By Marcy Stamper
A totem is a highly personal notion, which makes it the perfect inspiration for an artist.
Confluence Gallery invited artists to provide their take on totems with the following tempting description: “Traditionally, a totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of an individual or group of people.”
The majority of the works artists contributed to the “Totem” exhibit that opens Saturday (April 23) contain references to animals, but they are incredibly diverse, said Jennifer Molesworth, the main curator of the show.
“Because it’s about totems, it’s also about people’s spiritual connections with animals or the world,” said Molesworth.
Molesworth and co-curator Nicole Ringgold asked artists to explore totems or spirit guides that provide purpose and meaning, that give them family or cultural identity, or that highlight how the spirit world is interwoven with the everyday.
“It’s been an interesting experience to see how everyone approaches this theme differently, and to see their process and how it turns out,” said Molesworth. “It was a real honor to receive their statements about what the pieces mean.”
Artists contributed everything from photos of hawks and sandhill cranes to large sculptural objects and jewelry.
One sculptor created a huge chrome totem from old Harley-Davidson parts. Bruce Morrison sculpted a mother bear from wood fiber and plaster, which he adorned with paint. Morrison said his sculpture celebrates the simplest and deepest relationship and watchful devotion of a mother and her child.
Painter Kay O’Rourke is exhibiting an oil painting that juxtaposes a man holding a puppy with a black dog, a black cat and a rooster standing on one another. In her statement, O’Rourke said the painting signifies caring for other creatures and how animals accompany us on our journey through life.
Cindy Ruprecht painted a fantastical green deer with antlers that sprout leaves and flowers and nourish birds and insects. Her painting represents how we are all parts of nature and creation, at once teachers and students, said Ruprecht.
The exhibit also features jewelry, including tiny totems carved from bone, antler and abalone by Christopher Pope; a red-tail hawk necklace by Joanne Marracci; and metalwork by Sarah Jo Lightner.
About 30 Liberty Bell junior high school art students created ceramic totems based on kachina dolls. Their sculptures are designed to convey a sense of the artist through the clay figure, some of which sport a human body and an animal head.
“There are a lot of beautiful things to look at,” said Molesworth.
Also going on display at Confluence are oil paintings by the gallery’s recent artist-in-residence, Margaret Kingston.
Kingston, who paints mountain landscapes with compelling verisimilitude, is exhibiting paintings inspired by the abundant snowfall of this year’s El Niño winter.
In her work, Kingston aims to capture the serene feeling of being in the North Cascades — and how the weather transformed the mountains. “The constant precipitation, with very little wind during December and January, allowed the snow to continue piling up on trees and rocks until they were unrecognizable and seemed to be living characters,” she said.
The exhibit is the culmination of Kingston’s three-month residency at the gallery.
“Totem” is at Confluence Gallery in Twisp from April 23 thru June 4. There is an opening reception for “Totem” and for Kingston’s exhibit on Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m.
Also opening Saturday and running through June 4 is an exhibit of block prints featuring fish, mammals, and habitat of the Methow Valley Watershed, created by Methow Valley Elementary School sixth-grade students through a collaboration between Methow Arts Alliance and the Bureau of Reclamation.
In this interdisciplinary unit, students first learned about fish and fish habitat in a workshop in their classrooms with local biologist John Crandall, then sketched images and learned how to carve blocks and print them with local teaching artists Laura Gunnip, Emily Post and Jennifer Molesworth.