Questa Public Library announces its latest exhibit, “Nature Scope: Works by Betsy Irwin and Shera Maher,” February 2 through March 30, 2024. An opening reception will be held Saturday, February 10, from 2 to 4 p.m. While their styles and mediums vary widely, both Shera’s 2023 inked spirit creature series and Betsy’s gourd work, mostly sculptural, reflect both artists’ nature-focused spirituality.
Shera Maher and Betsy Irwin have a lot in common. They were both born in Texas and grew up in families working for the military. Betsy lived abroad in Germany and the Philippine Islands; Shera in Spain. Their traveling exposed them to different cultures and environments, also giving them an opportunity to study art in museum settings at an early age. Both were young when they started creating art, Shera drawing obsessively; Betsy inadvertently skipping school in first grade to play in a mud puddle.
They studied art in college and utilized their art skills throughout their “career” phase. Eventually, they both landed in Questa’s El Rito community, seeking a simpler life centered spiritually in nature and around making art.
As artists, however, their approach to expressing spirituality and nature are strikingly different. Presently, Shera Maher is primarily a 2D artist, a painter, while Betsy Irwin prefers working in 3D. Betsy’s personal artwork has been expressed mostly through gourds and hand-built ceramics.
Currently, Betsy Irwin’s work is often determined by a gourd’s attributes and how it “speaks” to her. “For instance,” says Betsy, “when I start a sculptural basket, I look for a much thicker gourd, one able to withstand the torque of its handle as it twists up the top of the piece (see “Stairway to Heaven” artwork). Sometimes I have a particular plan in mind; most times the gourd has ideas of its own.”
Many of the designs on her sculptural gourds are abstracted forms of the four elements (air, fire, water, and earth) intertwined with spiritual symbols and creatures that appear as she starts penciling on the vessel.
Hit by a burst of creative energy in 2023, Shera Maher decided to return to her first love… drawing. According to Shera, “My intention was to create a nature-themed story of pen and ink illustrations hinting at the connectedness of the animal world and the unseen realm, with animals acting as messengers between dimensions.” While many may consider her places and some creatures as mythical, she has a knack for showing viewers it can be real.
A jewelry/product designer for over 20 years, Shera started painting in 2014 under the tutelage of Gary Cook, Ray Vinella, and Chris Morel. “I painted day and night, almost obsessively, as if the years of tedious, black and white, tight, accurate drawing were finally coming back as huge oily exuberantly colorful canvases. It was so fun. I went off some deep ends, in the name of being true to myself and I don’t look back.”
Betsy Irwin’s first love in art will always be clay. In fact, an early study where she made intricately carved sculptural pots, thickly pinched from a ball of clay, strongly influences her work today. Betsy stated, “The thickness allowed me to carve lines and shapes shallow or deep, and I often bored holes through the vessel. I abstracted my designs, frequently deconstructing geometric shapes and patterns; flowing them around these small pots. Because of their size, with no one part the same, these pieces drew patrons to pick them up, turning them over in their hands to see everything.” To encourage this tactile experience, she coined the phrase “worry pots” for this series.
Irwin’s favorite glazing process for pottery is Raku—an ancient Japanese firing process that quickly produces unusual (and frequently unpredictable) results. Glazed vessel surfaces can flash metallic, and unglazed parts are often blackened. Her use of metal leaf on gourds, particularly when it’s flashed, along with staining all of the gourd’s interior and sections of the exterior black, are reminiscent of Raku. “It just gives the vessel an ancient earthy feel.”
When asked why they decided to collaborate on the exhibit, Shera Maher replied, “I love Betsy. She is a true, committed artist and a great example. I love her art and her dedication to her craft. I respect her as a person, and it is an honor to bring our nature-themed symbolism together in the different dimensions in which we express them.” Betsy Irwin said, “Shera was one of the first people I connected with when I moved to New Mexico. Our common backgrounds, our love of nature, our mutual respect for each other and one another’s art, not to mention our overlapping spiritual paths, made this collaboration a no-brainer.”
Questa Public Library is located at 6-1/2 Municipal Park Rd, Questa. Music will be provided at the February 10 opening by Tim Perigo and refreshments will be served.