Meet 16 women creating art, each in her own way
This story was featured in the November 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art November 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Carol Lee Thompson
Sherry Blanchard Stuart
Marsha Hamby Savage
Looking through Deb Kaylor’s portfolio is like looking through a family album. “Everything I’ve painted is a personal story,” she says. Kaylor doesn’t take trips to paint popular scenes of the nearby Colorado mountains because she knows there is already a market for that type of painting. “So what do I paint? I go to my cousin’s cabin,” she says, “and I sit on her porch and have a cup of coffee, and I paint the road when I am leaving the house. My paintings are a scrapbook of my life.”
After surviving a corporate career that ended when changes at her company left her with a brutal commute, Kaylor has been painting full time for only seven years. “Part of the grace I have been given is to do what I love,” she says. Her recent work, whether architectural pieces, landscapes, cityscapes, or animal works, has a gentler, more pastoral feel, the artist says, and she feels she’s finding her voice as an artist.
“Right now I am painting a lot of sheep portraits,” she says. “It feeds my soul, but I also find it really resonates with a lot of people.” When asked what it is about the sheep that so intrigues her, the artist responds, “They are so rich in color in that wool of theirs. What the viewer would see as just white sheep—there is much more to it than that. It is really fun to find all the nuances of color.” Kaylor is represented by Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM, and Anne Neilson Fine Art, Charlotte, NC. —Laura Rintala
Five years ago Jane Haher retired from her career as a plastic surgeon, moved to Santa Fe from Manhattan, and devoted her considerable eye for beauty toward creating timeless works of art. “I want to capture the soul and essence of things of delight and beauty—things that are uplifting,” Haher says.
Haher is a firm believer in the idea that an artist should be able to paint all genres, and her body of work reflects this creative approach. She is equally gifted at portraying a complex urban scene featuring multiple figures in an ice-skating rink surrounded by New York City skyscrapers as she is at depicting a southwestern desert. Her wide-ranging skills stem from studying painting at New York’s Pratt Institute and years of painting in her spare time.
Living in Santa Fe has afforded an array of intriguing subject matter, Haher says. Not only is the light in the Land of Enchantment captivating but so are the Native peoples and their colorful festivals and dances. Although photographs or sketching may not be allowed on many of these occasions, Haher says she has learned to take mental photos and store them for later use back in her studio.
For Haher, the world around her, whether it’s New York or New Mexico, offers endless opportunities to capture light, colors, shapes, and perspective. In her evocative, impressionistic works, she strives to show an optimistic view of both the city and the country. “I want to create something people might see every day but never stop to look at,” Haher says. She is represented by www.haherfineart.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
For Cathy Trachok, art is a unique communication that transcends all times and cultures. The Northern California painter also views art as magic—an invitation to interpret a work according to each individual’s imagination. Whether Trachok is depicting a cowboy roping a calf or a colorful field of flowers, her mission is to capture the illumination falling on an object or subject. And she is fond of saying that whatever genre is currently perched on her easel is her favorite. “Every painting is like a new book, and I really enjoy the whole process,” she says.
Trachok has participated in a number of prestigious shows over the years, including the American Women Artists National Juried Exhibition as well as the Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition. As this story was going to press, she was hard at work preparing for a two-person show opening in 2015 at St. Mary’s Art and Retreat Center in Reno, NV. The paintings in the upcoming event focus on two different views of Nevada—one from an artist who stayed and the other from an artist who left the state. As usual, there are certain things Trachok hopes viewers glean from the show. “I am always trying to convey the sense of awe I have in everything I see,” she says. “The complexity in simple things; the interactions between form and light are so basic and yet so amazingly beautiful. I hope my work conveys my appreciation for this.” Trachok is represented by The Grand Hand Gallery in Napa, CA. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Remote New Mexico villages and old adobe buildings get a contemporary twist when seen through Jennifer Cavan’s artistic filter: Purple mountains stand above blue-roofed buildings scattered along red-dirt roads. An adobe church rises into a tomato-red sky. A thousand points of starlight in a navy-blue nocturnal sky illuminate red and orange treetops and ramshackle buildings strewn along blue roads. These are the colorful, whimsical scenes that emerge from Cavan’s studio in the medium of oil pastels, which she loves for their straightforwardness. “I love the direct application of color and holding it in my hand,” Cavan explains—mixing color directly on the canvas as opposed to working on a separate palette.
