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At Work and At Play

January 8, 2020
series of images on a strip of artwork
Image: Neal Ambrose-Smith (American Indian-Confederate Salish and Kootenai Nation, b. 1966), Coyote Brought Light, 2017, acrylic lithograph on paper, 8 x 20 inches, gift of the artist, 2018.4.10.

The Ann Simpson Artmobile’s new exhibition hits the road.

By UW Art Museum Director Marianne Eileen Wardle and Sarita Talusani Keller

The Artmobile’s new exhibition At Work and At Play shows 17 works of art from the University of Wyoming Art Museum’s permanent collection. Through deep-looking exercises, learners explore the relationship between work and play and quality of life.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell play from work. A lithograph featured in the exhibition, Coyote Brought Light by Neal Ambrose-Smith, provokes viewers with a mystery—what is happening here, and is it work or is it play? A human-like figure with the head of a coyote stands in profile near the center of the image, wearing casual contemporary clothing with a satchel slung over one shoulder and holding the leash of a dog that looks out at us. The figure looks toward a flash of light created by yellow rays overlaying black and gray cloudlike shapes. Behind the dog and coyote out of a smudgy blot emerges an orderly grid of boxes and looping star and flower shapes rendered in patterns that evoke the drawings of atoms popular in the mid-20th century.

Native American stories tell about the trickster coyote’s role in placing the stars in the sky, describing a wanton act of disruption where coyote throws carefully arranged star-matter up into the sky to randomly land, undoing others’ careful plans. The passive stance of the coyote, who seems to be observing rather than acting in this image, provokes a question—is the work pictured mental labor rather than physical labor? Is it all in the imagination made physically manifest for the first time while in the everyday task of dog walking? Has coyote created order from chaos, or has the chaos overcome the order?

The artist, Neal Ambrose-Smith, offers no help in demystifying this scene. He has written, “Children’s stories are wonders we grow up with. … Tribal peoples have known this for thousands of years as All Things Are Connected, while others may recognize this as Newton’s 3rd law [every action has an equal and opposite reaction]. … As I listen to the world news, popular culture and my Elders, I practice our first language.”

Coyote Brought Light is just one of the Artmobile traveling artworks that explore the topic of work and play.

When you talk with Sarita Talusani Keller, our Artmobile educator, it’s hard to tell sometimes whether she is working or playing when out on the road: “My favorite part of being an Artmobile educator is learning about life from community audience members. No two places are alike. I have had the pleasure of learning from 3-year-olds to 93-year-olds about what makes their communities so special, and I feel privileged when people feel comfortable enough to share their hopes and dreams for the future of their beloved communities. The candidness and kindness I have been shown are rare and special and make me feel good about raising my own family here.” 

If you see the Artmobile out and about in the state, be sure to give Sarita a wave. And, if you snap a picture, post it to social media with the tag #UWArtmobile!

At Work and At Play will be available with the Ann Simpson Artmobile through academic year 2021. To learn more about scheduling an Artmobile, see uwyo.edu/artmuseum/learn/outreach/artmobile/.

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