U of A art professor Marilyn Nelson stared at her late father’s deck of Navy signal flags for several years before she found a way to use them in her art. It took her another 10 years, but she's completed a series of lithographs incorporating every flag with photographic and drawn images. They are both intensely personal and aesthetically beautiful.
I stumbled into a talk by Nelson at last Friday's 2nd Friday Art Night event at the Historic Arkansas Museum (she drew me in, so I missed what was reported to be an excellent talk by Dr. J.W. Wiggins about his Native American collection, a sample of which is on exhibit at the Arkansas Studies Institute) and was so glad to hear her provide the background to the pieces.
Nelson’s drawn on her childhood as the daughter of a career Naval officer — aboard a minesweeper — in creating imagery around the lithos for each of the 26 flags (they represent both the letters of the alphabet and a message). In the example above, Nelson has paired the flag for W - whiskey (I require medical assistance) with silhouettes of the minesweeper ships and cutout-dolls representing her family — mother, father, three daughters. "M - Mike My Vessel Is Stopped; Making No Way" (below; sorry about the picture quality) is a feminist piece combining the flat with legs wrapped in rope. "B - Bravo I am Taking In, Carrying or Discharging Dangerous Cargo" includes an image of a rocket with a drawing by Nelson's daughter (one Nelson said was strangely like one she made as a child) of someone parachuting from a plane next to a house.
Nelson is thinking of making a book out of the pages that would include the story behind each image. It would have been nice if the prints at HAM had included those stories. You can see small images of the series here.
Fayetteville artist Michael Davis Gutierrez also talked about his small stone sculptures, which I'd describe as limestone landscapes, blocks of stone on which he's placed tiny carved trees and chairs. Jonesboro art teacher Claire Coppola's work includes large repurposed signs from out-of-business fuel companies; they're pretty wonderful as art, and Coppola is using them as wry symbols of a fuel we're struggling to rely less on.