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Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival artists share the inspiration behind their artwork

“Ellen and the Peacock” by Jamin Still.

“Ellen and the Peacock” by Jamin Still.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nearly 200 artists displaying everything from fantasy topiary dragons to the molten fire of glass jewelry will converge on EXPO New Mexico for the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival next weekend.

As the festival marks its 27th year, artists from 21 states will exhibit painting, sculpture, photography, jewelry, textiles, ceramics, wood, metal and glass. Customers can listen to live music and grab a bite to eat on Culinary Row. Organizers are expecting a crowd of about 20,000.

Wichita, Kan., artist Jamin Still creates acrylic paintings resembling children’s book illustrations or outtakes from a “Lord of the Rings” set. His stylistic genesis emerged when he was a child; his parents regularly read to him and he invented stories about his army men and stuffed animals.

“I would go through sketchbooks like crazy,” he said, “making animals with weapons fighting each other. Even as a kid, I was always coming up with stories to go with the images.”

“Ellen and the Peacock” resembles a fantasy snow-blanketed garden captured at midnight, complete with a topiary bird.

“She’s kind of intrepid,” Still said of his protagonist. “She’s curious beyond her age. She’s either trying to get home or to find somebody.”

“Penelope and the Airship” shows a couple floating in a giant leaf hefted by a trio of balloons.

“These kids find these leaves that are magical and transform into things,” he explained. “It’s a quest or a journey of some sort.”

The vague and unfinished storylines are deliberate, Still said.

“It gives people permission to make of them what they will.”

Cedar Crest printmaker Jan Vanderburg makes serene landscapes inspired by travels to exotic lands and mountain valleys. She retired three years ago from Sandia Preparatory School.

“Winneba Coast, Ghana” by Jan Vanderburg.

“Winneba Coast, Ghana” by Jan Vanderburg.

“I’ve always loved printmaking,” Vanderburg said. “There’s something about that duplication of images in front of you that is just fascinating.”

Vanderburg works in both intalgio (etching) and relief (linoleum cuts). Etching is her preferred tool for fine detail. The linocuts produce bold bands of color.

“Winneba Coast, Ghana” shows a flock of boats, their bows like wings across the sand as city buildings loom behind them.

Vanderburg trained in Ghana in the Peace Corps, then returned with her husband in the late 1990s.

“Winneba is known for the fishermen and they design the boats,” she said. “They write these word proverbs and symbols on the bows.”

“Animas Forks” depicts a tranquil Colorado valley, its peaks and pines pointing skyward. Each linocut uses between seven and eight colors of ink.

“I feel like with every print I do I’m still experimenting,” Vanderburg said.

Albuquerque artist Scott Swezy’s pastels show him returning to the images that inspired him when he first arrived at the University of New Mexico four decades ago. Swezy ran his own printing shop and taught art lessons before breaking into the art-fair circuit. In the 1990s he concentrated on abstract work.

“I couldn’t sell Southwestern landscapes in Miami,” he explained. “All the things I learned doing decades of abstract work I could apply to my landscapes.

“You learn a lot of things about color and form and composition when you’re not looking at a mesa,” he said. “Now when you look at a mesa, you see things you’ve never seen before.”

“Moonlight Stream” by Scott Swezy.

“Moonlight Stream” by Scott Swezy.

The simple forms radiate a palette of vibrant color that is more Expressionist than realist.

“I exaggerate the color to some extent,” he acknowledged.

Swezy’s portrait of an Abiquiú mesa derived from his own photograph. The solid shapes echo Japanese woodcuts, he said.

When he isn’t driving across Texas, Colorado or California, Swezy squeezes in a few days of intensive studio work.

“I drive about 40,000 miles a year,” he said. “The only time I get to relax is when I’m driving. I work in concentrated bursts of production.”