Artist and teacher Nancy Madura once sat in a cherry tree and watched amber sap change color in the evening sun for what must have been two hours. That’s just one story she can tell you about her love for color.
The NIC called on her to be the guest curator for a new exhibition all about color. She stepped into the museum’s vault last month to choose the art, and the same fascination that took hold in the tree sap sparked as soon as she started to browse the permanent collection.
She discovered paintings hung side by side with the same color scheme, even if they differed in theme, technique and subject. She doesn’t know whether these pairings were deliberate or happenstance. But Madura continued to choose and group pieces to show how many different ways artists can use colors and color theory.
“Colors of the Collection” is on display in the main gallery through April 22 and spotlights more than 50 pieces from the permanent collection along with some of Madura’s work. The show is designed to educate high school groups visiting during this month’s Wyoming High School Art Symposium. But it’s for any artist or art fan, too.
“I keep going back through over and over, and every time I look through them again, I learn something brand new all over again,” Madura said before the reception for the show. “The whole show is just becoming this wonderful jumping-off place for discussing color and how artists use color. And it’s been very, very exciting.”
Nancy taught art courses for 32 years at Casper College, and color theory was her “greatest of all time joy to teach,” according to her bio for the show. She earned a BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design and an MA from Ohio State University and worked for 10 years as a graphic designer.
Still, she says she’s not a scholar. Her true talent is noticing, observing, and then teaching other people what she sees, she said during her talk at the reception.
“And hopefully, I can teach you to see. That’s my greatest joy as a teacher.”
She spends most of her time observing and watching colors change with moving light, and she’ll try to make anyone near her join in her wondrous observations, which she shares in her bio.
When she looks out at the Wyoming landscape, Madura sees the secondary triad color scheme – purple, green and orange, in all its variety.
People can find this color scheme in the exhibition, including in some of her pieces.
Madura invited people to notice what works are hung next to each piece. The gallery is filled with grouped examples of various color schemes, like the primary color scheme – blue, yellow and red. For instance, one artist painted a high-chroma, realistic painting, while another created a print in subtle, muted tones using the same primary color scheme.
Visitors can learn color theory concepts, like how complementary colors are opposite on the color wheel. Then they can see how artists have paired them to make both colors “pop.”
Madura pointed out how two artists used a red, green and magenta color scheme, but one painted a religious scene, and another created an indulgent mood.
“So it can be very spiritual, or it can be saying the exact opposite,” Madura told the attendees. “Take a look at those pictures; look at how the color schemes are identical, but their use, technique, the meaning, the why is totally different.”
A person can learn what color schemes are, but that doesn’t teach us how to say anything with them, Nancy said in her talk.
“These artists have,” she said. “They have a lot to say, each one.”
One advantage of this show is the sheer variety, while most exhibitions tend to focus on one artist or theme, Madura noted.
The NIC executive director, Allison Maluchnik, didn’t know what shape the exhibition would take when she headed into the vault with Madura to see what inspiration they might find. She calls the result in the gallery brilliant.
“From conception to reception, we had three weeks, and none of this would have been possible without Nancy,” Maluchnik said.
At first glance, the show seemingly has no theme or commonalities, curator for education Michelle Miller said.
“Only upon closer examination do you see how the color theory groupings connect theme. It’s such a great educational show that can teach people so much about color and how powerful a tool it is for the artist,” Miller said. “My hope is that it will change the way people see color!”