At American Craft Council show, artist makes nature fashionable

Spring is about to spring up all over Atlanta, but at no place more so than this weekend at Cobb Galleria Centre. That is where the American Craft Council Atlanta Show and the Southeastern Flower Show, independent annual events joined this year by happenstance, are setting up shop.

One would expect the flower show to be fertile with pollen producers, but the crafts show’s more than 225 booths also will boast all sorts of works depicting nature in general and flowers in particular.

Artists and craftspeople have derived inspiration from the natural world for eons. But in recent years, those exhibiting at the American Craft Council’s four national shows have significantly increased their use of nature imagery, whether in weavings, ceramics, floor cloths, clothing wind chimes, silk embroidery or other media.

ACC spokeswoman Pamela Diamond believes artists are returning to forms from nature in response to the difficulty of the recession years, and as part of a societal trend placing value on matters more organic, such as locally made soaps or farm-to-table cooking.

“Nature is a muse for artists, no doubt,” Diamond said. “We’re getting farther and farther away from it, and artists are … trying to make us aware of where our roots are.”

One American Craft Council artist whose works strongly reflect her embrace of nature is Gabriele Beyer, who lives in the Okanogan Highlands, a remote mountainous area of northeastern Washington state just south of Canada.

Her home and studio are set on a gravel road at an elevation of 3,400 feet. The closest stop for groceries and supplies is more than a half-hour’s drive down in a valley. The closest city, Spokane, is four hours east.

Living amid mountain vistas and woods of firs, aspens, tamaracks and other majestic trees, nature is not just a, but the, fact of life.

Beyer’s collections of hand-dyed silk neckties, bow ties and scarves resonate with nature imagery, be it representational or abstract. So do her paintings on silk that she will show in her first ACC Atlanta Show appearance. In richly saturated hues, she depicts daisies, shorelines, pomegranates, planets, beehives, seagrass, even rain.

“Nature is where I always wanted to be,” said the artist, 44. “I live quite outdoors, in a little (one room with a loft) cabin, over a wood-fire stove. So my life is very physical, involving all the things that come with this lifestyle — (hauling) firewood, fallen trees.”

Beyer wasn’t born into this lofty life. Quite the opposite. She grew up in East Berlin, which she recalled as “quite an ugly and oppressive place.”

“I was rebellious and wanted out of there,” she continued. “I found out that it was actually the ugliness that made me rebel. In my mind, I imagined beautiful places, things of nature.”

Before the wall came down, Beyer was able to move to West Berlin, then lived in Ireland and London. She attended college in Canada, where she immigrated. There, in 2001, she met her husband-to-be, Michael Murphy, who was building a line of hand-dyed silk ties.

Murphy brought her to his home in the Okanogan Highlands, and they worked together — him on his ties, her on a line of hand-painted silk scarves she created — for nearly a decade. At their zenith, Murphyties ties and scarves were carried in more than 100 galleries and museum shops.

Then in 2008, Murphy was diagnosed with cancer, and she cared for him for two years before he died.

“My husband’s passing was very, very traumatic,” Beyer said in her still-thick German accent. “We were real soul mates. I had done two years of intensive care for him, and all of the sudden, there was an extreme void. So I put my sadness and my energy into my creative work. I guess when you feel pain, then all of the sudden your creativity is limitless.”

Certain that her late husband is watching over her, she has since produced three collections of scarves ($109 each) and ties ($99). (Her paintings range $600-$3,700.)

Beyer said she is surrounded by inspiration for new creations on daily bike rides and hikes. She records some of it with her camera and some in her memory, all of it grist for her tie and scarf designs as well as the loosely executed silk paintings and, more recently, more representational landscapes executed with oil pastels on linen.

“It’s tremendously beautiful,” the artist said of her adopted home. “I just need to do something with it.”

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