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American Silk Road: Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey

January 10 - March 8, 2008


"Whatever medium I am working in, I like to mix color on the surface of the painting -- giving the work more immediacy and spontaneity -- what I call spirited painting. I really float brilliant color with spirit and gusto."

- Art Life, Fall/Winter 2001-2001


"My Canvas is silk, my palette is the west." So states Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey, who has taken the ancient art of Chinese silk painting and made it her own, embellished it with her strength, hope and experience, telling her story with each broad brush stroke, each color transition, each border legend. She calls it the "jazz" of painting, when she blends sometimes discordant notes of color and form into an exciting concept that captures the spirit of painting as much as her subject matter. The paintings are alive -- and they are rendered with liveliness and a practiced knowledge of her medium.


What's In a Cawdrey?

Meet the artist and you're on your way to the answer -- actually, several answers. Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey loves painting, her family, traveling (she speaks four languages), a rousing game of tennis, a tough Scrabble challenge, musical theatre, living in the Montana West, red in every tone and hue, and color -- magnificent, life-infusing, infinitely present color. (right: Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey, Horse Whisperer)

Cawdrey has honed her painting skills to a degree that can keep up with her energy and optimism. She paints with a joie de vivre that transfers directly onto her silk canvas and breathes through her subjects, be they peonies, dragonflies, grizzly bears, cowgirls, Indian dancers, or Venetian street scenes.

Nancy's work reflects a lifetime of study and practice, beginning with oil painting in Paris where she lived for two years. She spent the next five years in England where the strong watercolors of 19th century artist J. M. W. Turner and American artist Winslow Homer (on exhibit in a London Museum) inspired her to take up the medium.

She experienced with pastels, acrylics and mixed media before trying her hand at brushing water-based dyes onto silk. In fact, one often sees a mixture of media in her silk compositions -- buoyant color and texture resulting from the overlay and combination of various pigments on shimmering silk.

Today, Cawdrey's paintings on silk are her signature, the essence of her personal style. Of her gloriously colorful works the artist explains, "They're about filling the spaces, pushing the edges and being bigger than you are."

And, as women collectors have come into their own, buying art that they like and want to live with, Cawdrey's work is enjoying immense popularity. Women are drawn to her art and the message it echoes, an inspiration to be all that they can be.

When prominent business woman and collector Barbara Barrett was asked to accompany Laura Bush on a diplomatic trip to meet with Afghani women, she ordered 40 copies of Nancy's award-winning book, Sky's the Limit: The Art of Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey to take as gifts.

Gallery owner Bob Brown of Big Horn Galleries in Cody, Wyoming and Tubac, Arizona said of Cawdrey, "When you walk into a room and see one of Nancy's paintings, you know instantly it is her work. There is no mistake." Another gallery owner Yadim Houshang of Houshang Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico feels her work is appealing to collectors and selling well is because, "No one else is doing what she does. She is an innovator."

Cawdrey is represented in galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona; Bozeman and Bigfork, Montana. She was a 2003 Featured Artist for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and voted "Artists Choice" by her peers at the Treasure State Invitational Art Show, participates in the annual C. M. Russell Show and Auction in Great Falls and is a Signature Member of the Montana Watercolor Society. Her work is exhibited in private and corporate collections across the country and in Europe. (left: Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey, Traditional Dancer)

Nancy and her family moved to Montana, near Flathead Lake, 22 years ago. Montana's expansiveness serves as the primary inspiration for her work. Her travels to the Southwest and abroad have influenced Nancy to paint other sights. Wherever she ventures, Nancy finds magnificent, joyful, living color and brings it back wrapped in silk.

When asked about her work, Cawdrey says that her painting is no less than her world view, which is that life is exciting, rich and full of possibilities. The medium is the message. "If viewers only get 'that', then I'm doing good work."

In a world that seems overwhelmingly complex and out of control, her art speaks of personal transformation, a willingness to clean up one's internal environment and bring that quality to the table. As she says, "All we can really change is ourselves and how we interact in life no small thing!"

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