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Signpost Featured Artist Fehrunissa Willett

“Red Willow Lamp”

“Zen Gate 2”

“Sunset”

“Big Sky Mind”

Playing with glass: Fehrunissa Willett

~Oli Robbins

Placitas artist Fehrunissa Willett has found an expansive playground in the world of glass. After many years working in counseling, program management, and as a small business owner, she has come back to a medium that grabbed her attention many years ago.

In Virginia, where she lived for much of her life before moving to New Mexico 16 years ago, she studied glass briefly, taking an introductory course at a community college in an attempt to “learn the basics.” There, she began experimenting with traditional, leaded glasswork. At that point, however, her work and family demanded her primary attention, and she set glass aside. Visiting New Mexico in the early ‘90s, she admired the light, noticing that it would lend itself wonderfully to glasswork. In 2001, she and her family relocated here, and eventually the wide-openness of the state encouraged her to finally carve out space in her own life for glasswork.

Says Fehrunissa, “It wasn’t just the lovely art in Placitas; it’s the environment. Virginia is beautiful but so different. The environment is so vast here. It started the internal process for me.” Placitas’ boundless sky, luminous mountains, and sweeping landscape are largely responsible for the aesthetic and color palette of Fehrunissa’s work—which she believes would look very different had she stayed in Virginia.

But in addition to the environment, which she engages with through frequent walks and her home’s wall of windows, Fehrunissa is influenced by her practice of meditation and yoga. Says Fehrunissa: “It quiets the mind so these creative ideas can emerge… Yoga and meditation are a part of my daily life. They have been for about forty years.” So while those practices may not intentionally prepare her for studio productivity, they help usher in sentiments, ideas and imagery.

“For me,” says Fehrunissa, “meditation is about becoming present with whatever you’re doing… that’s what I bring to the glass.” Practicing and also instructing yoga—for more than 25 years—has also proved to be in harmony with her artistic output. Like meditation, yoga silences the mind, allowing for an organic stream of creativity.

Though Fehrunissa often produces a preparatory sketch before beginning a piece, it’s uncommon for the finished product to look like she initially imagined. Oftentimes, she’ll allow the glass itself to take the lead, as she becomes acquainted with the pre-existing patterns within it. Says Fehrunissa, “It rarely stays in a linear fashion.”

Her works tend to maintain a Japanese-like aesthetic and crisp geometric forms—perhaps due to her background in architecture (she went to architecture school). She is drawn to textural things, layering multiple sheets of glass to achieve a textured, three-dimensional effect. After scoring the glass, cutting it by hand and using grinders to shape it, she’ll begin arranging the pieces, building relationships between the forms within her work. Discovering UV glue as an adhesive for glass was a game changer for Fehrunissa, who was happy to move on from the leaded glass techniques that she was exposed to back in Virginia. “When you work with leaded glass,” says Fehrunissa, “every piece has to meet the other piece.” The UV glue is a better fit for Fehrunissa, who often attaches found, natural objects, like rocks, to the glass.

Many years passed between the time when Fehrunissa began experimenting with glass in Virginia and when she found the appropriate time and space to dedicate herself to it. Those years were filled with the demands of motherhood, business ownership, and professional counseling. It was critical for Fehrunissa to exercise the analytical parts of her mind within those careers, in order to “keep all of the pieces in a row.” So now, in her identity as an artist, she has consciously released much of that methodical thinking and made room for play. Says Fehrunissa, “When I went back to glass, I decided it’s going to be play… It’s one of those things where you’re engaged in something and you’re not aware of the time going by. I don’t know if I could do the work I do with glass very well if I didn’t have a quieting process.”

Working in counseling equipped Fehrunissa with the ability to listen, a skill which she carries with her as an artist—now listening to herself and her process. She keeps with her the words of artist Agnes Martin, a lecture of whom she attended several years ago: “She said her process was to sit and wait for the ideas to come. And sometimes that was a long time.”

Fehrunissa appreciates the fact that she is finally capable of waiting, since deadlines aren’t perpetually looming. “Mostly I do what speaks to me right now. I think that’s why I’m able to look at it like play… It's a luxury to be able to do the work I really enjoy.”

As a glass “player,” Fehrunissa has little interest in marketing and branding her work. “I keep experimenting with these techniques to see where I land, though it might just keep evolving. I’m really still, I think, perfecting the technique and refining that.” She concentrates on her mindful process rather than the sale, and gives away about forty percent of her pieces to organizations that she supports. She enjoys participating in the Placitas Studio Tour and Holiday Sale —where you can usually find her in the Elementary School gym—as both serve as a “nice focus for creating a body of work.” Her work can also be viewed and purchased through visiting her website (nisadesigns.com) or emailing the artist (nisa@nisadesigns.com).

Says Fehrunissa, “For me, creativity is a delight. With few limitations or expectations, I try to listen to what is emerging in the moment. I then translate that into color and form by combining the materials in unique ways… It is my intention that my art will add beauty to your world and inspire you to welcome creativity into your life.”


