All in the Family 

PPCC show celebrates a tradition of making art

Apparently, when you are an artist but don't seek out opportunities to participate in art shows, there is a tendency to think in self-deprecating terms about your work. At least that's the impression one gets when reading the artists' statement from the show currently on exhibit at the Pikes Peak Community College Downtown Gallery, One Family: A Point of View, on view until December 20.

"'What a mess,'" you might think, but not to us," the statement concludes.

It is difficult to consider this show as anything approaching "a mess."

True, there is a wide range of media -- everything from bronze work to quilts to what might be considered "naive art" from the younger members of the Merr Shearn, Alice Proctor, Nancy Howard and Mac Shroyer extended family. But the pejorative term "mess" denotes a lack of common theme, and, while the concept of One Family may be more oblique than some gallery-goers expect, it is also more rewarding.

Four generations of family members are represented and, while there are a few pieces thrown in more for the sake of inclusion than accomplished artistic ability, the overall quality of the show is remarkable.

Particularly in the work of Alice Proctor, Jenna Shearn and Richard Mello, viewers can see some of the most engaging pieces in the Colorado Springs area.

Proctor's small "Drawings," selections of ink, fabric and appliqu are a delight, with whimsical calico figures flying and dancing their way through life.

"They tell such a story," said her niece Jenna Shearn. "I think it's the spirit of our family."

Proctor sees the idea for her designs as generated by her materials. "I look at the fabric and the line in the print suggests an idea to me," she explained, "I see designs and shapes in the colors."

Proctor has also contributed a number of fascinating wall hangings with designs that range from the abstract to more, but not too, traditional. Several smaller quilts depicting scenes from around the family's ranch in Westcliffe, Colorado, are particularly well done.

Jenna Shearn's collage work presents a compelling statement of abstract shapes, with saturated hues and a tension born of repetition and a sensuous composition of materials. When Shearn isn't engaged in creating art of her own, she serves as Chairman of the Multimedia department at Pikes Peak Community College.

Mello, who spends half the year in a castle home in Tuscany with his wife, Nancy Howard, has contributed several intriguing pieces to the show, including an arrangement of asparagus, deftly rendered in oil. This work shows off his superb sense of value as well as his lustrous palette.

With the possible exception of Mello's work, however, these are pieces that, according to Shearn, rarely see the light of a commercial gallery. "It's never been about the dollars," she said. "It's all about the process of creating and the sharing of ideas. And it doesn't matter if the idea never comes to fruition, it's thinking about it and discussing it that really jazzes us."

For the family, it is clearly about passing on a sense of what art can do for the inner person. "Art is empowering for people," Jenna's mother Merr Shearn said. "Learning to draw makes them feel great, and it's something that lasts forever." Merr teaches drawing and served for a time as the chairperson of the PPCC Art department.

Nancy McCollum, current Chairperson of the PPAC Humanities Department and co-director of the gallery, says the entire family is involved in the creative process. "They all make art; they are all involved," she said. "I would even call it an avocation because it is such an integral part of their lives."

Jenna Shearn agrees."We were born into art," she said. "Our parents saw to that. Ever since I can remember I've been drawing on wood or cutting things out on a jigsaw."

"I don't want to say that our kids were especially gifted," Merr Shearn said. "But we always gave them the idea that if you do this, good things will happen. We might say, 'The garden needs a scarecrow,' and the kids would be there for the summer and they would just do it. We would just say, 'here's the fabric,' and 'here's the paint,'" she explained.

According to Jenna, there were also less subtle pushes from her mother.

"When we moved to Colorado Springs," Jenna said," my grandfather bought us this huge color TV for Christmas. And my mother put it downstairs so if we wanted to watch it we had to sit on the cement floor in the cold dark basement."

Merr admits that she has is not above scheming a bit to get young people to explore their creative side. "There were always students who would say, 'I can't do anything but draw a straight line,'" she said. "Well, you just have to do it; anyone can draw. So I would tell them to take my class and if they couldn't draw at the end, I would pay their tuition -- but I never had to actually do that.'"

Merr's efforts to guide others into the world of creativity seems to have paid off, not only for students and her daughter, but for three other children as well. Patrick, 38, is a freelance special effects expert in Los Angeles, responsible for such efforts as the velocorapters in Jurassic Park and the penguins in Batman 2. Ben, 32, has incorporated his photo-collage skills into a digital illustration business. Another daughter, Tyra, is a fiction writer in Boulder.

An examination of Merr's own contributions to the show indicates that she is in a superior position for ushering others into the world of art. From airbrushed pillows to pastels and silk screening, the elder Shearn demonstrates that she is as talented as she is diverse. Her entry entitled "Is it Art? Is it Craft?" makes fun of the common distinction between the "truth and beauty" of art and the functionality that sometimes converts creativity into craft. A richly textured acrylic neck tie and purse set expand upon the same theme.

Indeed, diversity is the essence of the entire exhibit with Merr, Alice and Nancy's brother, Mac, contributing a set of intricate drawings and photographs of a boat he created at his home in La Paz, Mexico. There are writings from his wife and from Nancy Howard, as well as interesting wood cuts and ceramics from other members of the family.

That the entire genealogy of the group seems to be represented in the show is significant to McCollum. "What is so important and the reason I thought it would be great to have all the family members brought together in one gallery," she said, "is that these are people who always recognized the importance of their children's artwork. I think that is something worth sharing. It enriches the exhibit and it also has a very positive effect on the family."

As unusual as this group appears to be, Alice Proctor doesn't buy the idea that they are really unique. "We're not different from other families", she said. "Everybody's' children do interesting things." To Proctor, it's just natural that children follow an artistic example set for them. "When children are around parents who do this," she said, "they will like it and think it's a good thing to do."

While there may be some question as to whether everyone's children do things as interesting as those on display in the One Family show, seeing the exhibit can certainly provide parents and more objective viewers with plenty of food for thought.


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