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Women’s clothing inspires Wichita artist’s work

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Bethel College Fine Arts Center Gallery will open its 2007-08 season with an exhibit of the work of Wichita artist Mary L. Werner.

The title of the exhibit, works of oil on canvas, is “Domesticity is not as carefree as it seems.” It opens Friday, Aug. 31, and runs through Sept. 21. There will be a reception for the artist Friday, Sept. 7, from 3-5 p.m., which is free and open to the public.

Werner has a bachelor’s degree and a master of fine arts from Wichita State University and currently is an assistant professor and director of the visual arts program at Newman University in Wichita.

“My current work is part of a continued investigation of my own peculiar view of the world through the window of the dress,” Werner said. “The work deals with images from nature in a nexus with the animated form of the dress, incorporating flat and patterned qualities that create a timeless space. I have investigated this path for 10 years in two- and-three dimensional work, using actual clothing items, sculpting, gluing and screwing these items onto canvas, working in charcoal and pastel as well as oil on canvas. The most recent work is oil on canvas.

“Clothing as subject continues to be a recurring theme, not only in my own investigation but also by artists around the world,” Werner continued. “For American artists, the exploration of clothing as subject became monumental in the 1970s with the feminist movement. The use of clothing to tell a story, document an important event or make a political statement continues to stir my thoughts and interests in exploring this theme from my own sensibility.

“I have two strong female traditions in my family,” she said. “One came from Irish-Catholic pioneer stock, where the women were outspoken, tenacious and self-sufficient. The other influence is the German-Mennonite, with very strong religious beliefs that dictated gender roles. The dress paintings are an expression of this collective experience.”

Werner added that Gayle Davis, vice president of academic affairs and research at Wichita State University, recently wrote an article for the Kansas State Historical Society dealing with the dress diaries her grandmother made in the 1930s for her mother.

“These diaries were not the original impetus for the dress paintings,” Werner said. “The diaries were given to me before my mother’s death, years after I had worked with this imagery. But the diaries are a manifestation of how strong the connection is in the dialogue of social image and personal message.”

The Bethel College Fine Arts Center Gallery is located inside the Fine Arts Center building on the Bethel campus. Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. There is no admission charge.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

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