Growing up on the Kansas plains taught Lynn Stenzel to keep her eyes on the sky. She learned it from her father and family neighbors, who were farmers outside of Dodge City. "Sky-watching was really an integral part of everyday life," Stenzel says; without a high-tech weather channel to rely on, farmers formulated forecasts themselves.
This devoted weather-watching forms the basis of Stenzel's stormy paintings, which depict huge, roiling clouds lumbering across the plains.
While most artists depict an American West of craggy mountains, dramatic deserts and patchy foothills, Stenzel devotes her work to the landscape she feels is often ignored. Her works feature a uniquely low horizon line, the flat land eerily still in the moments between rainfall and lightning. Other pieces are so abstracted that no human element exists, leaving the weather a threatening vortex in a vacuum. Fourteen works from her striking oeuvre are now hanging at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center as part of its annual Representing the West art show.
Stenzel, who now lives in Pueblo, attended school in her 30s and received a masters in art from Adams State College in Alamosa. Upon graduation, she started making art professionally. Her primary medium was serigraphy, a form of silkscreen printmaking in which "you have to have perfection in three areas at the same time," she says.
The tedious business of layering colors for serigraph prints was a far cry from what Stenzel dreamed, literally, of doing: splashing swaths of paint across large canvases. A way to realize that dream came to her 12 years ago while eating at a fast-food joint in Pueblo, when she looked out the window and admired a furious thunderstorm in the distance. She painted her first skyscape the following morning.
Since then, her storm works have communicated both fascination and fear, especially those with tiny, lonesome houses shuddering against the earth. Stenzel says she tries to create a "sense of place" when she paints, but it's not as serene as it sounds. Of the houses, she says, "They're feeling a little vulnerable."