Playing in a “series”

Clay Mail Grouping A

Clay Mail Envelopes
(painted and embellished clay)

In April this year, I posted a blog about working in a series. I have strong emotions (opinions?) and a powerful commitment to my way of working with an idea until I have made it my own. The exploration continuum has taken me deeper into visual expression than any efforts to capture new imagery with each creative session. A rich and meaningful poignancy has mounted up over years of probing around, into, and through a series.

Within the last couple of years I have unbuckled my work from schedules, commitments to others, to classrooms and students and from shows and festivals. Released from the avenues of work, what I am now doing in the studio romps, mostly, in the fields of play. Skipping out of my painting studio often and showing up at the co-op pottery studio surprises me with a compelling invitation to play.  With an archaic childhood memory of mud pies returning to my consciousness, I have tossed clay up in the air, pounded it with force and rolled it flat. Drawing shapes, folding, patting and pinching clay harken to the girl that hasn’t entirely disappeared from my persona. Though I’m surprised, no one else finds it unexpected that I would continue to play “in a series.”  These recent years of playing in the dirt have yielded numerous envelopes, probably more than a hundred angels, and a myriad of boxy pieces I call “altars.” Staying with a series of related pieces indeed seems to be my way of expression and I make no apologies for “sticking with it!”
Group 2Clay Mail Envelopes
(painted and embellished clay)

I haven’t made any clay envelopes in a while, I don’t know if that series is over or not. I think it may be meshing with the clay angels. I call the clay angels “Earth Angels” and have included some of them on the “Clay” page of the website, and a few more here.
3 AngelsAngel Duo




Word AngelAngel with rabbit fetish

Angel with rusts and browns Earth Angel-bird with bird fetishes, detailBelow is a smoke fired angel that I embellished with an envelope, making me wonder if the angels are meshing with the envelopes. I liked it so much that I have begun to experiment with cutting a place in the body of some of the angels and putting an envelope there. I will post more of the continuing playful series of Earth Angels on the “Clay” page when they are finished.
smoked, contrastDSCM3614, detail

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Working In a “Series”

Several days ago I spoke with an artist visiting The Artist Gallery in Carlsbad, NM where I live. He talked about his works in acrylics, his techniques, and his imagery. He referred to himself as a “streaking” artist, which he described as streaking from one thing to another. He enjoys trying new things and his interests are widespread, in subject matter and in technique. He was quite surprised when I told him, I seem to be more of a “pedantic” artist, dwelling in one series of images for long periods of time, and although I use a wide variety of techniques there is definitely an “HGwinn” quality about them. When I told him my “Envelope Series” contains well over a hundred images, he was stunned. I wonder how he would have responded had I told him about Mark Gould  who now has over 900 images in his series entitled “My Neighbor’s House.”

My Neighbor's Houses #808 “MY NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE 808″
acrylic painting on panel,24×30 inches
Mark Gould, artist

                       For me it is rare (but it does occur) that I complete an art piece and  feel it is  a full expression. When I finish a painting I commonly feel both content with the completion and a question in my mind about parts of it. Could I have done that shape better? added or reduced the amount of texture? Have I brought a wholeness into the design? Are the compositional details coordinated? Is the content, the imagery, compelling? Is there more to express?
In the late 1980′s when my daughter went off to college, we communicated mostly by letters… called “snail mail.” It was in the days when there was no email, cell phones were barely being heard of and long-distance phone calls were costly. It wasn’t long before I was aware that we were communicating more clearly through the written word than we had during her adolescent high-school days. I was loving to find an envelope in my mailbox with her return address on it. Soon envelopes and letters began to turn into imagery showing up in my mixed media paintings. Today the “Envelope Series” has nearly 200 pieces in it and has morphed into the “Cliff Gifts Series.” Tiny packets (envelopes of a sort) are packed and secured into the painted/collaged cliffs of this series.
Cliff Gifts Series-Amber CanyonCLIFF GIFTS: AMBER CANYON
mixed media painting, 20X13X1.5 inches
Helen Gwinn, artist
The Cliff Gifts Series currently contains more than a hundred pieces. While it seems to be waning in my focus, another series, “The Nests,” is developing. These images of freedom, of nurture and refuge are important elements for me to express. Although birds and nests have been important symbols throughout my days of painting, they are now dominant and demanding my attention.
mixed media on panel, 16X12X2 inches
Helen Gwinn, artist

