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  December 2008
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Heather Ferrell in her Salt Lake apartment
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Heather Ferrell . . . continued from page 1

Ferrell says it was a tough decision, but in the end she decided on Cleveland. "I thought I was fairly good at photography,” she explains, "but there's something about me that is extremely social. I love to do art, but I also love to talk about it and have people experience it." While pursuing her Museum Studies degree, with an emphasis in 20th century Modern/Contemporary art, she worked as director of the University's Mather Gallery and as an Art History Curatorial Assistant in the Cleveland Museum of Art's Contemporary Art and Photography Department. After graduation she left for North Dakota, where she worked as Collections Manager and Registrar at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. Two years later she came back to the mountains as Associate Curator of Art at the Boise Art Museum. In 2005 she returned to the Midwest to take her first lead role, as Executive Director & Curator of the Salina Art Center in Kansas; a position she stayed in until accepting the Salt Lake Art Center’s offer this summer.

Ferrell lives within walking distance of work, in a building that overlooks the 200 block of Broadway, a place lined with local, independent businesses. While visiting the city earlier this year for her interviews, Ferrell noticed the Gallery Stroll activity along the street and decided this was where she wanted to be. For our interview, she invited us into her home. Lest we jump to any hasty conclusions about how she spends her (relatively little) free time away from her directorial responsibilities, Ferrell pointed out that the mammoth flat screen television that occupies her living room’s north wall was her landlord’s idea. In May, Ferrell’s 2500 square-foot loft in the historic district of Salina was smoked out by a fire two buildings away, and she hasn’t yet replaced all her furniture. She managed to save her art collection, though, and many of her pieces, mostly picked up from artists met during her zigzag between the Rocky Mountains and Midwest, occupy the rest of the walls. A woodblock print by Los Angeles artist Endi Poskovic and a photograph by Salina artist Jan Wilson hold up each side of the hallway. A large oil painting by Jon Rappeleye, who studied with her at USU, fills most of the north wall of her bedroom. Works by two of her professors -- a still life lithograph by Chris Terry and a photograph by Craig Law -- also date back to her time in Logan. In Boise she picked up an ink piece by local artist Noble Hardesty. Mixed-media Swans, by David Darraugh, a Boise artist now located in Houston, float over her leather couch, where she sat down with us to discuss why she came to Utah and what she hopes to accomplish here.

Though she lived much of her life in the West Ferrell's decision to come to Salt Lake wasn't about homecoming. What really brought her here is the Art Center's mission to encourage contemporary visual art that challenges and engages the public about civil, social and aesthetic issues. "I love contemporary art. I love artists. I love critical thinking. But for me art is about making connections to people and community. And it can happen with contemporary art. Some people think that's the hardest medium for it to happen in. But I disagree. If you can do cutting-edge contemporary art in a small town in the Bible-belt of Kansas you can do it here in Salt Lake; you can do it anywhere."

Ferrell is excited to be in Salt Lake, which she says is "really different" from the Utah she has known in Highland and Logan. "It's like going to a whole new place for me." Because of her past, she does come equipped with an understanding of Utah's particular culture. "I think it's safe to say that I'm culturally Mormon," she says about her upbringing in Utah County. Her time away from Utah has taught her that even though the state may be distinct it's not all that different. "I don't see [the local culture] as an obstacle." Kansas, she points out, is a conservative state where most people go to church on Sunday. "It brought out the fact that Utah -- that Mormonism -- isn't that crazy from other places. You just call it something else. It's all Americana."

For the past four months Ferrell's exposure to this piece of Americana has been confined mostly to getting to know her duties and staff at the Art Center and visiting with other colleagues and players in Utah’s art world as well as members of the larger community. Having only been here a few months, she says she hasn’t had enough time to really get to know the local art scene. “I honestly can’t say I have a good sense of it.” She doesn’t think most people outside the state have much better of an idea. “I don’t know that people really have an impression [of the local art scene]. I don’t know that they know what we do as an art community.” The Art Center, on the other hand, is very well respected outside the state, she says, but little known within. And it is within the ambit of this paradox that Ferrell sees her new role.

