8 • FEBRUARY 2017
MANEUVERING ELDERDOM • VIVIAN SAVITT
Two artists reveal the comforts of creatures
Jan Fell at her Copper Quail Gallery, 211 N. Texas St. Although the eyepatch lends her a buccaneer aura, it serves as an aid against double-vision. (Photos by Vivian Savitt)
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et’s relinquish those swiftly unravelling New Year’s resolutions to Valentine’s Day sentiments and our ageless love of creatures. Their allure, beauty, majesty and delightfulness — appearing in art since prehistoric times — are present in the uplifting work of Silver City artists Jan Fell and Chris McDaniel, both sexagenarians. Fell, who has owned the Copper Quail Gallery for eight years, describes the 17 other artists whose work shows in the space as “true friends” and colleagues in elderdom. Prior to moving to Silver City, she spent 20 years living in Arizona’s White Mountains and recalls happily cutting wood with a chainsaw, bringing up her daughter, and observing and raising animals that she would “never dream of eating.” It was there in rural Show Low that she taught herself to paint. Beginning with traditional pen and ink drawings, over time Fell progressed to paint. “I kept at it because it was so enjoyable,” she said. The nooks and crannies of Fell’s life allow ample space for her stunning wildlife paintings. Her acrylic miniatures — ranging from frogs and birds to porcupines and bats — are widely collected. Outside the gallery, Fell’s home and studio also serve as residence to her two shelter dogs, John Doe and Clyde. “Animals,” Fell said, “are pure and each creature plays its perfect part in balance with nature. As I fell in love with animals my spirituality increased.” Fell does not attend church, but “leans on God, and reads the Bible every day.” Both Fell, 69, and McDaniel, 63, express their concerns about longevity and living life fully. Having spent the previous year caring for a sister who has Alzheimer’s Disease, Fell ponders her own mortality. Like many elders, her approach to life has taken on more immediacy. “It both propels and worries me. I’ve always been a hard worker, but not an optimist. Now I treasure — not just love — things that I never treasured before: my time, my family and my pets.” “Also,” Fell said, “I don’t feel like I fit in this world — I’m not a modern person. I am probably one of the last two people in the world who loves to write letters. “I have a great deal of respect for elders, especially those that struggle with a cane or a walker and still manage to smile and carry on with courage. The will to thrive — in people who have a lot going against them — inspires me to be like that.” Due to a weakening eye muscle, Fell suffers from double-vision. Four years ago she began wearing her eye patch in public. “It was hard to accept. Even pouring coffee or
driving a nail was a challenge. But fair or not, I accepted it.” McDaniel’s life also involves challenge. Every summer, she participates in the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour, a 400-mile trek with 40,000 feet of climbing. She has spent the last four decades biking, hiking and camping with her husband Larry, a retired veterinarian. “We have a great life, but realize there isn’t that much time left,” McDaniel said. “We want to make it all count. And we also worry about the state of the world and do a fair amount of public service.” “Prior to our marriage, Larry handed me a copy of James Herriot’s ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ and said ‘this is how I want to live.’” Long before the couple moved to Silver City, they had made several forays into the Gila Wilderness — eventually with their two children in tow. A Stephens College art graduate who also taught in an inner-city school in St. Louis, McDaniel absorbs the outdoors as a palette for her textiles. She began drawing, carving and stamping her cloth images 10 years ago with painter Elli Sorenson serving as a mentor. “Elli taught me production and also to trust my own instincts about design and color,” she said. McDaniel’s photography, along with illustrations from books and magazines, provides resource material for her art. She photographed an Orsini’s viper during a cycling trip through the French Pyrenees and was amused to encounter snakes in France. However, it is local flora and fauna that appear foremost in her work. On the Continental Divide Trail near Sapello Campground, McDaniel photographed agave in bloom to capture the extraordinary hues of its flowers. They materialized on a tablecloth — a commissioned piece. Shortly before Christmas, McDaniel ventured into Copper Quail Gallery seeking a gift for her son. She felt an immediate connection with Fell’s work and chose an owl painting for him. It is now part of a small collection of Fell’s wildlife art that “sits on his mantle in Durham, North Carolina,” McDaniel said. Although the two artists do not know one another, their mutual appreciation for animals and the natural world serves as a bond and an anchor for them both.
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Chris McDaniel and her dog, Kip, with a wintry agave in the background. In vet-speak, Kip is a mixed-breed with “hybrid vigor.”
Motifs from a recent tablecloth design. Chris McDaniel’s fiber art, usually stamped on linen, includes potholders, throw pillows and napkins. An array of her work is at Blue Dome Gallery in the Arts District and Bear Mountain Lodge.
Published on Jan 25, 2017