Reni Gower & Melissa Potter

gower potterArtists, Richmond, VA & Chicago, IL
"Talisman" 2018
handmade paper tiles
Each tile approximately 9" x 9"

Gower uses complex patterning, papercuts and pulped paintings to reveal the universal language of sacred geometry. While Potter employs hand papermaking to enhance her feminist and socially engaged practice. Together they will combine their passion for paper to produce a limited edition print project using handmade paper, stencils, and blow-out techniques. All ages are welcome.


Artist Statement:  Through complex patterning, my papercuts and pulped paintings reveal the universal language of sacred geometry. Since ancient times, geometric perfection (circle, square, and triangle) has been thought to convey sacred and universal truths by reflecting the fractal interconnections of the natural world. One finds these similarities embedded in Islamic design and Celtic knotwork as well as many other decorative patterns from around the world. Incorporating these traditional patterns into contemporary artwork promotes understanding through a shared perspective. This reciprocal awareness manifests and reinforces cross-cultural bonds.  

Historically, Islamic artists appropriated key elements from the classical traditions of Ancient Greece, Rome, and Persia to create a new decorative style based upon geometry.  With comparable forms and meaning, interlaced motifs are also found in many Celtic designs.  In a similar fashion, I produce new geometric iterations based upon the traditional patterns embedded in Islamic tile work and screens (hujub and jali) and woven Celtic knots. While my work presents a sense of unity and perfection, subtle imperfections do occur because the work is cut by hand without the aid of a machine such as a laser cutter. Tied to the belief humankind cannot achieve godlike perfection, my slow laborious process is meditative and prayerlike.

Given our troubled times, my art speaks to a shared artistic legacy between the West and the Middle East with hope and optimism. Viewer response worldwide has confirmed the prevalent yet profound spiritual and emotional qualities of color, light, and pattern central to my art. As such, it is a perfect conduit for conversations that embrace cultural diversity through mindfulness and mutual respect.

Biography:  Reni Gower is a Professor in VCUarts Painting and Printmaking Department.  In 2014, she received the College Art Association’s Distinguished Teacher of Art Award, as well as VCU’s and VCUarts’ Distinguished Teaching Awards.  Her work is represented in many prestigious collections and it has been exhibited extensively at international and national venues for over 40 years.  In addition to her painting practice, she curates award winning traveling exhibitions.  She holds a MFA from Syracuse University, a MA from University of Minnesota-Duluth, and a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Artist Statement: Raised among multiple generations of crafters, artists and feminists, my interdisciplinary research and art practice considers women’s culture through their handicraft, social customs, and gender rituals. I believe these practices are a distinct language and history, and I often focus on traditions that are endangered, underpaid and under-recognized due to industrialization, war, gender bias, and globalization. Through interdisciplinary collaborations with ethnographers, teachers, and artists, my multi-media projects range from felt crafts in the Tusheti region of Republic of Georgia, to a film about the dying Montenegrian tradition in which a girl child becomes a man to preserve her family’s legacy.

For decades, hand papermaking has intrigued me as a feminist and socially engaged practice, and I work to position this marginalized form in a broader art context through art making, pedagogy, and studio development. My family history led me to more than two decades in the Former Yugoslavia, where I taught a generation of young artists hand papermaking and built two studios: one in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and one in Belgrade, Serbia. My latest work in hand papermaking is Seeds InService, an ecofeminist project with Maggie Puckett propagating endangered plants for use as papermaking fiber to record the untold history of women in agriculture. This project takes place in The Papermaker’s Garden, which I built with my graduate students at Columbia College Chicago.

Biography: My work has been exhibited at venues nationally and internationally. Grants for this work include three Fulbright awards to Serbia and Bosnia and Hercegovina, ArtsLink, the Soros Fund for Arts and Culture, and the Trust for Mutual Understanding.  My curatorial work has been funded by the Ellen Stone Belic Institute, the Crafts Research Fund, and the Clinton Hill Foundation, among others.

I currently serve as an Associate Professor in the Art & Art History Department of Columbia College Chicago.

Sponsored by: The Paper Fox Printmaking Workshop, Wriston Art Galleries, Virginia Commonwealth University, VCUarts, and the Painting and Printmaking Department, The Dyrud Family Collaborative Fund, and the Art & Art History Department