Animals Attract at SPSCC Juried Show

by Molly Gilmore

Susan Christian, curator of the SPSCC 2024 Southwest Washington Regional Juried Exhibition.

Susan Christian, a doyenne among Olympia artists, curated South Puget Sound Community College’s 2024 juried show, which opened Monday, July 8, and there’s been lots of buzz around Christian’s participation.

“It’s a way of honoring someone who has been a prominent figure in the arts for many years,” said Sean Barnes, the director and coordinator of the college’s Leonor R. Fuller Gallery. “And I knew she’d get a kick out of it. Susan is intelligent, creative and witty, and I think she brings an East Coast panache and a Pacific Northwest sensibility to the show.”

“A lot of people told me they were applying because they knew Susan was the curator,” said multimedia artist Lucy Gentry-Meltzer. “She has a good critical eye for picking art. A lot of people applied to the show because of who she is.

Gentry-Meltzer herself is participating in the show for the first time. Her “Border Christening: Cost of Crossing,” an evolution of a piece she first showed in 2019, uses christening gowns stiffened with plaster and baby shoes encrusted with salt to make a statement about the treatment of migrants and their children. It’s one of several pieces that incorporate found objects.

“I was thrilled to apply,” Gentry-Meltzer said, “Whether I got in or not, I know from previous experience working with Susan that she’s a great curator and puts together really good shows. She did that all the time at her own place. They were interesting. They were eclectic.”

Michele Burton’s “Most Wanted” captures the spirit of the Steller’s jay — a bird known as a thief. “It’s like a whodunit,” said gallery director Sean Barnes. Photo courtesy of the artist.

That “own place” was the downtown gallery Salon Refu, which Christian ran from 2013 to 2021 with help from Gentry-Meltzer and others. The now-closed gallery did more than show art that Christian admired: It became an artists’ gathering place — a true salon.

Like most group shows without themes, the exhibition Christian juried for the community college is indeed an eclectic one, including 39 works by 32 artists, chosen from among 152 works submitted by 58 artists from Southwest Washington. Several of the artists she chose — including Gentry-Meltzer as well as Lynette Charters, Arrington de Dionyso, Jonathan Happ and China Star — are or have been gallerists. Also among those with work in the show are such well-known locals as Tom Anderson, Susan Aurand, Marilyn Bedford, Sandra Bocas, Irene Osborn and Rene Westbrook.  

Rene Westbrook’s “Notes of a Native Son” is “a passionate statement,” said Susan Christian, the guest juror for the show. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Diverse though the work is, many of the pieces reflect on nature and the outdoors. “As always, folks are thinking about the natural world,” Barnes said. “There’s work that addresses landscape and wildlife forms. There are some interesting portraits, including portraits of animals.”

Both Barnes and Christian were particularly struck by Michele Burton’s “Most Wanted,” a photo collage of multiple images of a Steller’s jay. “They’re looking in every direction, and their gazes are crossing,” Christian said. “It’s like a community of birds or a picture of the sounds jays make. … It’s brilliant. It’s very active, but it’s not busy. You can apprehend it really fast, but it keeps telling you more the more you look at it.” In a similar vein is Hall Jameson’s playful “Canada Goose,” another whimsical animal portrait.

Charles Pitz’s “Axis Mundi” combines wood, copper and gold leaf, lacquer and the shed skin of a timber rattlesnake. Photo courtesy of South Puget Sound Community College.

Living more in the symbolic realm among the animal works is Charles Pitz’s “Axis Mundi,”which includes the shed skin of a timber rattlesnake. The piece is inspired by a Shingon Buddhist shrine to a protector king represented by a flame-wrapped serpent, Pitz wrote in his artist’s statement ( In a similar vein are de Dionyso’s “Tyger Tyger”  and Sara Gettys’ porcelain “Lightning Bug.”

There are human portraits in the show, too, including Westbrook’s “Notes of a Native Son,” for which the artist digitally combined her own painting and photography with a stock photo of writer James Baldwin.

Irene Osborn’s “Tired” is one of the handful of three-dimensional pieces in the exhibition. Osborn’s artist’s statement is short and to the point: “Whether it is the political turmoil, Covid-19 or global warming, it all feels overwhelming.” Photo courtesy of South Puget Sound Community College.

“What seems important to me about that piece is that the artist is very passionate about the subject matter and it shows,” Christian said. “It’s not decorative. It’s a passionate statement. … His religious background is there in his face. He’s not looking at us. He’s looking up at God.”

Other artists with work in the show, open through Aug. 16, are Melissa Barnes, Teri Bevelacqua, Gabi Clayton, Christine Echeverri, Maia Erickson, Doyle Fanning, Faith Hagenhofer, Joan Hitchcock, John Holmgren, Jeanette Jones, John C. Korvell, Jennifer Lauer, Mary McCann, Rachel McLain, David Moore, Nancy Romanovsky and Jimmy Ulvenes. Juror’s awards, purchase awards and a viewer’s choice award will be given at the opening reception July 11.


SPSCC Southwest Washington Regional Juried Exhibition

July 8-Aug. 16 Gallery hours noon-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday
Opening reception Thursday, July 11 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The Leonor R. Fuller Gallery at South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia

Including bios, artist statements and photos of artwork in this show

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