Her choice of medium, by its very limitations, also contributes to the style of her work. Her bold colors are often a result of the more limited selection of colors available. “To a certain degree you can create colors, but I tend to use them in a pretty raw form,” she says. “Sometimes you have to make substitutions,” she explains.
Of her whimsical approach to the New Mexico landscape, Cavan says, “I am presenting a scene instead of actually representing it.” Painting a scene as it feels to her, making careful exclusions while capturing the essence of the place, is her goal. “I grew up in the Chicago area,” she says, “and it wasn’t until I moved [to New Mexico] and was driving around through those back roads that I realized how special they were, and by painting them I was capturing their spirit.” Cavan is represented by Leslie Flynt, Santa Fe, NM, and Taos Fine Art, Taos, NM. —Laura Rintala
The first thing that pulls viewers into a painting by Sharon Markwardt is the color. The Texas- and Santa Fe-based artist is known for using vibrant, “in-your-face” hues that radiate the joyful energy she finds in her subjects. “My colors are intense, but they are not arbitrary,” Markwardt explains. “I paint the colors I actually see, but I crank them up, so they’re stronger, bolder, and more fun to look at.”
While she’s been creating art her entire life, it wasn’t until about eight years ago, when she began riding horses, that she found her artistic voice. After suffering a serious injury from a bad fall, Markwardt was determined to get back on the horse—literally and figuratively. Her recovery inspired a new sense of courage and boldness in life that spilled over into her work. “Before the accident I struggled to find myself in art,” she says. “But as I learned to be stronger on the horse, my paintings became stronger and bolder, too.”
Markwardt has been gaining increased recognition in the western art world ever since. Her work is often described as “happy art,” and she’s perfectly fine with that. “Enough darkness and pain exist in the world; I feel no need to create more,” she says. “I look for the beauty in each of my subjects and strive to leave collectors in an upbeat mood, ready to face the challenges of the day.”
For much of her life, Nedra Smith’s desire to become a professional painter seemed to be a distant dream. Growing up on a family farm in Nebraska, Smith was taught to approach life in a practical manner—and like many aspiring artists, she thought that trying to turn her creative passion into a fine-art career would be the epitome of impracticality. So after earning her art degree, Smith chose to pursue a career in graphic design. “I always promised myself that when I didn’t have so much pressure to make a living, I’d become a full-time painter,” she says. Eight years ago, that pressure was finally lifted, and the opportunity Smith had been waiting for presented itself in the form of the perfect studio space: a cottage on a historic property that she and her husband purchased in the Virginia countryside.
Since then, Smith has been painting whenever—and whatever—she can. The subjects she paints include everything from landscapes to rodeo scenes and from animals to the human figure. “I try to do a little of everything,” she says. “I find that once you start seeing and studying shapes instead of objects, you discover potential paintings just about everywhere you look.” The energy, passion, and dedication Smith brings to her work is obvious when she speaks about her new profession: “I’ve got a long way to go, and it’s not always an easy journey—it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance—but the reward is more than worth it,” she says, adding, “It’s truly a dream come true.” Smith’s work is available at www.nedrasmith.com. —Lindsay Mitchell
Ever since her childhood in Indiana, the people, places, and animals of the West have captivated Mejo Okon. “I’ve worn cowboy boots since I was 3 years old,” she says. After graduating from art school at Indiana University, Okon worked as a graphic designer, illustrator, and courtroom sketch artist before turning to painting full time. “I always loved drawing and illustration, so that’s what led me into graphic design,” she explains, “but I always thought that one day I’d run away and paint.”
