Painting The Wind: Paper Artist On Exhibit

09/11/12 12:50PM Angela Evancie
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"Peonies For Beethoven" by Windsor Artist Carol Santa Maria

Windsor artist Carol Santa Maria has a new show up at the Converse Free Library in Lyme, New Hampshire. The show celebrates cultures of West Africa and Mexico, where Santa Maria has lived. Santa Maria's show is called Painting the Wind. But don't be fooled. The artist works without paint and entirely in paper - paper made of wood pulp, rice, and silk. "I use a lot of lokta," says Santa maria. "I use the Japanese papers, the papel amate."

Santa Maria clearly loves paper. Lokta is brightly colored paper that comes from Nepal. Papel amate is thick and fibrous and made in Mexico. She cuts, folds and layers the colorful paper to render scenes of daily life in the cultures she loves.

She lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico, for 20 years. She taught English and ran a co-op that helped incarcerated women sell embroidered T-shirts. Before that, she served in the Peace Corps in West Africa, and that's what visitors to the gallery at the Lyme library see.

"This one is called Abbarotes, and abbarotes in Spanish means, it's like a general store," says Santa Maria. "It's like Dan and Whit's in Norwich. They've got everything in there." Santa Maria points out what she calls a classical scene of life in Mexico, "Women walking along the street, and there's a flower vendor in the street, there's a woman making tortillas."

Santa Maria's women - and they're almost always women - are voluptuous, graceful figures cut from black paper. Their bodies are almost like mannequins wearing their intricate and colorful dresses, which literally float above the page. Santa Maria's pieces aren't three dimensional, but not every piece of paper is glued down completely, either. So there's a certain depth in each frame.

But what's most amazing about Santa Maria's works is how windy they all seem to be. "There are lots of curves in most of my work, and making things flow out," she says. "The little details of people's hair and ribbons also gives a sense of things flowing and movement in the wind." 

Wide-open horizons are common in Santa Maria's work. And she says that's no coincidence. "I hate to say this because I love Vermont and I love Vermont politics, but I always felt suffocated in Vermont," explains Santa maria. "And Georgia O'Keefe said something really interesting when she was in Lake George. She talked about how hard it was to be surrounded by all of the trees. And when I came back, that's what I thought: ‘Oh, I feel suffocated again.' So I think when you look at my art, you'll see a lot of space and a lot of horizons, because I think I'm just constantly looking for that space."

Santa Maria met her husband in Mexico and they had two children. When she brought her family back to Vermont fifteen years ago, she enrolled in a master's program at Dartmouth that focused on cultural anthropology. She studied Mexico's Huichol Indians, whose elaborate yarn and beeswax art is a form of prayer and an offering to the gods. But more than anything, Santa Maria says she finds her inspiration in immersion in other cultures. "I need to be in other people's cultures and other people's countries. And now my daughter lives in Mexico, so I go back to Mexico frequently. I need to have that - those smells and those colors and the sea and the space in front of me. And the people are very kind and friendly and that's what I get when I'm in Mexico."

In Painting the Wind, Santa Maria takes us with her. The sound of guitars and the ocean and the smell of flowers seem to float off the page. And for a moment, the Lyme library holds the windy, sensuous cacophony of life.

Note: The Converse Free Library in Lyme, New Hampshire holds regular art shows. Carol Santa Maria's Painting With the Wind is on view until October 30.

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