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    May 2007
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Alternative Venue Spotlight: Bluff
Comb Ridge Coffee
by Elizabeth Matthews

On a recent trip through Bluff, I took a little time to nose around the area looking for art. Someone in town mentioned Comb Ridge Coffee to me -- "it's on the right, just before you drive out of town, you can't miss it." I found the coffee house gallery in an old restored trading post where Susan Dexter, who works as an assistant for owners Andrea and David Carpenter, made me feel right at home. Rough hewn pillars and exposed beams support a number of strategically placed spot lights that brighten the lodge-like interior filled with inviting couches and characteristic wood furniture. Curiously, the lower half of the walls is painted with a stripe of deep red that enhances the old world atmosphere. Intriguing rugs soften and add dimension to the unusual graphics that are painted on the cement floor.

Dexter took the time to sit down with me, explain what it is that attracts most people to Bluff, why the Coffee house is called Comb Ridge, and -- catching me off guard -- what brought the Carpenters to Bluff and motivated them to open a Coffee Shop art gallery. I never expected to find out that this endeavor, that seems rather insignificant under the awesome landscape forms that define this area, could have such a worldwide scope and also have an influence on the local community and the artists in the area.

Most people come to Bluff to run the river, and while they're here they do some hiking and camping and often take an interest in the area's abundant archeological sites. Rock art, ruins and ancient graineries can be found in almost every little canyon.

The coffee house takes its name from Comb Ridge, a geological uplift that starts in Arizona and ends in the middle of Utah. Comb Ridge sits on the eastern edge of what is called The Monument Upwarp. The Upwarp reveals an underlying layer of rocks that were formed during the Paleozoic, or maybe even the Precambrian periods. Surface erosion and further plate movement produced the show stopping formations of spires and buttes that dominate the area.

Before coming to this inspiring landscape, Andrea and David Carpenter lived a typical suburban life in Colorado Springs. David is a software engineer and Andrea an archeologist. Andrea took what started out as a short-term volunteer position in Bluff, working with Vista, a domestic peace corp that sets up programs to help less advantaged people. David came with her, and, bewitched by the landscape, the couple decided to stay. Interestingly, my hostess Susan Dexter, who lived in Main, also came to Bluff as a volunteer with Vista. I was startled when she started to describe the diversity found in this small community that includes a number of other Vista volunteers who have found a way to stay longer in the area.

The Carpenters did not start the coffee shop with the idea of becoming millionaires, but with the idealistic dream of finding a way to benefit others. They both continue to work hard in their respective professions. Comb Ridge Coffee is actually a community service project, Dexter explained to me. I had a hard time believing this claim at first, but she had plenty of documentation to support her statement.

During the Bluff Arts Festival late last fall, Comb Ridge Coffee sponsored two well-known Western and Navajo weavers. Two looms were set up so that both types of weaving could be exhibited. The whole town was involved in the event, sponsored by the Utah Arts Council, called "Trail of the Artists." Throughout town, area artists were matched up with a local business to display art and host a reception. People went from one business to another to meet the artists at work in the different venues. This was interesting but it wasn't enough to convince me that the coffee house is a service project.

Dexter went on to describe the current collection of art found at Comb Ridge Coffee that includes works gathered from the talented artists in the region. With only limited exhibition space, the gallery is able to offer over a dozen artists an outlet for their works with each one taking the responsibility to arrange and refresh their own art on display. The artists that show here are required to have some tie to the area. The idea is to give local folks an opportunity to show their work. Now, here is something that surprised me -- the gallery offers the artists an unheard of 80% for the sale of their works. From the remaining 20% the owners give 15% to charity, keeping only 5% to pay credit card fees and gallery overhead.

Last year, the 15% allocated for charity enabled Comb Ridge Coffee to give over $3000 to their two favorite charities: International Peace Initiatives and Smile Train. International Peace Initiative focuses on empowering women and orphans who have been affected by the Aids epidemic in Kenya. The initiative builds housing and supports micro enterprises that help these people become self sufficient. Crafts made by these communities in Kenya are part of the art offered for sale at Comb Ridge Coffee. Smile Train pays for children around the world to have cleft palette repairs. In this way the art sold at Comb Ridge Coffee benefits a world far beyond the boundaries of this small Utah town.

Comb Ridge Coffee also makes quite an impact on the local community, serving as a gathering place for the local meetings such as book group and other events. A special education teacher in the area helps his students make unique arts and crafts to sell here. An example of their work can be seen in the background of the photo of Susan Dexter in the coffee shop. Look closely over her shoulder and you'll see the charming birdhouses that sport roofs made out of discarded license plates. |3| Dexter is also wearing hand made jewelry that's for sale in the store. At this point of the interview I began to believe that the idealistic goals of the Carpenters when they started this venture are actually being realized.

