Artist Placitas has used the pandemic to expand his creative repertoire

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“Forest Phoenix”, Dorothy Bunny Bowen, waxproof dye on kimono silk, coral, seed beads with aspen hanger, 27 × 22 inches. (Courtesy of Wild Hearts Gallery)

Known for her brightly colored silk textiles, Placitas artist Dorothy Bunny Bowen has expanded her repertoire during the pandemic.

As the world stood still, she ventured into her backyard wood, as well as clay.

The results can be viewed in “Dorothy Bunny Bowen: Branching Out” at the Wild Hearts Gallery in Placitas through August 28.

“I’ve been a textile person since 1980, when I first learned batik,” she said. “A lot of things have stopped. I’ve always loved wood. I carved our front door from alder and walnut.

Living in the middle of a juniper forest, she started collecting branches for her creations.

“I tried to use what I have rather than buying things,” she continued. “During COVID it was hard to get things.”

As she played with clay, she attached pieces to the cut scars of her trees as “tree blessings”. She also formed slabs of clay.

Bowen’s work “Scout” emerged from the winding canals of beetle pine with aspen and indigo dye after seeing the Albuquerque Museum’s recent indigo exhibit.

“It occurred to me that it would be fun to use indigo on wood,” she said. She topped the branch with a natural piece of oiled aspen resembling some nondescript creature.

“The first name was ‘Critter,'” she said of the fantasy madness.

“Standing Raven” was born from a piece of juniper, the top carved into the bird’s head.

“River”, Dorothy Bunny Bowen. (Courtesy of Wild Hearts Gallery)

“We have them here, of course,” Bowen said. “They are just wonderful mythological creatures. The Phoenicians carried crows on their ships to guide them. Later, the Vikings continued the practice. If they came back, they knew they weren’t near land.

Bowen grew up in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, earning a bachelor’s degree in art while studying printmaking and lithography. She moved to Placitas in 1975 and worked for the International Folk Art Museum on a Textile Analysis Fellowship.

A batik workshop at Placitas Elementary School launched his fiber career. The medium combined her love of textiles with her love of painting.

“Batik is images with wax and dye,” she said. “Instead of being a surface thing, it’s actually in the fiber. You work with a lot of different layers like watercolor layers; you rub the dyes into the silk.

Bowen started with cotton; she has been painting on silk since 1999.

She uses the Japanese technique of rozome on silk, applying the wax with a brush to resemble calligraphy.

She first draws a drawing in pencil or charcoal on the back of the white silk of the kimono. Next, she stretches the silk by adding a mixture of soybeans and water for sizing.

Next, Bowen applies a melted mixture of beeswax and paraffin or soy wax to any areas where the silk should remain white. She prefers to mix all her colors from the basics: warm red, cold red, yellow, blue and black. It fixes the dyes with steam.

“Forest Phoenix”, a wax-resistant dye on kimono silk, echoes her feelings for the forest, especially the resilience of aspen groves

“Every summer since 1971 we’ve been to Colorado and spent time in a cabin at 9,000 feet,” she explained. “It occurred to me that after a fire, the aspens are the first to come back. It’s like a phoenix tree because it’s the first to rise from its ashes.

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