The Light Touch
Marilyn Gendron paints "peaceful images," filled with light.
By Donna Clayton Lawder
Marilyn Gendron paints light, both physically and metaphorically. "I'm most often drawn to paint a subject by the way the light makes it look," she says. Other factors, such as shadows or reflections or the subject's form, she says, come into the picture later.
Sitting at a coffeeshop in Silver City's downtown arts district, her eyes and playful, wispy curls shining in the late afternoon light streaming through the window, Gendron opens her large portfolio, showing samples of her works over the years. Her beautiful, lanky teenage daughter sleeping, bathed in warm afternoon light. Old adobes baking in the sun, their deep shadows cast on the golden ground around them. Rivers cutting through a dark green oasis, ripples and rivulets glinting in the sunlight.
As for subject matter, Gendron's work is based in light in that respect as well. "I go for positive images," she says. "Of course I have my opinions, but rather than protest a war in my art, I prefer to 'be peace.' I just choose to paint peaceful images."
Gendron worked more with abstract images in her college years, and though she continues to do abstracts these days, she doesn't often exhibit them, she says. A few pages in the portfolio display those journeys into pure color and form. Though her work is mostly realistic, she describes her relationship to the work as abstract and symbolic. She paints her family and the world around her, she says, trying to convey the richness, joy and duality of life in the special light in which she sees it.
"I appreciate the beauty around me, and try to express my appreciation and joy through the painting," she explains. "I try to share that feeling that prompted me to paint it."
Known for her watercolors of the southwestern landscape, Gendron painted Cold Creek Light, this month's Desert Exposure cover. Another of her paintings was chosen to be this year's poster for the Gila River Festival in May.
Gendron's father and grandmother both were artists. The three once exhibited their work in a three-generation show in Sacramento, Calif., where Gendron grew up. She was fresh out of college at the time of that show, having earned a degree in fine art and art education at the University of Oregon.
Gendron moved to Santa Fe in 1975, then to Southwest New Mexico in 1976, where she and her husband built their own house and raised their two children.
In 1981, she started a design business, creating T-shirts, fine art and graphic design. She has done professional sign painting, and flips through the portfolio to show photos of a number of those projects.
In 1989, Gendron opened the Hot Water Gallery in downtown Silver City with a small group of local artists, including Kate Brown and Peter Glaberman. "It was supposed to be a two- to three-week deal," Gendron recalls with a laugh. The small band of artists put their work in the Broadway storefront now occupied by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Grant County, with no goal beyond having a place to show their works over the upcoming Winter Arts Festival. Much to their surprise, Gendron says, she and Brown continued to operate the gallery, bringing in other artists, for nine years.
Though she rarely enters juried competitions out of the local area—"I don't really care to travel around and do all of that," she says simply— her work was selected as part of a Mimbres Region Arts Council (MRAC) regional juried show for an exhibition at the governor's gallery in Santa Fe in 1999. Gendron also has won graphic design awards, including prizes for designing the Silver City MainStreet logo and for the old Gila Theater's logo.
The Azurite Gallery on Broadway in Silver City has exhibited and sold Gendron's paintings and trademark Mimbres design T-shirts for the past seven years.
Gendron has designed the Tour of the Gila bike race T-shirts for 18 of its 20 years, incorporating her beloved Mimbres images—lizards becoming fanciful bike tires, or a pair of Kokopelli riders coming down to the finish line.
To help keep the ancient art of the Mimbres Indians intact for future generations, Gendron also does educational outreach with the Grant County Archeology Society to raise awareness of—and help protect—ancient rock art in the area. Petroglyphs at Fort Bayard were a recent preservation project.
"We draw and measure the art, and photograph what is there for future reference," she says. "This way, we can tell exactly what is there, if things are added or changed." She winces at the word "graffiti," and acknowledges, "Yes, it happens."
Gendron's fascination with the Mimbres Indians, and their special contribution to the world of art, goes deep, as does her love of sharing the experience of art with children of many ages. To that end, she hopes to write and illustrate a children's book on the Mimbres Indians, their history and special way of life.
She thinks sharing art with children is especially important. Gendron is a key contributor to the MRAC's outreach efforts to youth in the community, including the Fine Arts Fridays program and the Youth Mural Project. She worked on the very first MRAC Youth Mural Project on Silver Street, as well as the three murals at Fort Bayard.
She was the lead artist on the MRAC's newest mural in the program, the freshly completed mural on the Home Furniture building at 207 S. Bullard St. in Silver City. Gendron facilitated the mural's design, working with images suggested and drawn by the children especially for the project. Along with three adults, 22 local school children and youth volunteers participated in the project.
Gendron says she has found her work with the MRAC's Fine Arts Fridays program rewarding and touching.
"I mean, you work hard," she says. "There I am, hauling pounds and pounds of clay, and there's all this set-up to do. Then all these third graders come streaming in, and you're handling something like a hundred kids in an hour."
She pauses, smiling at the memory. "It's really great," she says,
her facing lighting up.
Marilyn Gendron's work can be seen at Azurite Gallery, 110 W. Broadway in Silver City, 538-9048. She is also featured in the Gila River Festival invitational art show, which continues through June 12 at Leyba & Ingalls Arts, 315 N. Bullard St. in Silver City, 388-5725.
Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.