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Art News

Celtic lore and much more


Irish folklore from the pre-Christian era of bards and heroes has never been well served. Most of its literature was handed down orally, so few written records endured. Because the subject matter — giant family trees of superhuman creatures — was complicated, it never lent well to other forms of art. That inspires, rather than discourages, Joel Elgin.



He applies intaglio print making to the service of Irish folklore. For instance, his series of “Althraigh – Sadbh” prints tell the great love story of Sadbh, mother of Oisin, and Fionn Mac Cumhail. As with much of Irish lore, details are sketchy. Sadbh is either the daughter of the king of the Sid of Munster or of Conn of 100 Battles. She was put under a spell for refusing the love of the dark Druid of the Tuatha De Danann, which changed her into a deer for three years. The word “Althraigh” means change or transformation and Elgin’s series reveals many stages of her metamorphosis from gorgeous woman to doe. Unlike much Irish literature, this story has a happy ending. Sadbh — a human in deer form — was not attacked by Fionn’s hunting dogs. She then became a babe again and married Fionn who loved her so much that he gave up hunting.

Elgin also shows a series about the transformation of “selkies,” an Icelandic-Irish form of mermaids who were seals in water and humans on land. His series “Tuatha de Danann” (tribe of Danu) depicts sea birds, forms used by Tuatha heroes such as Li Ban and Fan. The Des Moines native, who now teaches art at Wisconsin-LaCrosse, says “the production of the print furthers my process of learning specific information and yet at the same time opens, more fully, the vein that connects me to my Irish heritage.”

Elgin is one of four artists in Olson-Larsen’s current show (through April 6) “Four Printmakers.” Each works in a different style. Southeast Iowa native Levi Robb exhibits relief prints with oil paint and woodcuts. These are celebrations of color, both vivid and deconstructed. Susan Heggestad uses the collagraph process and collage to riff on human existentialism. Most of her prints show detached hands, legs, and arms adrift in worldly environments. “What drives my work is the mystery of it all. It isn’t in the myriad ‘answers’ to these universal questions, but in the visually astounding ways that these questions continually pose themselves,” she wrote.

CNA - Stop HIV Iowa (Oct)

Chicago artist Jeanine Coupe Ryding examines seeds, leaves, buds and blossoms that she believes are analogies for human inventions such as “diagrams, plumbing and tools.” Her collages and woodcuts strive to add a dimension of movement to her observations of “mundane things.”


Touts: Chris Vance’s annual exhibition of new works at Moberg Gallery debuts Friday, March 20. The indefatigable painter returns with ‘Scenario’ bringing new abstract and figurative works for his fans with a couple of surprises. The Vance exhibit will be paired with a back gallery exhibit focused on sculpture including Dubuque sculptress Jessica Teckemeyer’s “Fawn vs. Foe II.” On a recent trip to Paris, Teckmeyer found inspiration in 18th and 19th century French sculptures depicting mythological heroes adorned with animal fleeces. Her new sculpture is a whitetail deer disguised in a wolf pelt, the deer’s natural predator. Also in the show will be a bronze version of “Human Shadow,” a fawn casting the shadow of a wolf. The head is visually distorted as if a slow motion blur has permanently morphed its physicality… Nick Cave will be in Des Moines April 2 for a discussion about his art with curator Gilbert Vicario at the Des Moines Art Center… EMC Insurance Companies’ sixth biennial competition for a purchase award of up to $15,000 is open. Deadline is May 8, CV


Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.


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