I am a fiber artist living near Santa Fe, New Mexico. I only began serious work with fiber about five years ago, after more than two decades as an abstract oil painter, but I have been fascinated by textiles all my life. As a kid in Texas, I helped my mom in her professional weaving studio, sitting cross-legged on the floor with skeins around my knees, making yarn into balls. I loved the colors and textures of the yarn, thread, and fabric and often made things out of her scraps. At age six I had my own miniature loom. I taught myself cross stitch for a Girl Scout badge, and during my family’s frequent car travels, I would embroider the miles away. When I was seven or eight, we drove to the Grand Canyon, and on the way, I needed more floss. We stopped in some little West Texas town, and in the midday heat of the courthouse square, we found an old five-and-dime with uneven wooden floors and high, slowly turning ceiling fans. I still remember my relief when the store had the exact color I needed.
I got diverted away from making things when I went to college, where I studied economics, history, and computer science. In graduate school I successively studied law, African anthropology, and Middle Eastern history. Trying to pull this together, I got a master’s degree in library science. After a short spell as a business reference librarian in San Francisco, I worked as a freelance writer and editor for fifteen years. But art and craft were always a big part of my life. During my stint as a Peace Corps teacher in Ghana, West Africa, I would get ecstatic in the cloth section of the markets. As a grad student in London, I often played hooky to spend time in the art museums.
At the age of forty-three, I finally became an artist, and my work has been shown in more than 100 exhibits around the country. I am a founding member of the Lady Minimalists Tea Society, a collective of Northern New Mexico women artists who have an aesthetic relationship to minimalism as a core principle and who often show together.
The initial impetus for my transition into fiber art was a spell of health problems that sapped my energy too much to stand and paint all day. I turned to bead embroidery because I had a big stash of seed beads and could do it sitting down. In 2006, after more than three decades in the San Francisco Bay Area, my husband and I had moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which gave me the chance to see outstanding traditional and contemporary Native American beadwork. I taught myself several Native American techniques, and by the time my health problems were resolved, I had lost my desire to paint. Using two-needle applique and flat Peyote stitch, I created a body of small, colorful geometric abstractions that recalled my oil paintings.
Then my husband and I bought a travel trailer. Beads aren’t very practical on the road, and I remembered the portable embroidery of my childhood. The extraordinary work being done by contemporary stitchers inspired me, and cross stitch appealed to me because of its inherent geometry and ability to fill space with color. I am currently creating geometric abstractions that relate to both my oil paintings and my bead embroideries. But cross stitch also supports figurative work like “Modern Chair Sampler,” and I am planning a large piece combining current political button slogans with motifs from 18th century American samplers.
My artistic concerns didn’t change when I morphed from a painter into a fiber artist. I am still a passionate colorist, in love with shapes and lines. But I also find satisfaction in being part of the movement to reclaim a long-dismissed women’s medium. And the meditative repetition of needlework takes me back to the days I spent as a child, curled up in a Bauhaus chair that would kill my back today, happily stitching. I have endless ideas for stitched art and am eager to see where my new/old medium leads me.
Hardesty Art Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma, “Together/Apart: The Lady Minimalists Tea Society”
La Sala Gallery, Galisteo, New Mexico, “Under the Influence”
La Sala Gallery, Galisteo, New Mexico, “Best Seat in the House”
Santa Fe Community Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “Exquisite Corpse”
Surface Design Magazine, “Family Matters: SDA International Exhibition in Print”
ViVO Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Peters Projects, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “Axle Indoors”
Smink, Dallas, Texas, “Building the Image”
ViVO Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico
ART[s]UP=SALON, Galisteo, New Mexico
Santa Fe Collective, Santa Fe, New Mexico
David Richard Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Axle Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “Magnetic Drift”
David Richard Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico [solo show]
516 Arts, Albuquerque, New Mexico, “New Mexico Showcase”
Art Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “Project Space: Lady Minimalists Tea Society”
Fisher Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “Earth Measure Blues” [solo show]
Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “18 Days”
New Concept Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Linda Durham Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “The Wonder Salon”
Salon Mar Graff, Tesuque, New Mexico, “Terra-Hedron”
Santa Fe Community Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “What Seeds Have Borne”
Coleman Gallery Contemporary Art, Albuquerque, New Mexico, “Accelerate” [three-person show]
Farrell Fischoff Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Underground Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Salon Mar Graff, Tesuque, New Mexico
ACCI Gallery, Berkeley, California
T. W. Wood Gallery, Montpelier, Vermont, “Paintings and Pots” [three-person show]
Wiseman Gallery, Rogue Community College, Grants Pass, Oregon, “Beneath the Surface” [three-person show]
Read-Johnson Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Alder Art Gallery, Coburg, Oregon
Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, California
Nexus Gallery, Berkeley, California
Artisans Gallery, Mill Valley, California
University of Texas, Tyler, Texas
Adams State College, Alamosa, Colorado
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California
Alpan Gallery, Huntington, New York
Gallery Route One, Pt. Reyes Station, California
Museum of Outdoor Arts, Englewood, Colorado
San Bernardino County Museum, Redlands, California
Period Gallery, Omaha, Nebraska
The Dairy Barn, Athens, Ohio
“Danielle Shelley, Modern Meets Traditional Award,” Surface Design Magazine, Winter 2018
"Pattern and Rhythm: ViVO Contemporary," Santa Fean, April/May 2015
"Jennifer goes to things and does stuff," Santa Fe New Mexican (Pasatiempo), May 29, 2015
Giving Voice to Image 3 (ViVO Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2015)
“Review: Axle Contemporary, Peters Projects, Santa Fe, New Mexico,” Drew Lenihan, visualartsource.com, February 2015
“Tea for seven,” Michael Abatemarco, Santa Fe New Mexican (Pasatiempo), July 13, 2012
“Opened by limits,” Kathaleen Roberts, Albuquerque Journal Santa Fe, July 12, 2012
"Critical reflections: Michael Wright and Danielle Shelley," Jon Carver, THE Magazine, June 2012
Studio Visit Magazine, Fall 2011
Invitation to the Muse, documentary video produced/directed by Karen Cantor, Singing Wolf Documentaries, Inc., 2011
“Art matters,” Harmony Hammond, Albuquerque Journal, December 11, 2009
“Art in review: ‘The Wonder Salon’,” Douglas Fairfield, Santa Fe New Mexican (Pasatiempo), December 4, 2009
Spirit of Drawing, Connie Smith Siegel (Watson-Guptill Publications 2007)
“Women artists of Collective 9 meet to share support, criticism,” Harriet Chiang, San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 2005
“Three artists bring three visions,” Grants Pass Daily Courier, Feb. 9, 2005
Surface Design Magazine, “Modern Meets Traditional” award, 2018
Linda Durham Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico [essay contest], 2009
Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, California, 2004
University of Texas, Tyler, Texas [purchase award], 2003
other professional experience
Visiting artist, Dorris-Eaton School, Walnut Creek, California, 2004
Residency, Bedford Gallery, Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, California, 2003
Peace Corps volunteer teacher (math and French), Ghana, West Africa
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, B.A. (Economics and history)
Yale Law School, New Haven, Connecticut (Graduate work in law and legal anthropology)
UCLA, Los Angeles, California, M.A. (African studies)
University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, England [Marshall Scholar]
University of California at Berkeley, M.L.S. (Library and information science)
other artist statements
Earth Measure Blues
a way of being in the world,
power to change the quality of attention.
shadow of perfection,
someplace to stand,
something to hang onto.
is subtle, ecstatic,
pure experience beyond self.
Geo means earth, metry is measurement.
Blues—the color of high desert sky,
of sacred turquoise,
the sound of lonely voices, horns,
sounds descended from wooden drums
in a forest night.
“Earth Measure Blues.” Shallow space
for push and pull, cut-in lines to follow,
curves to bring us back around.
Measure the blue earth.
The blues measures our earth.
Earth is the measure of the blues.
Earth measure blues.
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A more prosaic look at Earth Measure Blues
Color, and its power to move us and alter the quality of our attention, has obsessed me all my life. To my surprise, however, the jumping-off point for my current work was minimalist Donald Judd’s installation of 100 uncolored aluminum boxes at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Each a little different from all the others, Judd’s boxes made me aware of my own fascination with series of things in nature that are “almost the same but not quite”—mesas, aspens, New Mexico’s flat-bottomed clouds.
My initial response to Judd’s work was a group of multipanel paintings. In each one, as many as 25 small panels repeat the same geometric composition with minor changes in color and proportion. My use of geometric shapes is a response to historic minimalism, to my own life (my father was an architect), and to our difficult political and economic times: geometry gives me a solid place to stand as an artist. Memories of the polyrhythmic drumming of West Africa, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer, also contribute to this series. I discovered that the repetition of near-identical colors and shapes creates compelling visual and experiential polyrhythms.
Earth Measure Blues, my current series of oil paintings, evolved out of the multipanel works and explores visual polyrhythms in a different way. Several years ago I began making small collages by cutting up printed images of the earlier panels. These collages became studies for the new canvases, which are much larger than the panels and meant to be seen alone or in small groups. I have made over 150 collages so far, and the most recent also incorporate cut-up prints of earlier Earth Measure Blues paintings. This recursive collage-based process enables familiar shapes, lines, and colors to form an endless variety of new rhythms on canvas.
The name of the series comes from the Greek meaning for “geo-” (the earth) and “-metry” (the process of measuring). “Blues” alludes to the unique American musical form, with its African roots, which I often listen to while making collages and paintings. It also refers to the repetition of blue hues in the paintings and to the varying colors of the high desert sky I love to watch.