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In September 2013 the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Austin Speech Labs, Shilpa Shamapant, asked me to write a brief article about Casey’s recovery for the annual newsletter. I typed up a few paragraphs, emailed them off to her and promptly forgot about the task. After Christmas, just a couple of  days ago actually, the 2013 newsletter from ASL arrived in our snail mailbox out on the curb in front of our house.
Page one had a brief review of the year, “A Look Back & A Look Forward.” It was followed by a longer article from the Executive Director reviewing the history of the cutting-edge speech labs, crediting the numerous contributions of skills and expertise as well as the many generous and dedicated people who are committed to stroke recovery. Turning her dreams for ASL into reality has included  those in the trenches putting the clients through ground-breaking exercises and practice as well as the medical and scientific research communities who tirelessly work to add to the knowledge-bank for understanding the miraculous human brain and its capacity to to recover from stroke.
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that I drew in my breath when I was confronted by the paragraphs I had written three and a half months ago. They are in the middle of the newsletter. I thought I would post a link to ASL on Facebook so Casey’s many friends could see it, but when I went to the ASL website the latest newsletter posted there was the one from 2011, so it may be a while before the webmaster gets the 2013 letter on the site. I have decided to share the article with you by posting it here :

On January 3, 2007, in the flash of a moment, the entire right side of Casey’s 36-year-old body was paralyzed and all of his language disappeared. An amazing path of recovery has ensued. From a wheelchair and hand signs, Casey has moved through a series of complex recovery efforts to an astonishing life of independence.
In 2008 he enrolled in Austin Speech Labs’ second Boot Camp. By then, he was walking without any assistive device but was still limited in his communication. He could say some words, but not phrases or sentences. Casey, a mechanical engineer, who worked at a brewery in New Mexico before the stroke, now moved in with his sister, Jeni, in the Austin area and began an intense focus on regaining his former facility and pleasure with the English language. Within the following year, he moved into his own apartment and in 2012, Casey began a part-time job working at Austin Homebrew. Today he’s employed two full days and two half days and faithfully maintains his work at ASL three mornings each week.
The amicable, positive atmosphere at ASL has been the perfect milieu for Casey to succeed. The clear direction and supportive respect from Shilpa and her partner, Shelley Adair, are unquestionably the guiding force he needs. From their sincere belief in him, he is regaining conversational skills and has been propelled into a self- confidence that is inspiring to his family and friends. He now Skypes regularly with another stroke survivor and follows along as his mother reads books to him over the phone. He has traveled alone by plane to visit friends and recently drove with a friend to visit a fellow stroke survivor in Laredo, Texas. Together they engaged in a variety of social activities and challenged themselves on bike trails.
Reaching out to make new friends and enjoy the camaraderie of friendly interaction has resulted from his perseverance in the intricacies of recovery. Casey and another ASL client meet for lunch regularly. Recently Casey stretched his language skills to include texting. He does most of his own banking, pays the bills, uses a computer, works out and keeps tabs on his favorite Formula One race-car drivers.

Casey’s faith and the support from loyal friends and family are stellar components in his motivation to recover. We have grown in many ways and been inspired by him as much as he has been by us. Thank you Shilpa and Shelley for your studied, marvelous expertise and for being an exquisite foundation of grace for us in Casey’s recovery!



