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Norman art gallery to debut '40 over 40' celebrating women artists

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Ginna Dowling was 50 years old when she decided art school was her latest ambition. 

With one son in high school and a career behind her, she said she found herself hard-pressed to find opportunities for older women artists. That’s why she and Norman Arts Council executive director Erinn Gavaghan created an exhibit for women like her. 

Norman Art Council’s newest exhibit, “40 over 40: Women Artists of Oklahoma,” will feature art made by 40 Oklahoma women 40 and older at Mainsite Contemporary Art gallery opening on Feb. 14. 

“There are a lot of things for emerging artists and younger artists,” Dowling said. “I was well over 40 when I went back to school, so that was always a pet peeve of mine.”

Gavaghan and Dowling sorted through almost 100 submissions before settling on a body of work they said was representative of their vision. The exhibit will feature several mediums including sculpture, painting and mixed-media art. 

The namesake of the exhibit in part came from Interstate Highway 40, which runs through the entire state of Oklahoma. This symbolizes the exhibit’s showcase of artists from all over the state, Gavaghan said. 

One of those artists, Amanda Boehm-Garcia, is the current outreach coordinator for OU’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. Her job involves reaching audiences outside of the immediate OU art community on and off-campus. 

Boehm-Garcia’s series of floral drawings, “Triptych, In Silence Flowers Speak,” will appear in the exhibit. The drawings are part of her larger work, “Forget Me Knots,” which explores the concept of floriography — a Victorian-era practice where flowers were sent between people to express emotions when it was considered taboo, Boehm-Garcia said. 

Boehm-Garcia grew up in a military family, and through her current job as an outreach coordinator she works with veterans from multiple generations through art-centered programming. 

She said the series of drawings was inspired by the varying effects of trauma she witnesses in her work with the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center through the museum.

“You have veterans from Vietnam ... memories that are kind of old. Then I have some post-9/11 veterans that I work with who have just come back from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Boehm-Garcia said. “Talking with those two different groups, but seeing the same ways the trauma affects them — it's really interesting to me.”

This exhibit will be the first all-women showcase Boehm-Garcia has been featured in. Like many of the women in the exhibit, Boehm-Garcia is also a mother. 

One of the reasons Gavaghan and Dowling said they created this exhibit was to feature the work of women whose art careers were either pushed aside by, or paired with, motherhood. 

“Many of these artists, especially the ones who are in their 60s or 70s, they raised families ... that was their job. And so they didn't have time to go out and present their art to different galleries and things like that,” Gavaghan said. 

Boehm-Garcia is an artist, mother, wife and professional in the art world. 

“I think for a lot of the women in the show ... although we may be professional artists, there's also their own job aspect too, as well as then having to take care of family,” Boehm-Garcia said. “Knowing that everyone in the space is doing the same thing, it's really refreshing.”

Norman-based fiber artist Darci Lenker’s embroidery piece “Judith Leyster: Self Portrait” will also be featured in “40 Over 40.” The piece is part of a larger series of miniatures Lenker embroidered of famous artworks.

“I've been involved with (exhibits) that involves all women before, but not to this extent,” Lenker said. “I'm really excited to see the diversity of it ... giving women the recognition that they should get.”

Lenker graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma with a degree in formation arts, and embroidery was something she reserved for embellishments to her other work, she said. But after doing a year-long embroidery challenge where she worked on the craft every day, she said she was hooked. 

Lenker’s embroidery work varies across subject matter and imagery, some focus on civil rights activists and feminist figures such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg and transgender rights activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. 

For Lenker, she said artwork is a means of creating social change. 

“I'd love to give back in any way I possibly can,” Lenker said. “I can't contribute financially because I’m a working artist, but I feel like I can use my skills to help try to make the world a better place.”

Like all of Mainsite’s new exhibits, “40 Over 40” will be a part of Norman Art Council’s 2nd Friday Art Walk on Feb. 14, a free event in the Walker Arts district of downtown Norman featuring local businesses, music and artists from 6-10 p.m.

The gallery will host a reception that evening for the public and the exhibit will remain open through March 13. Mainsite is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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