Take a step into the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center's White Gallery, and you'll be swallowed up by an enchanted gauzy forest. At 12½ feet tall and 3 feet wide, each of 40 cheesecloth panels of painted trees hanging from the ceiling helps create the illusion of having just entered a fairy-tale storybook.
When you first enter, you see trunks of aspens set against a backdrop of bright yellows, orange and a cerulean blue sky. But walk in and then turn around, and you'll find darker colors dominate. Shattered tempered-glass masks peek out from among the trees and, due to Divide artist De Lane Bredvik's clever design, actually cast shadows in the shape of either wolves or doves.
Bredvik created the two-sided panels to represent the "duality of human nature as well as the bright and dark side of nature represented in fairy tales." His "Waldsterben: SAD Sudden Aspen Decline" is part of Sangre's 40-year anniversary exhibit, Fairy Tale Origins: The Art of Interpretation, which coincides with the 200-year anniversary of the publication of the first collection of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
The 45-year-old artist notes that characters in fairy tales often head into the woods, "which is where the transformative power of nature takes place. And you don't know if that transformation is going to be positive or negative, whether you'll be greeted by a wolf or find your prince."
On the ground, Ponderosa pine needles and aspen mulch from trees that have died from Sudden Aspen Decline together create the sensory experience of walking through a forest, and also draw attention to the plight of the aspens. (Waldsterben means "forest death" in German.) Since SAD has been linked to climate change, Bredvik wanted to raise awareness of how we're impacting our forests.
"We each have the potential to be heroes or villains, depending on our actions," he says. "What we do every day affects other people, affects nature and the climate."
Other artists in Fairy Tale Origins include Brooklyn-based writer and illustrator Paul Zelinsky, who sent three original paintings that he's used in retellings of Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel and 1998 Caldecott Medal winner Rapunzel. Last Leaf Printing will have silk-screened prints on display, and artist Kate Jarrett will show bisque-fired ceramics featuring acrylic-painted "hybrid deer-women," in the words of assistant curator Gabe Wolff.
Another artist in the show, Alyssa Michelle Chambo, created intricate sterling silver jewelry that is decorative and lovely but also in some way ensnares or restrains the female wearer. Symbolizing the repression and passivity of women that can be found in several of Grimms' fairy tales, the work of this recent University of Michigan grad essentially echoes the duality present in Bredvik's trees.
In her senior thesis paper about her jewelry, Chambo writes, "It is something that interests me; something that is beautiful can be deceiving and detrimental."