Okon has lived in Alaska, South Carolina, Michigan, and New York City, but it wasn’t until moving to Texas about 10 years ago that she started painting full time. Since settling in the Lone Star State, Okon’s love for the West has been reignited. Whether it comes from ranch animals, outdoor rodeos, or a sunset over the desert landscape, Okon finds limitless inspiration all around her. “I don’t have to go very far to find great subject matter,” she says.
Okon describes her work as contemporary western because of her use of color. “I think the colors I use come from my graphic- design background—they’re bolder, stronger, and more amplified than what you see in traditional western art,” she says. What is traditional about Okon’s work is the message she hopes to impart to viewers: “I want them to see that the western way of life is still alive and well,” she says. Okon’s work can be found at Capital Fine Art, Austin, TX, and Riverside Art District Gallery, Fort Worth, TX. —Lindsay Mitchell
Sandy Askey-Adams relishes moments spent taking walks through nature. Through her art, she says, she invites viewers to come along on those forays through “the serene greens of summer, the sweet blossoms of spring, the gold and rusts of autumn, and even the blue and purplish grays of winter.”
Askey-Adams, like many landscape painters, sees the natural environment as an inexhaustible source of inspiration. For the Pennsylvania-based pastel artist, just gazing at a tree with its serpentine twists and turns is an exciting moment that can stir her soul, she says. She believes that her love of the land may stem from being born in the country. As a young child she adored walking through the woods and in the mountains surrounding her home. She still remembers with fondness the rippling streams, brooks, and creeks she saw along the way. It was the beginning of a deep appreciation for the landscape and its many moods, colors, sounds, and smells. “My forever challenge is to interpret and offer the impression of what stirs my soul, so that, I hope, it will stir the viewer’s soul,” she says. “I want people to be moved by my work. Each day I strive to learn and understand more so as to do a better painting than yesterday.”
The artist is represented by Hardcastle Galleries, Centerville, DE; Morgan Gallery of Fine Arts, Blakeslee, PA; Studio 118 Gallery, Delaware City, DE; and William Ris Gallery, Stone Harbor and Avalon, NJ. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Carol Lee Thompson
Trained in the techniques of the old masters, Carol Lee Thompson approaches her art with meticulous discipline and fortitude. Having studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art and at the Schuler School of Fine Arts, Thompson uses her extensive knowledge and experience to capture a wide variety of subject matter, from figures to equines, western themes, and nature, which is at the heart of her work. “I love doing so many things, and my education, interests, and love of nature and history allow me to do that,” she says. “If I had gotten pigeonholed into being a still-life painter, a western painter, or an equine painter, I would never have time to do the other things. I’m just trying to be the best I can be at all of them.”
The Maryland-based painter follows a detailed process that she believes elevates her work. “I can prepare my own boards and my linens the same way the old masters did, and I can grind my own paint, make my own medium,” she explains. “I think it adds so much integrity to my work. And the fact that I can get transparency with my art and make it look Old World but still be a contemporary subject is amazing.” Thompson is represented by Troika Gallery, Easton, MD; Going to the Sun Gallery, Whitefish, MT; Cross Gate Gallery, Lexington, KY; and Hueys Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM. —Joe Kovack
Colorado-based painter Barbara Churchley is a passionate traveler. As Churchley likes to say, she is a person who has experienced a few lifetimes of adventure, whether it’s riding her motorcycle through Canada or journeying halfway around the world to far-flung destinations like Bhutan. Incidentally, the fearless Churchley has also climbed all 53 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, and she’ll complete her goal of running a marathon on every continent when she participates in her final event this winter on the Antarctic Archipelago.
Is it any surprise, then, that Churchley is primarily a landscape painter, an artist with a unique perspective on the world’s many natural wonders? Known for her ability to convey mood and her use of color, she is mostly self-taught. When she is abroad, Churchley is likely to sketch in watercolor, but closer to home, she relishes plein-air painting (for her still lifes, too) in both oils and pastels. “Artists are students of life because we learn an incredible amount about ourselves and our creative process through a brush, a pastel stick, color, and a canvas,” she says.
