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    June 2007
Page 8    
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Organization Spotlight: St. George
Southern Utah's Walking Lizards
by Lisa B. Huber

In January I attended an exhibition of original prints at the Sears Gallery in the Dolores Dore Eccles Fine Arts Center on the campus of Dixie State College in St. George, Utah. My experience so far with prints was limited so I was captivated by the rich colors and diversity of not only method, but end product—from black on white to entire printed books and Andy Warhol-inspired color-splashed images. I was determined to understand more about the techniques and about the odd people who would go to such lengths to produce this form of art.

If the term “original print” does not make sense to you, note that these original prints are not to be confused with copies of watercolors, oils, or pastels such as “Giclee” or “photo-lithographic” prints. A print is an impression pulled from an original stone, block, screen, plate or negative. In a recent presentation to the Southern Utah Watercolor Society, Kathy Cieslewicz (pronounced "CEES-el-witz,") an enthusiastic and gifted printmaker and Curator of the Sears Gallery, related the printmaking process to the oldest known art form, the cave art found in France and Spain, where a raised or lowered part of a carving becomes part of a painted image. Similar art forms have continued through the ages, from gravestone rubbings, to the earliest actual relief printmaking on paper in China in the 8th Century and the European development of printmaking with the use of the printing press. Then as now, a press is extremely expensive and typically requires more than one person to operate, so as Cieslewicz explained to us, printmaking is by necessity a “community” art form. Printmakers get together to complete many of the steps. They also share the equipment due to the high price of the press. Printmaking falls into several categories, new methods are being developed all the time and many of these are available to our local communities through visiting workshops like those at Saltgrass Printmakers. Community is important for printmaking to thrive and Cieslewicz and a number of artists in Utah’s Dixie have found that community in “Southern Utah Walking Lizards,” a printmaking group in the St. George area who shared the Sears gallery exhibit space with two groups with whom they have strong ties, the Saltgrass Printmakers in the Salt Lake area and the Southern Utah University student printmakers in Cedar City.

Cieslewicz keeps a “short list” of people who originally started the Walking Lizards, and who are still active. Besides herself, |0-1| this list includes Brian Hoover, |2| LuAnn Williams,|3| Birgit McMullen, Christa Jensen, Zach Hicken, Robert Hansen, Alisha Tolman, |4| Cynthia Gough, and Shannon Eberhard. |5| The group began in 2003 during a printmaking course with Professor Brian Hoover. Hoover, Cieslewicz says, is “the cement—the foundation, the studio, the mentor. I think that must mean that I’m the glue who keeps the printmakers together!” Hoover, originally from Hershey, Pennsylvania, received his MFA in Printmaking from the State University of New York. Although he also works in oils, he has always had a passion for printmaking. As a teacher he says he would jump at any chance to teach the form. This is evident in the excitement that he has created in his students. Hoover came to Cedar City in 1995 and quickly decided that this would stay his home. Eight years later, in 2003, he says there was “this remarkable class of outstanding students…who raised the bar” and the Walking Lizards were born.

Cieslewicz was in this group of mostly older students returning to school, and says “the group created a synergy, working off of each other and with each other…there was a contagious energy.” Their creativity “fed off of each other”. They had print exchanges where artwork was shared between students. They also began a semi-annual student print sale, which continues to attract Cedar City clientele to this day. Cieslewicz became a leader in the group and Hoover says his role ever since has been “that of facilitator to make sure the baton is passed” to the next student leader. He tries to keep the students organizing and running the group themselves, as it was that first year. Each year there is a spring and Christmas sale of student prints. The school faculty is most supportive, and interestingly enough, the English department at SUU purchases many of their pieces at these events.

From that original class in 2003, the group has continued to grow and now includes about 25 more printmakers who are active in this area and associated with the group, including Royden Card,|6| Claire Nau,|7| Gian Ferrari, Lindsay Thompson,|8| and Janece Winder.|9| When asked what attracts her to this type of art, Cieslewicz immediately talks about the sense of community. “We are loosely formed, but supportive of each other . . . Some people say printmaking is about the process, not the product, but also, with printmaking you often have an opportunity to focus on the content and the meaning of the work. But you may not be totally aware of what you put into a print. The thought process is different from a landscape, which gives a sense of time and place and sometimes sense of going home.” Prints tend more to open a window into the artist’s psyche, to expose more of what the artist feels than of what he or she sees.

So how does Cieslewicz see the future of this group? The Southern Utah Walking Lizards is now at the crucial point that many grassroots arts organizations face. They have been operating for several years, have a good following of participants, but they have reached the point where they need to develop a more organized structure that will allow them to realize their full potential. As with many organizations in the state, the two greatest obstacles are time and finances. Cieslewicz says the group needs to purchase a studio and equipment so they can better serve their members and register as a non-profit to be able to access grant money. Cieslewicz’s experience with the group has been energizing but with her full-time position at the Sears Gallery she doesn't see herself with the additional time to devote towards this type of development. Finances are needed too. Even non-profit status requires a fee to file the IRS papers. That non-profit status is required to seek funds from other organizations. This is an exciting time for these artists, full of opportunity and hard work, too.