“Navigating The Process”

From September 8 through October 27, artNEXUSnm will present an exhibition in which you will see works of art, along with the steps of the artistic process, from inspiration and concept to the finished pieces. Participating artists include Cecilia Dail, Shirley Levy, Pam MacKellar, Candy Nartonis, Diane Orchard, Barbara Shapiro, and Joann Weiss. The artists hope that you will find this demonstration of art-making interesting and inspirational, and that you will leave the show with new ideas for yourself. Everyone is welcome to attend. The show is located at Southwest University Of Visual Arts, 5000 Marble Avenue NE, in Albuquerque, 87110. The reception will be held on Friday, September 22, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.


Dreaming Rural New Mexico, mixed media, by Julianna Kirwin

Placitas Artists Series kicks off 31st season with Beethoven and Schubert quartets

The Placitas Artists Series begins its 2017-18 concert season with Willy Sucre and Friends presenting two iconic string quartets. The concert, on September 24, at 3:00 p.m., features Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18, and Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in d minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden.”

In this concert, violist Willy Sucre will be joined by violinists LP How and Justin Pollack, as well as cellist Felix Fan.

The concert is sponsored by the 2017-18 Placitas Artists Series Board of Directors in memory of Elaine Slusher, a long-time supporter and founding board member of the organization, who died on August 7.

Prior to the concert, a 2:00 p.m. visual artists reception will feature the art of Laura Balombini, painting, mixed media and fabric wearable art; Jeri Burzin, photography; the late Michael Christiana, acrylic; and Julianna Kirwin, printmaking and collage. Their works, which are for sale, will be on display for the month of September. This is a posthumous exhibition for Michael Christiana, who taught art at the college level for a quarter century before retiring to New Mexico with his wife. He died in February 2017.

The concert and visual artist reception take place at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church in the village of Placitas, located six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (Exit 242). The facility is completely accessible.

Placitas Artists Series projects are made possible in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For ticket information, see page 2 of this Signpost. For more details, call 867-8080, email info@PlacitasArtistsSeries.org, or visit www.PlacitasArtistsSeries.org.


“Music at Sunset” rocks Placitas

~Geri Verble

The Placitas Community Library is proud to announce the fifth free end-of-summer family program “Music at Sunset” on September 9, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., in the parking lot of the Placitas Community Library. Ken Grimes, KUPR DJ, will open the event and take us back to the summer of '67.

Two local music venues are scheduled to perform. New to the event will be AMISTAR, with Michael Martinez and Charlotte Perry. Then, our local Placitas “Rock Zone” will rock the night away with Chris Daul, Dave Harper, John Scott, and Porter Dees

A food truck will be providing Mexican fare, including calabacitas, burgers, soft tacos, and quesadillas. Pack a picnic dinner or purchase a Mexican plate. Don’t forget your lawn chairs.


Jazz group picks Bernalillo for blues festival

~Bill Diven

Bernalillo has the blues as a venerable music event migrates from a coal-country baseball field to the town's Loretto Park. The New Mexico Jazz Workshop revived the Madrid Blues Fest in 2013, moving it to the town ballpark, a historic venue for town events and live music. But the location on State Road 14 about twenty miles south of Santa Fe turned out to be an issue, and attendance was falling.

"What I was hearing was back in the Seventies was people didn't care about driving an hour to get there," said Jazz Workshop Executive Director Vicki Duggar. "Now people are interested in being closer."

Duggar knew of Loretto Park from attending the Bernalillo Wine Festival and said the site benefits from being close to the Rail Runner Express train station off U.S. Highway 550.

"There's a whole different mindset now about drinking and driving, thank God," she added.

Now dubbed the Land of Enchantment Blues Festival, the first of what may become an annual event is set for noon-6:30 p.m. on October 7. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the gate with kids 12 and under free.

Danielle Nicole, a bassist and blues, roots, and soul singer from Kansas City, headlines the musical program that includes the Dallas-based Holland K. Smith Band with Hillary Smith and local groups Chillhouse, Felix y los Gatos, and the Memphis P'Tails.

Bernalillo town councilors recently allocated $25,000 from its lodgers tax collections to cover marketing, sanitation, and security for the event. The Jazz Workshop estimates total costs at close to $50,000 and expects to draw about 2,500 people for this first outing with larger turnouts in future years.

The promoters also are working on handout coupons intended to draw visitors back to Bernalillo businesses with follow up to measure their effectiveness.

"This is great, great support by the Lodgers Tax Board and the city," Duggar said. "It's great to have them as partners in the festival."

