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Visual Arts

Local artists celebrate wild landscapes

DAC group show marks wilderness anniversary

Janet Lever-Wood has spent a great deal of time hiking around the region’s canyon country over the last 40 years.

On those walks, she’s been fortunate enough to happen upon rock art, ancestral sites and evidence of people who once inhabited the place.

Lever-Wood has distilled that experience into “Journey Vessel,” a slab and coil stoneware sculpture whose rough-hewn shape and prehistoric rock art imagery evoke an ancient way of life, a deep connection to the land and what it’s like to experience those sites in modern times.

“Journey Vessel” is Lever-Wood’s contribution to the Durango Arts Center’s annual members’ exhibit, “An Enduring Wilderness.” The show, which opens with a reception today, is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act with member artists’ interpretations of wild places and our relationships with them.

Lever-Wood said her artistic process begins in the landscape, and pieces like “Journey Vessel” have something to say about exploring wilderness:

“Walk softly and carefully, and look with your eyes and your heart,” she said.

“Journey Vessel” is among some 83 submissions included in “An Enduring Wilderness.” The pieces range in medium and subject matter – from sweeping acrylic paintings of desert mesas to aspen branches sculpted out of paper, stunning photographs of alpine basins and vibrant textile tableaus.

Mary Puller, DAC’s exhibit director, said the show brings a great variety of interpretations on the theme.

“I’m really pleased that so many people responded,” Puller said. “I feel like they really have embraced it.”

DAC’s member show has been a tradition for about a decade, Puller said, inviting the nonprofit’s members to exhibit their work in a group setting. When the Great Old Broads for Wilderness approached DAC about collaborating on a wilderness theme this year, it seemed like a great way to mark the anniversary, Puller said.

Artists were invited to submit work that illuminates the grandeur of wilderness but also speaks to its fragility and vulnerability and explores the human relationship to it.

“It can be sort of an inner journey,” Puller said. “This theme is very open. I don’t think there are many restrictions.”

Mary Ellen Long’s installation, “Through the Forest,” which will greet art patrons near the gallery door, is an example of a personal take on the theme.

Long has a practice of making trails through the forest and marking them with silver or gold “spirit papers.” She weighs the papers down with rocks, leaves them for the winter, then goes back to collect what’s left of them in the spring. The harsh season transforms them into desiccated, delicate scraps of metallic color mixed with forest detritus. For the installation, Long has arranged these scraps into a floating spiral that winds around words.

The piece speaks to the passage of time, nature’s harsh cycles, life and death and connecting to the preciousness of wild places. Long said she thinks of it kind of like of a document of the forest.

“For me, it is about keeping our paths, so that we are cognizant of what nature does and how we can be continually connected to it,” she said.

The members’ exhibit isn’t the end of DAC’s wilderness celebration. The arts center has also invited Doug Peacock, a writer and naturalist who was the basis for Edward Abbey’s iconic character George Washington Hayduke, to lecture at a presentation Nov. 6.

“An Enduring Wilderness” is a collaborative effort that also involves the Water Information Program, Conservation Colorado, San Juans Mountains Association, the Exit Gallery at Fort Lewis College, Maria’s Bookshop, Backcountry Experience and La Plata Open Space Conservancy.


If you go

“An Enduring Wilderness” will open today with a reception from 5-7 p.m. at the Durango Arts Center, 802 East Second Ave. The show will be up in the Barbara Conrad Gallery through Nov. 15. Visit durangoarts.org for more information.

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