The next art show at Olio Restaurant and Gallery in Mancos will center on words, not pictures. Mancos calligraphy artist Beth Wheeler opened her show, titled “Pathways,” at the gallery on Saturday. Wheeler has spent about a year creating all-new art for the gallery, using a variety of media to illuminate sayings from several different philosophical traditions.
In keeping with the name, all the quotes used in the show are intended to describe “pathways” through time, the cosmos and life.
Calligraphy, the art of stylized handwriting, has been Wheeler’s passion since a San Juan College class she took in 1988. She said it took her about 15 years and extensive training in England and at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, for her to become adept in the craft. She uses a wide variety of inks and paints to create her work, which often features barely legible writing imposed over a meaningful design.
“I work a lot with semi-illegibility,” Wheeler said. “If it’s real readable, people will come up and read it, which is fine, and then they walk away. But if they have to really look at it ... they look at it more as art.”
Her Olio show includes several groups of paintings featuring philosophical quotes from Chinese, Hopi, Navajo and other cultures. Wheeler has worked as a reading interventionist teacher in Shiprock, New Mexico, for several years, and she said she gained inspiration from the Navajo people she met there. Many of her paintings were completed at a studio in Shiprock, where she said there are fewer distractions than in Mancos.
One of the most prominent quotes in the gallery is taken from the Navajo “Beauty Way” chant.
“With beauty before me I walk, with beauty behind me I walk, with beauty beneath me I walk, with beauty above me I walk, with beauty all around me I walk,” the painting says.
Many of the quotes are painted in both their original languages and in English.
Wheeler said her favorite pieces are those that inspire her to experiment with new techniques or materials. One group of paintings was made with paste paper, a papier-mache-like substance that Wheeler said makes a good backdrop for fine lines and multi-textured designs. Her favorite piece in the show, a quote by Lao Tzu, was illuminated with a combination of sumi ink (a Japanese material made from plant soot and glue) and opaque watercolors called gouache, a combination she said she hadn’t often used before.
Wheeler is a member of the Artisans of Mancos group, and her work has been displayed there several times, as well as at various art shows in Durango and Cortez. Her husband, Herb, makes the frames for all her paintings. The couple owns a shop in Mancos called Custom Calligraphy and Frame, where much of their work is sold.
Wheeler plans to retire this year from her teaching job in Shiprock, and afterward she plans to focus most of her attention on calligraphy. She is considering a part-time teaching position at Mancos School of the West, the art school sponsored by the Creative District, in order to pass on her skills.
“I would like to teach calligraphy, because it is kind of a dying art, and it really shouldn’t be,” she said. “I want to keep it going.”
The Pathways show will remain on display through April 7.