At first glance, Laurie Archer’s solar plate etchings look like random nature studies. In the three sections of “The Thread,” her exhibit now on view in the library of the Durango Arts Center, you see images of bark, water and road debris. Look more closely and you’ll discover what it means to develop a mature body of work that filters a world view in a quiet, meditative way.
Archer’s friend and professional colleague, printmaker and calligrapher Louise Grunewald, made this exhibit happen. Archer lives in Santa Fe and works in her studio daily. She exhibits at Verve Gallery and has a long and illustrious career spanning several fields. At the DAC exhibit, you can read about her training as a visual artist and her career as a dancer on Broadway. You can also peruse her personal copy of William Stafford’s poetry. His poem, “The Way It Is,” has been reproduced on a wall and provides a framework for the exhibition. Stafford’s poem is one element of many that coalesce into this remarkable show.
The title, “The Thread,” comes from Stafford’s poem, but more importantly, it speaks of a philosophy of life. Archer’s quiet, fully realized photo-based etchings make that philosophy visible: The world may change, but the thread of your life is yours and it is with you to the end.
Archer’s work expresses a deep sense of wonder, a love of nature and a profound sense of the moment.
When you enter the upstairs library, be prepared to enter a universe of intense observation. That’s what the best nature and still-life painters have always brought to their subjects – a profound sense of the moment.
“The Thread” has three distinct sections: In the Wood, On the Road, and At the River. Each section reveals what Archer has noticed, wondered about, and finally shaped into solar plate prints. Nine closeups of bark are clearly about the beauty of insect calligraphy: lines, patterns and occasional startling designs. Nine still-life etchings of objects found on roadway walks are small jewels of observation and composition. Twelve etchings of rocks and grasses discovered beside a river encourage her to step back and see nature at more of a distance.
In each of these 30 eloquently realized visions, Archer has added another level of interpretation. She has stitched a thin metallic thread into each completed etching. By doing so, she has closely observed the finished image and applied her powerful sense of observation again – to augment the composition. Each tread enters an image, enhances some aspect of the composition, and then exits, loosely trailing or falling away.
The device underscores the title of the show and the ideas presented in Stafford’s poem. It also acts as a delicate but strong metaphor for living one’s life.
Rarely do we get to see such a concentrated body of work that is as coherent, polished and meditative as “The Thread.” Archer has made visible something that’s almost impossible to articulate, and she’s done it through an interesting photographic process with imagery that is complex and beautifully interpreted.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.