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Chicago Skyline           It’s been a long-time dream, simmering in my consciousness……ooohhh… visit the Chicago Art Institute. I’ve visited many world class museums, but somehow Chicago Art Institute remained out of reach. I had landed a number of times at Chicago O’Hare to change course directions, and longed to go into Chicago, but it had never worked out until this year.
In recent years, my daughter Jeni was my ace assistant at the Weems International Artfest. That time together, albeit loaded with work and distractions, was our “girls’ weekend.” A couple of years ago when I decided that Artfest would get deleted from my career, we vowed to keep our “girls’ weekend” in other venues. Last year our schedules kept that from happening so this year we splurged on a week in Chicago, a memorable splurge.
Edouard Manet: "Woman Reading"                                               Edouard Manet: “Woman Reading”

Two days at the Chicago Art Institute were boggling, inspiring, and exhausting. We saw much of the permanent collections, and took in the special exhibit “Impressionism and Fashion,” a huge exhibit that had been gathered from collections far and wide.  Manet, Monet, Degas and every other important name in impressionism: they were there! The emphasis was on the clothing worn by the models in impressionistic paintings. Many of the actual garments or similar ones from that era were exhibited near the paintings. A myriad of hats, gloves, bags, and shoes were arranged for viewing. Paintings I had only seen in books simply took my breath away as I encountered them in person. We spent part of both days seeing that show, falling in love with textures and brush strokes; it was just too much to take in with one visit. Indeed we could have spent additional time there, but Oak Park and Frank Lloyd Wright were calling.

Unity Temple EntranceUnity Temple                                                           UNITY TEMPLE

The home Frank Lloyd Wright built for his family is in the Oak Park area among a variety of other homes he designed and not far from his famous Unity Temple commissioned by the Unity Universalist Church. Attached to his home is the studio where he worked with draftsmen, budding architects, and artists and met with clients. Every carefully planned detail contributed to the joy of family life or the commercial affair of architect and client. In downtown Chicago we also toured an office building, The Rookery, so Wright, so decked out with characteristic art glass, heavy solid masonry, and ease of access.

Hotdogs at Wrigley                                                          Hotdogs at Wrigley

                 And Wrigley Field was calling also. What an adventure, from riding the noisy electric train, totally packed with rabid Cubs fans, to classic Chicago hot dogs, to homeruns and a big win for the Cubs over the Brewers….it was a day like no other. Honestly I was being a good sport, I thought, to go since I’m not much of a baseball fan. That afternoon at the historic Wrigley ranks right up at the top with our other escapades……like eating at the Purple Pig, restaurant of the famous chef Jimmy Bannos. Jeni ordered “pigs ear” that day for her antipasti (which I thought tasted like high-class pork rinds and looked a little like tiny twisted french fries) accompanied by extraordinarily delicious octopus enhanced with tasty relish.  I had poached Tuna and a quail dish that had a stuffing with pomegranate. We polished it shiny with ice cream with salted caramel topping…whew!
There were visits to the Tiffany Dome inside Macy’s, a recording session of NPR’s news quiz show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” eating Chicago’s deep dish pizza at Giordano’s, visiting the Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier, and the Smith Museum of Stained Glass.
clay sculpture
Melinnium Park was an exquisite connection between our hotel and the Chicago Art Institute. On several days we strolled through there taking in the haunting “Agora” sculptures by Magdalena Abakanowicz  and the playful clay shapes and figures of Jun Kaneko. Agora                                            “AGORA” by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Both the reflecting pool and “The Cloud” attracted many families inviting them into crazy watery  antics and playful distorted reflections. It was a delightful interruption to the big city bustle.
Jeni and the Bean                                  Jeni at the “Cloud,” popularly known as “The Bean”

We polished off our Chicago whirl with an architectural tour by boat along the Chicago River and a spin around Lake Michigan.  Such fun, my inspiration tank is on “full” and my time with daughter Jeni is an unspeakable treasure in my spirit, never to dim or be erased.

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Nest Series: Different ViewpointsNest Series: Different Viewpoints
(acrylics on paper, 29X21, framed: 36X29 inches, simple mahogany frame)

Tangled, knotted
Flitting, flying,
Soaring, stalling
Serious and silly thoughts
Stammer through neural corridors.
Some syncopated concentrations,
Stunned, dazed and daunting,
Twirl themselves
Into fractal rhythms,
Threading along tracks of consciousness.

