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Fran Gardner, a professor of art and art history at the University of South Carolina Lancaster, will spend three weeks in July as the artist-in-residence at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Chaco Canyon, Nageezi, N.M.
Funding for this residency has been provided through a grant from the University of South Carolina Lancaster Research and Productive Scholarship Fund and the University of South Carolina Provost's Grant for Creative and Performing Arts.
While at the park, Gardner, whose primary artistic medium is fabric and thread, will produce a body of work responding to the landscape and mission of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Gardner will also present several public presentations and interact with visitors discussing her work at the park. She will use a variety of materials, such as paint, paper, canvas, drawing tools and – her unique feature – machine stitchery, to interpret the features of the landscape and mission of the park.
“I use the painting and drawing to lay in the color and determine much of the design, but the stitchery is always done last – it refines the surface. I use the thread like a painter would use paint – to clean up the surface, to hide or obscure things, to enhance elements and create surface interest – but with the thread instead of paint,” Gardner said.
A previous visit to Chaco Canyon was an inspiration for some of her previous work, so she contacted park superintendent Barbara West with a proposal to do an artist’s residency at the park.
“We are looking forward to Ms. Gardner’s visit,” West said. “As part of the artist-in-residence program, Ms. Gardner will have the opportunity to pursue her art, while creating pieces that will generate discussion about the need to preserve Chaco Culture.”
Gardner’s artistic interest in ecology and sustainability evolved after she created a piece of installation art that gave voice to the plight of coastal birds threatened by the Gulf oil spill in 2010. This piece was exhibited at the Florida Museum for Women Artists and Watson MacRae Gallery in Sanibel Island, Fla.
It was this piece and the public attention it drew to environmental concerns of island preservation that led her to another installation site to study the human imprint and its rich variety and forms.
“Since my installation piece on the Gulf oil spill, I’ve become increasingly interested in how humans inhabit the environment and specifically in the evidence they leave behind, the marks we all make upon the Earth just because we are here,” Gardner said.
“Chaco Canyon is full of excellent examples of this. Architectural structures, pottery shards and numerous petroglyphs are distinct evidence of how these ancient people lived in their world. I want to live in this environment and see how it affects the marks I’m leaving on my world as an artist.”
Chaco Canyon is one of only 20 World Heritage sites in the United States. There are 10 prehistoric architectural sites in nine miles of canyon. The largest complex, Pueblo Bonito (beautiful village), covers almost 3 acres, has at least 650 rooms and is built from massive masonry walls, some up to 3 feet thick. The petroglyph trail spans a quarter-mile of the canyon wall and offers hundreds of enigmatic rock carvings for artistic inspiration and reflection.
Gardner’s work has been featured in several publications, including Fiberarts Magazine and the book, “Crafting Personal Shrines,” by Carol Owen, published by Lark Books. She has exhibited nationally in juried and invitational exhibits in several states, including Pennsylvania, Iowa, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and her home state of South Carolina. Her work was recently accepted for publication in a forthcoming book titled “Textiles: The Art of Mankind,” written by Mary Schoeser and published by Thames and Hudson of London.