Note: This is a guest post by artist and curator Corwin Levi.
Tucked away on the outskirts of Roswell, far away from the daily bustle of the alien museum, lies the Roswell Artist in Residence Program (RAiR). Each year since 1967, the founder Don Anderson (himself a painter) welcomes artists from around the world to make art in a land not only rich with history, but full of dragonflies, scorpions, tarantulas, and the spider wasps that hunt them.
In its current incarnation, the residency hosts six artists a year and each, near the end of their residency, has a solo exhibition at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. And six times a year since 2004, New Mexico arts supporters get a special envelope to accompany these shows. The recipients probably already know that the envelope holds an invitation to a post-opening dinner. They might even already know who the exhibiting artist is. What makes these invitations magical, though, and a special pleasure to open, is the singular craft and care that Nancy Fleming, director of Roswell’s Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art (which hosts the post-opening dinners), puts into each hand-made one.
Fleming, a mixed-media artist herself, has abandoned cursive fonts, deckled cream papers, and embossed typefaces in favor of an attempt to match each invitation to the artist’s work. While the cards are infused with Fleming’s distinctive style and often become delightfully interactive, each remains a respectful homage to the showing artist. The cards reference art history, childhood books like pop-ups, and technology old and new, helping to turn what could be staid dinners into exciting events that are anticipated throughout the community.
Fleming says that after consulting an artist’s work, her ideas come pretty quickly, but that figuring out how to do what she wants to do often involves a parade of prototypes. She describes her technique as a mix of “pull out, lift up, unroll, wheelies, pop up, put together (aka puzzle), sewn, unfold, shaped, books, holes, torn.”
For the most part, the card components are handmade or printed from the Anderson Museum’s tiny HP inkjet, but in some instances more elaborate methods are called for. With artist Ven Voisey’s invitation, for example, the card and wheel part were printed as photos from Walgreens to provide a slick, thick feel.
Fleming has built such a reputation for her card-making prowess over the years that some supporters are known to carefully curate collections of them. And, importantly, the artists trust her to surprise them and don’t see what the cards look like until they arrive in the artists’ mailboxes. She speaks of her love for snail mail, right down to the envelope being part of the whole package. She says that “in the early days I even coordinated the stamp. Now we do bulk mail which isn’t quite as fun, but the difference in cost is about $90 per mailing.” (Each mailing is 210 to 250 cards.)
The joy of receiving a Fleming card in the mail is hard to describe. Most of us can still remember the delight of receiving a hand-written letter or postcard, but this is something more. These invitations remind us that not only is art something to look at in a museum, but that it joins us together. They remind us that art amplifies. The cards mirror the magic of the museum exhibits, but make them more personal through their low-fi handmade nature. They also have the patina of an object made for the sole reason of love. Fleming loves her job, in all its nuances. In a time when you can imagine the local pet store advertising its “artisanal” cat grass, a museum director personally crafting invitations recalls the power the word “artisan” might once have carried.
These cards suggest that the artists’ openings are not merely a place to go glance at art, chat, snack, and drink, but a time to gather meaningfully, share stories, and be part of something larger. This effect is accented by the Anderson Museum’s custom of using large round tables for the post-opening dinners (which are open to the public) and holding the meals right in the museum galleries, amidst the artwork hung salon style throughout. These dinners and Fleming’s cards are a throwback to an earlier time and at the same time incredibly contemporary, as the multiple generations attending these events attest. Sitting under five-plus decades of art on the walls (the Anderson Museum consists solely of art from former artists in residence), Fleming’s invitations remind us that no matter the era we are in, there will always be the opportunity for artistic expression and for people to share their experiences of that art. And they remind us that when someone embraces something with love, it just might for a brief moment bring us all together. I hope I have the pleasure of seeing you at one of these meals soon.
ABOUT THE ARTIST: Nancy Fleming, who earned a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute, has worked for the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Foundation for over twenty years. She is currently director of the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. Fleming also teaches art at Sidney Gutierrez Middle School. She is an avid collector of things, creates everything from sculptures and collages to costumes and floats, and has exhibited from ArtPrize to the University of New Mexico, Gallup. She volunteers extensively and is co-founder of Roswell’s Miniatures and Curious Collections Museum in Roswell. Source: https://rair.org/staff/