Churchley is a signature member of the American Impressionist Society and an associate member of both the Oil Painters of America and the Pastel Society of America. She is represented by Ago Gallery, Ouray, CO; Alpine Arts Center, Edwards, CO; Around the Corner Art Gallery, Montrose, CO; Oakley Gallery, Grand Junction, CO; Redstone Art Gallery, Redstone, CO; and The Blue Pig Gallery, Palisade, CO. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
After years of doing engraving and producing animal prints, a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome forced A.E. London to rethink her art. One day she put her hand into powdered charcoal and “finger painted” a lion’s face. Later, when a collector came to look at her engravings, he spotted the charcoal work in her studio and wanted to buy it. “I hadn’t even thought of it that way,” London says, but it sparked an evolution in her art career.
London now uses a combination of charcoal and water-based washes to create expressive animal portraits, depicting everything from the largest of African fauna to dolphins, wolves, and bears. “You would have a hard time finding an animal I don’t want to draw,” she says. Her deep affection for lions, in particular, began with a childhood enchantment with the movie Born Free. Today, the artist travels regularly to Africa to pursue her own artwork and also to teach art and promote conservation.
London’s artwork continues to evolve as she spends time in the bush, and you’ll find an unusual list of media in her works, from coffee washes to zinc oxide. “You have to make things up when your nearest art-supply store is 3,000 miles away,” the artist says. A strident proponent for conservation, London hopes her art will influence people to become part of a global consciousness and make them more empathetic with the beings with which we share the planet.
Recently nominated for Artist of the Year by the Artists for Conservation organization, London is represented by Mountain Trails Gallery, Jackson, WY; E.S. Lawrence Gallery, Aspen, CO; and Arterra, Bellvue, WA. —Laura Rintala
Raised in California, Kirsten Anderson says her favorite subjects are found along the coast, on the water, or in the water. “Sunlit figures, the ocean, the beach. I love the sun hitting bodies—it’s like painting nudes, but with bikinis,” she says. “And I like to paint boats.”
Anderson’s plein-air landscape and figurative work is an extension of her commercial-art background—she supplied California Pizza Kitchen with literally thousands of original paintings on 10-inch pizza boxes, featuring ingredients used in its restaurants. “A fax order for 100 boxes would come in,” Anderson says, “and 10 minutes later another order for another 100.” Working fast to keep up with these orders developed her skill and technique, and it’s the kind of painting she still prefers today. As a full-time radiation therapist, she feels her work complements her art and vice versa, by making her solve problems and think in three dimensions when working in two. Because she has a full-time job, she says, “I only paint really solidly a few weeks a year, but I feel like my work grows in leaps and bounds.”
Anderson says that her plein-air work is about developing her skills and catching the light in that three-hour window before it changes. She endeavors to create beautiful paintings that elicit an emotional response from the viewer. Anderson is represented by Debra Huse Gallery, Balboa Island, CA; The Store at Crystal Cove, Newport Coast, CA; Tumbleweed Trading Post, Borrego Springs, CA; and Portico Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA. —Laura Rintala
Growing up in rural Texas, Tina Bohlman’s artistic endeavors were encouraged from an early age. Her grandmother and mother were both artistic, and that passion was passed down to Bohlman and continued through her schooling. “My teachers would permit me to illustrate my lessons, and I was given free rein when I was in grade school,” she remembers. “It was such a blessing to get that type of education and be allowed to grow into the person I am today. Art has always been a part of my life in many ways.” When her family moved to Oklahoma when she was a teen, two art instructors recognized her talent and gave her what amounted to private lessons for all four years of high school.
Her artistic endeavors never stopped, continuing as she married and began her family, but it was at a weekend watercolor work-shop in the early 1970s that Bohlman had her eureka moment. “Before watercolor, I created with just about anything that would make a mark,” she says. But the challenge of watercolor inspired the plein-air painter, and it became her goal to master the medium. “Most mediums are controllable. But watercolor is so fluid, you never really know what the end result will be,” she says. “The only way you’re going to be successful is to be willing to go in the direction that the paint is going and allow it to work.” Bohlman is represented by Downtown Gallery, Waxahachie, TX; Port Aransas Museum, Port Aransas, TX; Sandcastle Winery, Erwinna, PA; The Dutch Art Gallery, Dallas, TX; and Visual Expressions, Cedar Hill, TX. —Joe Kovack
Val Warner has always been fascinated by animals. As a child, she loved watching her dogs chew on their bones or watching her father as he cleaned game he brought home from his hunting trips. It was the animals’ forms that intrigued her, and that love has lasted a lifetime. “I just loved everything about watching animals—I used to do it forever,” she remembers. “To really study them, to really look at their eyes. I just love their form.”
