Clay Paper Scissors Studio & Gallery in downtown Cheyenne chose an unusual way to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Co-owners Camellia El-Antably and Mark Vinich collected hundreds of tiny mint tins at an arts educators’ supply store in Denver. They then invited artists to surprise them by creating original works using the 3-1⅝ -½ -inch tins for a celebratory exhibit.
“We were surprised by the quantity we got back – and surprised by what the artists came up with,” Vinich said. Submissions came from Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and even as far away as Maryland.
Some are delicate miniatures. Colorado artist Jennie Kiessling entered one called “Dawn.” She collected coffee beans in the tin and covered them with tiny stars, each embedded with a sequin. The coffee beans invite you to crouch down and smell the aroma. The stars sparkle in the afternoon sunshine that streams from the gallery’s west-facing windows.
Adjacent to Kiessling’s work is a piece monumental in comparison. The work by Riverton artist Nita Kehoe is constructed from found objects. Kehoe assembled three machined metal pieces that look as if they came from an old factory. She cut a glass piece for a rectangular opening. She then affixed three tins to surfaces, each containing one found object. In front, a painted tin is a receptacle for a chunk of weathered wood. Elsewhere she attached tins containing a shell and a geode. Other found items include marbles and an old thermometer. I looked at it and saw an avant-garde Oscar or Emmy statuette, one that might be presented to best-in-show at a gallery’s tenth anniversary exhibit.
Two pieces on the wall as you turn into the gallery caught my attention. They are by Colorado mother-son duo Shari Figgins and Cody Geran. The background of Geran’s work is composed of two tongue depressors marked with compass points. On top of that are two painted tin tops printed with the legend “Are You In?” The artist then inserted a clock mechanism to mark the time. Geran submitted two other pieces, both featuring toy trucks that might have been leftover from childhood.
Below Geran’s work is something completely different by Figgins. A pair of tins hang from a chain. Small index cards reminiscent
of dog tags are attached by tiny clothespins to the chain. The top card reads:
Its initial letters spell out FREEDOM. Another card announces, “Real Heroes Don’t Wear Capes, They Wear Dog Tags.” Another carries this poignant message: “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there FOREVER!” The tins, which have been sanded by the artist, look weathered, relics from a forgotten war. Or one not forgotten by someone left behind.
Artists had fun with their creations. Cheyenne’s Rita Basom painted a bird flecked with red paint. It walked along over two tins placed side by side. Basom challenged me to decipher its message. I was stumped until she identified the bird as a wren. Wren Tin Tin, a nod to Rin Tin Tin, the German Shepherd featured in a 1950s kid show. Who doesn’t like puzzles?
Alpine-based couple Jenny and Sam Dowd also took a playful approach. Jenny painted her tin white and wrapped it in a festive bow. The lid comes off to reveal a full box of doughnuts and pastries. Sam’s entry, displayed on an exhibit stand, is a “You are moving to Wyoming starter kit.” The tin is emblazoned the state’s readily recognizable bison symbol. The contents are splayed across the stand underneath a list that includes a 4×4 truck, long underwear, bear spray and hunter safety orange.
Mother/daughter duo Nancy and Amelia Marlatt of Laramie both submitted pieces. Nancy managed to fit an entire ocean in her tin with “Voyage at Sea.” A ship sails across the background while waves roil the foreground. Amelia found inspiration in the animal kingdom, specifically bees and cats.
Cheyenne’s Eileen Adragna created an owl from small metal objects such as nuts, washers and an old fork. The owl is perched on a tin, which makes it a very small owl indeed.
Utah’s Jean Irwin tackled a weightier issue in her large piece. Against a black background anchored with wire mesh, Irwin displayed images and text from U.S.’s southern border. A large headline in the top left corner reads “The American Way.” One of the tins features a sad-looking child migrant wrapped in wire to emulate the cages these kids are held in. The entire piece is wrapped in circles of wire that represent the concertina wire that encloses these camps. It invites the viewer to crawl inside the daily news. It also repels.
Karyne Dunbar, a recent Governor’s Arts Awards recipient from Shell who runs a gallery called Art Shelter, submitted “Portal.” The portal is a colorful mountain scene painted on a tin and embedded in the upper right of an 8-10-1.5-inch wood panel. Your eye is drawn to the outdoor scene not only because of its color. A flock of crows (Dunbar’s favorite subject) flies from the bottom left of the frame and into the distance, the vanguard disappearing into the distance of the painted tin. The carefully delineated crows fly over a sepia-tinted photo transfer scene of a traffic jam. The viewer gradually loses the details of the cars as they disappear into a kind of a soupy mix that could be fog or smog or obsolescence.
The gallery is open limited hours. In the fall, it’s open Saturdays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. It’s also open for the Cheyenne Art Walk from 5-8 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month, and by appointment by calling 307-631-6039.
Lander native Vinich is a potter and in his 31st year as a K-12 art teacher, now at Davis Elementary School. El-Antably spends her time freelancing, making art, volunteering at her church and traveling. They both devote a lot of time to planning and installing gallery shows.
“Mark is the creative genius behind the exhibitions,” El-Antably said. “He has the eye for the clever hanging and displays. The artists are usually appreciative on how we show the art.”
The pair opened their first gallery in 2009 in the Asher Building, a renovated warehouse that faces the city’s sprawling railyard. What became a workspace for artists also became something else. “The place we rented had a large, nicely-finished entry room that wasn’t appropriate for studios but was for a gallery,” Vinich said.
They bought their current building in 2012 and embarked on an extensive rehab. Clay Paper Scissors moved into its current home in 2014.
Their goals for the gallery have not wavered. “We wanted an opportunity to show artwork that otherwise would not get a venue in Cheyenne,” El-Antably said. Ten years as a gallery is worth celebrating in a city that has seen its share of arts spaces come and go, and with this exhibit, they came up with a clever way to celebrate. The Mint Tin Tenth Anniversary exhibit will be on display through October. On Nov. 7, the gallery will be part of a special art walk planned around the Wyoming Arts Council’s Arts Summit.
Studio Wyoming Review is supported in part by generous grants from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, a program of the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources, and the Wyoming Arts Council with funding from the Wyoming State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.