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Repost: Sacred Encounter

Note: This is an old post which I have “reposted” today in response to Seth Apter’s invitation to “dig down into buried treasure.” Enjoy other “buried treasures” by taking a look at the links list on his website listing other artisans who have participated:

Sacred Encounter

On one of my routine early morning walks up the Ocotillo Trail I noted a cluster of walkers standing in the trail ahead. One person raised a hand of caution and directed my attention off to the side of the trail. A night hawk, a Whip-Poor-Will, was on the ground not far from the trail. She was difficult to see, for her coloring was the same as the rocks and dirt where she nestled. Eventually when I could see her I joined the awestruck focus of the little group of reverent spectators touched by God’s amazing creation.
Day after day, I could barely wait to walk the trail. Hastily scribbled signs were stuck to the gate at the trail head: “Please leave your dogs home!” and “Keep dogs on a tight leash?”and “Bird nesting near trail.” Mother Whip-Poor-Will episodes were better than the movies. Sometimes we had to look for a long time which caused fear that she had moved away from us. Sometimes she was very close to the trail, sometimes under a bush or near her favorite rock.
One day, a friend and I stood for a very long time watching her breathe, open her eyes and close them again. Suddenly we were stunned when a tiny yellow fluff ball popped out from under her soft brown breast. The miraculous birth had taken place! The mother bird barely seemed to notice when two more tiny babies moved from her warm protection into the hazy morning light and joined in an awesome ritual of newness. For days the playful dance of the wee birds continued. We gasped as they moved farther and farther away from Mother Whip-Poor-Will.  She seemed uninterested in their antics yet always ready when they ducked back under her breast for solace. Amazed and dazzled by this encounter with God’s creative force, we watched, hushed by sheer wonder.
Near The Trail“NEAR THE TRAIL” (mixed media)

This painting belongs to a series of art pieces I have entitled “THE GIFTS.” Most of the pieces in the series have little gift packets which contain mysterious literal gifts: passages from scripture, musical score, beautiful papers, postage stamps, medallions, quotations from life’s spiritual seekers, meaningful symbols of faith and/or tiny natural objects such as feathers, stones and shells. They are hidden from view but their mysterious presence is intended to impact the composition.
Selecting colors and textures for this piece caused a sense of worship to develop in my spirit. It’s a sensation I often experience as I work. The sensation of worship runs the gamut of emotions from doubt to exhilaration to peace and joy. Time disappeared as my focus intensified, trusting the Spirit, choosing symbols to include, deciding on shapes and brushing on the paint, for I hoped to commemorate the sacred encounter I describe above.
“NEAR THE TRAIL” has an overall shape I associate with a worshipful place, a sanctuary. Eggs often symbolize new life or new beginnings and they do for me too, along with other varieties of newness. The delicate green leaves in the upper part are an additional symbol of newness and growth.
The art piece includes a portion of Psalm 139 handwritten from my memory. It contains the question: “Where can I go from Your (God’s) Presence?” and its answer: “If I ascend to heaven, You are there and if I make my bed in the pit, You are there. Even if I take the WINGS OF THE MORNING and settle at the most remote place, YOU ARE THERE. Your hand guides me and your right hand holds me fast.”
Near The Trail (detail)NEAR THE TRAIL (detail of gift packet)


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Repost, or re-post do you know that word? I have responded to Seth Apter’s challenge for bloggers to repost a favorite blog on June 12, 2013. His challenge included these sentences:

So many blogs…so little time. With so many wonderful art blogs to follow, it is difficult to always find the time to keep up with every new post — let alone have the time to visit the posts that were put up before you discovered each blog.
So…four years ago I started an annual treasure hunt. Buried Treasure is about digging deep to uncover some hidden gems. The premise is simple. On Wednesday, June 12th all participating bloggers will re-post one (or more) of their favorite posts that ever appeared on their blog. As you might already know, I don’t like too many rules when it comes to art. So anything goes.

So, watch for a repost on my blog coming up next week!