Warner married young and was a self-proclaimed soccer mom who encouraged her kids’ love of sports. She also indulged her interest in art by painting murals on gymnasium walls and people’s faces at county fairs. While studying anatomy and figure drawing at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in her early 40s, a professor told her that her talents were beyond their teaching. So began her full-time art career, and for subject matter she naturally turned to animals. Her paintings draw the viewer in close to create intimacy and to connect with the animal’s spirit. “I like to avoid backgrounds,” she says. “It’s more portraiture. I want you to feel like you got too close to that animal. So you’re not just looking across the distance at this animal through a picture frame—it’s actually looking at you. I like that.” Warner is represented by Wyland Signature Gallery Group, Las Vegas, NV, South Lake Tahoe, CA, and Lahaina, HI. —Joe Kovack
Sherry Blanchard Stuart
Sherry Blanchard Stuart has been painting for over 45 years. In her early days, after studying at the Minneapolis School of Art, Stuart painted classical landscapes, still lifes, and figures. But things changed when she moved to the Scottsdale, AZ, area 20 years ago, and her subject matter and style began to evolve. “Living in the West, I became inspired by western subject matter, and the western theme is running through my work right now,” she says. “I’m trying to do more power in my composition. My style is evolving, and that is the same with art. You kind of never arrive—you’re always seeking to get better.”
In recent years her style has taken on a more expressive feel, while still adhering to the traditional style that allows for the accurate portrayal of western themes. Having tried abstraction in the 1960s, she realized that realism is her forte, but there are elements of abstraction that can enhance her compositions. “I was trained in classical realism. But I’ve begun using some impasto brushwork,” she says. “That’s where the abstraction comes in, and it’s a nice feeling to just let the paint fly and give emotion in the brush stroke. Just enough so it doesn’t destroy the point I’m trying to make with the painting.” Stuart is represented by Open Range Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Caddo Trading Company, Murfreesboro, AR; and Sherwoods Gallery, Houston, TX. —Joe Kovack
Marsha Hamby Savage
For painter Marsha Hamby Savage, the old adage, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” applies not only to life but also to art. “An artist should take pleasure in the journey, indulging in the pure joy of playing with the paints or whatever medium is used,” she says. Savage’s artistic journey began 43 years ago in northern Georgia, when she quit her job to stay home with her children and started painting. Today she works in both oils and pastels, enjoying the challenges and opportunities for growth that come from alternating between the two.
Whatever the medium, Savage’s subject matter remains the same: “It will always be trees and rocks and water for me,” she says, explaining that landscape painting—especially en plein air—was a natural fit from the start. “I grew up walking in creeks, turning over rocks, and climbing trees,” she says. “I love to be out in nature, and I get totally immersed in it when I’m painting.” Her hope is that viewers of her work will get lost in the beauty of the scene just as she did when she painted it. It all comes back to her intent: “I want to remind people that life is about the journey, and I hope my paintings bring home the importance of slowing down to look at the beauty that’s all around us.”
Savage’s work can be found at Frameworks Gallery, Marietta, GA; Magnolia Art Gallery, Greensboro, GA; and Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association and Art Center, Blue Ridge, GA. —Lindsay Mitchell
Featured in the November 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art November 2014 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
MORE RESOURCES FOR ART COLLECTORS & ENTHUSIASTS
• Subscribe to Southwest Art magazine
• Learn how to paint & how to draw with downloads, books, videos & more from North Light Shop
• Sign up for your Southwest Art email newsletter & download a FREE ebook