Saturday, March 11, 2017


I am honored to be a part of Impact--a group of 25 Nebraska artists with a mission to educate through outreach programs and thematic exhibitions.  Our newest exhibition package is titled "Skyscape."  The symbolism and meaning in my painting are begging for a little explanation of the way my brain works...and the things that define the age, space, and time that went into the creation of my Freedom Sky

When I heard "skyscape," my first thought was of Georgia O'Keeffe's Sky above Clouds IV, which I'd seen at Chicago's Art Institute on a University of Nebraska study tour in 1997. The painting is huge (8 x 24 feet!) The portrayal of distance in this work has always fascinated me.  On that same tour, we viewed some of the fabulous public sculptures in Chicago, one of my favorite being Alexander Calder's Flamingo located in Federal Plaza.  It's color and curves are a wonderful contrast against the straight grid lines of the Mies van der Rohe buildings surrounding it.  Then, two years ago, I made several trips to Chicago where my daughter was being treated for severe migraines.  On one of those trips, I encouraged her to deny the pain and see a bit of the city. We walked to the Calder sculpture, where we took selfies and other touristy pictures.  So, as I searched for skyscape ideas, and the Art Institute was on my mind, I pulled up the Flamingo pictures and felt drawn to this one because of the transition of the grey-blue across the sky, showing distance and atmosphere. The light is interesting, causing the Flamingo red to appear black, with subtle reflections of red in the buildings.

While musing on the skyscape image, I was also reading Sue Monk Kidd's historical fiction, The Invention of Wings, and was blown away by the realization that the movement to abolish slavery was also the beginning of the woman's rights movement, and they are similar problems in terms of human rights.  All this was going on in my mind as Donald Trump came to the presidency, with the Women's March and lots of civil rights issues...addicting Facebook posts, research to verify "fake news," fear and isolationism.  

Suddenly, the perspective lines of the Federal buildings pointed to the center of the Flamingo, which became a spirit tree, with concentric tree growth rings telling the history of civil rights.  In The Invention of Wings, a slave girl tells about re-enacting her mother's story of her grandmother wrapping scraps of red thread to an oak tree, and ceremonially giving their spirits to the tree.  So, when the Flamingo became a spirit tree in my painting, it required red thread.  Another part of the grandmother’s story told how the stars fell from the sky the night the grandfather was sold to another slaveholder.  So, the stars in Freedom Sky…while suggesting the states symbolized on the American flag, are also falling from the sky.

Many days of Internet research on human rights went into my painting.  The rings of words tell some of the major events in United States history that have affected human rights.  On the gallery wrapped edges of Freedom Sky, I included letters and numbers…initials to honor some of the major players and legislation in the story of human rights in America, as well as those that influenced my painting (Kidd, and Calder).     

Federal Plaza is not in Nebraska, but, it is a pretty cool and unusual view of the midwestern sky.  The buildings and sculpture contrast in the same way federal laws and human rights clash…or rural (Chase County) and urban (Omaha) lifestyles differ...or like conservative and liberal viewpoints seem so at odds in these difficult days. We must look at where we've been and fight for our ideals, yet work and change together.

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