Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2023: With six Utah artists, Circles of Influence to be featured City Library exhibition

For the 47th Utah Arts Festival, The Gallery at Library Square on the fourth floor of The City Library will feature Circles of Influence with works by six female artists (Sheryl Gillilan, Jaye Rieser, Kandace Steadman, Camille Wheatley, Virginia Catherall and Rebecca Klundt) who explore the natural world’s ubiquitous presence of circles in many forms. The artists worked independently in creating their pieces, being inspired by their own circles of influence and signifying how their creative influences have external ripples or internal reverberations. 

The Utah Review asked each artist to answer a set of short questions about their creative processes, influences, their artistic background and the messages and themes they consider important for their circles of influence. 

Virginia Catherall, Mirabilite Mound, 2023, Hand-knit wool
37” (94 cm) diameter. In late October 2019, unique mineral mounds began forming on the south shore of Great Salt Lake. They are not composed of common table salt but mirabilite from underground springs. When the sodium-sulfate-rich spring water hits the cold winter air, mirabilite crystals form and build up a collection of small circular terraces. Spring-fed crystalline mirabilite mounds are rare; they have never before been scientifically documented at Great Salt Lake

Virginia Catherall is a Salt Lake City knitting and textile artist who also is curator of education at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. She is inspired by the landscapes of the Great Salt Lake, the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau. “My art echoes the geography of my place; a type of knitting “terroir” that brings the landscape into the forefront of my life,” she writes responding to questions by email. “Many of my wearable landscapes and sculptures focus on interpreting the science, geography, and biology of an ecosystem within the traditional craft of knitting. And because of this study and practice, I have honed my thinking about environmentalism, conservation, and preservation of the land.”

As for how her work ties in to theme of the exhibition’s title, Catherall explains, “My art revolves around interpreting nature into wearable art; the crux being the idea of surrounding yourself with nature. Circles are everywhere in nature so it was not hard to get inspiration and create pieces that speak to my need to immerse myself in the landscape.” 

Her pieces include three circular shawls, which she describes as emulating “natural circle forms: rain puddles, water pockets and mirabilite mounds.” Another work is a stole made of circles of sagebrush and a cowl of round buttercups. “But there are also works that encircle the wearer,” she notes. One is “a cowl of the night sky to surround your senses, a crescent of moon to drape on your shoulders. I also played with whimsy with the seedpod vessels that are knitted containers inspired by seedpods that take a circular shape.”

Virginia Catterall, Seedpod Vessels, 2023, Hand-knit yarn.
Seedpods are as varied as the plants that grow them. From puffballs to pinecones and acorns to tricorns, they come in all shapes and sizes. These vessels were inspired by seedpods I have found throughout Utah’s forests, deserts, and mountains.

She has been an artist-in-residence for Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area, Great Basin National Park, Capitol Reef National Park. This year, she is artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park.

Catherall hopes viewers of the exhibition will see the art of knitting in a different way than what they traditionally might have considered. Regarding those who also are knitting artists she has published knitting patterns of many of her pieces. “My art allows for a pattern to be published for people to be able to knit their own version of the artwork,” she adds. “And in knitting a work inspired by the landscape, I hope the knitter/crafter will learn, appreciate, and come to understand one element of a complex ecosystem.”

Among artists she has considered as important influences are Anni Albers for color, texture and pattern, Spencer Finch for distilling the experience of the natural world to “to a few colors and shapes but still being able to express to the viewer that experience is phenomenal, and Sonia Delaunay for the inherent beauty of the structure and pattern of her art and textiles.

Virginia Catherall, Waterpocket, 2023, Hand-knit merino wool 35” (89 cm) diameter. Waterpockets are incredibly important to the desert ecosystem. These natural potholes hold ephemeral water after rains and can be lifesaving for many animals including humans. Capitol Reef National Park has so many in the cliffs above the town of Fruita that the monoclinal wrinkle in the earth’s crust there is named after them: The Waterpocket Fold.

Sheryl Gillilan has been an arts administrator for 20 years and is currently the executive director of the Holladay Arts Council. Emphasizing her love for vibrant colors and dynamic aspects in her quilts and designs, she writes in respond to email questions, “Circles are everywhere, and I love seeing them in daily life and having ideas flood into my head—how to “’cut them up,’ or what they would like in contrast to other shapes.” She adds, “I translate many of those ideas into quilts that may not look anything like the original sighting, but it’s so easy to be inspired every day.”

