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Sculptor of tradition

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Title:
Sculptor of tradition a study of the work of Reven Swanson
Creator:
Allen, Kylee
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
v, 47, [19] leaves : color illustrations ; 29 cm

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Genre:
Criticism, interpretation, etc. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Criticism, interpretation, etc ( fast )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 46-47).
General Note:
"Bachelor of Arts in Art History thesis. FA 4951. Submitted to Moyo Okediji. Dept. of Art History. University of Colorado at Denver. May 12, 2006."
Statement of Responsibility:
by Kylee Allen.

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
124095248 ( OCLC )
ocn124095248
Classification:
NB237.S93 A84 2006 ( lcc )

Full Text
SCULPTOR OF TRADITION:
A STUDY OF THE WORK
OF REVEN SWANSON
BY
KYLEE ALLEN
BACHELOR OF ARTS IN ART HISTORY THESIS
FA 4951
SUBMITTED TO MOYO OKEDIJI
DEPARTMENT OF ART HISTORY
UNIVERSTIY OF COLORADO AT DENVER
MAY 12, 2006


Ill
CONTENTS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS...............................iv
Chapter
1. INTRODUCTIONS............................... 1
2. TRADITIONAL FEMALE CRAFTS....................6
3. WINGS...................................... 17
4. ALTERING MYTH TO EXPRESS A MODERN
FEMALE EXPERIENCE............................26
5. NATURE......................................34
6. CONCLUSIONS.................................41
END NOTES...........................................43
WORKS CITED.........................................46
ILLUSTRATIONS


IV
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Figure
0.1 Kylee Allen, Reven Swanson with Hens, photograph, 2006
0.2 Kylee Allen, Reven Swansons Yard, photograph, 2006
0.3 Kylee Allen, Reven Swansons Yard H, photograph, 2006
1.1 Reven Swanson, Tatted Bird, wire, wood, fiber and fused glass,
2002, 20x 21x 26
1.2 Reven Swanson, Tatted Bird (Detail), wire, wood, fiber, fused
glass and feathers, 2002, 20x 21x 26
1.3 Reven Swanson, Migration, steel and mixed media, 2001, 35x
75x 45
1.4 Reven Swanson, Onyx, fabric and mixed media, 1998, 48x 50
1.5 Constance Perenyi, Buttercup, fabric, 1978, 28x28
2.1 Reven Swanson, 210, steel and mixed media, 2001, 53x 36x
50
2.2 Reven Swanson, 90, steel and enamel, 2001, 28x 29x 21
2.3 Reven Swanson, 160, steel and bark, 2001, 36x 36x 50
2.4 Illustration of Early Neolithic Bird Goddess, carved stone, 5000
BC
2.5 Reven Swanson, Tantalus Tangerine, steel and enamel, 2003,
6.5x 5.5x 3.5
2.6 Reven Swanson, Tantalus Tangerine (Alternate View), steel and
enamel, 2003, 6.5x 5.5x 3.5
2.7 Reven Swanson, Tantalus Tangerine (Detail), steel and enamel,
2003, 6.5x 5.5x 3.5
3.1 Reven Swanson, Delilah, steel and enamel, 1999, 123x 44x
40
3.2 Reven Swanson, Delilah (Alternate View), steel and enamel,
1999, 123x 44x 40
3.3 Reven Swanson, Half-Hanged Mary, steel wire and enamel,
1998, 144x 60x 50
3.4 Reven Swanson, Half-Hanged Mary (Alternate Location), steel
wire and enamel, 1998, 144x 60x 50
3.5 Reven Swanson, Athena: Iron Maiden, steel, 1999, 120x 54x
36
3.6 Reven Swanson, Athena: Iron Maiden, steel, 1999, 120x 54x
36
3.7 Reven Swanson, Aphrodite Rising/Silly Fool, yule marble, 1997,
18x 18x 106


V
3.8 Reven Swanson, Aphrodite Rising/Silly Fool (Photo with artist),
yule marble, 1997, 18x 18x 106
3.9 Camille Claudel, La Valse (The Waltz), bronze, 1905
3.10 Aphrodite of Melos, marble, 2nd century BC
4.1 Reven Swanson, Moon Dancer, steel, enamel, 1999, 7x 7x 14
4.2 Reven Swanson, Moon Creature/Seated Spinner, steel, enamel,
2002, 4x llx 14
4.3 Reven Swanson, Farmers Moon, steel, enamel, fused glass,
2005, 40x 30x 156
4.4 Robert Mangold, Anemotive Kinetic, 1994, painted stainless
steel, Hx4x4
4.5 Reven Swanson, Dancing Moon, steel, enamel, 2003, 28x 24x
24
4.6 Reven Swanson, Dancing Moon HI, steel, enamel, 2002, 34x
26x 26
4.7 Reven Swanson, Wind Reeds, steel, fused glass, 2005, 8x 40
4.8 Reven Swanson, Wind Reeds (Detail), steel, fused glass, 2005,
8x 40
5.1 Kylee Allen, Reven Swansons Studio, photograph, 2006


1
CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTIONS
The aim of the following analysis is to explore the work of sculptor
Reven Swanson and it will also serve to highlight and give recognition to
a working female artist in Colorado. Throughout this exploration, this
analysis will present the main themes and concepts that Swanson has
developed throughout her artistic career, as well as demonstrate the
connections between form and content. While Swansons work is derived
from a unique and personal perspective, it seems that the messages that
she conveys are ultimately universal.
The contents of this analysis are divided up into chapters, each of
which deals with a separate theme relating to the work of Reven
Swanson. Each chapter will discuss several specific artworks in order to
fully illustrate the concepts behind Swansons major themes. While
presenting the various concepts behind Swansons work, this analysis
will also attempt to compare her work to that of similar artists.
This first chapter, entitled Introductions, is meant to present the
overall aim and purpose of this analysis, as well as to give the reader
biographical information on Reven Swanson. The second chapter,
entitled Traditional Female Crafts, discusses the role of traditional crafts
in Swansons artwork, in that crafts are both her inspiration and her
choice of medium. The third chapter, entitled, Wings, discusses


2
Swansons sculptures of women with wings, ultimately relating these
figures to archetypal bird goddesses. The fourth chapter, entitled,
Altering Myth to Express a Modem Female Experience, presents several of
Swansons pieces that use a story or myth of the past to express a
modem female experience. The fifth chapter, entitled Nature, discusses
several of Swansons pieces that show a preference for depicting natural
elements in both content and form. The fifth chapter also deals with
Swansons shift from a figurative to an abstract sculptural style. The
sixth chapter, entitled Conclusions, presents overall observations and
conclusions about the work of Reven Swanson. In addition, this chapter
will also offer suggestions for conducting further studies on Swansons
work.
Following the ceramic signs directing me to Reven Swansons
studio, I entered into the backyard through an iron gate. Swinging the
gate closed, I was surprised to be greeted by three large hens pecking at
my feet (Fig. 0.1). Sculptures were strewn about the yard. A womans
torso sat in the garden (Fig. 0.2); large wire women danced across the
fence, and a circular abstract piece sat on a base in the center of the
yard. Looking around the comer, I saw Swanson on the phone; behind
her various wire women stood in the grass, animating the yard (Fig. 0.3).
Ending the phone call, she welcomed me and introduced me to her 19-
year-old cat, Sam, who glared at me from the porch.