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Nest Series - Luminis                                          Nest Series: Luminis
(watermedia/collage, 18X18 inches)

                       Refuge, protection, safety, newness, hatchery…….these are a few words of symbolism I attach to the recent series of art pieces I’ve been working on. My new show, entitled THE NESTS will be featured at the Weems Old Town Gallery in Albuquerque throughout the month of May.  Last week I delivered fourteen new mixed media paintings and nine clay “Earth Angels” for the show.
Earth Angel 5 detail







My studio has become a comfortable nest over the years. When I began to work in there in 1979, and the materials started to pile up around me, my husband made some wry comments about my “nesting instinct.” I’m not sure how instinctual it is, but there’s no question that the clutter of colors and textures and shapes are a hatchery, an incubator if you will, for my creative endeavors.
Several years ago my co-teacher, Lynette Watkins, and I began to talk of “new beginnings” as a theme for the class we would teach at the La Romita School of Art in Terni, Italy. That’s when the “nest” symbol began to make itself known in my work along with eggs, which are poignant symbols of birth, hope, creative purity and expectation.  In Lynette’s work symbolic “gates” and “keys” emerged.
Dramatic and powerful changes were happening in my personal life. Some of them seemed not at all like new beginnings but rather like endings. Changes occurred that were making an end to the life I had known and expected to continue knowing. My 36 year old son suffered a devastating stroke that left the right side of his body paralyzed and took away all, ALL, ABSOLUTELY ALL of his language. Two years later I was rushed into emergency open heart surgery for mitral valve replacement and multiple by-passes.  Much changed but I experienced, in the depths of heart-break for my son, and the fright of my own physical broken heart, a rock-solid foundation in my relationship with God. A tiny newness began to nestle around me, a secure and steady glory-of-hope, a nest (if you will) of beginning, the commencement of a new level of living in grace. Imagine that! express that! I needed to.

Nest Series-Packet of Remembrances      Nest Series: Packet of Remembrance
(watermedia/collage, 13X10 inches)

What color is a “new beginning”? and what shape is it? What texture does it have? Creative expression helps to make sense of happenings in my world….. is that what vocations are? or pre-occupations? or “callings”? Are they methods of making sense? I love words and sometimes, often actually, put them in my works. Also I journal, journal, journal. I carry a journal with me at all times, loading book after book with drivel, thoughts, snippets of information and sketches that help me keep my bearings. But when I sit down to string words together into sentences for someone else to read, they aren’t big enough, fitting enough, or just right.
Nest Series - Nesting Notes                             Nest Series: Nesting Notations
(mixed media on a cradled panel, 24X12X2 inches)

And often the creative expressions (paintings, collages, assemblages) miss the mark also, they’re not big enough, or should I say “deep enough” or “expansive enough”? Some of them get close. The creative expressions in the THE NESTS SERIES are my attempt to make sense of the refuge, the safety, the hope, the newness, the expectancy I am experiencing in my life and the life of my family (which includes not just my husband, daughter, and son but also my extended family of relatives and friends, fellow travelers on my life’s journey.)

Nest Series: By GritNest Series: By Grit
(mixed media on a cradled panel, 12X12X2 inches)
Additional images from the Nest Series may be seen on the pages of my website. My son is making a superb recovery. He lives and works in Austin and gets therapy at Austin Speech Labs.

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YOU’RE INVITED to MasterWorks of New Mexico 2013!
MasterWorks of New Mexico
Expo NM Logo

April 5-27,

Hispanic Arts Gallery
at Expo NM, Albuquerque

10 am-5 pm
(Closed Mondays)


Please forward this to your friends using the link at the bottom.
(Postcard images are from the 2012 show.)
MasterWorks E-Postcard

MasterWorks of NM is a joint show of 4 different painting organizations in New Mexico.-The Rio Grande Art Association (oils, acrylics and other paintings not under glass)
-The New Mexico Watercolor Society
-The Pastel Society of New Mexico
-Bardean LLC (representing miniatures)This exhibition, which is in it’s 15th year this year, will feature 141 standard-size paintings
and around 250 miniature paintings (miniatures are smaller than 25 square inches and
are highly collectable). This is one of the premier painting shows in New Mexico!Click here for more information on MasterWorks
and to see this year’s Catalog of Entries (available soon)

