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Florence Pierce, Beginnings (2003)

The time is the mid-1930s. A beautiful girl from a sheltered East Coast background makes her way west. She is only seventeen years old, but already she has the determination and courage required to make a journey that in those days was far from effortless. She arrives in Taos, New Mexico, a village with unpaved streets, few amenities, and a population comprised of Indians, descendants of Spanish colonists and a few recently arrived Anglos. Her artist's eye sees grace and beauty in the clear light, the adobe architecture, the rugged mountains and the faces and artifacts of the people. Florence Miller is determined that Taos is where she will learn to paint.

This may seem like the perfect start to a romance novel, but in fact it is the beginning of the story of a remarkable woman and her career as an artist. Born in 1918 in Washington, D.C., Florence Miller was raised there, daughter of the owners of a large private school. After her initial summer of painting in New Mexico, she returned home briefly but was back in Taos at the age of 19, arriving in the midst of a snowstorm. There she studied at the Bisttram School of Fine Art and became one of only two women members of the Taos Transcendental Painting Group. 

Taos in the late 30s was exotic and exciting. A thriving community of artists sprang up, drawn by the stunning landscape, the cultural richness of the Pueblo Indian community, and the popular romantic vision of the West. An ideal place for a young painter to begin to find her identity as a serious artist. Pierce threw herself into the process of learning the craft of painting and searching for the inspiration that would make her work her own. And although art was the main event, romance made its appearance as well, in the person of Horace Pierce, a fellow student at the Bisttram school. They were married in 1938 and pursued parallel artistic careers until his death in 1958.

Lucy Lippard, in In Touch with Light, the definitive book on Florence Miller Pierce and her work, remarked that "Light was the major player in transcendental painting, and it remained so in most of Miller's art." Pierce explored the element of light in many ways over the years, always from what she would term a spiritual perspective. In 1969 a fortuitous accident took her work in a new and exciting direction. While she was experimenting with resin, a drop fell onto a piece of tinfoil. She held it up to the light and was fascinated by the way the drop of resin captured the light. She began a long and arduous process of experimentation that culminated in the luminous resin reliefs she makes today.

Pierce pours layers of resin (mixed with pigment and/or milled fiberglass or cabosil) onto a square of mirrored plexiglas. The resulting work of art is like a living embodiment of light. Walk from one side to the other and it may change colors or depth. Shine light on it from the front and it will, depending on the color and composition of materials she has used, reflect overall brilliant light back at the viewer or show a deep, mysterious center bordered by a narrow, electric band of intense color. The variations are infinite, but the common element in all her pieces is a love of light and beauty that has made her work truly transcendental.

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