3
It had been difficult scheduling an appointment in order to meet
with Swanson. Friday is her designated day off, when she disappears in
the mountains on her bike or her skis. And the rest of her weekend
consists of meeting with clients. When we finally met, her love for nature
became even more clear to me when she told me she enjoyed working at
home in her yard. She said that her work has a lot of natural elements in
it, so she likes to be outside, in the dirt, in the sunshine. Swanson works
out of her home, and so we talked in her studio downstairs. Walking
down the stairs, the scent of wet earth hung in the air and a thin layer of
powdered clay dusted everything in the room. Amidst several of her
works in progress, I seated myself on a wobbly wooden stool and began
my exploration of her work.
Bom in 1967, Reven Swanson is a Colorado native, spending the
majority of her childhood in Douglas County. Growing up in an
undeveloped area of the Colorado plains, there was really nothing to do
for a child, so Swanson grew up being very close to her sister, Channing,
because she was the only other person to play with. Reven and her sister
explored the vast amounts of land surrounding their childhood home.
Ducking out the backdoor, the two sisters would spend endless hours
outdoors on a daily basis, doing things like trapping snakes, catching
lizards and building forts. Swansons relationship with nature thus
began at a very young age, and has since transpired in her artistic
endeavors.


4
Although Swanson feels that she had a good relationship with her
father, she confesses that she believes that he had truly wanted a son.
Throughout her childhood, Swanson always felt a lot of pressure from
her father to perform, compete and win. This negative male influence
could perhaps be seen as the reason why Swanson rarely depicts the
male form. Swansons mother, however, seemed to stress a different
philosophy, always reminding her that it is not the result, but the
process that one goes through, which is most important. Her mother also
greatly supported her artistic impulses, encouraging her to create with
free expression. On a daily basis, her mother would take part in art
projects with her daughters, supplying them with paints, crayons, paper,
glue, cloth, yam and any other materials lying about the house. Swanson
also learned traditional arts, such as knitting, embroidery and crotchet,
from her mother and grandmother.
Reven Swanson started creating art at a very young age, but began
pursuing a career as a professional artist in 1989. She received her
Bachelors Degree in Journalism from the University of Colorado at
Boulder in 1988. Although she studied journalism, she was also
extremely interested in art, and took several art courses in college. In
these courses, Swanson explored painting, and initially began composing
abstract compositions. But soon, she began to feel trapped within the
canvas two-dimensional platform, and as a result, she started building
off the canvases. By adding elements such as netting and plaster to her


5
canvases, Swanson began creating three-dimensional paintings. Through
her personal artistic exploration, it seems that Swanson simply stumbled
upon sculpture. As she puts it, I think that sculpture chose me.1
Swansons transition from painting to sculpture was catalyzed by
her extreme fascination with the fact that sculpture gives the viewer a
360-degree experience. A sculptor thus has to respect every single
viewpoint of the work. It was this tremendous challenge that intrigued
Swanson, and eventually led her to explore sculpture further. She also
simply enjoys the physical and tactile processes of sculpture, as well as
the ability it gives her to experiment with various tools and materials. It
seems that with this experimentation, Swanson is building upon her
childhood fascinations of exploring materials, which were instilled by her
mother. In fact, as Swanson began to develop as a sculptor, she began to
see that the traditions of her past began to shape eveiy aspect of her
work.
Reven Swansons work can be seen throughout Colorado in
numerous public and private collections, most notably the Museum of
Contemporary Art in Denver, the Museum of Outdoor Arts, the Colorado
Historical Museum, and the Artyard. Swanson has also received
numerous honors and awards, including the City of Gunnisons Peoples
Choice Award, and an apprenticeship with the Rocky Mountain Womens
Institute.


6
CHAPTER 2
TRADITIONAL FEMALE CRAFTS
In her work, Reven Swanson explores traditional art forms,
patterns, and methods, and attempts to blend them into a contemporary
art form. With her sculptures, Swanson draws from the traditions of her
own personal past, as well as from the traditions that have been
nurtured and kept alive by countless women over the course of history.
In a postmodernist sense, Swansons work has become unlocked in time,
borrowing from the past while simultaneously building on the past. The
pieces falling under this theme of traditional female crafts are, in order of
discussion, The Tatted Bird, Migration, and Onyx, a piece from the
exhibition Textural Tapestries. A piece from the exhibition done for the
collaborative book, Bringing This Great Body Back Together, will also be
discussed in relation to this theme.
The Tatted Bird
In a 2002 sculpture entitled, the Tatted Bird (Fig. 1.1), the
traditional crafts of women became Swansons artistic inspiration. In this
piece, Swanson employs the traditional art of tatting, a technique for
handcrafting lace by using a series of knots and loops.2 With this tatting
knot, using yam of various colors, Swanson covers the wire form of a
womans body, transforming the wire into a textile. Swanson uses a


7
rainbow of yam to wrap the wire, seeming to represent the countless,
diverse women that have perfected the art of tatting, unifying them under
one tradition. The circular fused glass disc suspended within the center
of the womans plump wire torso reinforces this idea of unification, as if
to bring these creative women together across time and space.
The woman is suspended from the ceiling, and her wings give her
the sense of weightless flight. It also notable that the woman is not flying
forward, but instead it is as if she is flying in her own, individual
direction, off the beaten path. Like this wire woman soaring into a new
realm, Swanson moves a traditional craft forward, transforming it into a
modem sculpture. She effectively rewrites the function of this traditional
craft into her own modem, personal statement.
Interestingly, Swanson did not learn this traditional craft from her
mother, or even her grandmother. Instead, she made a specific effort to
learn the tatting knot, which in a broad sense says something about our
culture as a whole. It seems that the passing on of womens traditions
over generations has been declining substantially in the modem age.
Perhaps then, with the glass disc hanging from the wire womans center
(Fig, 1.2), which could be read as a symbol of regeneration, Swanson
gives us some hope that these traditional crafts will be renewed.
Although this glass disc may be read as a symbol for regeneration and
fertility, according to the artist, the glass disc represents the womans
soul, perhaps the unified soles of our foremothers.


8
A variety of materials are used in this piece, including wire, yam,
glass, and wood, which is used for the womans wings. With the Tatted
Bird one can begin to see Swansons preference for including various
different media in one piece of artwork:
I am fascinated with the materials of steel, stone, glass,
ceramic and fiber. I avidly explore their inherent differences and
intricacies. I am likewise fascinated by how the traditional arts
pass from one generation to the next, like stories in an oral
tradition. These twin fascinations dovetail in my work as I shape
the materials into a sculptural language to describe a
contemporary experience. I believe that in order to create such a
sculptural language, one must understand the conventional
approaches to the materials, which are informed by millennia of
practical experience, then build from there.3
It could be said that Swansons choice of traditional media in the Tatted
Bird emphasizes her interest in oral traditions. In other words, in this
piece, media emphasizes content. Although the origin for the word
tatting is not know for sure, it has been suggested by some that the
word is derived from the fact that whilst working at their lace women
tattled and gossiped.4 Thus, by using the technique of tatting, Swanson
subtly reinforces the idea that many traditional arts, including that of
tatting, are handed down through female oral traditions.
Migration
With the 2001 sculpture, Migration (Fig. 1.3), Swanson reaches
back in time, in order to find evidence of the perspectives and


9
experiences of the women in her past. While on her exploration to better
understand the women of her past, Swanson came across her
grandmothers journal, as well as photos of women in her family. Using
the traditional craft of sewing, Swanson merged these old photos and
journal pages with velvet and satin to create a skirt for the sculpture of a
wire woman. Essentially, Swanson has sewn these photos on the surface
of the cloth, and with the pages from the journal, she fashioned a fringe
around the bottom of the skirt. These journal pages, which are truly
representations of her grandmothers innermost thoughts and hopes,
seem to form a base for the skirt, as well as for the sculpture itself. Thus,
in this sense, the paper fringe symbolizes the idea that the foundation on
which the women of her family sit was originally constructed by the
hopes, dreams and traditions of their mothers and grandmothers. We are
all products of our past, so to speak, and traditions are a means of
remembering our past.
It appears that the wire woman wears the garment proudly; her
chest pushed confidently outward and her head looking boldly upward.
She is proud to wear and represent the women of her past. In this sense,
Swanson aims to take tradition and bring it forward in order to
recognize the past, respect it, and gain a greater understanding of it.5
The skirt is a means of grounding the woman in the traditions of her
past, giving her a firm foundation as she looks on into the future.


