For a graveyard, the Salt Lake City Cemetery teems with life. Covering 120 acres and about 10 miles of paved road, the largest city-operated cemetery in the country is home to a varied and plentiful array of flora and fauna. Not far from the city center is a wild kingdom, a vast, otherworldly realm offering open space and refuge for countless bird life, including fowl and raptors, fox, deer, elk, squirrel, raccoon, porcupine, and an occasional stray moose, not to mention nature lovers and curious artists.
Claire Taylor is one such artist, who has compiled her findings into a small book of illustrations and creative nonfiction called The Inhabitants of the Salt Lake Cemetery. Taylor also digitally printed and hand-bound the book herself, something that as the former Studio Manager and Instructor at the University of Utah Book Arts Program and Lead Printer for the Red Butte Press at the J. Willard Marriott Library, she is more than qualified to do. The book’s whimsical images and evocative text are showcased in the current exhibition at the new Marmalade City Library Branch, through June 24.
For many years, the cemetery has been Taylor’s personal sanctuary and source of inspiration. The wildness of her immediate environment has always informed her sense of world and self. She admits that for most of her young life, she preferred the company of animals more than people and struggled to find her comfort zone among humankind. Luckily, she soon discovered creative outlets which put this schism to good use.
While jogging through the cemetery, Claire examines life deeply, asking questions and seeking answers to the mysteries she encounters on her path. From the antics of magpies and red foxes, to the silent death swoop of the great horned owl, there is a unique charm and wry humor in the way she anthropomorphizes wild animal behavior.
Towards the end of the book, she writes:
Later in the dream the three-eyed owl turned into a teenaged boy. The boy still possessed the owl’s third eye. I noticed that the third eye, positioned between the other two eyes, had a misshapen pupil.
What did that owl and his counterpart boy see with that ill-formed third eye? Did the third eye compliment their vision or disturb it?
I feel as though there is something I need to learn from this dream.
Indeed, seeing through a uniquely shaped third eye is an apt metaphor for Taylor’s fine-tuned intuition and delicate uniqueness. What might seem like storybook images are actually full of unusual depths and layers. The foxes in her pictures bristle with yellow static electricity, their wiry fur and upturned snouts an articulate contrast to the impressionistic backdrops, swirls of color and texture that evoke rather than represent. There is movement in these images. They are not posed portraits of happy forest creatures. The owl’s angst is depicted with striking red lines across the forehead. There are real stories here, often just hinted at in the narrative, but full of character and conflict nonetheless.
Working primarily in color pencil, subtle watercolor washes, relief printmaking, and language, Taylor’s delicate yet vibrant touch offers viewers an energetic and joyful peek into a personal, thriving universe. Part fantasy, part confessional, hers is a world in which one can joyfully lose oneself or be reminded to pay more attention to the creatures who share this planet with us. Her affinity for the wild things and places is immediately evident, and so is her tenderness for her own species. The humans in her work, often close friends, are also in a state of gentle flux as they interact with the natural world.
Taylor grew up in a family surrounded by artists, writers, and scientists who encouraged her to find inspiration through her own explorations and inquiries, most of which occurred in the natural world close to home. She recently completed an MS degree in Environmental Humanities, rounding out her BFA in Fine Art (with a printmaking emphasis). Her work truly embodies the marriage of art and science into a harmonious whole.
For an intimate view, visit Claire’s current exhibition and her website, owlandcoyote.com.
“The Inhabitants of the Salt Lake City Cemetery,” Illustrations by Claire Taylor, through June 24, Salt Lake City Library, Marmalade Branch, Salt Lake City, 801-594-8680, www.slcpl.org
The Salt Lake City cemetery is located between “N” and “U” streets and Fourth Avenue and Wasatch Boulevard.