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Old 07-24-2005, 02:07 AM
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Default Article:Women's Prison site of female art

http://www.billingsgazette.com/index...0-arch-art.inc


By DONNA HEALY
Of The Gazette Staff

A ceramics artist, commissioned with state funds, is building a series of three arches in Billings portraying strong, positive images of women.

One surefire way to see all of the arches is to get sentenced to Montana Women's Prison.

Another way is to attend the September dedication.


The 10-foot-tall Great Mother Arch, which has begun rising in a courtyard of the prison near the chapel, portrays a wise older woman on each side of the arch's crown. The women's arms are spread out along the arch's curve. Stamped tiles coming off their arms bear the names of inspirational women such as Mary of Nazareth, Eleanor Roosevelt and Oprah Winfrey.

The three separate archways of the All Women are Role Models Project will be dedicated during a Sept. 10 public ceremony at the prison.

The $50,000 art project was funded through a state law known as the Montana Percent for Art, which authorizes allocating a portion of the funds used for the construction or renovation of state buildings for acquiring artwork for those buildings. The cost may not exceed 1 percent of the project's appropriated construction cost. The law, enacted in 1983, has already funded artwork at many state buildings, including Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility and a project under way at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.

Chip Clawson, a ceramic artist from Helena, designed the three archways and led a series of creative-expression workshops for inmates at the women' prison. His design idea, chosen from 77 applications, was reviewed by a committee of artists, architects and prison officials under the auspices of the Montana Arts Council. The top five art projects were submitted to a committee including prison inmates.

Another arch, the 4-foot-tall Living Mother Arch, will be in the play area of the prison's parenting area, where children visit their mothers. The arch depicts two women holding babies and lying with their backs stretched over the arch. Their hair meets in the center of the arch.

"It's designed without columns so kids can play on it," Clawson said.

The pieces contain a few art deco flourishes and evoke a slightly playful mood, in the whimsical manner of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. The color and curves provide relief from the prison's stark architectural lines.

"In my opinion, this place could use a bit more color," Clawson said.

The outdoor arches, made of hollow, glazed and unglazed ceramic shapes, are filled with concrete reinforced with rebar and are designed to withstand Montana's freeze-thaw cycles. Their location within the prison required some attention to other engineering details. The pieces were designed so they could not be moved, used to escape or turned into weapons.

The third arch, a double ceramic arch named the All Women Are Role Models Arch, will stand in front of the prison's main entrance. The 11-foot-tall double arch contains images from the other two arches. The wise woman's image occupies the center column, while the arches on either side of the center column contain the loving mothers, this time without their babies. The Great Mother appears to reach up to join hands with the younger women.

"They're touching and making contact with the Great Mother," Clawson said.

The pieces are intended to convey the spiritual aspect of women and the connections among women.

Clawson made all of the clay pieces in his studio in Helena, except for the tiles stamped by inmates with the names of inspirational women.

"The arch reminds me of something you can walk under and have a new beginning," said Nora "Annie" Harrison, 48, who will complete a three-year sentence for check fraud in November and plans to attend Montana State University-Billings. About a hundred inmates have been involved in some aspect of the project, but Harrison and about a half-dozen other women have been with the project since its inception.

"This project is worth so much as far as what it has taught us," Harrison said. For her stamped tile, she chose Oprah Winfrey and described the television talk show host as "America's girlfriend."

Clawson's proposal was chosen in June 2003, and the project began in the fall of that year with a series of workshops for the inmates. At the first workshops, led by Clawson and art therapist Jennifer Thompson, the women were encouraged to envision themselves as role models and mentors. They researched the background of inspirational women and nominated names to place on the stamped tiles of the Great Mother Arch.

Some local names - of volunteers and prison staff - are mixed among the more recognizable names of mythological, historical and contemporary figures.

The inmates also made masks as a means of self-expression, and those masks will be displayed at McIntosh Art from Sept. 5 through Oct. 5.







If you go


Because of security needs at the Montana Women's Prison, the Sept. 10 dedication ceremony for the All Women Are Role Models project will be broken into two parts.

The first ceremony will be at the main entrance to the Montana Women's Prison at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 10 and requires no special security clearance.

The second ceremony, inside the prison, requires members of the public to contact Kim Baraby Hurtle at the Montana Arts Council. To be admitted inside the prison, members of the public must supply their name, Social Security number and date of birth to Hurtle by Aug. 1 for a background check. She can be reached at khurtle@mt.gov or by calling 444-6639. The inside dedication will take place immediately after the outside dedication.

A picnic and potluck is scheduled for 3:30 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 10 in South Park. The opening reception for the All Women Are Role Models art show starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Bill McIntosh Art Gallery, at 2507 Montana Ave. The show contains clay masks done by the women's prison inmates, along with the work of ceramic artist Chip Clawson and art therapist Jennifer Thompson.
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