10
One could say that because Swanson chose not to place arms on
the sculpture, this wire woman has little control over what her future
holds. Perhaps by leaving the arms off, Swanson is referencing the fact
that many times, specifically in the past, women are not given control
over their social situations. Swanson, however, would not subscribe to
this interpretation; instead she claims that the reason why she chose not
to include arms on the figure was that they simply were not needed. With
this piece, Swanson just deals with the torso, the soul of the woman,6
and the arms would just be unnecessary information.
Swanson has also adorned the top surface of the skirt with
decorative sewing stitches, creating lines of thick thread that direct our
eye around the skirt. These threaded lines also serve to make
connections between various photos and, as a result, these lines could
be seen as a visual representation of the migration of traditions from
generation to generation. It is here that we can see the true purpose of
this piece, which is to visually express the migration, or movement of
tradition over time. We can see, by the manner in which the woman
holds herself, looking outward and upward, that she is a confident
woman, proud to carry on the tradition of her female ancestors.
In addition, the more organic lines of the stitching seem to contrast
with the linear armature of the womans form. Furthermore, the bare
wire armature allows the viewer to look straight through the womans
torso, and this transparency serves to contrast with the womans cloth


11
covered bottom half. Here one can see the duality of the organic and the
linear, as well as the duality of the open and closed form. This wire
armature is not completely transparent, however, for Swanson wrapped
the form with a thin red thread, as if spinning a web. This threaded web
could be symbolic of the connections being made between the past and
the present. In another sense, this threaded web can be seen to
symbolize the filter through which we all see the world, a filter
constructed by our own individual social and cultural preconceptions.
This idea of the migration, or translation of ideas of the past is not
only expressed in the concepts of her work, but also can be seen in her
artistic process. Just as the concept behind her work speaks of ideas
passed on from generation to generation, so too does her process build
upon concepts from one piece to the next. All of Revens sculptures are a
part of a working series, taking what she has done in one piece and
building upon it in the next piece.
Textural Tapestries: Onyx
Reven Swanson continues to explore and experiment with
traditional female crafts, fusing them with her own modem artistic
vision. In a 1998 show at the Sangre De Cristo Art Center entitled,
Textural Tapestries, Swanson exhibited several pieces that merge the
traditional art of quilt making with the medium of painting. In Onyx (Fig.
1.4), one of the pieces exhibited at this Textural Tapestries show,


12
Swanson places the painted figure of a woman over the patchwork strips
of a quilt that she made, essentially using the quilt as a canvas. The
flowing strips of patchwork echo the curved lines of the womans body,
which visually expresses the intimate relationship between women and
traditional crafts.
The woman walks proudly through the patchwork composition, as
if she is dancing, even celebrating, her connection to her female
traditions. Notably, the womans head is not visible in the composition,
which is a deliberate choice, perhaps to emphasize the universality of the
piece. This woman is not a specific individual, instead she is a
representation of every woman, every female who has ever taken part in
cariying on the tradition of quilting. In addition, Swanson also includes
written text, which is indiscernible, both on the quilt and on the painted
figure of the woman. The text not only serves to connect the painted
woman with the quilted background, but also can be seen as a symbol
for the oral traditions that have kept the art of quilting alive.
As I mentioned earlier, Swanson claims that her one of her biggest
challenges artistically is successfully transforming a traditional craft into
a piece of fine art. She claims that, it is a huge challenge to take
something that we commonly think of as quilting, knitting or sewing and
string it into a new meaningful presentation.7 It seems that in Onyx,
Swanson applies the medium of painting in order to elevate the
traditional craft of quilting into the domain of fine art. Thus, by merging


13
these two mediums, Swanson is successfully transforming the traditional
art of quilting into a new and meaningful presentation. In her effort to
further tackle this challenge, Swanson is planning another exhibition in
which she will show only sewn fabric pieces. As she alternates from
working with steel to working with fabrics, one can again see Swansons
preference for working with different media.
Many other artists who work with traditional crafts also face the
challenge of translating a craft into fine art. Constance Perenyi, for
example, another woman artist from Colorado, also works with
traditional female crafts, and is therefore confronted with the question of
how to make a traditional craft a piece of fine art. In her piece Buttercup
(Fig. 1.5), Perenyi uses the craft of quilting, displaying it on a gallery wall
like a painting, similar to Swansons Onyx. With this piece she aims to
combine elements of traditional quilt patterns with personal expression
in order to symbolize a growing, often painful exploration of what it
means to be a woman, a lesbian, who is creating space for her own
emotional and artistic fulfillment.8 With Buttercup, Perenyi weaves a new
and meaningful presentation into a traditional quilt, and thereby
successfully transforms a craft into a piece of fine art. One will also
notice that both Swanson and Perenyi use traditional crafts as a means
of expressing the experiences of a modem woman. Both artists are
rewriting the function of traditional crafts. While the previous purpose of


14
these crafts was primarily utilitarian, Swanson and Perenyi are using
these crafts as a means of artistic expression.
With their art and their choice of media, Swanson and Perenyi are
acting to promote the practice of pre-industrial craft techniques, a key
characteristic of the Arts and Crafts Movement.9 Therefore, by producing
artworks that consist primarily of traditional crafts, Swanson and
Perenyi are acting to further the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Bringing This Great Body Back Together
In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center on
September 11, 2001, the entire nation stood stunned and silent. For
Reven Swanson, and for many others as well, this catastrophic act of
devastation "tore open the cosmic consciousness."10 This act of intense
hatred ripped Swanson apart spiritually, draining her of her artistic
creativity, and as a result, she didn't produce a work of art for over three
months; she didn't even work in her studio. Sharing a similar experience,
many of Swanson's fellow artists also fell into a period of inactivity. The
tragedy, however, had the opposite effect on another friend of the artist,
poet Padma Thomlyre, for whom the event had sparked a period of
intense and profuse writing. When he shared this writing with Swanson
and a group of six other artists, it sparked a new and different wave of
creativity. In an effort to heal themselves, and possibly the rest of the


15
nation, this group of artists embarked on a collaborative project in the
form of a book.
In the collaborative book, entitled Bringing This Great Body Back
Together, each artist contributed a work of art to be included in the
publication. For her contribution to the book, Swanson again looked to
traditional female traditions for inspiration. For this piece, Swanson
knitted a blanket, thereby utilizing a traditional craft that she learned
from both her mother and grandmother. Working with a local
photographer, Swanson arranged this knitted blanket to look like a
mountain range, specifically Colorados Front Range. Swanson claims
that working with the photographer gave the traditional craft with which
she was working, a sense of fine art. It was this photo of the knitted
blanket that appears in the final publication of the book. Copies of the
book, however, are rare and not sold in bookstores, and it was not
possible to obtain a photo of Swansons piece for Bringing This Great
Body Back Together.
In this piece, Swanson used as many different colors, different
patterns and different directions as she could, transforming the textile
into a metaphorical statement. Essentially, Swanson was trying to use
the knitting patterns to describe how all these different races, and all
these different people, and all these different cultures come together to
make up the horizon.11 Everyone, no matter what their race or their
culture, was impacted by the events of September 11, 2001, and


16
suddenly, because we had all shared a common experience, our
differences dissolved, as we merged together like the knots of Swansons
knitted blanket. It would also seem that this piece suggests that women
and their traditional arts can help to aid in healing our nation, effectively
acting to bring together this great body back together.


