‘Vida la Vida’
Nancy Anderson, owner of Sweetbird Studio in Ridgway, deploys an eclectic mix of found and vintage materials, religious and Native American iconography and the written word to create art with a message. Since moving to Ridgway from Boulder in 2013, Anderson has designed and curated an impressive space for locals and tourists alike that is both a retail store and a gallery. What makes the space even more interesting is that it also plays home to Anderson’s workshop, where she makes all of her original pieces entirely by hand from start to finish.
In addition to necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings, Anderson makes purses, belts, belt buckles, sculptures and even shrines with wearable pieces inside.
“My work is a mix of Americana, folk art, vintage, and pop art,” she explains. “Lately I have been using vintage tin from the 30s, 40s and 50s to add color and a sense of nostalgia.” And while metal and tin are indispensable elements of her work, license plates, signs, tags, glass, semi-precious stones and leather also lend distinct textures and colors to different pieces. According to Anderson, she strives to make each piece a marriage of old and new, fun and serious, and common and distinctive elements that provoke thought and reaction.
All of Anderson’s art is made from raw materials she finds and repurposes herself. Each piece she creates is made entirely from scratch and entirely by her.
“The treasure hunt is what I adore most. Even after 25 years of doing this I could just hunt for stuff 24/7,” she says. As a child with no real home base – “I’ve been all over the place, including Europe and Turkey” she says – Anderson recalls New Mexico in particular as a source of inspiration. “I used to walk around in the open fields and find things,” she says with a smile. “I am in love with things that are no longer shiny.”
Anderson also draws inspiration from the old rubber tomahawk stores she’d pass on remote highways on road trips as a child. “They are pure Americana,” she says.
“Meaningful pieces come from asking myself what I’m trying to say and what do I want people to take away” she says. Many of her pieces incorporate icons like the Virgin Mary or portraits of Native American warriors, set on recognizably American logos from the early 1900s, Anderson’s way of exploring the effect American culture and mass consumerism have had on us all. Anderson’s says her pieces are her way of prompting us to wonder, along with her: “Where are we going with it all?”
Words are another ubiquitous feature of Sweet Bird items. “I am in love with the written word,” she says, “so another signature of mine is the words on the pieces and I think it is what draws people to Sweetbird more so than anything because they connect with it or laugh at it.” On each piece, there is a small piece of tongue-in-cheek wisdom inscribed either on the front or the back, such as “foolish pride,” or “protect this rider” or maybe a more carefree “viva la vida.”
Anderson explains her process while describing a piece she created in Taos: “I went walking along the street and decided to use everything I found that day in one piece. I was mostly just picking up litter…” The result was a piece entitled “Countless American Deeds,” which found itself featured in a book profiling 35 up-and-coming artists called “Art Making Collections and Obsessions.”
In 2012, a costume designer at Warner Brothers expressed interest in using some of her work in the movie Rock of Ages, starring Tom Cruise. Not only did her jewelry appear in the movie, it was also photographed on Cruise in the June 2012 issue of W magazine.
Anderson’s typical clients are not celebrities, however, but the locals who live in Ridgway and surrounding towns. Anderson wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I am trying to bring handmade back to our country,” she explains. “And trying to live outside the box and make a living this way. I feel that as technology increases there is more of a desire to return to our roots, whether with things like farming or crafts. People here echo that.”
And it is these very same people, her neighbors, Anderson identifies as one of the main reasons she “fell in love” with Ridgway and eventually decided to move to the town and set up shop.
Sweetbird’s pieces are available in repeatable models, one-of-a-kind, or custom. They can be purchased in the store or on the website, www.sweetbirdstudio.com.