By Melissa Wagoner
Every month Lunaria – a cooperative fine art gallery established in downtown Silverton in 1995 – celebrates one or more of its 24 members through a gallery show that kicks off with a First Friday gala event.
“These gala events provide the public an opportunity to view a wider selection of the featured artist’s work as well as interact directly with members,” the gallery’s website explains. “Lunarians welcome the chance to discuss their art and relate to the wider community.”
During the month of October those artists will include longtime member and wood carver, Deborah Unger, alongside painter, Anne Shams, who joined Lunaria in January.
“I approached Deborah Unger because I have admired her work since I moved here,” Shams explained. She moved to Silverton in 2007.
While in many ways the body of work the two artists will be presenting could not be more different – Shams’ paintings feature a variety of influential woman surrounded by her customary gilded arch, while Unger’s carvings are a three-dimensional representation of human emotion – the purpose of the show is the same: to share their art.
Although Shams studied painting at both the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Padua in Italy, she never really believed she could make a living as an artist. Instead, she spent 36 years working in clinical massage.
“That’s how I supported myself,” she said, describing the difficulty she sometimes experienced balancing her paid work with the time needed to paint.
But now, with her art taking center stage, she is free to take her painting in new directions, even exploring the art of portraiture which, to her surprise, came relatively easy.
“For 20 years I touched people’s [faces],” she said, describing the different bones and tissues with which she, as a trained masseuse, is intimately familiar.
“I had felt, sensed and studied what’s beneath those planes,” she said. “And without that, I wouldn’t have accomplished this.”
“This,” is a body of 12 unique portraits – six of which will be on display at the October opening – of women who she finds inspiring including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, marine biologist Rachel Carson, environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Episcopal priest Alla Bozarth, birth control activist Margaret Sanger and Pauli Murray, the womanwho provided Shams’ inspiration.
“I came across an article about Pauli Murray and it was fascinating,” Shams said, recalling her discovery of the civil rights and gender equality activist-turned lawyer and Episcopal priest. “I thought, we need to know more about her.”
In order to share what she had learned, Shams first needed to go back to school herself.
“I wanted to do the classical style, which I hadn’t learned,” Shams said. Her previous paintings depict themes of peace, justice and the environment.
She contacted award-winning artist Ulan Moore, who also happens to reside in Silverton.
“He’s an incredible teacher,” Shams enthused. “In fact, he’s the best teacher I’ve ever had.”
Working with Ulan over a period of weeks, Shams finally progressed to the point where she could develop her own paintings. But still the work was painstaking, taking over three years to complete.
“These are time consuming,” she admitted.
But the process has been part of the fun. It’s something she is willing to share with an audience through a series of alla prima – first attempt – works that will be on display above the finished paintings at the opening.
“I’ll display the initial drawings and a description of the difference,” Shams said. Noting that, while the ultimate goal of the gallery opening is of course to sell paintings, she has another desire – to show the community another kind of art.
“It’s a departure from what I’ve done and I hope it’s inspiring,” she added. “Because these women faced all kinds of challenges – gender, racial issues, education and employment challenges – and it’s relevant… they had a prophetic voice.”
Becoming a sculptor wasn’t what Deborah Unger set out to do. In fact, with a BFA from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in printmaking, she had never really worked with three dimensions. But, when she moved from her hometown of Mount Angel to Germany, in 1988, finding a place to practice her art became prohibitive.
“I didn’t have access to printmaking and it wasn’t conducive to an apartment,” she recalled. “So, at some point I started trying to find different mediums.”
Like carving a figure from a block of wood she found at an art supply store, then dressing it in hand-sewn clothes.
“I was trying so hard to coax a figure out of it that I didn’t leave enough material for clothing,” Unger wrote on her website. “So, I decided to sew my figure a dress and have been working that way ever since.”
An unfortunate mistake-turned design inspiration,
that figure became the basis for Unger’s career, even propelling her – upon her return to Mount Angel in 2007 – into becoming one of Lunaria’s featured artists, a longstanding goal.
October’s show will by no means be her first at the gallery, but it will contain works not previously displayed.
“It’s life experience,” she said, describing how the carvings she has chosen illustrate her theme, “Days Passing Like a Shadow.”
“We all experience these things,” she said. Her work, whose simplicity leaves room for interpretation, speaks differently to different people.
“I’ve had people buy things because of something that was completely different than what I was thinking,” she said. “But it’s great.”
Her ultimate goal – and Shams’ goal as well – is to have the work seen.
“If you’re going to be an artist it’s great to get your work out,” she said simply.
Lunaria’s October Exhibition
“Portraits of Inspiring Women in the Classical Style: Part One” by painter Anne Shams
“Days Passing Like a Shadow” by sculptor Deborah Unger
Oct. 5-30, daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Opening Reception Friday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m.
Artist’s Talk on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 5 p.m.