17
CHAPTER 3
WINGS
As we saw with the Tatted Bird, an element common to many of
Reven Swansons female figures is the addition of wings, usually in place
of arms.12 By giving her female figures wings, Swanson attempts to
express the idea that our mothers pass on their own abilities and
traditions to their children. By giving us these values and traditions, our
mothers hope to give us wings, which will help us to be more
independent, and enable us to pursue our own dreams and desires.
However, as we accept these wings, we not only gain the knowledge of
our mothers, but we also build upon it, making it even stronger for the
next generation. As Swanson explains,
I am my mothers thoughts, movements, sorrows and
expectations. And with my accomplishments, I not only gain
respect for my daughters, but also heal the soul of the mothers
past. Like a rubber band stretching forwards and backwards, as I
stride forward, I do not stride alone. The bonds grow stronger and
tighter with every tug, making each story richer, and each new
daughters life more meaningful.13
As result, we give recognition and respect to the past, and in this sense,
we become the wings of our mothers, carrying on the values and
traditions of the past into a new generation. The sculptural pieces falling
under this theme of wings are, in order of discussion, 210, 160, 90, and
Tantalus Tangerine.


18
210
In 210 (Fig. 2.1), Swanson places wings on the wire form of a
woman and suspends her in the air, creating the sense that she is flying
gracefully forward. Even the womans hair, which is made of stiff steel
wire, seems to flow gently back, further suggesting that she is moving
though space. It even seems that the woman bears no weight on her legs,
emphasizing the idea that her wings cany her effortlessly. The womans
arms become her wings as they extend from her voluptuous wire body,
and they arch gently in a fluid upward motion. Swanson has stuffed the
wire frame of the wings with various natural fibers, including feathers
and hay, materials that seem to ground the soaring woman, giving her a
relationship to the earth. Due to the fact that Swanson did not cover or
fill the rest of the body with fibers, the solid wings act to contrast with
the transparent body, and similar to Migration, one can see the duality of
the open and closed form.
With these wings, Reven explores the idea of the migration of ideas
and traditions:
As a female, I know that things are handed down from
generation to generation. And whether or not we are aware of this,
it is always handed down to us. We learn through our mothers and
their mothers. I am just fascinated at how these things transpire to
where we are now.14
Swansons piece 210 is meant to be a visual representation of the
movement of female traditions over time. She is not a human woman,


19
but instead she is the spirit of tradition, flying through time and crossing
over generations.
Taking into consideration the title of the piece, 210, ones initial
reaction might be that Swanson is making a reference to the wire
womans weight. However, upon further investigation, one can see that
the true intended title is, 210 Inches, and that, in reality, Swanson is
merely naming the piece after the number of linear feet of wire that was
used to construct the sculpture. When asked why she didnt give this
piece a more meaningful title, Swanson replied,
The title of this piece has no other importance than to keep
the sculpture organized in my own inventory tracking. The piece
was a continuation and an extension of artistic exploration, but
the sculpture itself didnt represent a significant stylistic shift, so it
did not require a significant title.15
210, as well as 90and 160, were an extension of the artistic exploration
that began with the Tatted Bird.
90*
Swansons piece 90 (Fig. 2.2), another sculpture named for the
number of linear feet of wire used, is a different visual representation of
the movement of female traditions over time. This time, however, the wire
woman appears to be flying downward, with her body curved so that her
feet almost touch her head. Her wings are made of steel, which is cut at
the end in order to imitate feathers, and they are painted red, yellow and


20
orange, the colors of a scorching sun. By the manner in which she flies,
it seems as if this wire woman has an aim, destination or a purpose. In
addition, this wire woman does not have any facial characteristics, which
is a suggestion that the woman represented here is the universal female.
Looking just at just a few of Swansons sculptures of women with
wings, one begins to notice that not only can we look at the figure, but
we can also look through it. In other words, while many sculptors merely
use the wire armature as a frame, eventually covering it with an outer
skin, Swanson instead chooses to exhibit only this wire armature. The
result is something of a three-dimensional sketch, with the wires forming
the approximate lines of the body. It can be said then, that Swanson
uses her process as a product. In another sense, one could argue that by
leaving the armature exposed, Swanson is representing the female form
in terms of void, as opposed to volume, thereby depicting her as empty.
However, Swanson claims,
In a lot of my pieces, I refer to winged figures, which are
about flight and movement, I want them to remain light, and to
cover them would make them something concrete. Theyre not
covered because they are meant to be a part of a persons
personality, their thoughts, dreams, hopes and stories.16
Thus, while Swanson uses heavy materials, such as steel, her figures
remain light, graceful and, at times, even buoyant as a result of leaving
the wire armature exposed. Further, by not concealing the armature,
Swanson intends to emphasize the fact that the figures she is


21
representing are not human women, instead they are visual metaphors
for the thoughts, dreams and traditions that are passed down from
generation to generation. In addition, by leaving the wire armature
exposed and allowing the viewer to look through the figure, Swanson
allows the woman to become part of the environment itself. One can see
the connection between the wire figure and the natural environment even
more clearly in Swansons sculptural pieces Moon Dancer and Moon
Creature/Seated Spinner, which will be discussed later in Chapter 5:
Nature.
160
With her sculpture 160 (Fig. 2.3) Swanson continues to explore
the idea of wings as a symbol for the migration of traditions. In this
piece, the female figure again takes precedence, her voluptuous body
gliding gently through the air in an almost playful manner. Perhaps then,
160 could be seen to represent the joy and fulfillment that the
traditional crafts have brought to many women. The wings of this figure
are made of bark, which not only connects the woman to the natural
environment, but also alludes to arboreal characteristics, such as growth
and strength. Therefore, these wings of bark symbolize the idea that as
these traditions migrate, they grow stronger, and their roots grow,
extending from one generation to the next.


