C H E R I I S G R E E N
Incredibly talented and continually evolving, this mixed-media artist is the embodiment of a creative spirit…an inspiration to any and all who experience her work.
[San Juan Silver Stage |Winter 2020 | Kathryn R. Burke]
Some of Cheri Isgreen’s earliest memories are of making art. “I was about three years old when my twin sister, Kathe, and I discovered we could scratch images on wood. I made a self-portrait of my sister and I on the headboard of my bed.”
Those early scratches evolved into a lifetime of creative endeavor, from making art to teaching it…and beyond. Cheri is the embodiment of a creative spirit— indomitable, continually evolving—an inspiration to any and all who experience her work.
Cheri became an art teacher mostly by accident. The journey was a common one for the times. She grew up in the 1960s, one of seven children in rural Illinois about 60 miles north of Chicago. Back then, if a girl’s parents were even willing to pay for an education (most weren’t), she was expected to study something practical, like teaching or nursing, to tide her over until she got married and had babies. “My parents didn’t want to pay for it, so I applied at Southern Illinois University for a teacher’s scholarship. I got it, and decided I’d just be an art teacher.”
But, like most creative people, Cheri is a free spirit. “The mountains were calling,” she recalls, and she wanted to ski. So she took an educational hiatus and moved to Colorado, first to Telluride, then later worked at every nursery and flower shop in Montrose and Delta Counties. Eventually, she landed at Oak Grove School in Montrose. “I became a para-professional. I loved working with the kids and decided I wanted to continue my education.”
She earned her BA at Western State with a double major in art education and elementary education, then went on to the University of Colorado to complete her MA in Art Instruction and Curriculum with an emphasis in Art Education.
Getting degrees opened a lot of doors for her. Besides teaching art in Montrose, Colorado, for 27 years, Cheri was also a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education, (advisor to the Secretary of Education in Washington, D.C.). In that role, she worked with the Colorado Department of Education, as well as the University of Northern Colorado, helping to develop a comprehensive, statewide standards-based K-12 art education program not tied to standardized testing.
Cheri also curated an exhibition of artwork by K-12 Colorado students for the U.S. Department of Education. The exhibition, entitled “Art at the Apex,” was shown at the nation’s capital the month of May in 2010. Guest speakers included Isgreen; Colorado featured artist, 4th grader Sarena Payte; Deborah Reeve, National Art Education Executive Director; and Department of Education Senior Director, Brad Jupp. The opening was attended by Colorado Senator Michael Bennett, among others.
As an art teacher, Cheri taught all genres and media: art history, art criticism, composition, and creative expression. “The art I make now is very influenced by my teaching experiences,” she notes. “The depth and breadth from my time as an art teacher is what I take to my studio today. It’s reflective of why I create art in a variety of media.”
Horses–in Art and in Life
Equestrian art has been a common theme in Cheri’s work in every media. She also enjoys owning and riding them. That, too, started when she was very young. Cheri remembers an incident when she was about 10 years old. “My very first horse was a pony my brother (who was 6 at the time) found at yard sale. We all got together and emptied our piggy banks, coming up with $10 between us. We went to the yard sale, turned over our money, put the poney on a lead and walked it home.
“I loved horses and rode every chance I could get. While I was growing up, we kept ‘a backyard horse’ (the animals lived in our backyard, not boarded). We also had a rabbit, two cats, a white lab rat, a dog, and a garden.” That last, along with the backyard horse, played a big part in her education break when she worked in related fields, like gardening, and again today in how she manages her property and most importantly, the award-winning Lippizan she owns, rides, shows, loves, and paints.
Painting horses took on a special meaning over time. “While teaching and doing art with my students, I always dreamed of making blue horses. When I retired (after 27 years in the classroom), I changed directions, from being an educator to being a professional artist.” Like many of her other career decisions, it was a good one. Her work is prolific, well received, and sells very well. One of her retirement goals was to master watercolor, to explore light and color. Cheri is a signature member of the Colorado Watercolor Society.
“I was very interested in understanding and portraying the anatomy of the horse in motion. With anything alive, the form changes with movement. That is why exploring the light is so interesting. If you get the light right, the shadows and the highlights will reveal the form. It won’t matter what color is used, so I am free to explore nonrepresentational color in horses and other subjects. Over time, my work has evolved to an expressive explosion of color” … like blue horses.