Be sure to check out the Comb Ridge Coffee website, which serves as a portal to the area. You'll find more information there about area artists, including JR Lancaster, |4| who will be the topic of my June article. Don't miss the Bluff dog of the month. And if you're seriously mystified about life or art or even this article the site offers you the profound wisdom of the "foam reader" that promises to have an answer to all your questions. ||

Under the Radar . . . from page 1

These narratives reference myth and the peculiar phenomenon of storytelling via Brenda as a medium. She borrows, melds, and re-configures stories both from her own rich personal history, and that of society to create a mood. Much of her source material comes from DI, a place she enjoys spending a day off to rummage through obscure artifacts, mostly books, from decades and eras past. It familiarizes her with culture, she says, and places cultural relevancy in a strange yet very revealing way. The resulting images are a kind of mix-tape of generations of myth, lost histories, and the lack of history…yet they are executed with fairly simple treatment of the figures and compositions—which in many ways can be more challenging. They appear used and exposed, like the tales they reference, and do not attempt to deceive or elude the viewer— she depicts images of terror and wilderness that are playful, uneasy, and hint at unruly, uncouth human behavior-- and she willingly admits they are her own interpretation of events past.

images |0 - 3|:: Upcoming shows: Nobrow with Jenevieve Hubbard in May, Artisan Frameworks in June, open studio at Guthrie in June.

Claire Taylor
Moxy Mosos Day is a holiday that occurs four times a year; a jumping holiday. Captain F and Stunt Double are two political penguins who live in Mathmatica, and speak in trigonometric equations. And Solomon, a very special whippit, is the star of the show around which everything has been fabricated. This is all according to Claire Taylor, a printmaker who uses ink and pressure to create a realm of animals with quirky humanlike behaviors. Formerly a painting major, Claire switched to printmaking because it seemed more conducive to the absurdity her characters and stories require. But there is more to her work than the simple, clean-lined animals and the lighthearted nature of their experiences. Although usually based on animals she knows, many of the characters vaguely imply people—two foxes represent her and her boyfriend, and Solomon, her late dog and the object of adoration in her work, is loosely a self reference; after all, she says, “we are all narcissists.” And animals, are likely less narcissistic than humans. The purity that they exist in compared to that of people is why they are Claire's chosen metaphor. They are human complexity manifested in the simplicity of pure animal—thus eliminating human desires, vices, and turbulence and making them more idealized. These pure, simplified, and clean traits are conveyed in the way the prints look—rudimentary, minimal backgrounds allow the characters to seem more real and detailed, even though they too employ fairly direct line work. Because she works primarily in letterpress, and often relief cut from cintra or lino, the edges are clean and distinct, and achieve a certain standard of quality for the work that instills legitimacy into the tales of the creatures. This sophistication enables them to just escape being illustrative, yet they are still fantastical enough to be somewhat childlike. Despite the involvement of text in the prints, they form only a loose narrative. The words are mere snippets of the story, the rest is implied. The aspect of multiples and propagation that is intrinsic in printmaking allows for the prints to serve as almost political banners for the characters, to promote them and disseminate their story—just to hint at what transpires in Mathmatica.

images |4 - 8| :: Current shows: Student Show at Alvin Gittins Gallery in U of U Fine Art Building,. University of Utah BFA show at Contemporary Design and Art Gallery at 127 South Main St. in May.

Wynter Jones
"I find my living experiences to be either similar or foreign to any other person, but never the same." This speaks not only about Wynter Jones herself but also her paintings. And her paintings, in turn, are intended to relay their own explanations so she doesn't have to. This is evident in the intrinsic nervousness and overt articulation that battle each other in the work. The paintings display a grotesque handling of the female figure, but evade the overwhelming imagery that is often exemplified in work dealing with this subject matter. The figures waiver between discreet forms hidden among exquisite contrasts and webbings of line, and more obvious and aggressively painted representations. The work is derivative of insecurities and inadequacies, and serves as a visual reaction to feelings of torment and frustration that Wynter feels is often expressed in a silent, docile, and neutral way by women. They are echoes of her experiences, those she has observed, and largely, of the strange standards and expectations implanted into the minds of women in this particular locale. But it’s not this dialogue that she wishes to actually have—she aims to have the work stand on its own, and incite a response. The approach is successful; the beautiful dismemberment and distortion, and the elegant play with proportion makes the initially grotesque mutilation somehow lovely and intriguing. The underlying statements become visible beneath the impressive technical execution of the paintings. This attests to her motivation as an artist—it is imperative that she paints, she says, regardless of the reaction.

images |9 - 12| Upcoming shows: 300 Plates show at Art Access in May, solo show at Art Access in June. She is also currently represented by Mariposa Gallery, and recently received an award for her work in the Rose Wagner women’s show. ||

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