Two works of art by Emily Nell Yellowbird

3-D Studio Demo Artist Emily Nell Yellow Bird

Emily Nell Yellow Bird will be in the 3-D Studio demonstrating paper cutting; past and present December 30-31.

Promotional director and co-owner of Black Pinto Horse Fine Arts, Emily Nell Yellow Bird has a bachelors in science, certificate of teaching K-6, and a specialty in art from Messiah College. In the classroom she develops and provides visual art workshops such as “Folk Art for the Fancy,” “The Animals Inside,” and “Flowers; Up-Close and Personal.” With her combination of painting and paper sculpting, Emily combines the traditions of folk art with the contemporary; some of her favorite things.

Megan Farlow: What will your demonstration at the DAM be like?

Emily Nell Yellow Bird: It will involve paper cutting and watercolor, examples of historic Pennsylvania German folk art and glimpses of scherenschnitte and Fraktur. I will include a few interactive items. As a contemporary folk artist I want you to be able to engage with my process. I will share where I come from so you can understand how I arrived at the current state of my artistic journey.

MF: Who/what inspires your artwork?

ENY: Experiences with the natural world inspire new works from the Centripetal Satire series. For instance, Foxy was born when I was wishing for kitties. As entrepreneurs, my husband and I spend much time travelling—too busy for kitties…but one fine day, fox kits appeared, their den behind our house. My excitement was watching them frolic and sun themselves while mama was out hunting. Thus, One Fine Day for a Nap was born. Foxy reminds me of a content kitty. My wish did come true.

Works from Where Land and Sky Meet come about differently. They are quick visions, images within my mind’s eye. My husband and I spend much time in Santa Fe, one of our favorite places to eat, peruse shops, visit museums, and absorb culture. We both have galleries that represent our work so we make several trips a year to replenish inventory. This series has a Southwest feel, and I also see a connection with Georgia O’ Keeffe.

Georgia was familiar with the cow skulls that she found while hiking around her home in Abiquiú. I am familiar with the buffalo skulls which grace our home and play an important role in the ceremonies of my husband’s First Nation culture.

MF: Has your experience as an educator influenced you as an artist or the artwork you produce? If so, how?

When Land Meets Sky by Emily Nell Yellowbird
When Land Meets Sky by Emily Nell Yellowbird. All artworks courtesy of and © Emily Nell Yellowbird.

ENY: My goal is to inspire young people, but they always inspire me. I leave the schools with new energy; food for my soul. Together we share our joys, fears, laughter, and tears…and we grow. I can’t wait to get back up to the studio because I know magic is going to happen…because my time with the students is magical.

MF: How did you start creating your paper cut works?

ENY: I asked myself, “How are my works unique?” and didn’t have an answer. That made me feel uncomfortable. I was bored. My art bland. My 2-D iris paintings were no longer exciting. I needed to break out of the box and quickly before I melted like the witch in The Wizard of Oz.

As an innovative entrepreneur, in collaboration with art, I provide visual art workshops such as “Dreamin’” and “The Animals Inside” to K-12 students across the nation. Subconsciously, the words I share with students had a direct impact on my artwork,"Once you know where you come from, you have a better understanding of where you’re going."

My husband’s pride for his Arikara culture made me question my knowledge of my heritage, or lack of. I felt a deep need to learn about the traditions of my people; Pennsylvania German aka Pennsylvania Dutch. My ancestral quest took me to the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center in Kutztown, PA where I was able to fill a portion of the emptiness.

I was introduced to scherenschnitte, German paper cutting and Fraktur, PA German folk art. I instantly made a connection with these two forms of expression and used them as a vehicle to drive my work in a fresh, personal direction. It created a clear path with a solid foundation…life is too short to be bland.

MF: What is your creative process like, how do you choose your materials?

ENY: My creative process begins with the many charms of nature. I grew up in Appalachia. The creek and mountains were my backyard. The natural world captivated my heart and mind begging to be captured on paper—the kingfisher, the great horned owl, and fox. Living in the Rocky Mountains for the past 10 years, I still begin with the many charms of nature—the magpie collecting, the elk and buffalo grazing.

Within the Centripetal Satire series my characters are wrapped around a circle. Compass in hand, I create a structure, all the objects connected within the circle. Where Land and Sky Meet is much more organic. I have my initial vision and then I begin sketching designs, moving the objects around until they POP.

As I frame, the design can continue to change, moving the paper cut pieces within the frame until they POP…that’s the nice thing about framing my work—I can develop the composition up to the point where I close the frame. The 3-D layers are something I created; my twist for greater effect, giving the piece a sculptural quality. The 1800’s PA German paper cuts were not 3-D layered.

My materials chose me. When I went back to my roots and learned about Schereschnitte, “shears snip” in German, a connection was made. I picked up my X-ACTO knife and the rest is history. I gravitated towards watercolor as a child into adulthood. When I researched the folk art of the Pennsylvania Germans, I found many of the works were paper cut with watercolor—the perfect marriage.

Megan Farlow was a studio and artist programs intern in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum. She enjoys the museum’s American Indian art collection, especially works by Jeffrey Gibson.

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