She hopes that exhibition viewers can be confident about their innate characteristics to be an artist. “For those of you who swear you ‘don’t have a creative bone’ in your body, I hope you see that you can create in your own way, and you can be inspired by what you see at the exhibit, or what you see when you look around,” she explains. “Most of art is the discipline of actually doing it—so rediscover your creative bone and go make something!”

Sheryl Gillilan.

Gillilan notes that while she does not have an art degree, she has taken numerous art and color classes. “I have been a maker all my life,” she notes, adding that she “always come back to textiles as my preferred medium for artistic expression. I am inspired by the Gee’s Bend quilts and traditional artists who use lots of color and bold shapes in their paintings.”

Gillilan says she finds time to dedicate about 20-25 hours to quilting. “I love to start new quilts, but I have disciplined myself to complete one before starting another,” she writes. “There is a lot of finishing work to a quilt that isn’t particularly exciting, so I reward myself by getting it done and then joyfully releasing one of the multiple quilt ideas living in my head.” She adds that she switches up her process regularly —  “designing, cutting fabric, machine piecing and quilting, ironing, or hand sewing, not to mention cleaning up all the different fabrics that explode around me as I design each new quilt.”

Sheryl Gillilan.

Rebecca Klundt, a Brigham Young University graduate who works full-time as an artist, writes in response to emailed questions that her epiphany about her creative direction came during college when she composed a paper listing what was closest to her heart. “The first was a love for power tools and physical processes. The second was a need to use non-traditional materials that required creativity to engage with,” she recalls.”The third was a love for significant lines. I love the natural lines made by butting two things up to each other, or the lines made by cracked rocks. When I mashed these things up together, I began the exploration that put me on the path I am on today.”

Rebecca Klundt.

As for what she would like viewers to take away from the Circles of Influence show, Klundt notes, “Close your eyes and reach out in any direction to find what things you can touch or that can touch you. This is your circle of influence. I used these pieces to describe some of those things.”

As for how smoothly her creative process unfolds, Klundt adds, “If I have a concept I am excited about, it is really great to come to the studio with a new project to work out.” She adds, “I have learned that I should always have something unfinished to jump into if I don’t have something new. Some days I might spend time ripping boards or prepping wood which is also a process I enjoy.”

Rebecca Klundt.

Jaye Rieser says that she is retired now and adds, “I create for the pleasure of it.” A former social work administrator who also worked exclusively as an artist through sales at art festivals and galleries, she explains,. “As a potter, I throw clay on the potter’s wheel and hand-build on a canvas covered table.”

For Circles of Influence, she made vessels influenced by Georg Jensen sterling silver designs, created from 1919-1930. “The first inspiration to “google” Georg Jensen came from an advertisement that wafted across my line of vision,” Rieser adds.

About approaching the theme, Rieser writes in response to emailed questions, “I rejected focusing on the circular nature of the actual pot. The negative space, the air inside the shape of the handle and pot became my inspiration.”

Jaye Rieser.

To clarify what she means by the space, she mentioned the round space we see when taking a cookie from a jar or the space when liquid is poured from a vessel. “We all have a favorite mug or pitcher. I focused on creating a wonderful visual space for your hand, your beverage or your potato salad!” she notes. “The heavy throwing rings in the cups, accompanying the vessels, are an inviting curve to cradle your fingers. The circular grooves from my hands in wet clay are left visible on the pieces. I hope they bring the joy of viewing and using hand made pottery to the friends visiting this exhibit. I very much enjoy creating functional one of a kind pieces.” 

Her training journey as an artist started with a high school art teacher, a college pottery instructor, the availability of a pottery studio at the Salt Lake Art Center and now, at The Petersen Art Center in Sugarhouse. “A summer workshop, 20-plus years ago at Snow College, taught by Joe Bennion (Horseshoe Mountain Pottery in Spring City) continues to influence my work toward the organic sensuousness and simplicity of clay,” she adds. “Mark Petersen, Cynthia Xiaz-Cool and fellow instructors and students at Petersen’s continue to influence my work through their own creativity and supportive environment.”

Jaye Rieser.

