Shimmering dichroic glass catches the eye from the four-foot panes, embracing light and passers’ by sight. Off the glint, butterflies seem to suspend mid-flight. These are glimpses into natural elements that peer back through the windows of the High Country Conference Center.
Ever eager to decorate the place dedicated to welcoming visitors, those who pass through the entryway — or even the thousands who traverse Butler Avenue per day — are greeted with two shimmering examples of local artists’ work.
“Creative Elements,” featuring the works of Art35N members Jocelyne Champagne Shiner and Anita Caro, runs through July 31 at the High Country Conference Center, 201 W. Butler Ave. Visit from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For Shiner, this creative reverence for pollinators sparked in the artist’s childhood. Her fondest memories trace back to a small lake house her family rented in Tennessee, where she remembers a long driveway surrounded by fields of wildflowers encircling the property and boat ramp.
“For me, it was magical because all the butterflies mudded on the side of the boat ramp,” Shiner recalled in a recent interview. “I could walk up to these butterflies as a little girl. I just loved them.”
The bevies of butterflies that flutter to and fro across these United States come alive now in the container gardens of milkweed and lavender outside her Flagstaff home. And they awaken in her artwork, too.
Shiner’s technically stunning work makes considerable room for teaching as she pits graphite drawings and vivid watercolors of Buckeye butterflies together in their aesthetic with absolute purpose, the artist said.
Fused-glass artist Anita Caro is a former banker-turned-artist who prefers an exceptionally rare and even dangerous medium—but hey, “that’s glass,” she said with a laugh.
“It’s the way the light bounces off of it, or goes through it or seems like just goes around it,” Caro said of her love for glass. “It’s the way the light plays off of it…Oils or watercolors, it’s a flat surface; you don’t get that light dancing on it. That’s how it is for me.”
She presents a propensity for natural imagery, too. Hummingbirds and flowers of all shapes and sizes emphasize the beauty and design of nature, completing the exhibiting duo as a natural pair.
Caro’s imagery is rooted in aesthetics rather than education, but she noted, “I thought this would be a fun project to work on…Some of the things I brought in are similar or have the same subject matter as [Shiner’s], and even some of the smaller plates I put in there have bugs on them.”
For Shiner, large scale first attracts attention even from the road, she explained. Then, viewers are brought into the colorless Monarchs and bright Buckeye butterflies dancing across a moody field of Sumi ink. The stormy background contrasts the butterfly’s vitality with habitat destruction.
“I try to do my little bit of education, and then knowing that you draw more people in with honey than you do with vinegar, is to show beauty,” Shiner added. “If all you do is shout at people, you just make them feel guilty or overwhelmed.”
Conversely, in Caro’s glasswork, an abundance of color presents a challenge in itself. The artist explained when colored glass is fired in the electric kiln, certain hues “strike out” differently.
“Sometimes you open up the kiln and go, ‘Oh my, what kind of party was going on in the kiln when I wasn’t home?’ Big bubbles or little bubbles, color change,” she added. “Sometimes if you didn’t label your glass correctly, then you end up with something that doesn’t look good together at all—the whole color scheme is off.”
This can make or break a piece, Caro noted — but it is part of the learning curve of fusing glass.
On the other side of the spectrum, Shiner’s necklace presents an example with color. The blue Morpho butterfly pasted to the front of a Scrabble tile, crafted by her oldest granddaughter, stands as a reminder to remember the pollinators — for their beauty and their responsibility for humanity’s existence.
And she knows this is a two-way street.
Whether in graphite, wine foil or layered watercolor — right down to those container gardens studding her home’s front yard — she honors her promise. Like those colorless Monarchs hanging off Butler Avenue, Shiner stressed her point: What would a world without butterflies look like?
“Once I’ve captured your attention, then I want you to come in closer,” she added. “It’s the design of the butterfly that I want you to see first — how delicate it is and how beautiful it is without color.”