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Michelle Ferran—Painting from the heart

The Lab’s Michelle Ferran used to stack her vibrant watercolor paintings under her bed. But when she finally gained enough confidence to participate in the Española Valley Arts Festival’s poster contest in 2001, one of her paintings immediately won first prize.
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“My art is a gift to me. I didn’t formally learn to draw and paint but was given a natural talent, just like my five siblings. When you have something like this, it’s important to give back.”

Painting from the heart

The Laboratory’s Michelle Ferran used to stack her vibrant watercolor paintings under her bed, because she was too shy to share them with anyone outside her family. But when she finally gained enough confidence to participate in the Española Valley Arts Festival’s poster contest in 2001, one of her paintings immediately won first prize.

Ferran went on to win a string of other prizes for her art, including first place at the Contemporary Hispanic Market and the New Mexico State Fair.

Ferran art

Sunlight and Ruby Shadows.

She received yet another confidence boost when well-known artist Amado Peña was so impressed with her work that he suggested that his nonprofit Legacy Art initiative should showcase Ferran’s paintings as part of its cooperative fundraising efforts for St. Pius High School in Rio Rancho. This spring, Ferran was selected as Legacy Art’s 15th Anniversary Artist, with posters of her Sunlight and Ruby Shadows painting commemorating the Legacy Art 2015 event.

“My art is a gift to me,” Ferran explains. “I didn’t formally learn to draw and paint but was given a natural talent, just like my five siblings. When you have something like this, it’s important to give back.”

Ferran art

Heart of Beauty.

Ferran gives back by highlighting northern New Mexico’s outstanding beauty and by donating some of her artwork to worthy causes.

“I’m a descendant of French and Spanish families who settled in northern New Mexico several generations ago,” Ferran notes. “My paintings are primarily focused on northern New Mexico, and often times I take something old, abandoned or even forgotten and try to give it life. Lending a helping hand to important fundraising projects, school programs and scholarship efforts is another way for me to share my blessings and give from the heart.”

Morada

During a family reunion in Abiquiú in 1999, Ferran and her relatives were able to visit the Penitente Morada outside Abiquiú, which normally is closed to visitors. She later painted the morada and called the piece A Place of Truth.

“The morada is a church and meeting house,” Ferran says. “After Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican Catholic church withdrew its clergymen from the northern regions and replaced them with a much smaller number of secular priests. Parish priests would be able to visit many of the communities only once a year. The local men in these communities eventually came together to fill the gap, with some of them forming a lay fraternity that is now referred to as ‘Los Penitentes.’”

Ferran art

A Place of Truth.

Ferran looks at her hands before continuing. “Los Penitentes self-policed their daily conduct, if you will, by confessing their sins during sacred rituals and doing penance, including in certain instances through self-flagellation. During Holy Week, they re-enacted some of Christ’s experiences leading up to his crucifixion. But as a result of the later ‘Americanization’ of the Catholic church in the United States, American church authorities tried to suppress Los Penitentes and instead drove them underground, which is why they are often described as a secret society.”

Ferran found out how far the Penitentes’ privacy concerns can extend even now when a visitor to her home saw A Place of Truth and wanted to destroy it, because he was afraid of the painting’s widespread appeal and potential commercialization. Luckily, Ferran was able to change his mind by telling the man about her family roots and reasons for having painted the building.

“My family on both my mother’s and father’s side used to live in the Abiquiú region, and some still do,” Ferran notes. “One of my forefathers, José Maria del Soccorro Chavez, built a home in the Abiquiú plaza area, which Georgia O’Keefe purchased in 1945 and lived in until her death in 1986. Members of my family still reside in the village and care for Ms. O'Keefe's property, which now is a museum.”

Ferran takes a deep breath. “I wanted to paint the Penitentes Morada,” she explains, “because it is an important part of the land I grew up on and its traditions. I feel for Los Penitentes and their history, and I respect the practice’s modern-day continuance.”

As Ferran tools around northern New Mexico on weekends to look for new inspirations, she is struck by the difference between the comfortable world she grew up in and how difficult life used to be.

“Everything is so easy now,” she says, “but even my mom and dad—the generation right before me—had to struggle just to get water and supplies. I spend a lot of time looking at the dents and cracks in old trucks and structures and wonder how they came about. Once I get home to my studio, I add my own flavor, touch and colors.”

Ruby Red Ride.


Ferran works for the Construction Management Division.

Photos of Michelle Ferran courtesy of Louis Leray. Photos of Michelle Ferran’s art courtesy of Patrick Carr.


Resource

Ferran Fine Arts (Ferran’s website)


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.


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