‘PEACEABLE KINGDOM’ REVISITED
“I think the only way we’ll conquer evil is by good being good.”
BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — In a peaceable kingdom, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf might sit on a bench together drinking cocoa. Feral children might sleep in the protective embrace of some of nature’s most loathed creatures.
At least that’s the peaceable kingdom artists Melonie Steffes and Barbara Melnik Carson imagine in their works for the new exhibition, “Art in The Peaceable Kingdom.”
The show — a collaboration between two downtown Traverse City galleries — invites artists to create their own work inspired by Quaker minister Edward Hicks’ 19th-century paintings, “The Peaceable Kingdom.” The paintings — more than 100 versions, of which 62 survive — famously show a menagerie of discordant animals lying down together in perfect harmony, representing a biblical prophecy of peace.
“We thought with these times we’re living in, when everything is so divisive, divided, crazy, this would be a positive theme,” said Higher Art Gallery owner Shanny Brooke, who conceived the idea with Michigan Artists Gallery owner Sue Ann Round.
The show opens May 4 during the Downtown Art Walk, with receptions and celebrations from 5-9 p.m. at both galleries. It features more than 70 works by artists from across the country, from Melnik Carson’s glazed clay sculpture, “Disarming the Wolf,” to Steffes’ oil painting, “Ward.”
“What’s great thing about this is that it shows so many moods. It’s very serious and then very playful,” said Round, whose gallery hosted a similar show in which 40 artists interpreted Picasso’s “Woman with Green Hat.” “People took the theme and made it their own, in their own media and their own style.”
Melnik Carson came up with the idea of a kinder and gentler Big Bad Wolf as soon as she learned about the show.
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Top, Michigan Artists Gallery owner Sue Ann Round stands among some of the works hosted by her gallery and the Higher Art Gallery in a collaborative exhibit, “Art in The Peaceable Kingdom,” in which artists were invited to create their own interpretations inspired by “The Peaceable Kingdom” paintings by 19th-century artist Edward Hicks. Left, “Prayer for a Peaceable Kingdom Prayer Wheel” by Johnna Langenis shown. Above, “Peaceable Party,” by David Bigelow is shown.
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“I’m a long-term believer in, eventually, a peaceful world,” said the narrative sculptor from Ann Arbor. “It’s a classic good versus evil but I don’t think the evil-doer always has to be destroyed for good to conquer. I think the only way we’ll conquer evil is by good being good.”
Steffes set out to create a more political piece. But after a series of personal tragedies, she found herself needing to paint a “safe space” instead.
Her mandala-like peaceable kingdom features a feral child curled in the protective circle of an opossum and a snake, with black widow spiders and poison ivy standing guard.
“I intentionally chose those creatures that I find most people really don’t like,” said Steffes, who encounters many of them near her Thompsonville home. “There’s a lot of fear around other creatures.”
Other 2- and 3-D works — in paint, clay, metal, felt, wood, paper and other media — depict a meditating blue bear, donkeys and elephants in a joyful dance, and “modern-day” species from “The Peaceable Kingdom” cheerfully posing together for selfies.
Whimsical or sober, the pieces tell only one story, say Round and Brooke. The other,and perhaps more powerful, story is in the why behind the work.
“What we want is for people to come and see these pieces and readthe artists’ statements,” Round said. “There’s huge positivity in thisshow. People want to be hopeful: is it possible that we can all live in peace?” “Art in the Peaceable Kingdom” runs through mid-June.
Shown is “When a Tree Falls, Does Anybody Hear It?” by Chandra Jennings, part of the collaborative exhibit between the Michigan Artists Gallery and Higher Art Gallery, “Art in The Peaceable Kingdom.” Artists were invited to create their own interpretations inspired by “The Peaceable Kingdom” paintings by 19th-century artist Edward Hicks.
“A Field Guide to the Button Kingdom” by Brian Schorn is shown.