"My strength is in building partnerships, engaging community with contemporary art." Under Ric Collier the Art Center developed a fine tradition of excellently curated shows, she explains, and she hopes to use that core of exhibitions and programming and expand its influence into the larger community. She also wants to make sure that Salt Lake's local art scene has a chance to engage in a dialogue with the international art community. “You have to embrace your difference but also overcome it. You have to establish your identity [as a community] but not isolate yourself. Otherwise you can’t have a larger dialogue."

How to accomplish these two goals is something that is still on the drafting table. A number of possible ideas come up during our conversation. Exhibition exchanges with other cities would allow Salt Lake to establish a voice and share it with the rest of the country. A symposium of critics and thinkers would bring the international dialogue to our local community. She also hopes to help introduce artists to collectors, and to invite critics to write on local artists. She wants to bring new community groups into the Art Center and engage in school outreach programs. And she likes a good party. One of her first events in Salt Lake was the Present Tense post-Gallery Stroll party in September. She hopes to host similar events in the future and even throws out the idea of a neighborhood barbecue in the open-air alcove between the Art Center and Abravenal Hall.

Ferrel's role as community organizer will occupy the majority of her attention for the immediate future so it's a good thing that she has a larger staff in Salt Lake than she had in Salina. The Art Center's Curator Jay Heuman allows Ferrell to shed one of the official hats she donned in Kansas. She enjoys the curatorial process, though, and says she'll still have a voice in what is shown at the Center. She'd like to see some of their activity break outside their official space. And every once in a while she'll probably curate a show. She mentions a couple of Indian artists she'd like to bring in if the funds become available. Closer to home she thinks Utah's unique situation could provide ideas for interesting shows. Whether they go to church or participate in an alternative culture, everyone here seems to have a sense of spirituality. "There's a polarity here that is distinctive that I think sometimes can be a negative but . . . sometimes can be really rich and positive; and that's kind of what's percolating in my mind: how can you visually engage that? . . . How could you ask some tough questions about who we are – not in a critical, bashing way – but ask, 'Why do we like it here?' I mean I feel a connection here, but I'm not religious. But there’s a spirituality in this community."

These curatorial ideas may need to sit on the backburner for now, as Ferrell has many more practical matters to attend to. The financial crisis is affecting arts institutions all over the state. Also, Ferrell must fill two important staff positions. The Art Center is looking for a new Development Director, to replace Leslie Peterson, who left earlier this fall after serving as the Interim Director; and Roni Thomas, longtime Communications Director, left last month to take up the new position of Public Art Program Manager at the Salt Lake City Arts Council (to learn about both positions visit www.slartcenter.org).

So, if you decide you want to stop in and say hello you may find Heather Ferrell busy, but she would still like to meet you. "I really am sincere, come down, if you're an artist, come down, poke your head in the door and say 'Hey, we haven't met.' I want you to feel welcome – feel like it's your art center."


Colleen Howe . . . from page 1

Howe started painting when she was around 6 years old. Riding her horse bare back around her family's ranch outside Ennis, Montana. Her idols were the Nez Perce and Chief Joseph, their legendary chief, and she imagined that she was Native American, roughly braiding her hair, even doffing her shirt to feel the sun on her skin. She smashed red brick to powder, gathering raw painting materials where she could find them. "This is where my spirit joined the land. It is the quiet places here in the West that attract me. I sketched all the time. Pictures of my horse. The trees, Flowers. I guess it was a childish attempt to capture my life."

In August, American Artist Magazine printed an 8-page feature on Howe entitled "4 Steps to Building Stronger Paintings," as told to Collin Fry. "Zion Overlook," a 30" x 24" pastel, enhances the cover.|0| She keeps the original painting in her Sugarhouse Studio. One is amazed by the depth of captured light and atmosphere. Seeing it as she painted it, not in the magazine, is a revelation.

