While Ric Blackerby was in his basement studio creating giant bug sculptures for the children’s area of the new City Library, his wife was upstairs making a major life decision.
After wheeling her chair through mud and slush to study for a teaching certificate and degree in creative writing, Marcee Blackerby had discovered she was “too short” to control a West High classroom. So she stayed home and wrote, publishing books, poems and short stories. But on this day a couple of years ago, Marcee was contemplating ways to express her literary ideas in two and three dimensions.
Now, she paints pictures with neckties, and captures stories in boxes arranged like dioramas. In just a few years, her imaginative work has received national recognition. The art of “stuff” has become an expression of her life.
Ric and Marcee have been gatherers through 30 years of marriage. Marcee prowls through thrift stores, yard sales and swap meets looking for items that were pieces of someone else’s life—things that were once loved but later discarded. “I believe found objects contain a residue of human emotion,” Marcee says.
The Blackerby home, tucked back on a side street of central Salt Lake City, is never static. Once through the sunburst metal gate—handcrafted by Ric—you are in a magical, tangled yard dotted with sculptures and wind chimes and frequented by chattering birds. Inside, the living room walls continually change colors and texture to complement whatever theme is going on with the flea-market finds of the moment—deco to retro, Egyptian to Chinese.
By layering Deseret Industry ties onto canvas, and adding small, unexpected elements like eyes or the Statue of Liberty, Marcee creates kaleidoscopic works that appear abstract from a distance. The rich colors and patterns reveal themselves as neckties only on closer inspection. Recent efforts have measured more than seven feet tall, and Marcee wants to do still larger canvases, including a giant billboard of ties.
Marcee believes the success of her tie paintings is largely a guy thing. An East Coast law firm snapped up one work for its boardroom. “Tie Land” was intended for a December exhibition at the United Nations; Marcee is frantically making a replacement piece.
Her imaginative story boxes took flight through an apprenticeship with artist Carla Jimison, as part of the Art Access PARTNERS mentoring program. The boxes generally begin with a theme, but Marcee never has a list of items to go in them. She compares the process to writing a story and knowing what needs to happen next. Boxes like “Little Red Riding Hood” are based on a piece of literature as interpreted by the artist. Most, however, are based on Marcee’s own reality—a different thing altogether.
Art Access is part of VSA arts, an affiliate of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Every five years, the organization sponsors a juried four-day festival in Washington, D.C., which gives artists from around the world a chance to gain exposure through exhibitions at the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian. Marcee was chosen from 118 entrants as one of 12 artists for the 2004 festival.
She is quick to acknowledge that she couldn’t make her large pieces without help from her equally talented husband, who (usually) cheerfully stretches canvases and lugs them to shows where his own work competes with his wife’s for juror awards. So far, this hasn’t led to friction. However, while both the Blackerbys were juried into the 2001 Spring Salon at the Springville Museum of Art, only Marcee’s piece was featured in the catalog. This may have prompted some discussion around the kitchen table.
After receiving an art degree from the University of Oklahoma, Ric served a two-and-a-half-year sculpture apprenticeship in Mount Vernon, Ill., where he worked to create the interior of a Catholic chapel, from the Stations of the Cross to candlesticks.
A man of no particular religious persuasion, Blackerby spent eight years drawing and sculpting the archangels—just to learn about the days of the week, which angels are said to rule. He found similarities between the archangels and gods in Norse, Greek and Roman mythology. “These angels crossed intercultural barriers,” he says.
Locally, Ric was commissioned to create three processional crosses for St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Kearns. The late pastor, Robert Head, once said that a wrought-iron cross set with blue, green and red stained-glass stones, was his favorite. “The kids call it Robo-Christ,” the priest said, “but to me it’s very medieval. It has a kachina look to it.”
Both Blackerbys are included in the current show of works created on small metal litho plates at Art Access Gallery, while Marcee is a featured artist for the Utah Arts Festival, which runs June 19 to 22 at Washington/Library Square. While you’re at the library, be sure to check out Ric’s bugs. Do your part to preserve peace in the Blackerby family.