Rieser says that she spends a lot of time visualizing shapes before sitting at the potter’s wheel. She adds that she finds it easy to start work. “I never experience clay as an intimidating blank canvas or experience ‘writer’s block’ when getting started,” she explains. “If I am having a difficult day trying to throw a particular shape, I return to simpler roots of the form or hand-build something. The pleasure of making a little pinch pot never fades. If inspiration is lacking, I find inspiration in shapes and forms across all forms of media.”

Rieser adds, “A beautiful, curved flowing form is difficult to make. Proportion, balance and an individual’s personal aesthetic combine to make a pot that feels good in the user’s hand. For example, the half circle in the neck and the shoulder of a pot speak to both the pot itself and the negative space inside the curve.”

Rieser says that her self-identity as an artist comes from the process. “Creating pottery that is placed in a kiln and fired to 2,381 degrees Fahrenheit is hard on one’s self identity if it is tied to the outcome of a very hot fire,” she adds.

Jaye Rieser.

Kandace Steadman explains that she does not use a lot of art media in her work. “Usually, I start with an image that intrigues me, whether the topographical lines on a map, an image in a magazine—reallly anything that captures my interest,” she explains. “As I think about the image or idea, my mind works to pair it with something that either compliments or contrasts and then take the idea from there.”

Steadman likes how the six artists, in their own ways, are using the circle as the focus of inspiration. “Circles are ubiquitous in our world, so there are almost infinite possibilities,” she explains. “Each artist has her own particular medium in which she works, and I think the exhibition has a lot of visual texture and variety. And the relationships among the artists overlap and circle across one another, in a complex Venn diagram.”

Kandace Steadman.

Steadman was trained as an art historian who has worked in museums and galleries, which she says has helped her define her own aesthetics. She took art courses in community education programs, most notably Summer Snow, the weeklong intensive courses at Utah’s Snow College. “Locally, I love the simplicity of Frank McEntire’s work, the perfection and wit of Adam Larsen’s multimedia pieces,” she adds. “Bettye Saar and Louise Nevelson on an international level, have also influenced me.”

Steadman says her creative process moves along smoothly. “Once I get an idea for an art piece, it’s easy for me to work forward to complete it.,” she writes. “Of course, there are changes I make as I go along, hoping to tweak the idea and improve my original concept. I work best when I carve out blocks of time—a few hours a day, or possible a class or a workshop—to devote specifically to creating my work.”

Kandace Steadman.

Camille Wheatley is a photographer and an architect (having earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architectural studies at The University of Utah). She prefers understated, quiet moments as a source for her work, rather than the stunning magnificence of her surroundings. “I give the seemingly boring a second chance. My photographic passion lies in finding beauty in the banal, seeking majesty in the mundane, and discovering the divine in the otherwise dull details of life,” she explains, in responses to emailed questions. “This photographic outlet has helped me come to terms with and find peace in the often mind-numbingly boring and mundane tasks of daily life as a mostly stay-at-home mother of four children.” She launched ber independent architectural practice in 2017, after the birth of her fourth child.

Regarding her work in the exhibition, she writes, “I had a fun time searching through photographs that had elements of circles represented in them. This exercise helped me realize how pervasive circles and curves are in the built environment around us.”

Camille Wheatley.

She recalls that in college, while enrolled in an architectural photography class, she discovered the works of photographers such as Abelardo Morrell and Ansel Adams, among others. “After taking that singular class, I never stopped taking photographs, finding inspiration in the built environment around me,” she notes, adding that she enjoys the synergies of photography and architecture, when it comes to attributes of light, composition, spatial awareness, etc. “I rely solely on my iPhone camera, for its immediacy, since the majority of my photographic work happens while accompanying my four children on various outings and errands,” Wheatley explains. “My photographs are pure, unedited (no lighting adjustments, no filters, etc.) scenes, pulled directly from the environment with a focus on understated moments. … And there’s always something new to see in the everyday world, as the lighting and shadows are never quite the same from day to day.”

Camille Wheatley.

As for inspiration, she explains that if she is finding inspiration difficult, “I go on a walk or run some errands until I see a shadow or interesting composition that stops me in my tracks.” She adds, “It’s not particularly difficult to start new work. If I’m preparing work for a show, I have to give myself lots of time to prep, since I’m fitting my photography into the margins of my life.”

For more information and tickets, download the Utah Arts Festival app for free, available to Android and iOS users. There also are links to the UAF’s standard website. 

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