22
It seems that, whether she intended it or not, Revens sculptures
representing full figured women with wings are reminiscent of ancient,
archetypal bird goddesses. The concept of migration itself even suggests
the movements of birds. In fact, the idea of relating women to birds is an
ancient one, and carved stone objects of birdlike women dating from
4500 BC have been found in Thessaly and Anatolia.17 According to Marija
Gimbutas, a professor of European archaeology at UCLA, chevrons or
repeated V forms, as well as an incised netting motif are the primary
symbols of the Early Neolithic Bird Goddess.18 Looking closely at an
Early Neolithic carving of a Bird Goddess (Fig. 2.4), one can begin to see
a visual connection between the netting motif and Swansons wire
figures. The lines of the exposed wire armature seem to echo the lines of
the incised netting motif. Therefore, whether consciously or
unconsciously, the wire forms of Swansons winged woman translate the
ancient symbols of the bird goddess into a modem language.
According to Gimbutas, this netting motif, with its close
association with the public triangle, the uterus and the egg, symbolizes
an embryonic substance capable of giving life.19 Taking this into
consideration, the similar netting motif on Swansons figures can be seen
to represent the life and the nurturing that our mothers give us. Birds
are also seen to protect the egg, which is a symbol of regeneration, new
life and new futures. The bird will protect the egg until it hatches, and
then give it the knowledge it needs to survive, until one day they watch


23
their young stretch their wings and begin their independent lives, a
similar process to what our own mothers do for us.
Many other different cultures have also made associations between
women and birds. For example, the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria see the
bird as the symbol of the Iyami, or powerful women who regulate the
fortunes of society.20 In addition, Yoruba kings would not be able to rule
authoritatively without drawing on the special powers of Our Mothers,
a collective term for all female ancestors, female deities, and elderly living
women.21 With her winged women, Swanson similarly uses the bird to
symbolize the strength of women and their ability to maintain the
balance of the community. We can see then, that the basic, underlying
principle of the Yoruba connection between woman and birds is similar
to Swansons concept of wings and the migration of traditions.
When asked if she deliberately makes allusions to the archetypal
bird goddesses in her winged female figures, Swanson replied,
I dont think that I consciously make that reference, but I
think that in some sense its impossible to say that I didnt tap into
that same sort of consciousness that you seen in a lot of
archetypes. There are different references throughout history, both
ancient and recent history, and so some how I think that I am a
part of that. But its not like I made a conscious decision that I was
going to do women with wings. Its just a way that I came to
describe women seeking independence, women changing their
roles as a means of flight or movement, as well as being able to
explore different places in our culture, something we previously
havent been able to do.22


24
Therefore, in Jungian terms, it is possible that with her winged figures
Swanson has tapped into a larger collective consciousness that
permeates time and space, enabling her to transform ancient, archetypal
symbols into a modem personal statement. As Swanson says, she is
just part of the same eternal wave that flows across the ocean.23
Tantalus Tangerine
Although Swansons sculpture, Tantalus Tangerine (Fig. 2.5 and
2.6) is a representation of a woman with wings, it should be noted that
its meaning diverges from that of the sculptures already discussed in
conjunction with the theme of wings. While many of Swansons
sculptures of women with wings are visual metaphors for the movement
of female traditions over time, Tantalus Tangerine is instead an
exploration of the female psyche.
In this piece, Swanson suspended a wire woman with wings from a
large mobile, and she has also suspended an abstract representation of a
planet just outside the wire womans reach (Fig. 2.7). According to
Swanson, this woman is reaching for something that is somewhat
unattainable, something that is just beyond her fingertips, like a love
that will never come but is so deeply desired. 24 Thus, although she is
lifted and guided by the wings of her foremothers, she still seems to be
searching for more. While 2JO, 90and 160' have wings in place of arms,


25
Tantalus Tangerine has both arms and wings, suggesting that, although
the wings of her foremothers guide her, she still has the ability to change
her path and make her own choices. With this piece, Swanson came to
realize that, My mother, as with her mother, and her mother before
didnt give me her wings, I am her wings. I am her thoughts, movements,
sorrows and expectations.25


26
CHAPTER 4
ALTERING MYTH TO EXPRESS A MODERN FEMALE EXPERIENCE
In several of her pieces, Reven Swanson attempts to transform a
story of the past into a sculpture that expresses a message about the
modem female experience. Swanson states that her sculptures express
a personal biography but draw on historical observations of women and
how their roles manifest in the modern world.26 By transforming
mythology into sculpture, Swanson is merging literature and art, and she
can therefore be seen to carry on an artistic tradition that began in
antiquity. The pieces that fall under this theme are, in order of
discussion, Delilah, Half-Hanged Mary, Athena: Iron Maiden, and
Aphrodite Rising or the Silly Fool
Delilah
In her piece, Delilah (Fig. 3.1 and 3.2), Swanson aims to take the
biblical story of Sampson and Delilah and apply it to the experience of a
modem woman. In the biblical story, it is told that, Samson was chosen
at birth by God to defeat the Philistines, and to do so he would be given
immense strength, however he may never cut his hair, otherwise this gift
would be lost.27 Learning of their impending defeat, the Philistines went
to Delilah, the kings beautiful niece, with a proposition of betrayal,


27
bribing her to learn the secret of Sampsons strength so that they could
restrain him. In order to learn his secret, and thus render him powerless,
Delilah must get close to Samson and gain his trust. Although Delilah
struggled with her feelings, she finally cuts off his hair, thus weakening
him and enabling the Philistines to take him prisoner. In other words,
Delilah gains Sampsons love and his trust in order to get what she
wants, or to fulfill her own agenda.
With her sculptural piece, Delilah, Swanson is translating this
biblical story into a message about modem relationships. Swanson
explains,
Delilah is describing the modem negotiation of the
household. When you live with a man, you have to do this little tap
dance to keep him happy, but all the while youre also getting what
you want without him noticing. I used the title from the older story
just to give this idea a reference.28
Just as Delilah used her charm and wit to find Samsons secret, so too is
a modem woman capable manipulating a situation to her benefit. One
could say this is a fairly pessimistic and manipulative explanation of a
romantic relationship, especially when considering the fate of Samson
and Delilah. Swansons Delilah, however, is depicted as a tall, strong
woman wearing armor, and she will not melt down in submission. In a
sense then, this powerful woman is a symbol for the modem womans
ability to make her own decisions and take charge in a relationship.
Looking at Swansons Delilah, one notices the complete absence of
Samson himself, and his strand of hair, a curved piece of painted steel, is


28
the only suggestion of his presence. Swanson herself is not married,
which is perhaps an unconscious reason for omitting Samson from this
piece. However, a more likely explanation would be that Swanson left
him out in order to focus on the female form, and the female experience.
Half-Hanged Mary
Swansons piece Half-Hanged Mary (Fig. 3.3 and 3.4) is a reference
to a poem written by Margaret Atwood of the same title. The poem by
Atwood, which is based on true events, tells the story of Maiy Webster, a
woman living in a Puritan town in Massachusetts in the 1600s. Due to
the fact that Webster was 36, unwed and dark-haired, she was declared
to be a witch by the townspeople and they sentenced her to be hanged.
She survived the hanging, however, and lived through the night, going on
to live another fourteen years.29 Atwood chooses to write her poem Half-
Hanged Mary from the perspective of Mary herself, who gives an hourly
account of her own hanging. Atwood opens the poem as such:
I was hanged for living alone
For having blue eyes and a sunburned skin,
tattered skirts, few buttons,
a weedy farm in my own name,
and a surefire cure for warts;
Oh yes, and breasts
and a sweet pear hidden in my body.
Whenever theres talk of demons
these come in handy.30
Atwood seems to emphasize the fact that Mary was found to be a witch


29
on the basis of her gender and physical appearance alone. Swanson
translates this story about Mary Webster into a modem message about
the tendency to judge someone based on appearance and initial
assumptions. For Swanson, the story of Mary Webster refers to,
The instance when, a girl walks into the room, and by the
way she is dressed, by the way she holds herself, when you look at
her you already have an entire list of exactly what you think this
girl is like. Weve already made an assumption about this female,
and so, essentially, she is already half-hanged.31
With her piece Half-Hanged Mary, Swanson intends to represent
Mary Webster, the girl who is being judged unfairly, the girl who has
been half-hanged. Swanson has painted the wire form of this female
figure with bright reds, yellows and oranges, even painting her full lips a
bright pink. Through the use of color, as well as through the gestures of
the figure, Swanson attempts to convey the idea that, upon first
impressions, we know that this woman is outgoing, and perhaps even
craves attention. In addition, by choosing to depict this half-hanged
woman, Swanson is forcing the viewers to realize their own
preconceptions, calling attention to the fact that everyone, not just
women, make unfair judgments based solely on appearances. Therefore,
Swanson is visually rewriting Atwoods poem, transforming the message
into a statement on universal human experiences.


