Mobiles bring grace to Littleton Museum

Mattie O's win in show led to one-person exhibit

Posted 9/25/16

From engineering to Ikebana to mobiles, artist Mattie O has followed a winding path to her exhibit, “In Suspension” which opened Sept. 16 in Littleton.

The Littleton Museum gallery where Mattie O's “In Suspension” hangs is transformed …

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Mobiles bring grace to Littleton Museum

Mattie O's win in show led to one-person exhibit

Posted

From engineering to Ikebana to mobiles, artist Mattie O has followed a winding path to her exhibit, “In Suspension” which opened Sept. 16 in Littleton.

The Littleton Museum gallery where Mattie O's “In Suspension” hangs is transformed into a magical spot where the slightest bit of breeze sets her mobiles into gentle motion. As they move, the lighting hits different spots on the colorful blossoms and leaves, adding interest.

Also exhibited are dresses that made me think of Titania, Queen of the Fairies in “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” They float and shimmer. The dresses are suspended from graceful curved stands and look ready to dance.

Each leaf or flower that decorates the skirts or hangs in the mobiles is individually hand-made, said Mattie O, the artist who won Best of Show in the 2015 “Own an Original” exhibit. That win entitled her to a one-person show this fall, which means she has been working steadily in the studio at her home in Monument, creating the thousands of tiny flowers and leaves and shapes that flutter in the museum gallery. There are 32 works in the show, including several collages.

She has been creating this imaginative world for only three or four years, she said, after retiring and taking up watercolor — “like other older woman.” At 60, she is busy working with a new medium, abaca fiber, that “is well-known in the paper world,” she said.

She receives it in five-gallon buckets and works with it and with papier mache. “I like the organic nature of abaca,” she said.

She is part of a Facebook group of paper artists who went to Vietnam in November. (She missed the opening where her win was announced.) There, they met a man who fashions tiny insects from paper.

Surprisingly, she came out of a career as a civil engineer. “I didn't play with dolls as a child — I had my Erector Sets!” (Her mother was an elementary school art teacher, so there was some exposure to the arts.)

She was one of few women engineers who worked with offshore oil. And she designed the astronauts' backpacks they wear to fly around and make repairs. She also went to law school and practiced environmental law for 20 years, including litigation regarding the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, now a nature preserve.

“When I retired, I became a hermit, a ski bum and lived in a one-room log cabin. At 45, I started art classes, but don't have a degree. When I retired at 50, I took botanical illustration classes at the Denver Botanic Gardens. That sharpened my drawing skills.” She also learned Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangements, which influences her art.

In this exhibit, various skills come together: the botanical — and a little engineering to make sculptures balance, she observed. And technical skills helped when it came time to move the collection up to Littleton Museum. Some things moved flat on insulation board. Some were carefully packed in boxes. Others hung from the roof of the van she rented to transport her work.

All her pieces were assembled with planning and lighting by museum curator Kevin Oehler.

“There's something fanciful about mobiles. They snag our imagination and spirits. I'm a huge fan of Alexander Calder. Of his whimsical mobiles, it was said `His mobiles occupy one's mind without constraining it and guide one's thoughts to blissful pathways.' (Patrick Waldberg.) That's my aim. My mobiles are constructed using papers imported from Japan, Thailand and Nepal or paper I have made from abaca fiber. I use artists acrylic gloss medium and varnish so that blossoms and leaves are durable, washable and archival …,” said Mattie O.

Enjoy a light-hearted visit to “In Suspension.”

If you go

“In Suspension” is presented by the Littleton Fine Arts Board through Oct. 23 at the Littleton Museum, 6028 S. Gallup St., Littleton. Admission is free. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. 303-795-3950.

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