Best of Show

Standart Art Division
Iva Morris

Standard Fine Art Officials:
Judge – Juan Wijngaard
Jurors – Ralph Greene, Helen Gwinn, Woody Gwyn
Miniature Fine Art Officials:
Judge – Juan Wijngaard
Jurors – Susan Brooke, Gwenyth Mabry, Greg Tucker
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FIRE IN THE BELLY (Masterworks 2013)


The Envelope Series: Journey Gift

mixed media assemblage, 16X12 X2 inches

“A fire in the belly”……..that’s what I’ve been looking for in the 678 paintings I have examined over and over in the past week or so. I’m serving as a juror for the  “Standard Fine Arts” 2013 MasterWorks Exhibit. (The exhibit also includes a Miniature Fine Arts section.)  It’s mission is to “create a venue for the excellence in visual art in New Mexico.” Barbara Lohbeck is the visionary director, coordinator, and all-around devoted laborer for presenting this superb show.  I’m working along with other jurors: Woody Gwyn,  and  Ralph Greene. The judge of awards will be Maggie Price.  It has been a delight to look at all the paintings which have been submitted through three very important New Mexico arts organizations:The New Mexico Watercolor Society, The Rio Grande Arts Association, and the Pastel Society of New Mexico. Much of my jurying, initially, was separating the skilled works  from the unskilled, developing works.  The next step for me was determining if the skilled works went beyond skill and reached for creative expression.
In a conversation with noted painter Bob Burridge a couple of years ago, he told me he looks for the “fire in the belly” when he juries a show.  I tried to pin him down and get him to describe what he sees when he encounters a work that comes from that “fire in the belly.” He replied with something like, “you know it, Helen, when you see it.” It’s true, I do, but it’s a concept that I struggle with.  I want it to be definable, I want it to be an idea that  can be communicated to artists who long to be more expressive.

Circle of Friends

acrylic and combined media, 20×20 inches

          The “fire in the belly” is an esoteric quality that makes an image memorable, that causes it to be more than skillful and creative.
I’m not sure but I think it is possible for a beginning artist to spontaneously paint such an image, but I also think that it would be an extraordinary and rare phenomenon.  “Fire in the belly” paintings come after years of skill building, experimentation, struggle with expressiveness and generally after artists have experienced a variety of life’s challenges. A new richer fire of spontaneous expression rises up on these foundations.
My advice to artists who yearn to make their paintings more expressive is to paint steadily, regularly, and with a focus that may cause you to miss meals or sleep.  Experiment, reach for the exact element, color, “found object,” texture, shape, composition that fits your fancy. Noted international artist, Katherine Chang Liu says if you will paint long hours for three weeks you will have a break-through. She says she wrestles her paintings “to the ground.” Indeed, I think she often literally paints on the floor.
It’s a privilege to look at such an expansive range of paintings and to make selections based on my aesthetic bent.  Lohbeck has made an honorable attempt to be fair and just in all the jurying. Each juror looks at the digital reproductions of the  works alone and ranks them on a scale from one to six in three different aspects.  When we each send in our rankings, they are compiled and tallied. One hundred and forty (plus or minus) paintings will be selected into the show based on the rankings. After the show is hung, the judge Maggie Price will have the task of selecting award winners from the actual works of art.
My applause, is a standing ovation for New Mexico painters. You have worked, you have been inspired and you have been bold to put your work out there for us to see. You make me proud to be a New Mexico painter.
Opening day for the show is Friday April 5, 2013, 5 – 8 pm. Hispanic Arts Building, Expo New Mexico  (State Fairgrounds), in Albuquerque, NM. Awards ceremony at 7 pm. I hope to get to Albuquerque to see the show. I would love to see which paintings were selected into the show and which pieces Maggie chooses for the awards!





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