30
Athena: Iron Maiden
In Greek mythology, Athena was a warrior goddess who was said to
have taken part in the Trojan War.32 Athena was also associated with
culture, civilization and domestic skills, a characteristic that seems to
reflect the earlier theme of traditional female crafts. Swansons piece,
Athena: Iron Maiden (Fig. 3.5), a sculptural representation of the warrior
goddess, expresses the modem female experience of not only struggling
and fighting for equal rights and acceptance, but it also expresses the
idea that many times, women must be strong, they must be warriors, in
order to survive in a male dominated world. Swanson explains,
Athena carries the weight of the heavens, and she is a
warrior. When you stand underneath her, you look through her
enlarged hand (Fig. 3.6). She is holding the clouds and the sky
upwards, keeping them from crashing down on her world.33
Therefore, Swanson has taken the Greek myth of the goddess Athena
and translated into a sculpture about a modem female experience.
Although in Athena: Iron Maiden the Greek goddess is depicted as a
warrior, wearing armor of steel, she also appears to be dancing as she
waves her arms playfully and whimsically. In addition, the figure of
Athena has been placed in a formal English garden, where sunflowers
surround her and long, green vines grow up from the ground and
through her steel frame. The sunflowers and the vines act not only to
ground this steel goddess to the earth, but they also act to give the effect
that Athena helped them to grow, raising them from the earth to the sky


31
with the gentle motion of her arms. With this piece, one can begin to see
the duality between both the harsh steel material and the natural plant
elements. Further, considering that Athena is described as both a
warrior and a nurturer, one can also see the duality between the powers
of destruction and creation.
Aphrodite Rising/Silly Fool
In Greek mythology, Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty,
and expressed feelings which were common to every man or woman,
which his perhaps why she was the most widely worshipped goddess in
Greece for over fifteen hundred years.34 In the large marble piece,
Aphrodite Rising, or Silly Fool (Fig. 3.7), Swanson uses the goddess
Aphrodite to express the typical modern female expectation of love, in
which she is swept off her feet by Prince Charming. Swanson explains,
The Silly Fool is basically a visual image of what we're taught as
little girls, about this idea that we're going to find a man and ride off into
the sunset, and everything will be blissful for the rest of your life. And in
reality, it doesn't happen like that.35
In this sense, Swanson is also referencing the stories of Snow White and
Cinderella, thereby also altering fairytales to express a modem female
experience.
Interestingly, although Swansons piece Aphrodite Rising/Silly Fool
received the mountain communitys Peoples Choice Award, it was later
removed from its location when the nude piece was deemed


32
objectionable.36 In fact, Swanson says that wherever this piece is
installed, it causes controversy. At its current location, in Grand
Junction, Colorado, the piece has been tagged by graffiti several times,
forcing Swanson herself to clean the marble sculpture (Fig. 3.8).
In this piece, the figure of a nude woman rises out of the rough
marble and stretches her body as if she is waking up. Perhaps she is
awakening to the fact that her expectation of love is not a reality, and she
was a silly fool to believe otherwise. While the midsection of her body is
polished, the womans hair is textured and she appears as if she returns
to the roughness of the material at the top, which could symbolize the
idea that ignorance is bliss, and although she knows the truth, she does
not want to accept reality.
Taking into consideration that Camille Claudel is one of Swansons
artistic influences, one could draw a parallel between Swansons
Aphrodite Rising /Silly Fool and Claudels The Waltz (Fig. 3.9). In both
Swansons piece and Claudels piece, the figure seems to rise out of the
roughness of the material itself. The overall sensuality of both Swansons
stretching nude figure and Claudels dancing lovers is also strikingly
similar. However, while Claudels depiction of love seems to be idealized,
with the man and woman embracing tenderly, Swansons representation
of love breaks through this idyllic conception of love, telling the viewer to
wake up to reality.
The very title of Swansons piece, Aphrodite Rising, begs a


33
comparison to Hellenistic sculptures of the same subject matter. One can
see a parallel between Swansons sculpture, and the Hellenistic sculpture
Aphrodite of Melos (Fig. 3.10), which dates to the 2nd century BC.37
Similar to Swansons piece rising from the roughness of the marble, the
Aphrodite of Melos rises from the textured surface of her garment. In
addition, both sculptures of Aphrodite elongate her torso and limbs,
giving the goddess a stylized elegance. It should be noted though, that
while the Aphrodite of Melos is detailed and naturalistic, Swansons
Aphrodite Rising is considerably more stylized, even verging on the
abstract.
In addition, Swanson comes to this piece from a uniquely feminine
perspective, while the Aphrodite of Melos was constructed from a male
perspective. According to John Brunetti in the January 2002 issue of
ARTNews, there is a growing tendency among a younger generation of
female artists to use humor and autobiography to reclaim the female
nude from the traditionally male perspective of art history.38 With her
piece Aphrodite Rising, it seems that Swanson places herself within this
generation of female artists who are reinventing the female nude from a
feminine perspective.


34
CHAPTER 5
NATURE
The theme of nature and natural elements runs through the work
of Reven Swanson. Due to the fact that nature is her biggest source of
inspiration, it can be found in both the form, and the content of many of
her works. It seems that Swansons love for nature, which developed in
her childhood, has motivated her to explore nature as a subject matter in
her artwork. The pieces discussed in relation to the theme of nature are,
in order of discussion, Moon Dancer, Moon Creature, Farmers Moon,
Dancing Moon, Dancing Moon 2ZT, and Wind Reeds.
Moon Dancer and Moon Creature
Throughout her work, Swanson represents the female figure in
relation to the natural world. Swansons pieces, Moon Dancer and Moon
Creature (Fig. 4.1 and 4.2), are clear examples of her preference for
incorporating natural elements with the female form. Moon Dancer and
Moon Creature are similar, in that both pieces consist of the wire
armature of a woman that is elevated from the ground by a tall pole.
Both of these women hold natural elements, which are abstract
representations of the sun, the moon and the stars. Swanson explains,
I elevated these figures on poles to suggest that they are
reaching up, trying to chase the stars, looking for dreams. And
some of them, like the Moon Dancer, are actually trying to hold up


35
the sky and put the stars in place; it is another expression of the
roles of women.39
Therefore, with these pieces, one can see that Swanson not only
references the intimate relationship between women and nature, but she
also attempts to reference the significant role that women play in
maintaining balance and order within the community.
It could be said that poles that elevate Moon Dancer and Moon
Creature, dominate the sculptural composition, with the female figure
being almost impaled by the pole. In another sense, this elevating pole
could also be seen as a phallic symbol, and as a result, one could see
these female figures as being elevated by a male symbol. Going even
further, one could then suggest that these sculptures convey a subtle,
perhaps unconscious, metaphorical statement that a womans actions
are enabled by the male gender. Although Swanson would not subscribe
to this interpretation, instead, she claims that while the pole is mainly
used as a structural element, she truly intends for this pole to be
representative of a tree trunk.
Continuing with her interest in arboreal elements, Swanson sees
the bare wire forms of the women to be representative of tree branches,
with our view of them changing with movement. Swanson explains,
With the lines of the figures wire construction, I try to leave
it to the imagination, forcing you to connect it and knock the
proportions out. As a viewer you get to put it together. I think that
if I were to cover the form, they wouldnt be the same. So theyre


