Mary Jane Edwards is the executive director of the Jentel Foundation in Banner. 


A bag of rich dark clay. A glass table top of brilliantly colored globs of acrylic paint. Two visual artists, who each have lifetimes of creative exploration. Season with intuition and imagination. Add several ideas. Close the door to the studio. Turn up the music. Wait patiently until done.

Much of getting at least a finished artwork in any media involves time, reflection, development, false starts, bad work, frustration, breakthroughs, perseverance and determination. The sheer satisfaction of being lost in an outer layer of consciousness that ignores time and a sense of self, however makes any challenge in the studio worthwhile. The experience of pushing the creative process along to another phase of awareness and discovery cannot be matched. For some it is an emotional or spiritual response with awe and wonder as fringe benefits. For others, it may be intellectual in resolving a theory or solving a problem. Still others may wait weeks or months to distance themselves from the work. Intuitively they have tapped deep into the subconscious.

Rolls of bubble wrap unfurl. A printer cranks out labels and inventories. Boxes packed and loaded. A studio door opens. Two groups of curated finished artwork are ready to be on the way to the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper.

Sheridan County is represented in the opening exhibitions, honoring women in the arts during the NIC’s salute to the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. The senior and most prolific is Neltje, who never ceases to surprise and engage viewers with new paintings. Many are familiar with her brilliant color palette, bold linear brush strokes, large canvases and layer upon layer of acrylic filling every inch of canvas. Powerful gestures, intense color, large canvases and provocative titles continue as signature elements in her artwork. For this exhibition titled, The Family of Things, selective lines play off large oval shapes to suggest a conversation. White space and negative areas play a more dominant role. Sheets of printed handmade paper, newsprint, store display hands and paint pans add texture and dimension to the surface. They draw the viewer in for closer scrutiny and tease at a different response from a distance.

Elaine Olafson Henry’s exhibition is aptly titled, Surrounded. Entering the long center gallery, the installation offers the viewer a row of museum bases down the center and side walls of continuous shelving at eye level. Yes! Surrounded. Elaine’s imagination is evident in both her studio work and her commitment to advancing education in the ceramic arts.

Of late, her sculptural vessels feature stacked layers of highly textured clay surfaces interspersed with thin ragged and smooth edges. The vessels appear to tensely balance on the smallest base possible as the form stretches up and opens out. The vessels exploit the natural fired color of the clay, whether a mysterious black, a purest porcelain white or the richness that comes with atmospheric firings such as soda or wood. Viewers will be further delighted by the notion of surrounding in several of the vessels in the exhibition as Elaine introduces leather to her creative approach to clay. These pieces line the center of the gallery.

As an educationally based concept for curating an exhibition featured at the National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts held last March in Minneapolis, Elaine researched artists, who fire their ceramics in kilns fueled by wood, and invited one from each state. She made 50 identical faceted bowls and sent out one to each firer. The fifty bowls line the walls and offer a fascinating view of the beautiful surface variations with wood firing.

As always, time spent with artwork rewards the curious, the skeptic, the philosopher and anyone open to pausing in quiet reflection amidst the flurry of distractions in everyday life. Perhaps, if nothing else, time with art is a meditation and a relief from stress and the possibility of connection.

The two exhibitions run through the spring, but why wait? Join in the celebration at the opening reception on Jan. 31 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Offer congratulations to the artists and enjoy the socializing around the come and go gathering. What a fine opportunity to be the final and highly prized ingredient in a truly successful exhibition.