Mary Colter inspires my wearable wood art

Natural markings in spalted maple wood enhanced by pyrography
Natural markings in spalted maple wood enhanced by pyrography

Working on my latest wood pendants and brooches, I found myself inspired by the art and architecture of Mary Colter.

I’ve come to admire and appreciate Mary Colter’s work from my visits to the Grand Canyon. She listened to the Native American culture with her eyes and then used that inspiration in her work – from iconic images on the china in the El Tovar dining room to the design and paintings of the Bright Angel Lodge.

Colter provides a great deal of inspiration in the Grand Canyon experience.

Inside walls of Desert View Watch Tower
Inside walls of Desert View Watch Tower

She designed five buildings in the Grand Canyon. She designed the Hopi House (1905) that today is filled with wonderful Native American art.  At the end of the drive along the South Rim is Hermit’s Rest (1914) that she designed, tucked right at the edge of the Canyon.

FullSizeRender-1She designed Phantom Ranch (1922), a cluster of cabins on the floor of the Grand Canyon.

She designed Bright Angel Lodge (1935) that includes striking Native American designs.

She designed the Lookout Studio (1914), which is a popular location to watch the sunset.

She designed the Desert View Watchtower (1932) overlooking the Canyon and the Colorado River and planned the Native American artwork that is painted on the interior walls.

She decorated El Tovar.

IMG_4421She immersed herself in Native American culture – appreciating the structure and art of what she was trying to capture.  Her creations have been an inspiration in my own art – most recently the pyrography and drawings on wood brooches and pendants.

Mary Colter book cover
Intrigued by Mary Colter’s art and architecture, I read this book to learn more about her and the times she lived in.

As a woman architect at the turn of the 20th century, Mary Colter “leaned in” before it was even a term. (Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg popularized the term with her book “Lean In,” which encourages women to seek leadership and advancement in the workplace.)

She attended the California School of Design in San Francisco, and, in 1901, she was hired by the Fred Harvey Company to decorate the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque. From there, she became an interior designer and then architect for the company.

From having read about Mary Colter’s work and life, I am aware of the challenges she faced in being a woman architect in a time when most architecture programs did not accept women.

I love the storytelling power of her art and architecture. Her geological fireplace in the Bright Angel lodge’s History Room has rocks arranged to duplicate the geologic strata of the Canyon. The art on the El Tovar dinner plates capture the images of Native American life with birds and animals.

If you seek to capture the spirit of the Grand Canyon or have a love of petroglyphs, you can find my wearable wood art in my Etsy store.  I’ll be selling them at the Kanapaha Spring Garden Festival next weekend.  If you would like something custom-made, send me a note.

A short video can be viewed in my post on turning wood pendants.

I appreciate the inspiration provided by the Grand Canyon and by Mary Colter.

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