36
organic structures. And like I mentioned before, my biggest
influence is just walking around in the woods. I like looking up
through a canopy of trees, all times of the year. When you walk
down a path in the forest, looking around the forms and figures
begin to unfold. If you stop to take notice, they just suck you in
and you just start watching the movement and the colors, the
abstract and concrete forms.40
Thus, one can see another purpose in Swansons reasoning not to cover
the wire armatures of her female figures. By leaving the wire exposed,
these figures not only become a part of the natural environment, but
they also imitate the natural forms that surround them. In addition, the
figures of both Moon Dancer and Moon Creature are kinetic, in that they
spin on their poles when blown by the wind. This kinetic element serves
to further connect the figure with the natural surroundings, allowing her
to spin and dance to the rhythm of the wind.
Farmers Moon
In the piece Farmers Moon (Fig. 4.3) Swanson depicts the moon,
which is represented by a colorful fused glass disc, surrounding it with
various steel halos that move around it in rhythm with the wind. With
this piece, Swanson is alluding to a natural process in which, when
moisture is in the air, a halo can be seen around the moon. Swanson
explains, Farmers Moon is a piece in which I am trying to describe the
moon, and the experience you have when you look up and see the halo,
which you can either take as a curse or a blessing.41 On one side it can


37
be good, in that the land may be dry and the coming moisture could
reinvigorate the earth and the people. Yet on the other side, the flip side,
it could be bad in that we dont need any more water.
Although the use of mixed media, which we can see in the steel
infused glass disc in the center, suggests that Swansons usual artistic
tendencies are present, she has clearly made several departures from her
original style. With this piece, one can see that not only has Swansons
work become abstracted, but her subject matter has also shifted away
from representing women. It seems that in Farmers Moon and several
other works, she has shifted her focus to representing nature in
abstracted form.
One reason for this artistic shift could be that, in 1993, Swanson
became an apprentice to Robert Mangold, a kinetic metal sculptor.
Swanson assists Mangold in the production and installation of works
throughout the U.S., including the Chicago Pier Walk Exhibition and the
Clinton White House.42 Mangolds kinetic works are essentially abstract
sculptures that move and rotate according to their relationship with
time, space and motion. Mangold states,
I am fascinated by nature, the motions of clouds and plants
in the air; birds flying and bugs hopping and crawling; fish
swimming, water falling, flowing, freezing, thawing; the sun, moon,
planets and stars tied in their dance by kinetic and static energies;
and the knowledge of unseen but known motions of microscopic
and atomic activities all interrelated in an eternal birth, life, death
and rebirth cycle. 43


38
Working with Mangold has inspired Swanson to create more abstract
works, as well as to begin exploring nature with through the medium of
kinetic sculpture. When comparing Mangolds piece Anemotive Kinetic
(Fig. 4.4) to Swansons piece Farmers Moon, the influences of Mangold are
apparent. It seems that Swanson has adopted the idea of using a pole to
elevate her sculptures. This Mangoldian pole is also present in the
previously discussed pieces Moon Dancer and Moon Creature.
Dancing Moon and Dancing Moon JH
With Swansons pieces Dancing Moon and Dancing Moon HI (Fig. 4.5
and 4.6), one can see an extension of the abstract tendencies that began
with Farmers Moon. For these sculptures, Swanson looked again to
nature for artistic inspiration and subject matter. With these pieces,
Swansons aim was to represent the moon in the most simple, geometric
form as possible. Both pieces are also kinetic, and the moons are able to
spin with a gust of wind or the touch of a finger.
The 2003 piece, Dancing Moon, is essentially a steel spiral, folding
over itself as it moves though space. Although the basic subject matter of
this piece relates to the natural world, one can still see the figure of a
woman painted on the abstracted moon, thus giving even the moon the
sense of a female presence. Swanson has also painted various patterns
and symbols on the spiraled moon, which give it a sense of the archaic,
harkening back ancient forms of Paleolithic cave paintings.


39
The 2002, piece Dancing Moon m, is yet another of Swansons
interpretations of the moon. With this piece, one can again see the
influence of Swansons mentor, Robert Mangold. Working with Mangold,
with his emphasis on the role of nature in art, Swanson was inspired to
change her primary subject matter. In addition, the way in which
Mangold uses color, which is calculated and precise, has also influence
Swanson. With the piece, Dancing Moon ZZ7, one can begin to see that as a
result of Mangolds direction, Swanson has begun to use colors in ways
that promote fluid motion as they guide the viewers eye around the
piece.
Wind Reeds
Swansons piece, Wind Reeds (Fig. 4.7 and 4.8), is a group of
sculptures that was commissioned by a Colorado couple to serve a
specific function. The couple came to Swanson with a problem, they felt
that view that the space of their backyard was dominated by their
neighbors aging cedar fence, a sight that they felt was not appealing.
Thus, in order hide this fence and give the couple an attractive view,
Swanson, yet again, found inspiration in nature, and developed the Wind
Reeds. The reeds are long strips of sturdy steel that rise from the
garden near bottom of the fence, each of which has a glass bowl or tulip
near the top. They are meant to be a stylized and abstracted


40
representation of flowers, trees and reeds. These Wind Reeds essentially
work like leveler blinds, hiding the view of the fence from certain angles.


41
CHAPTER 6
CONCLUSIONS
The work of Reven Swanson is a highly personal and individual
interpretation of the world that surrounds us. Throughout her artistic
career Swanson has always humbled herself by recognizing that the
concepts that she expresses in her work is merely personal
interpretation. She states,
I dont pretend to speak for all of mankind, because I cant. I
dont know what it feels like to be a woman in Jamaica, or
Indonesia, or Italy. I dont know what their life experiences are, I
just try to touch on some commonalities, and that brings me back
to learning the traditional arts and trying to understand history.44
Swanson can only express and communicate what she knows. Her work
is about relationships between people, both in the past and in the
present. It is also about the transmission of traditions, hopes, dreams
and life. While the concepts behind some of Swansons pieces may seem
a bit naive in their generalizations, one must view the pieces with the
understanding that she is only attempting to express her own personal
experiences. In every part of her artistic process, Reven Swanson seems
to call upon her experience as a female for her artistic inspiration. A
photograph of her grandmother is placed in her studio (Fig. 5.1), a
constant reminder of the women of her past and the woman she wishes
to be in the future.
Although this analysis does not cover all of Swansons works, it
does manage to convey the main themes and concepts she has developed


42
throughout her artistic career. However, if one was to conduct further
studies on Swansons work, I would suggest exploring the pen and ink
illustrations that she completed for Angel Flesh, a book of poetry by
Padma Thomlyre, a poet and editor of Mad Blood Magazine. These
illustrations, which are black and white images of sensual and
spontaneous women, could shine a new light on the way in which
Swanson represents the female form.
In addition, it would also be beneficial to study Swansons marble
pieces in greater detail. One such marble piece entitled, Fertility Goddess,
which was not called to my attention until after this analysis was written,
would be particularly helpful in making a stronger connection between
Swansons female figures and ancient, archetypal goddesses.
It seems that one could go on to further explore the work of Reven
Swanson and continue to find new messages and interpretations.
Working closely with Swanson throughout the course of this project, it
has become clear that she uses her art as a means of healing herself and
understanding her own personal, feminine experiences. One thing is
certain, as she grows and changes as a woman, constantly reconfiguring
and translating her consciousness, the form and content of her artwork
will continue to evolve.


