Revealing Stories: The Work of Artist Holly Wilson
by Mitzi Gordon
Sterling silver fish swim beneath intimate bronze figures, and precise shadows march across deeply lined wood in artist Holly Wilson’s dreamlike world.
Her solo exhibit “On Turtle’s Back” opened in the Dunedin Fine Art Center’s Gamble Family Gallery in September 2019 and ran through the end of the year, inviting visitors to experience a layered narrative of family and community, capturing both vulnerabilities and strengths.
“I am a storyteller,” Holly said. “I am interested in stories—those of my parents, my ancestors, my family, my community.”
Her compositions weave these threads into a tale that is both personal and universal, powerful and at times volatile, conveying sacred moments in bronze, encaustic, clay, and other materials. Meaning dictates these choices, which are made to evoke feelings of preciousness or to reveal metaphors.
Masks and multi-layered elements symbolize transformation, and the obscuring of what lies beneath. In these tellings, things that challenge the status quo and are sometimes kept hidden are brought to light. Holly consciously incorporates shadows by controlling the lighting and relationships of figures in her work, giving form to these secrets that shift as the viewer’s position shifts.
“What I find with my work is that most of the time my stories have a universal meaning,” Holly said. “I start a story and message because it has importance to me, and then others are able to also see that story and how it relates to them. They’ve laid their story on top of mine, in a way. That is what I want my work to do.”
She has been exhibiting internationally as a contemporary multi-media artist since the 1990s, and her works are held in corporate, public, private, and museum collections throughout the United States.
It was during a group DFAC trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, that curator Catherine Bergmann saw Holly’s work in an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. Soon afterward, Catherine invited Holly to exhibit in Dunedin, and a show was planned.
“I’ve never been to that part of Florida,” Holly said. “It was beautiful — I love the warmth and humidity. And I wasn’t really prepared for how awesome they were going to be at the Art Center. It was a real gathering place.”
Now based in Mustang, Oklahoma, Holly earned her MFA in sculpture and an MA in ceramics from Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. Her home sits on ten acres, with two studios and a foundry where she often works casting branches and flowers in metal.
Holly is of Delaware Nation and Cherokee heritage, and the title of her DFAC exhibition comes from the Delaware Nation creation story. The tale tells of a great rain, and the People praying to the Creator for help. They were told to camp on a large hill, which began to tremble and shake, revealing the turtle who was hidden underneath for many years. Climbing onto his back, the People were safe until the water receded.
The oldest piece in Holly’s show, titled “Bloodline,” took nine years to finish, and explores her family’s Native American heritage in a series of 62 figures made from cigars, who walk across a deep red log, with each of the 13 sections representing a generation in Holly’s family, including markers for those lost young.
“Who would that person have been? You don’t forget them,” she said. “I’ve always had this history but never anyone to give this history to. This changed the way I look at our story — mine, my mom’s, my great-grandmother’s.”
During the exhibition, DFAC visitors had the chance to hear Holly talk about her process and narratives. She described her experience with the Art Center as “absolutely phenomenal.”
“For the general public, the best part is to learn how to make things,” she said. “The fact that artists are there and have an opportunity to teach, whether it be a simple class on watercolor or jewelry or clay. It gives people that outlet to create in a fulfilling way, and they think, ‘I did this, I made this, I could do this.’ It’s amazing to have that in your town.”
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SCENES from the DFAC Archives