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Essay* by Danielle Shelley:
"We do art to be human"
For me, a painter, art provides a refuge from the harsh face history has turned on us, just as “making things” was my childhood refuge from an unhappy family. But that’s not saying much: artists will always make art for themselves and each other, even if times are bad (think the Abstract Expressionists before they were recognized.)
Far more important is that doing art is a way to touch others, to reinforce bonds of community—perhaps to create beauty that gives a few people a rest from their problems, or the energy to keep working to improve their own or others’ lives. Art can be a commitment to values that do not depend on a secure world.
I often think of the Italian Renaissance, a terrible period politically, when mercenary armies roamed Italy, ruling families poisoned each other, and plagues struck repeatedly—but also an age when extraordinary artistic creativity flourished. The Renaissance is a reminder that living a decent life is not entirely dependent on living in decent times: a reminder that the terrors of our time need not be totally consuming, that we can live with a connection to other eras and other people who sought meaning and beauty in the midst of turmoil and fear.
Art is a perpetually self-renewing source of energy: that is the best definition of art, as opposed to decoration or illustration, that I have ever found. We need that source of energy as we face this challenging political and economic world. And that need goes far beyond the visual arts; different people find energy in different places, so we need poetry, drama, music, architecture, dance, film, literature, just as much as painting.
Making art and seeking to create beauty are acts of faith in the future, in the survival of the values of humanism—faith that we will get through the threats facing us, the crumbling of the economic and political world we’ve known, the dying forests and rising seas due to climate change. Art demands recognition that human lives matter, that chaos can be transmuted into beauty and courage.
When I’m frightened by our times (as I often am), I sometimes picture the cave paintings of France and Spain, which may date back 32,000 years. We don’t know the states of mind of the artists who created beauty so early in our history. Perhaps they were celebrating successful hunts, with feelings of gratitude, or perhaps they were imploring the power that brought—or failed to bring—the animals they needed for survival. Perhaps they painted out of hunger and desperation. Either way, they went to a lot of trouble to make their paintings, paintings that speak to us across an enormous span of years. We can barely imagine their lives, but we respond to their creations and know they were creatures like us.
Art has the same importance in our threatening era that it had when the cave painters worked, or ancient Greek bards turned the slaughter of the Trojan War into poetry that survives to this day; when European craftsmen in gold and gems created beauty to praise their God in the dark ages after Rome fell, or twelfth-century artists of New Mexico’s Mimbres people painted whimsical animals and stunning abstract designs on their pottery; when young poets in the trenches of World War I wrote about the rendezvous with death that they knew awaited them, or painters during the Great Depression (some who would become famous, many who would be forgotten) created murals in American courthouses and post offices.
We make art—we turn to art as a source of the energy we need in good times and bad—because we’re human, and art is one of the essential things we do to be human.
* This essay was chosen as the winner in a 2009 essay contest held by Linda Durham Contemporary Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The topic was, “The importance of art in this challenging political and economic world,” and the winning essay was picked by a panel of art-world professionals: Timothy Rodgers, then chief curator of the New Mexico Museum of Art, and Jon Carver and Aline Brandauer Sloan, both arts writers and curators.
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Linda Whittenberg poem*
about Danielle's work
by Linda Whittenberg
Colors whisper to each other—
yellow-green to aquamarine, a particular pink
to the right gray, subtle conversations
like musical notes meant to convey—life is hard
but there is hope as long as quadrilaterals
riff on canvas, half-circles nod to squares,
lines drawn straight and true.
Orange because they love the heat, grow fat
and round, puffing up with sweet juiciness
that floods mouths, drips off chins,
stickies hands, exactly the way the harmonica
pours over old wounds, the way the bass guitar
makes you get up and dance even though
your feet are tired.
Green, its pushy ways,
how it comes before you are ready,
thrusting its songbirds, its lilacs.
Shameless, while you are still wedded
to winter, exactly as the beat-up clarinet,
borrowed drums, invade the bar,
ravage the one lonely drinker,
rousing his frozen heart.
Red, oh, yes—always mixing it up
with the Blues, going way back
to dreary mauves of servitude, blood
spilling onto Egypt’s cobblestones,
beleaguered Jews fleeing across Red waters.
Exactly as the song testifies—
where there is misery there will be mercy;
where there is Red there will be Blues.
Black, always Black, for origins,
for all its low-cut dresses,
the way it absconds all colors,
for its velvety depth, wicked secrets.
If one day there should be only black,
be assured, a radio somewhere will be playing—
four beats, bent notes, a gravelly voice,
mocking the dark.
* This poem was written as part of ViVO Contemporary gallery's 2015 collaborative project between the gallery's artists and a group of Santa Fe poets, Giving Voice to Image 3. To see the online book that resulted from this project, click here. (The printed version of the book can be purchased from Amazon.)
Poem © 2015 by Linda Whittenberg