As can be seen from the work produced by this group of artists, print collecting doesn’t need to be strictly that of famous artists. The Southern Utah Walking Lizards are gifted people with a passion for their message and a challenge to push their skill and creativity. If you would like to know more about the environment that created the Southern Utah Walking Lizards, check out the SUU website.

Artist Spotlight: Bluff
Hidden Among the Bluffs
The Art of J.R. Lancaster
by Elizabeth Matthews

The first thing I noticed when I came through the well-aged door of Bluff's Comb Ridge Coffee earlier this year (see May edition) was one of J.R. Lancaster's assemblage paintings. Two rocks, one crescent shaped, the other resembling a distorted bell, appeared to be hanging just inches away from the painting, suspended by separate strings. I had to draw in closer to see if I was really looking at rocks or if this was refined trompe l'oeil work. I assure you, they were real rocks. In addition to the hanging rocks, other found objects -- embedded in the thickly crackled work -- seemed to be making an innocuous effort to stop, or maybe just disrupt, the flow of the image, which resembled an eroding land formation.

I left Comb Ridge Coffee with directions to find Lancaster. I discovered him at the other end of this small, remote town in the corner of southeastern Utah. He was working in his sculpture yard, a bare expanse that lies beneath 300 foot-high cliffs. Lancaster's home/studio sits at the pivotal junction of routes 191 and 163, the two major highways etched into the desert landscape around the San Juan river. Lancaster likes to make his own playful mark on the landscape, though his are more easily removed than the asphalt snakes that serve as Bluff's travel arteries. Look closely at the photograph of Lancaster in his sculpture yard and you'll see a curious blue seal reclining on a rock just over his shoulder. The cliffs above Lancaster's studio home are studded with found objects he has placed there, like the big blue Buddha that he has tucked 50 feet up and out of reach. The wedge of land where Lancaster lives and works is a visual playground, a vast outdoor assemblage of landscape and found objects that calls to mind the portable assemblages Lancaster enjoys creating when he isn't inside painting or teaching photography workshops in the ever-eroding comb ridge canyons.

Lancaster's outdoor installation pieces and mixed media paintings include objects he finds and brings home from the old Navajo and Ute dumps. Disparate desert items such as old chains and pistons, deer antlers and pieces of glass lie around him in neat piles. He works to "give them another life" in his artwork using them as symbols that infuse his work with meaning. His current interest explores the familiar spiral image that is often found in prehistoric drawings painted on the surrounding cliffs. Lancaster describes the spiral as being an integral "part of the cosmos, the stars," it is "about the movement of energy in all directions equally."

Lancaster came to Bluff fourteen years ago after working on the Navajo reservation at Chinlee, Arizona. His assignment there was to take documentary photographs of medicinal native plants and prehistoric sacred sites in order to document the Navajo Long Walk for the local school district. The result is a booklet used to teach the children their history. Lancaster's experience taking the photographs, "bouncing around the reservation, putting about 300 miles on the old four wheel drive truck, taking 3-4000 photographs," developed his interest in pre-historic cultures and art, honed his photography skills and motivated his use of found object pieces gathered out in the desert to make something he calls a "visual story board."

Before coming out West, Lancaster worked for eleven years as a petro-chemical engineer in Louisiana and still has the remnants of a charming southern drawl. He is very concerned about the number of people coming to this pristine and sensitive area of delicate land formations since the reopening of the area's various mines. When he first arrived here, ten eighteen-wheelers might come through every day. Now that number is 500. Lancaster feels that the oil field exploration "has gone totally insane out here and nobody is watching." It reminds him of Oklahoma and the East Texas oil fields -- "there's that many trucks and people . . . But what can we do, we drive the cars and trucks, we need the oil."

His collective experiences motivate Lancaster to make art that includes a political statement and references prehistoric cultures. Rust is Lancaster's favorite color, a fact evident in what he calls his "outdoor installation pieces," found object sculptures that his collectors have been known to turn into water fountains. One of these distinct pieces stands at the west side of the parking lot at Comb Ridge Coffee, where he works as the gallery director and gathers his photography students before taking off into the area badlands. Lancaster's art work has been exhibited nationally in over sixty galleries and museums, is part of the MOMA permanent collection, and appears in a number of corporate and private collections worldwide. But you don't have to go that far to see it. A summer trip to this area of majestic buttes bordering the Navajo Nation will suffice. To find out more about his art or photography workshops, go to the Comb Ridge Coffee website.

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