Ceramic artist Susan Shelton's "Here and Now" is among the artworks honoring the Day of the Dead at the Pence Gallery this month. Courtesy photo

Ceramic artist Susan Shelton's "Here and Now" is among the artworks honoring the Day of the Dead at the Pence Gallery this month. Courtesy photo


Shimmering silk, chattering skeletons on exhibit at the Pence

By From page A3 | October 05, 2011

This October, the Pence Gallery reopens after our very successful Art Auction with three new exhibits for the fall. Join us for our Second Friday ArtAbout reception on Oct. 14 from 6 to 9 p.m., when the exhibiting artists will be in attendance, to see the new offerings and enjoy some refreshments. The gallery is at 212 D St. in downtown Davis.

In our Community Gallery through Nov. 6, Shirley Hazlett’s paintings on silk shimmer with vibrant shifts of color. Layering acrylic media and pigments onto flexible sheets of silk, her work radiates with luminance. The delicate interplay between her compositions and the surrounding environment results in an almost contemplative space.

In addition, Hazlett has a few of her characteristic “rolled” paintings. These result from painted sheets of silk that are rolled and assembled together, oriented vertically in a cluster of gestural paint drips and washes.

Hazlett just completed her master of fine arts degree at San Francisco Art Institute, and is a member of Axis Gallery in Sacramento. Singled out as “an artist worth watching” by writer Angelica Pappas in the Sacramento Bee, Hazlett has exhibited extensively in Northern California.

On Sunday, Oct. 23, from 2 to 3 p.m., she will discuss her innovative artistic process and its evolution. This talk is free.

This exhibit is sponsored by Cantor & Company: A Law Corporation. The Pence Gallery and Hazlett will donate 15 percent of art sales to the Davis School Arts Foundation, a nonprofit art organization supporting arts education in Davis schools.


In our Main Gallery, I invited artists to create altars and artwork that honor the significance of the Day of the Dead tradition. Day of the Dead, or El Día de los Muertos, is a Mexican festival that has its origins in pre-Hispanic death rituals and Catholic beliefs introduced in the Colonial period.

On Nov. 1 and 2, families make altars (ofrendas) in their homes or cemeteries, where they honor ancestors with offerings of food, drink, flowers, candles and other objects. The honoring of family members who have died is seen as a joyful occasion, as death is perceived as interconnected to life. During this time, it is believed that souls of the dead visit the living, thus they are given specific treats that they enjoyed in life.

Playful skeleton figures engaged in everyday activities are often included on altars, as a reminder of morality in the face of sensual pleasures. Ceramic artist Susan Shelton’s scenes of simple dramas — bird watching, a stolen sandwich at a picnic, a dog with a favorite ball — are played out in great detail, with skeletons as playful actors, encouraging us to live life with mindfulness and gratitude.

Malaquias Montoya’s silkscreen print uncovers two skeleton lovers in a passionate embrace, where love continues despite death. Rhett Neal’s papier-maché skeletons and painting pay homage to recently departed musical and artistic icons, alongside religious figures such as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Alison Smith creates icon-like depictions of family members, alongside symbols of death, mourning and atonement, in her altar. To celebrate the life of Dr. Joe Pence, donor of the land and original building to the city of Davis, Nancy Roe (a former patient) created an altar. Archival photos lent by the Pence family and signs of his occupation as a dentist abound.

In Amanda Lopez’s evocative portraits, friends and family members are caught between masquerade and realism, as signs of their individuality and personality peek out beneath their painted façade. Despite their individual differences, each artist has shared a wonderfully joyful view of life and death, in which those departed are not forgotten, but honored for their contribution to those living.


Upstairs, “Clay Dust” is an exhibit of sculptural portraits of women by three local female artists. Trudy Baltz is inspired by historical images of women, especially from the Renaissance and Baroque period. Heidi Murray’s work is reminiscent of art nouveau, as she crafts graceful depictions of female beauty. Marsha Elam is perhaps the most comical of the bunch, with her humorous voluptuous “pear” women and nature-inspired goddesses.

From luminous abstract paintings and sculptural portraits of women, to colorful altars celebrating Day of the Dead, visitors are sure to find an intriguing exhibit to ponder this month at the Pence.

— Natalie Nelson is executive director and curator of the Pence Gallery. Her column is published monthly.

Natalie Nelson

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