Insults and Injuries

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Chenoweth also executed doors as site-specific commissions. In the 1970s she created a marvelous pair for the Bemis Art School, which is adjacent to the CSFAC. About the same time, she made a pair for the Broadmoor Community Church. Obviously, neither is in the show. At least in these instances, it's not Burdick's fault, since the doors are functional portals that could not be moved.

As her unusual interest in doors indicates, Chenoweth was often pushing the edges of various art mediums. For instance, sometimes the doors were used as printing blocks, sometimes they were sculptures or subjects for paintings or prints, and sometimes they were simply doors. Also peculiar to Chenoweth were what she called her "Hanging Tiles," which she created for many years beginning in the 1970s. Using paint and collage, Chenoweth adhered images to both sides of small squares of Masonite that were then linked together with wire and hung like wind chimes from the ceiling. Also unusual were her "Garden Sticks" (called "Garden Planks" in Collage), which she began to do in the 1980s. For these pieces, Chenoweth pierced found boards with rectangular or trapezoidal holes and surrounded these openings with hard-edged decorations in paint. As in all of her work, her palette for the "Garden Sticks" combined muted tones with bright primary colors. Chenoweth created these outdoor sculptures until her death.

Chenoweth retired from teaching in 1983 and moved from Colorado Springs to Sydney, Nebraska, where she continued to work. And though it may seem that she was isolated on the plains, she continued to lead the life of a cosmopolitan. She was an avid traveler and went around the world by ship many times, venturing just since her retirement to such exotic climes as Ethiopia, Australia and the South Pacific. These trips provided her with inspiration for her art, as evidenced in "Untitled (Ocean Freighter)." This undated painting, which was likely done only a few years ago, conveys the image of the ship through squares and circles. Again, Chenoweth the brilliant colorist combines luminous shades with dusky ones--just as she did in the 1940s.

Mary Chenoweth: Collage of a Life's Work is hardly worthy of the great artist. But since it's been 25 years since the CSFAC has given her a solo show, it's clearly worth a trip to Colorado Springs, if only to see the dozens of worthwhile pieces that somehow did get through the door. Nonetheless, the powers that be at the CSFAC should be ashamed of themselves for their second-rate treatment of Mary Chenoweth, and that goes double for Judith Burdick.

Mary Chenoweth: Collage of a Life's Work, through September 19 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 10 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5581.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia