I had an entire day to spend by myself in the Denver Art Museum.
It was magical, informative, exhilarating and exhausting.
But it also felt worshipful when I rounded the
corner and met "Mud Woman."
Mud Woman, Roxanne Swentzell, 2011
I was at the entrance to the permanent collection of American Indian art, just rounding the corner after getting off the elevator and thank goodness I was by myself. I stopped dead still in awe of this (over 10 foot tall) mud structure and didn't move for many minutes. Somehow I realized all the messages it offered instantaneously and yet yearned to slowly and carefully read everything I could about this piece.
And I was not disappointed; Denver Art Museum has one of the best education delivery systems of any art museum I have ever been in. They take every opportunity to offer (not force, not hide, not make you feel stupid for not knowing) information about each and every exhibit. After a careful examination of Mud Woman I sat down to watch a video, read books and meet the wonderful woman who created her.
If you can make the time, watch this (one minute) short time lapse video of her creation with straw and mud. A longer video with shots of the museum and Roxanne working with her husband is here.
The technique used is very similar to how adobe homes are made with straw and mud which then dries very hard.
Roxanne Swentzell has expressed herself in clay from a very young age. As a child she had a speech impediment and was reluctant to talk to others. Working in clay became her default communication method. As a result she has honed a remarkable talent for powerful messaging in her art.
in Roxanne's words...
Gives me shivers. How have we gotten so far from the belief that we are of the Earth and will return to it? How can we not show greater concern for her condition?
If that is not enough meaning packed into one piece of art try this: in researching more about Mud Mother's creation I came across a blog written by a friend of Roxanne's, Page Lambert, who shares Roxanne's request of her to write something to go inside the sculpture. While Lambert wrote a poem they also selected items with specific meanings to be placed inside the PVC pipe helping Mud Woman sit erect. Her blog, linked above explains much of this.
So art speaks, it always has and it will continue to do so. We need to take the time to listen.
In Earth Tones,