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Straight Shooter 

When Calamity Jane spoke to Springs artist KC Willis, here's what she said: "I take to makin' trouble like most women take to makin' biscuits."

Calamity and KC became fast friends, though the former officially died in 1903. "These women speak to me," laughs Willis, "that's the scary part."

Willis first began "hearing" the voices of the women she idolized -- women of the American West from the late 19th century whose faces she knew from history books and her extensive postcard collection -- in Santa Fe a few years back.

Formerly a singer, a novelist, a public relations agent and a wife, Willis suddenly found herself divorced and surrounded by mountains of textiles she had collected for her fiber art. She took historic photos, scanned them and printed them on photo transfer paper, applied the image to fabric then wove it into a collage of ticking, burlap, lace, old quilt tops, shiny buttons, bone, cardboard and whatever else seemed to fit. Then she inscribed the messages that came to her beneath the images of her "girls."

"If I was a lady nobody would remember me. Can't have that," said Lotta Crabtree, a cigar-smoking beauty who acted in the saloon hall circuit. "I ain't afraid to shoot good and I ain't afraid to look good," said Lulu Parr, one of the first woman rodeo riders.

Willis' "fiber fiction" now hangs in galleries and private collections across America, including teh National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum in Forth Worth. Her work extols the cowgirl -- whether she rides a horse or not. "Being a cowgirl is an attitude, a way of carrying yourself," she says. "I can do anything; don't tell me I can't. It means breaking new ground, runnin' with the big boys and not being afraid to make noise."

Is she a cowgirl? Damn straight.

An exhibit of the fiber art of KC Willis, titled These Is Women's Words, will open at Espiritu Gallery, 111 N. Tejon St., with a reception on Friday, Nov. 22, from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit hangs through Jan. 10. To see KC Willis' work online, visit www.lipstickranch.com.

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