Written by Elise Glaser
If you have any interest in viewing a cross-stitch cock fight, replacing something in your pocket with a seed ball, or flipping a lever that makes a mechanical dragonfly’s wings flap, then the Coburn Art Gallery is the place for you. The gallery is currently displaying the artwork of eleven different CC alumni, and boasts a dazzling variety of mediums, from weavings to ceramics. If that isn’t enticing enough, all of the featured artists were once students of Jeanne Steiner, the current director of the Arts and Crafts program at Colorado College.
The alumni art show was established just last year. “We came up with a list off the top of our heads of about thirty alumni” Steiner explained, “We sent them a little inquiry to see if they would like to submit some work, if they were still working.” Walking through the gallery, Steiner smiles proudly at the work of her former students. “There are big differences in the maturity of the work [between college and now].” Steiner explained, “We’ve got a real community of people making. It’s so fun to see it carry through past college.”
One of many unique exhibits on display is an interactive piece by Katie Ries in which visitors can swap a small item from their pockets for a seed ball. They can then take the seed ball and plant it somewhere where they will visit often. Ries explained, “The seed ball piece kind of evolved out of similar ideas of wanting to engage people into ideas of land and ecology, but maybe in a more poetic way. I like transactions; I’m interested in ideas of values in art.” Ries currently teaches art classes at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, including Introduction to Studio Art, Introduction to Design, Printmaking, and Drawing.
One of the most impactful lessons Ries learned at CC was “realizing how much work you can get done in three and a half weeks,” she said. “I can do work, and look at a deadline and think, ‘that’s two thirds of a block, I got this!’” Under Steiner’s guidance at CC, Ries explored a variety of creative fields and learned about herself as an artist. “I think there were certain themes that emerged in college that were nurtured,” she said. “I think my work looks different now than in college. It’s not too far from where it was, but I like to think that it has evolved.” Reflecting on Ries’s artwork at CC, Steiner remembers a vending machine in Worner where one could stop in and buy a small piece of art for a quarter.
Behind Ries’s work in the gallery, three cross stitches are mounted on the wall. The cross stitches, crafted by Giselle Restrepo, feature scenes of a cock fight. “[A cock fight] is something that’s fast, it’s something that’s violent, it’s something that’s bloody. It is inherently masculine,” said Restrepo. “Cross stitch as a medium is meditative, its slow, its peaceful, its feminine. I wanted to explore that relationship between what I was stitching and how I was stitching.” Restrepo finds time to make art when she’s not working at her day job.
“At CC, you have access to anything and everything in terms of materials and spaces and instructors,” she explained. “Here, I don’t have a studio, I have a job, and so my work has to fit within my life here.” Although her access to resources has changed, some things from her time at CC remain with Restrepo always. “I carry a critical eye, a curiosity to try new things. I carry all of the relationships. I’m still in touch with a lot of my professors,” Restrepo shared.
The weavings of Frances Heiss, who now works in the carpentry department at CC, hang to the left of Restrepos’. Heiss first learned how to weave from Steiner, and did her senior thesis on Navajo textiles, including her own replications of said textiles. “I don’t have as much time to set aside for my art,” said Heiss. “In college there is a lot of open time to set aside for artwork. I now have a loom in my house which is different than creating in an open environment with other people. Working alone, I’m inspired in different ways and can experiment a little more.” She weaves thick sheep’s wool from her aunt’s farm into her pieces, as well as other uncommon materials like twigs and dried flowers.
When asked what she took away from her time studying art at CC, said Heiss said, “Jeanne gave me advice when I was weaving. In particular, when I was working the loom and getting frustrated with something, she gave me the advice to get up and walk outside and look around and take a couple deep breaths of fresh air. That’s something I’ve taken to doing in all my artwork, and in all my work in general, especially when I’m working in the carpentry shop, or weaving.”
The alumni art show is not just a showcase of artwork by alumni. Steiner hopes it will inspire current CC art students to continue their work after college. “You can make a living of it, or you can do it outside of whatever living you’re making,” said Steiner. “I think it’s important for students to realize that, and that there are so many different avenues to continue to create.” Whether they were studying art or biology, the featured artists always found time to create in college. They continue to exercise their artistic impulses today, making art to make a living or to make themselves happy in their free time.
The CC Arts and Crafts department is here to foster young artists, whether you’re an old pro or a hesitant beginner. It strives to provide students a skill set and inspire an urge to continue to create, even after they have received their diploma.