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Out of the Blue

Linda Boatwright paints with gems and more,
under an Azurite sky.

By Donna Clayton Lawder

 

It's always been about the outdoors for artist Linda Boatwright—sunlight flashing on a river, hills glowing purple at dusk, a cluster of trees casting deep shadows. Like this issue's cover, her paintings reflect her love of and wonder at nature's splendor.

Artist Linda Boatwright at Azurite Gallery with
some of her jewelry creations.

"I love to make people aware of the beauty around them," she says. A jewelry artist who also paints with acrylics and pastels, Boatwright says she often works en plein-air, outdoors in the true light of day.

"I always start that way. I'll be hiking and then see something I want to paint, and so I'll start with sketches. Pastels are great for that—they're so portable," she says. When doing the final piece, Boatwright says she works from photos taken at the site, again working out-of-doors. The many fine days in southwestern New Mexico—with brilliant sun and fresh air—are just too wonderful to waste, she adds.

Making her living in art right out of college, Boatwright and her husband, Cecil, opened their first gallery, The Great Outdoors, in Atlanta in 1973. In that "art boutique," works of nature featuring stones, shells, plants and more complemented her striking photography, paintings and pastels.

After moving to Silver City in 1995, they opened the Azurite Gallery on Broadway in 1996. In it, Boatwright features her own and other artists' paintings, as well as Mata Ortiz pottery, sculptures, lamps, corn angels and T-shirts with Mimbres-inspired images. Everything in the shop is "of a piece," having the natural feel of the great outdoors. Earthtones are set off by brilliant flashes of color and glittering gems, majestic feathers, bits of rock and metal.

 

Boatwright says she enjoys working in acrylic paint and pastels, especially since the latter seem to have grown in popularity in recent years, and great new pastel boards have been introduced. She points out a small pastel drawing of her family enjoying a day of recreation on the river. The clear, reflective quality of the water is so liquid that it is hard to believe the medium is not watercolor but pastel chalk. True to her love of nature, she has made the river as much a subject of the piece as the human forms splashing in it.

A work on a facing wall, "Hot Trees, Cool Shade," shows Boatwright's expressionistic use of color. In reality, she says, the trees were green, but she made them red as sugar maples in the fall to portray the vibrant life she felt within them. The blazing trees cast contrasting deep green shadows, expressing the depth of the cool sanctuary below them.

Boatwright says she exhibits and participates in juried shows about a dozen times a year. She also loves the immediacy of photography, and has worked extensively with double exposures. And though she still paints two to three times per week, she says her work these days is mostly in the design and creation of jewelry, displayed in a bank of jewelry cases at the back of the gallery.

"I do jewelry every day. It's how I make a living," she says. The couple's well-matched skills have given them a good enterprise: Cecil, a master lapidary, cuts the stones she then uses to craft unique lines of glittering bodily adornments—earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings.

Not only does she find inspiration in the nearly perpetually blue sky above her and the shadows on the hills, but Boatwright often finds the materials with which she works scattered in the dirt and grass just off the hiking trail. She points to some jewelry featuring glittering purple-blue stones, then to a cluster of deep blue rocks adorning the case, crystalline azurite rosettes in their natural state.

"It's our gallery's namesake. Cecil mined them locally. It's a copper gem," she adds, meaning it occurs naturally where copper is mined. Leopard jasper and local turquoise, from the Santa Rita and Tyrone mining areas, are other local gems Boatwright uses in her jewelry. She also incorporates rubies, emeralds and other traditional gemstones into her pieces.

In "painting with gems," she has designed unique lines of jewelry—square rings that stack, "Opposites Attract" earring sets that don't "match," but balance each other, and an array of necklaces ranging from heavy ropes of jewels to delicate, glittering pendants.

 

When Boatwright first started experimenting with making square rings, in 1993, she found the unique design not only visually appealing, but uncommonly "wearable," too. They are easy to stack on the finger, and the square shape is easier to get over big knuckles and more comfortable between the fingers, she says.

The design keeps the rings from slipping around the finger, as round rings with stones often do. Boatwright says she found that square custom ring sets, with the gemstones fitting into each other, do not twist apart on the finger.

Boatwright pulls out a ring display with square rings stacked up to eight high on pegs delineated by size. She pulls off a stack of size-six rings and changes the order to show how the placement of the stones varies—left, middle, right—across the top surface of the rings. How about a brilliant red ruby on the top ring, yellow-gold topaz in the middle and a deep green emerald on the bottom ring—making a brilliantly playful stop light effect? Or choose all one type of stone set in rings made of three different golds—white, yellow and pink. The combinations seem endless.

Her signature "Angel Ring" sets developed out of this stacking game. The angel is composed of gemstones—a round-cut jewel for the angel's head, two marquis-cut stones that become wings, and a third, larger stone representing the angel's "dress"—all on three separate rings that are worn together.

She is changing out rings—to show how the angel can change her "dress" to coordinate with the wearer's outfit—when two women come in and head straight to the jewelry cases.

"That's it," says one. She's obviously been eyeing this piece. Boatwright tells her the stone's origin and describes how the piece was made, while the woman tries on the ring, admired by her companion. Today the ring goes home.

"Do you need a bag?" Boatwright inquires. No, the customer says. She'll wear her new ring.

"That's what most people do," Boatwright says as they leave. "They just want to start enjoying them right away."

 

Azurite Gallery, 110 W. Broadway in Silver City, is open Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 538-9048.

 

Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.

 

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