"You must suggest to me reality-you can never show me reality," wrote tonalist artist, George Innes. How many different ways have art teachers and mentors said this to burgeoning young artists? It just might be one of the quintessential goals of the artist. Perhaps matching the words, "Show don't tell," that one is hammered with in undergraduate writing courses.

Seeing an artist of Howe's stature switch to oils from pastels is a compelling event whether one is a practicing painter, collector or student. Without detailing too much about what has already been presented in other publications about Howe’s working processes, it serves the present thesis to mention the meticulous approach that she takes. First, it would be remiss not mention that Colleen believes strongly that there is an ineffable, spiritual relationship between her and the land. Viewing one of her pastels of the Manti La Sal mountains outside Spring City, Utah, one is struck by the light falling over the ridge line collapsing into diaphanous shadow.|1| One is convinced that she has walked these fields, stopped in the scrub oak to watch the light, wrestled with the changing values, sketching and sketching again, working her palette to capture just the right value and atmosphere. Before starting on the final painting Howe creates a watercolor or pastel sketch of the subject, sometimes going to the subject site at different times of the day to capture, "those transparent windows of light." Then Howe prepares a color and value study, usually 12" by 12", paying attention to the pattern of values and honest color. It is apparent that if Howe wanted to, she could sell the studies as abstract works of art; they are so meticulously executed.

"I said, I am learning to use my skills with pastel to do my oils. Matching the layering of pastel with oils is my current challenge. I admit that I sand away a lot of pigment. Sometimes the oil feels a little bit heavy, the layering, and blending that I use in pastels is accomplished differently with oils. It's glazes and using a light hand with the paint."

Visiting an artist's studio early in the morning is a revelation. Howe's ready to begin the day. One easel holds a painting of four Hopi, Native American woman wearing their hair in the lovely, curved, Fibonacci-esque hair decoration.|2| Based on a photo made by Edward Curtis, itt is the first of Howe's paintings containing the human figure executed in oil.

"The silhouetted human figure is of interest to me. And the architecture of the steps of the pueblo parapet that they stand on. Then the distance of the background. It's an atmospheric challenge. But once again, the picture spoke to me, or I heard that voice that tweaks me before I start sketching," Howe says. Another easel supports a landscape that is almost finished. Howe has been invited to exhibit at the prestigious, American Woman Artists Signature Show at Galerie Gabrie, Pasadena, California, December 5-27. Her submission is not a pastel, but a 16" x 24", oil painting, "Autumn in Vernon." |3| She surmises that her change in medium will be a surprise. It is a big step. The painting shows the deft skills that she learned from her mentors Michael Workman and Ken Baxter, among others. She is drawn to the tonalist paintings of Tal Walton and Montana artist, Russell Chatham. "Autumn in Vernon" must be a very successful piece for it is published as one of five pieces in a full-page ad in the December 2008 American Art Collector advertising the AWA Pasadena Art Show. One can see the tonalist influence in the painting, especially in the atmospheric rendering of the mountain background. The overall perspective is flawless from a middle distance copse of poplars, and perhaps a wild-grown apple tree. The foreground is fully rendered, in warm golds and reds, running to the trees through what one can take to be crested wheat grass, burnished in warm gold hues. And one can see the "windows of light," captured deftly in the trees, but mostly in the mid-ground of the wheat field.

Collen Howe will probably never feel that her cross-over from pastel to oil is complete. It is that dedication and fearlessness that the little 6 year old Colleen gleaned from the land, that will serve the mature artist, Colleen, now.

One asks for forgiveness in advance, so forgive me, but seeing Colleen's work, in her studio, and in many galleries, and savoring the early morning meetings at her studio, a quote from Jack Kerouac, yes that Jack Kerouac, seems appropriate. "Art is the Holy Ghost blowing through your soul," comes to me.

Colleen Howe will be teaching a number of workshops in a vareity of locales in the following year, including: St. George, UT (March) Mesquite, NV (April)Butte, MT (May-June) Haut Baran, France (October). For more information go to colleenhowe.com


Zion Overlook by Colleen Howe, pastel 30 x 24
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