Every now and then, a book comes along that teaches us how to be grateful. Art of West Texas Women is such a book, an inspired and inspiring presentation of the work—and the lives—of twenty West Texas women artists. It is, Kippra Hopper and Laurie Churchill tell us, an examination of professional artists "off the mainstream grid," living in an area that "has no major art market." If only for that reason, we should be grateful, for this book shows us creative work that we might not otherwise see.
But there is much more. What fascinates me about this book are the intentional and complex contextual frames that Hopper and Churchill have created. These challenge the reader to examine, understand, and appreciate each artist within a number of varying environments: the artist's evolving work, her changing life situation, her affiliations with other artists, her relationships to the wider world of art, and—importantly, since these are visual artists—her perceptions of the wide landscapes, open horizons, and vast skies of West Texas. Readers are further invited to consider the artists as a group, growing and developing within the larger evironments of place, time, society, and art.
Each of the artists in this collection is individually important, and her work is represented with care and attention—not just the recent work, but work from previous years, so that we can witness the evolution of her interests and techniques and her changing media preferences. To help us understand these evolutionary patterns, the authors have provided extensive interpretive essays for each artist, drawn from in-depth, extensive individual interviews. The work of each artist can be seen within the multiple contexts of the life, the experience and training, the philosophy, and the opportunities for study and for exhibit that have shaped the work itself.
Among the twenty featured artists, I found myself especially drawn to the sculptural pottery of Marilyn Grisham, which incorporates native rocks, Anasazi shards, and pieces of family china; the mixed media installations of Sara Waters, with their spatially and temporally layered constructions; the traditional shrines and retablos created by Deborah Milosevich; and the strikingly vivid hubcap mandalas painted by Collie Ryan.
I was also fascinated by the rich cultural interplay in the Haitian-like textiles of Future Akins; the Middle Eastern flavor of Lahib Jaddo's paintings; the borderland constructions of Anna Jaquez; and the French Impressionist-influenced paintings of Toni Arnett.
But most of all, I was pulled into the artist's work through the authors' interpretive essays that introduce us to the artist in the context of her life space and the place where she lives and works. Photographer Tracy Lynch lived for ten years in the primitive village of Terlingua; her photographs of Big Bend reflect her deep commitment to the place and people. Maria Almeida Natividad's magical paintings sizzle and sing with the vivid, vibrant energy of El Paso. Dale Jenssen works in a studio that looks like a metal shop, filled with the intriguing forms of found objects. Robin Dru Germany's photographs take us deep into the webbed veins and cellular spaces of the plants of the Llano Estacado. And Pat Maines shows us, in imaginative, inventive miniatures, the interiors of places where she—and we—might want to live.
In her fine introduction, Pamela Brink writes that all of the artists celebrated in this landmark volume have chosen to "pursue their art in relative solitude, far away from big-city life and glamorous art marketplaces." They are part of a "broad and scattered community of creative, freedom-loving women" who are inspired by lonely places and wide spaces. For me, that is exactly what sets these artists apart: their confidence in their own creative energies, sparked and kept alive by their connection to the earth and vividly expressed in an eclectic range of work.
Kippra D. Hopper and Laurie J. Churchill have given us an important gift. Through their own creative vision and their commitment to women artists who share a regional bond, they have introduced us to a community of special individuals with special and unique talents. Art of West Texas Women is a celebration of imagination, of personal story, and of the natural world. Individually, each of the impressively illustrated essays is as stunning as each artist herself. Taken as a whole, the collection demonstrates and illuminates not only the wild and wonderful diversity of Texas women's art, but the extraordinary range of women's vision and women's experiences.
Kippra D. Hopper is the Hutcheson Professor of Journalism at Texas Tech University. As author, editor, and photographer, Hopper focuses her work on the American Southwest. She is also the author of A Meditation of Fire: The Art of James C. Watkins.
Laurie J. Churchill, a former professor of literature and women's studies program coordinator, is the author of articles on classical literature and feminist pedagogy and is the lead editor of Women Writing Latin: From Roman Antiquity to Early Modern Europe. Currently she is director of assessment in the College of Education at New Mexico State University.
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