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Meet the controversial Mexican spotted owl

The Music Man
Brandon Perrault provides the soundtrack for Grant County

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The Gila Back Country Horsemen celebrate 10 years

Ready to SNAP
Is the Spay & Neuter Awareness Program running out of time?

In Loco's Footsteps
Hiking the Peloncillos where Apaches held off the US Cavalry


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Molly Ramolla
Gallery Guide

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Red or Green

La Iguana
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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  February 2011

Our Cover Artist


When one Tubac, Ariz., art lover heard that artist Molly Ramolla was moving to Silver City, the reaction was, "Oh, no! One of our icons is leaving!"

"Jewels" by Molly Ramolla, egg tempera.

Ramolla just laughs. "I don't want to be an icon," she says. "It's too much responsibility."

Icon or no, Molly Ramolla Gallery & Framing joined Silver City's Yankie-Texas art scene late last fall.

The route to Silver City from Molly Ramolla's birth in Germany, where she and her parents fled the bombing of Berlin to make a home in Hamburg, has been anything but a straight line. Ramolla studied at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, then came to the US in 1968 and attended the University of California at Berkeley. She learned to make her own egg tempera, wax casein and French gouache. While in California, she discovered a native bulrush similar to the reed Egyptians used to make papyrus, and began to make her own papyrus and paper sculptures; today, a number of her works are displayed at the Papyrus Institute in Cairo.

After discovering "the great, pervasive light of the Southwest" in the 1980s — including in her first visit to Silver City — she moved to Bisbee, Ariz., where she found "the perfect artist studio gallery on Main Street with lots of exposure," in 1984. Fifteen years later, she opened her gallery in Tubac, in a building that had once belonged to the renowned woodblock artist and poet Gwen Frostic. When that building sold, she teamed up with her son Daniel, a master framer, and opened the Dome Gallery in Tubac.

Her mother's move from Berlin and the purchase of five desert acres in Amado, at the edge of Whipple Observatory, led Ramolla to devote herself to her art and taking care of her mother. "Time stood still out there in Amado," she recalls, "but I was never bored. Inspiration was everywhere: moonrise over the observatory, the drama of summer monsoons, the vast fire in the Santa Rita mountains."

After her mother's passing, she began looking for a new "art place," which wound up being the former Blue Dome Gallery in downtown Silver City, recently vacated by that gallery's move to Bear Mountain Lodge. Along with her gallery, she brought Daniel and his 26 years of framing experience to town.

No doubt the new setting will begin to have an impact on Ramolla's colorful, lively work. "I plan to do a series of watercolors on Silver City for a new show in spring or summer. The light is great here," she says. "My paintings have always reflected my environment. Aspects of inspiration come from all moments in life and of course from vivid, colorful dreams."

Her favorite technique, demonstrated on this month's cover, "The Roundup," is wax casein tempera — a method predating the introduction of oil painting that became popular in the early Renaissance. "Mostly made from milk and beeswax, this mixture is more durable than oils," she explains. "It surpasses oils in brilliance as well. The high key palette of wax casein allows for a certain crispness softened in the transparency of light."

Even though the method is time-consuming, Ramolla adds, "I find this technique especially rewarding. Like painting with a liquid pencil, each brushstroke is a crisp entity, visually blending into a vivid color field."

The story behind this month's wax-casein cover dates to when Ramolla's mother had just arrived from Berlin: "One night I heard loud knocking and shouting from her room. Bienchen, her cat, clawed hysterically on the red curtains. The entire head of a Longhorn steer filled the window frame, almost piercing the screen. A hauntingly loud mooing sound announced the beast's domestic presence, before he went back to devour the roses. Stunned, I ran outside into the dark, armed with a broomstick in the right, Mom's cane in the left hand, dressed only in pale blue pajamas. Five more monstrous creatures had made it to the tomatoes."

After much stumbling around in the night, stomping through steaming manure and cholla cactus, the family finally managed to round up the unknown neighbor's bovines. "We had a lot of laughs the next day, controlling the damage and cleaning up large piles of fertilizer with my footprint in some," Ramolla recalls. "The roses grew back more beautiful than ever."

Molly Ramolla Gallery, 307 N. Texas, 538-5538, www.ramollaart.com. Framing services have recently moved to 106 W. Yankie, 538-5538, (800) 985-6564.

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