The board and town council made a total of $117,344 in appropriations from the lodgers tax levied on hotel and motel rooms for use in bringing visitors to Bernalillo. Those included:

  • Sandoval County Historical Society, $13,512 for promoting events and its historical collection
  • Friends of Coronado Historic Sites, up to $2,000 to promote the 14th annual Fiesta of Cultures
  • Sandoval County Sheriff's Posse Rodeo, $18,000 to advertise and market the rodeo that was held on August 18-19
  • Fiestas de San Lorenzo in Bernalillo, $5,000
  • Mountain West Brew Fest, which last year replaced the wine festival, $30,000 for the Sept. 2-3 event at Loretto Park
  • Town of Bernalillo, $23,832 for a fabric awning to shade the open west side of the
  • The pavilion used for multiple events at Rotary Park

Additional information on the blues festival is available online at www.NMJazz.org. Tickets for can be bought at HoldMyTicket.com.


Billy McLaughlin performs free concert

On September 16, at 7:00 p.m., renowned acoustical guitarist Billy McLaughlin will present a free concert at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church (LPPC). McLaughlin’s signature style is to play on the fretboard with both hands, which creates a harp-like effect. After having achieved fame on billboard charts, in 2001 McLaughlin was diagnosed with Focal Dystonia, a neuromuscular disease that affected his right hand and prevented him from playing his own music. Undaunted, McLaughlin learned to play the guitar left-handed, and in 2007 became a professional left-handed guitarist. Since then he has enthralled audiences with both his playing and his support for neurological disease awareness.

On September 17, at 10:30 a.m., Billy McLaughlin will be the morning worship “Songlines” presenter at LPPC. It will also be the Sunday that LPPC welcomes minister Drew Henry back from his sabbatical summer of “following the fiddle,” where he connected to his own songline, learning to play his grandfather’s fiddle.


Get your kicks———and some surprises———on Route 66

~Bob Gajkowski, Placitas History Project

As it moved west from Chicago, beginning in 1926, following old Indian trails, farm roads, and country lanes, the mostly unpaved US Route 66 crossed the Midwest and Central Plains on its way to California. Entering New Mexico from Texas it headed north to Santa Fe, then south along the Rio Grande to Albuquerque —the first large urban area for hundreds of miles.

In those early years (1927-1937) it followed today’s NM 85/313 through Algodones, Bernallilo, and Alameda to cross Central Avenue in the heart of the city and continue south to Los Lunas. There it turned west to California. By 1937 a new alignment of “the Mother Road” was pushed through Tijaras Canyon to join Central Avenue and to continue west. The KiMo and El Rey Theaters, Nob Hill Shopping Center, the Tewa and De Anza Motor Courts and many other service-oriented businesses were opened to accommodate travelers along the route.

On September 2, at 2:00 p.m., at the Placitas Community Library, photographer/anthropologist Donatella Davanzo will present and discuss the significance of some of the 1900 buildings and other structures she documented over a two-year period. During this time she walked the length of Albuquerque’s Central Avenue—an 18-mile-long uninterrupted stretch of historic Route 66—and the north-south pre-1937 corridor along Fourth Avenue and Isleta Boulevard. Her photographs are now part of the Route 66 Collection at the Center for Southwest Research at UNM Libraries.

On the same program, Route 66 historian Willie Lambert of Santa Fe will present materials from his ongoing project to map New Mexico’s Route 66. Mr. Lambert has compiled 13 binders of hand-drawn segment maps and his collection of 1000 Route 66 postcards tracing 1926 “Santa Fe loop” and the 1937 alignment.

This presentation is free and open to all. For more information, call 771-0253.


(right) Sandia Crest Aspens, by Carol Ordogne

“Art Under Glass” shines at Placitas Library

~Bonnie Hayes

The September Art Exhibit at Placitas Community Library, "Art Under Glass," has an exceptional group of artists this year: Lavern Bohlin, Ray Ortiz, Katherine Irish, Michael K. Edminster, Bunny Bowen, and Carol Ordogne. To see their unique perspectives of the world transformed into artwork with paint, pastel, silk, and photography, visit the library during its open hours from September 2-28. To meet these interesting and talented artists, come to the free public reception on September 8, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.


Priscilla Stuckey

Tamed by a bear

~Priscilla Stuckey

What if your still small voice had a name? And what if you could talk with it, even befriend it? Priscilla Stuckey was a writer in her fifties when life nudged her toward such a friendship. It wasn’t a direction she wanted to go.

“I’d been taught to pray as a child,” Priscilla says, “but I never felt like I was getting through. It was always like talking to a big empty sky.” Though interested in spirituality and religion—she studied them in graduate school—she found that being a skeptic for most of her adult life suited her better. “It’s just easier when you’re in academia,” she says. “Our society teaches us that only what we can see and touch is real. If you want to be considered intellectually respectable, you don’t talk back to the voices in your head. And you especially don’t tell others that you’re doing it!”

But after her first book, Kissed by a Fox, was published in 2012, and Priscilla found herself casting about for her next steps, she decided to finally get serious about that still small voice. Since her book was about connecting with nature, she chose a path of nature spirituality, sometimes called a shamanic path, that involves simply sitting down quietly and bringing the mind and heart into meditative journeys.

Priscilla will read from Tamed by a Bear at the Placitas Community Library on September 23, at 2:00 p.m. Books will be available for sale and signing, and twenty percent of proceeds will benefit the library.
 
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