Nature and History Mingle at James Watrous

Nature and History Mingle at James Watrous

Events of the past echo through two exhibitions on display at the James Watrous Gallery. The passage of time and the constant change in the natural world charge the works of Pamela Callahan in How a Bird is Watched by Water, while the historic migrations of people, animals and goods linger in Rhea Vedro’s sculptures in Orgum.

Highland artist Callahan states, “The hills in southwest Wisconsin have imprinted their curves, their shadows and shapes, upon me. I see the land, the skies, the waters and their creatures. I recognize their vigor and I converse with them continuously. It is a vital exchange.”

In her abstract, boldly colored paintings, she captures not only the dynamism of the landscape in its present state, but also infuses them with a sense of what’s come before. On large swaths of unstretched canvases, midsize works and smaller framed paintings, shapes represent streams, hills, trees and animals, but sometimes forms appear painted over or obscured—hinting perhaps time and nature taking their course and transforming the land.

Callahan also does a superb job—surprisingly through bright hues and energetic juxtapositions of shapes—of revealing and concealing aspects of nature. In “Bali Wisconsin,” a large hanging oil on unstretched linen work, as your eye takes in the swirling shapes and colors, your mind translates them into deer, fish, a shark, dog and even a human. But when you look close to confirm their identities, they seem to disappear into the chaos of the composition. 

Similarly, in “Uberdeer,” another hanging oil on canvas, amid a mix of abstract forms, a large deer with a dark face and antlers emerges from the center, making you wonder, has he been here all along or did he just show up? 

In Orgum, Madison metalsmith Vedro explores ideas of migration, protection and the myriad ways societies have utilized metal, whether for tools, ceremony, war or industry. “I am inspired by the trajectory and wide sweep of humankind’s relationship with metal,” she states.

The show opens with “Witness,” a steel, metal leaf and acrylic paint sculpture of a gray and silver owl. On the opposite side of the wall, “Horns” is a beautiful abstracted form with layers of feathers.

Another animal, “Passarinho,” is a camel, whose neck and head protrude far from the wall. A tiny blue-tinged bird perches on his hump. Nearby, “Saddlebird” is a saddle form set on wooden legs. Swirling gold designs give the sculpture an engine feel, but it’s birdlike as well; both interpretations lend themselves to long travels.

Several other works in the exhibition resemble and reference animal forms such as shells, shed skins and horns, remnants that suggest protection as well as vulnerability—a perpetual give and take of nature.

How a Bird is Watched by Water and Orgum run through March 2 at the James Watrous Gallery. For more information, visit

Photos of Callahan’s “Lagoon Me/Lagoon You” and Vedro’s “Passarinho” courtesy of the James Watrous Gallery.