More than Equine
Cheri is also renowned for her colorful landscapes, florals, and travel paintings. Many are available as originals, prints, and notecards on her website, cheriisgreen.com/
Working with Clay
Cheri Isgreen’s work has further evolved into mixed media. Now she’s doing wonderful projects with clay and building her own pits to fire the clay. “I’ve always been interested in raku,” she says. A Japanese technique, the clay is low-fired and colored through minerals and smoke. “It’s a very primitive, traditional style of ceramic work.” Cheri learned how to do pit fires through a summer course at Adams State College. She had been firing her pieces at the Gunnison Arts Center, but logistics were proving to be an obstacle, so she decided to explore building her own raku fire pit for her new layered mixed-media wall pieces.
A result of her whimsical creative spirit and incorporating a multitude of her artistic talents and interests, Dream Horses portray Cheri’s fascination with color, light, motion, equine anatomy. Originally they were painted with watercolor, more like Little Dancer, a Lipizzan foal, which is a composite of all the Lipizzans born and bred at Tempel Farms.
Tempel is the original farm for the importation of Lipizzans in United States after WWII. This painting is in the collection of one of Tempel Farms’ residents. “Little Dancer“ generated quite a bit of media buzz. Carly Prosser, founder of Cavali Club, saw the painting and contacted Cheri to do a collaboration. Cavali Club is a curated equestrian subscription box with over 2,000 subscribers. A silk scarf from this painting, available on Cheri’s website, will be offered in the Spring box, due to ship in March 2021.
Dream Horses today are three-dimensional, mixed-media sculptures built of clay and wood, then finished with metallic pigments and items from Cheri’s endless stash of beads, gems, found objects, and ephemera.
“The Dream Horses are not anatomically natural horses, but come out of my dreams,” she explains. “They incorporate equine art through the ages, from the cave paintings of Lascaux to the indigenous equine art of today. These horses engender all I feel about the horse’s spirit of power, beauty, and partnership.
“I don’t have a lot of control over these horses. They just happen. As I work, the horses tell me what they want to look like, what they want to be, and I do what is needed to make that happen. Sculpting horses is quite an involved process that I developed over the course of three years. I’m currently working on Series 4.”
Click on Sunny to view video of how Sunny and other Dream Horses are created by Cheri Isgreen.
Making a Dream Horse
Step 1. Sculpt horse body and collect forsythia or fruit wood for each individual leg. Insert tree limbs to become the legs, working on balance and gesture. When satisfied with composition of sculpture, pull legs out, label, and let wood cure while clay is drying.
Step 2. After about a month, the wood is cured and the clay is dry enough to be fired. After firing, reattach the cured wood as legs. Based on stance and gesture of the horse, make a wooden base for the sculpture. Fine tuning the balance and the gesture, the horse has to have three to four balance points. (“Just recently, I created a horse with just 2 points of balance. One of the forelegs is poised in the air, with the other 3 legs sharing just two points of balance!”)
Step 3. Blend wood to clay by building anatomy with a proprietary cold-cure process (“that has taken three years to develop”). This process seamlessly blends the fired clay to the cured wood, completing the horse’s anatomy (skeletal, musculature).
Step 4. Whole sculpture gets black base coat of acrylic paint. “When I do this step, I always think of the sculptures by Louise Nevelson, whose work one of my art professors introduced me to.”
Step 5. Hand-rub mineralized and metallic pigments into the ceramic surface. Some are powdered, some oil based. “I have even been known to use makeup if I need a particular color. I don’t wear makeup anymore, so my horses do!” Stabilize pigments with clear coat of whole piece.
Step 6. Wire sculpt the manes and tails with silver-coated copper wire. “Like the horses’ gestures and stance, each horse ‘tells’ me what its ‘hair-do’ will look like.”
Step 7. Final step (larger pieces). Embellish with a variety of found objects, including beads, gems, antique buttons, fabric, and more. “Again, it depends on what the horse ‘tells’ me it needs.”
Endlessly creative and innovative, one of Cheri Isgreen’s latest endeavors is something she calls Beyond Raku. The process involves creating and firing raku tiles in her outdoor studio in Montrose, Colorado. Then she finishes them with a variety of pigments, other materials, and found objects. Watch this video to see how she does it. (Thank you for viewing; please SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel.)