43
END NOTES
1 Reven Swanson, interview by author, 10 March 2006, Denver.
2 Charles Louis Spencer, Knots, Splices and Fancywork, 2nd ed. (New
York: Kennedy Brothers, 1935), 90.
3 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
4 Rebecca Jones, Tatting: Origins and History, Navarro River Knits
Online, 3 Dec. 1998, 27 April 2006.
.
5 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
6 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
7 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
8 Katharine Smith Chafee and others, Colorado Women in the Arts
(Boulder: D&K Printing, 1979), 147.
9 Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Nineteenth Century European Art (New
Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003), 347.
10 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
11 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
12 Note that while the Tatted Bird may have wings, and could thus be
considered to fall under the theme of wings, due to the use of the
traditional art of tatting, this piece fits more logically under the theme
of female traditions.
13 Reven Swanson, Reven Swanson: Sculpture Portfolio, Sculpture
Magazine Online. 14 Sept. 2001, 27 April 2006 sculpture.org/portfolio/sculptorPage.php?sculptor_id*1000687.html>.
14 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
15 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
16 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
17 Marija Gimbutas, The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe: Myths and
Cult Images (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982), 123.


44
18 Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess (San Francisco: Harper
Press, 1989), 3.
19 Gimbutas, Language of the Goddess, 81.
20 Moyo Okediji, African Renaissance: Old Forms, New Images in Yoruba
Art (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2002), 70.
21 Monica Blackmun Visona and others, A History of Art in Africa (New
Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001), 240.
22 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
23 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
24 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
25 Reven Swanson and Padma Thom lyre, Taking Flight: A Conversation
with Reven Swanson, Mad Blood Magazine, June 2003, 52.
26 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
27 David H. Roper, Old Testament Character Studies (Palo Alto: Discovery
Publishing, 1995), 56.
28 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
29 Judy Lamarsh, A Precocious and Creative Child: A Conversation with
Margaret Atwood, CBC Archives Online. 4 Nov. 1975. 27 April 2006
3&IDLan= 18&NoCli= l&typeclip.html>.
30 Judy Lamarsh, A Precocious and Creative Child: A Conversation with
Margaret Atwood.
31 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
32 James Weigel, Introduction to Mythology (Lincoln: Cliffs Notes Inc.,
1991), 62.
33 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
34 David Kinsley, The Goddess Mirror: Visions of the Divine from East to
West (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 185.
35 Reven Swanson, interview by author.


45
36 Reven Swanson and Padma Thomlyre, Taking Flight: A Conversation
with Reven Swanson 52.
37 R. Smith, Hellenistic Sculpture, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991),
81.
38 Reven Swanson and Padma Thomlyre, Taking Flight: A Conversation
with Reven Swanson, 53.
39 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
40 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
41 Reven Swanson, interview by author.
42 Reven Swanson and Padma Thomlyre, Taking Flight: A Conversation
with Reven Swanson, 50.
43 Reven Swanson and Padma Thomlyre, Taking Flight: A Conversation
with Reven Swanson, 55.
44 Reven Swanson, interview by author.


46
WORKS CITED
Chafee, Katharine Smith, Fran Metzger, Cathleen A. Murphy, and Cecille
Sirotkin. Colorado Women in the Arts, Boulder: D&K Printing, 1979.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe: Myths and
Cult Images. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982.
----------------. The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper
Press, 1989.
Jones, Rebecca. Tatting: Origins and History. Navarro River Knits
Online. 3 Dec. 1998. 27 April 2006 knits.com / tatting, html >.
Kinsley, David. The Goddess Mirror: Visions of the Divine from East to
West. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.
Lamarsh, Judy. A Precocious and Creative Child: A Conversation with
Margaret Atwood, CBC Archives Online. 4 Nov. 1975. 27 April
2006 DCi= 10053&IDLan= 18sNoCli= 186typeclip. html>.
Okediji, Moyo. African Renaissance: Old Forms, New Images in Yoruba Art.
Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2002.
Spencer, Charles Louise. Knots, Splices and Fancywork. 2nd ed. New
York: Kennedy Brothers, 1935.
Roper, David H. Old Testament Character Studies. Palo Alto: Discovery
Publishing, 1995.
Smith, R. Hellenistic Sculpture. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.
Swanson, Reven. Interview by author, 10 March 2006, Denver.
Swanson, Reven. Reven Swanson: Sculpture Portfolio. Sculpture
Magazine Online. 14 Sept. 2001. 27 April 2006 sculpture.org/portfolio/sculptorPage. php?sculptor_id= 1000687.
html>.
Swanson, Reven and Padma Thomlyre. Taking Flight: A Conversation
with Reven Swanson. Mad Blood Magazine, June 2003, 52.


47
Visona, Monica Blackmun, Herbert M. Cole, Michael D. Harris and Robin
Poynor. A History of Art in Africa. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001.
Weigel, James. Mythology. Lincoln: Cliffs Notes Inc., 1991.


Figure 0.1 Kylee Allen, Reven Swanson with Hens, photograph, 2006




Figure 1.2 Reven Swanson, Tatted Bird (Detail), wire, wood, fiber and fused glass, 2002, 20x
21x 26


Figure 1.3 Reven Swanson, Migration, steel and mixed media, 2001, 35x 75x 45




Figure 2.1 Reven Swanson, 210, steel and mixed media, 2001, 53x 36x 50


Figure 2.3 Reven Swanson, 160, steel and bark, 2001, 36x 36x SO'
Figure 2.4 Illustration of Early Neolithic Bird Goddess, carved stone, 5000 BC


Figure 2.6 Reven Swanson, Tantalus Tangerine (Alternate View), steel and enamel,
2003, 6.5x 5.5x 3.5


Figure 2.7 Reven Swanson, Tantalus Tangerine (Detail), steel and enamel, 2003, 6.5x 5.5x 3.5


Figure 3.2 Reven Swanson, Delilah (Alternate View), steel and enamel, 1999, 123x 44x 40


Figure 3.3 Reven Swanson, Half-Hanged Mary, steel wire and enamel, 1998, 144x 60x 50
Figure 3.4 Reven Swanson, Half-Hanged Mary (Alternate Location), steel wire and enamel,
1998, 144x 60x 50


Figure 3.5 Figure Reven Swanson, Athena: Iron Maiden, steel, 1999, 120x 54x
36


Figure 3.8 Reven Swanson, Aphrodite Rising/Silly Fool (Photo
with artist), yule marble, 1997, 18x 18x 106


Figure 3.9 Camille Claudel, La Valse (The Waltz), bronze, 1905



Figure 4.2 Reven Swanson, Moon Creature/Seated Spinner, steel, enamel, 2002, 4x 11 x 14


Figure 4.4 Robert Mangold, Anemotive Kinetic, 1994, painted stainless steel, 11 x 4x 4


Figure 4.6 Reven Swanson, Dancing Moon III, steel, enamel, 2002, 34x 26x 26


Figure 4.7 Reven Swanson, Wind Reeds (Detail), steel, fused glass, 2005, 8x 40


Figure 5.1 Kylee Allen, Reven Swansons Studio, photograph, 2006