Two lifelong North Coast artists are combining their talents for a very special show this month at the Fire Arts Center. Louise Campbell, 87, and Connie Butler, 80, will be showing an array of ceramic sculptures as part of their show “Animal Wisdom,” which kicks off with an artist reception on Friday, March 10 from 6-9pm, and runs through April 2.
“I think it’s a real trip to have two 80-year-olds showing their stuff,” Butler told Ted Pease of Senior News. A long-time resident of Humboldt County, Butler has worked for years making large public sculptures in black walnut, as well as smaller pieces in various woods, plaster, and soapstone. Some of her carvings are on display in Trinidad, including a well-known bronze casting of a 12-foot long Grey Whale mother and calf. “I got too old to be able to do the heavy wood carving,” she laughs. Since discovering the Fire Arts Center, she now primarily works with clay. “I just went with it, and it’s been wonderful.”
Campbell, who studied art history as well as Japanese and Chinese ceramics, worked as a studio and kiln technician for over twenty years at CSU Dominguez Hills. After moving to the North Coast in the early 2000s, she discovered the Fire Arts Center and has been sculpting as a member of the community ever since. She has also been featured as an ‘Artist of the Month’ at the Ferndale Arts Gallery.
“The reason I call the show [“Animal Wisdom”] is because I feel that animals are so much – I won’t say smarter – but more connected with life than humans are,” says Campbell, who draws much of her inspiration from Japanese art and art history, where humans are often portrayed as animals. “I think humans take themselves very seriously… they don’t quite know what life is all about. Life isn’t about collecting all the material things you can get, or collecting all the money you can get, because at the end of your life it doesn’t mean anything.”
Many of Campbell’s sculptures include a small mouse, hidden somewhere in the scene -- a little animal totem that sets her work apart. I asked what the mouse represented to her. “Oh, I’ll tell you about the mouse!” she laughed. “For several years I volunteered at [CSU] Dominguez Hills, in the ceramics lab. I was working there one night and there were these little baby mice, just running around chasing each other. It was so cute! And I’ve never forgotten that. I keep it in my mind, these little mice. They are friends of my animals and sometimes they are friends of my people.”
The show features a variety of sculptures by both artists, with both human and animal elements. Two of Louise’s favorites are a meticulously sculpted dragon with pearl-colored wings, and a bridge scene featuring a woman and one of her little mice. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched Connie work carefully on a voluptuous female figure reclining on a bed of clouds and looking at a cell phone in her hand.
“We don’t take ourselves terribly seriously,” says Butler. “I mean, we really want to do a nice piece of work, but we’re not proselytizing some deeper fundamental truth.” She pauses a moment to reflect. “Well, maybe we are. I think when you get older you realize you need to go with the flow, and just enjoy yourself. I think it increases longevity,” she adds, laughing.
“Animal Wisdom” runs from March 10-April 2, with an opening artist reception on Friday, March 10 from 6-9pm.