underground, opening Final Friday, June 27, 2014, 5 – 9 pm, from June 27 – July 23 at the Phoenix Underground (825 Massachusetts, Lawrence, KS). I’ll show these works and others too, and almost all of them include animals.
Come see Declarations, a mixed-media on scratchboard piece at the opening reception for the exhibit “Make More Love!”
Final Friday, Jan. 31, 2014
5 – 9 pm
The Percolator is between 9th and 10th Streets and half a block east of New Hampshire St. It is in the alley behind the Lawrence Arts Center, Lawrence, KS.
UPDATE: Photos from the exhibit Working on the Bias
My artwork will be included in two forthcoming exhibits opening in February and March: Working on the Bias in Salina, Kansas, and Postpartum in El Dorado, Kansas. Both are projects of the Kansas branch of the Feminist Art Project.
Working on the Bias
151 S. Santa Fe, Salina, KS
Feb. 22 – Apr. 21, 2013
I decided to make a banner for this exhibit after re-visiting a book I found years ago at a library book-sale called Banners and Hangings: Design and Construction, by Norman Laliberte and Sterling McIlhany, published in 1966. The book was musty and plain with no dustcover, but the banners in it by renowned artist Norman Laliberte, and his banner-making process, were exciting and of their time in a good way.
I remember banners as a child growing up in the 1960′s and 70′s, some political and others religious. My mother taught me rudimentary embroidery and sewing skills back then too, and these were the basic skills that I brought to my banner project. The passing on of sewing skills from mother to daughter is relevant for Working on the Bias because the exhibit is framed as a feminist art show intended to link needlework and “identity”.
My banner’s themes also relate to my memory of the banners I saw in my youth because the words and images fall somewhere between political and spiritual, calling for action on climate change. The angel in my banner is both a mother and a farmer, and a blazing sun and cracked earth of a drought surround her. The text is a plea, but not to a spiritual being for help. Instead the plea is directed to our own better selves or better angels and reads: “It’s too hot!” and “It feels wrong.” And then, “Listen to our better angels, heed the warnings, and act!”
I learned from working on this banner that needlework, at least for a novice like me, takes time. After working on the piece for several hours a day for numberswiki.com
a number of weeks, I began to develop a repetitive motion injury and a badly strained back. It seemed a bit ridiculous to become injured by simply hand-sewing and yet why not? A friend whose mother is a quilter told me that this kind of injury is common among quilters. Think of our grandmother’s gnarled hands.
Rachel Epp Buller, regional coordinator of the Feminist Art Project, and Carolyn Wedel, director of the Watson Gallery in Salina, KS, are curating the exhibit. They will include artwork that explores gender and identity by either physically or conceptually incorporating stitched, embroidered, or woven elements. The exhibit will serve as an accompaniment to the nationally touring exhibit, A Complex Weave: Women and Identity in Contemporary Art, opening this month (February 2013) at the Salina Arts Center.
Erman B. White Gallery, Butler County Community College
901 S. Haverhill, El Dorado, KS
Mar. 1 – Apr. 5, 2013
Postpartum explores the postpartum experience of women through art, including such themes as the postpartum body and mind, the lactating body, maternal loss and grief, the reevaluation of family gender roles, and more. I will have two small scratchboard pieces in the exhibit: Steamed and Blessing.
I sometimes joke that even ten years after giving birth to my beautiful boy, I’m still processing his colic! Trying to console an inconsolable baby every evening for three months was stressful indeed, but in this piece I was considering a different kind of noise and stress. In Steamed (2011) the screaming baby, chattering squirrel, and steaming tea-pot are metaphors for what sometimes feel like a clamorous, confusing, out-of-control world crying out for attention and comfort — with a bit of whimsy thrown in, too.
When my son was a baby, I carried him around in a sling. When I was walking downtown on one of those days, a Native American man who seemed to be experiencing hard times or was maybe even homeless called out to me and said, “Don’t let those angel’s wings get scraped nowhere.” These words were a blessing for me, a reminder of the great responsibility that I was taking on as a new mother and a reminder that raising children really is the work of an entire community. I call the piece Blessing (2003).
Lately I’ve been investigating ideas towards a theme for a show at Marty Olson’s “Do’s Deluxe” in Lawrence, in November. The process is like making a collage; images and ideas come from almost everywhere as I respond to experiences, memories, and the world around me.
At the core of this exploration, though, is the feeling that I along with many others are standing on a precipice – or facing an impending storm. The storm is literal (wildfires, massive thunderstorms, and blinding heat) and a metaphor too — how the rage of intolerance, war, corporate power, anti-science extremism and climate change threaten our neighborhoods, environment, civil rights, voting rights, human rights.
But the change that is in the air is also seasonal and sensual and filled with preparation. While we teeter on a precipice in a worrisome sort of waiting game with many people not responding quickly enough, some people are feeling the weight and see the risks and the hard times ahead. Some will roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done even though it will be hard to turn things around. They’ll try.
People know what to do with a storm. Memories of my mom and dad canning peaches in the heat of summer for the winter ahead come to mind. I think of the transition to fall’s bitter-sweetness and time passing, when wood is stacked in preparation for the looming winter. But more than that, people come together in the storms of winter and through their collective work and actions actually become the spring.
The seasons are like history repeating itself with a comforting regularity. I can hope for a more reasonable day because more reasonable days have come. Public schools, social services, healthcare and the arts have enjoyed broad public support, even in Kansas. And a conservative supreme court (however cynically) can surprise us by upholding the healthcare law. Maybe it is too much to hope. But isn’t that a good role for an artist?
Foreboding and illumination. Churning and solace. Despair and reverie. Images as they develop in my mind and find their way into my sketchbooks, drawings, mosaics, and collages, are about storms real and political. But more than that they are about the feeling that comes before the storm; the stillness, the headwind, the first clinks of hail. This work is about seeking the “better angels of our nature” and finding the comforting reverberations of possibility.
On With the Show celebrates the creative expression of children, and is part of the exhibit Art Lives!, a statewide collaborative project coordinated by the Feminist Art Project as a response to Governor Brownback’s elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission (KAC) a year ago.
The Kansas Arts Commission worked hard to support the making of art by children in schools and community centers across the state. When the KAC was cut, these programs were cut too. In addition, the state has cut funding to the public schools and this also means cuts to the arts. What happens when our state decides that we no longer need to nurture the imagination and creative spirit of young people?
What should the city do with “This Green Space” — the open lot on 9th and New Hampshire beside the Lawrence Arts Center? A recent exhibit at the Lawrence Percolator put that question to the public. My response: build a playground! On Tuesday, April 27, a procession of Percolator members and volunteers took a model of the hotel proposed for that spot to City Hall, illustrating its large size in relation to other buildings and advocating for alternatives.