Shirley A. Blair Keller
The foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada have a gut-level attraction beginning with family camping trips when I was very young. My husband and I moved to Three Rivers about 10 years ago. We love it here. He focuses on the garden. I spend time, and energy, as an artist.
A variety of artistic mediums help to capture the beauty of the Sierra Nevada foothills, and the nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Wild birds and critters appear in much of my art work. The inspirations flow from many directions.
My stepfather, an African American, used to tell bedtime stories about African American history including the first park rangers, the Buffalo Soldiers. When I realized how close I live to that history, I felt inspired to do a piece of art in their honor. I read Shelton Johnson's, "Gloryland," bought in a gift store in the National Park, and pictures formed in my head. I made a couple of photographic pieces to add to this site, in honor of the memory of the many contributions the Buffalo Soldiers made to our National Parks especially under the leadership of Colonel Charles Young: roads that we use today, first park museum, hiking trails, an awareness of conservation, like building a fence around General Grant's Tree to protect the giant tree, and much more. The inspiration from many directions continues.
PHOTOGRAPHY: I have learned the hard way. The camera must be available. One evening at dusk, Wild Turkey mothers and babies climbed the big rock above the pond. One by one, the mother's flew to the tallest branch of a distant oak. Each babe in turn flew to a female until there were two babies under each wing, enclosing four baby turkeys to bed down for the night. My camera was no where near in site. So the next night I was determined not to miss the night time ceremony. Only male Wild Turkey's appeared. They too flew into the oak, one-by-one. But this time the camera caught the action, thus the award winning photograph entitled "Turkey Bed & Breakfast."
CERAMIC MASKS: On that same oak tree live a family of Acorn Woodpeckers. Year after year they have their babes. In making ceramic masks the woodpeckers find their way into the design. As do the mother deer and her little ones, who are born in a canyon not far from my studio. They come through the property twice a day in search of food. Humans and wild critters living in close proximity, an interesting dance that is important to respect if we are to continue to live side-by-side.
Occasionally, Black Bear comes down from the forest in search of food. The trash can is hidden in the shed so as not to become a feeding attractor. We keep small fish in the pond because we learned the hard way that big fish attract Mrs. Bear when she needs to feed her young. Bear's image is painted on a recycled pail. The pail was found in the corner of a barn in Three Rivers, along with a pile of rusty horseshoes, a curry comb and more. Some people bring their own rusty items from their yards and ask me to decorate them.
CLAY MONO PRINTS: While in a clay mono print workshop in Three Rivers, a raven was bouncing around the garden outside the window looking for food. It flew up to a branch in a nearby oak. For the rest of the morning, raven talked, screamed, and growled. Raven was very opinionated, and loud. The raven was incorporated into the piece I was working on. No way to avoid it!
For over 3 years I have helped to promote 1st Saturday in Three Rivers. I am also a participant in the three day Bi-annual Three Rivers Artist's Studio Tour. My art work has shown in art galleries around California, and in private collections around the world. The Art Co-op Gallery of Three Rivers displays some of my masks. I have won awards over the years from the Tulare County Fair for photography, clay mono prints, and recycled art. I participate in the Sofa Art Show and the 3 Dimensions Show each year at Arts Visalia Gallery.
Spirit Hill Studio entices guests not only because of my artwork. The unspoiled property is covered in fiddleneck, popcorn, and other wildflowers every Spring. The sounds of wild critters, birds, tonal chimes, and bubbling pond are feasts for the ears. The manzanita, oaks, and granite rock create a beautiful and peaceful setting. Many pieces of original art by local artists decorate the grounds, walls, inside and outside. You are invited to visit the studio on the 1st Saturday of any month. You are also welcome to call for an appointment at other times. Children are welcome. Pets (leashed) are also welcome.