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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Verve: Exhibit is artist Bernadette Vielbig’s farewell to Spokane

Bernadette Vielbig with her piece titled “Agricultural Communications Device II” at Object Space on Wednesday  in Spokane. It is made of cedar, gourd and found objects. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Bernadette Vielbig with her piece titled “Agricultural Communications Device II” at Object Space on Wednesday in Spokane. It is made of cedar, gourd and found objects. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Jennifer Larue

When contemporary artist Bernadette Vielbig was asked to have an exhibition at Object Space gallery last fall, she considered dragging a fallen tree from the windstorm into the space.

The logistics involved led her to change her mind. Instead, she brought in close to 30 works; just a fraction of what she’s made in the 13 years she’s been in Spokane.

The display, called “Fare Thee Well,” will be Vielbig’s last exhibition in Spokane. It includes work from her associations with Lorinda Knight Gallery, Chase Gallery, Tinman Art Works and Saranac Art Projects.

In one installation, the artist interacts with visitors in a piece titled “Dance, Theremin.” From behind a curtain affixed to the wall, she invites viewers to play a theremin, an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact, in an attempt at nonverbal communication as she moves to the sounds. It’s a good metaphor for what art does to a viewer: relaying a message without saying a word.

Vielbig grew up in California and has been speaking through art since she was a child, creating things out of found objects and announcing “artist” to anyone who asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Humboldt State University and has a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from Louisiana State University. Her childhood proclamations became reality: She was an artist, welding, building, and speaking through assemblages of painstakingly selected items, believing in the value of art and its ability to speak to a viewer.

She moved to Spokane in 2003 to join the art faculty at Spokane Falls Community College as a teacher of sculpture, drawing and design, bringing contemporary ideas to the area, showing her work at local fine art establishments and shipping her work to galleries and museums across the country while helping her students fine-tune their nonverbal communication skills.

In a 2008 Spokesman-Review article, she said, “I don’t try to shock but I often do. I really want my work to be approachable. I don’t want to slap people in the face. I like to use a sense of humor to get a joyful reaction, while hoping they’ll take the time to see a deeper meaning. Art is the way I communicate. It’s my visual language.”

Vielbig thinks before she speaks, at least when it comes to art, carefully considering every component. From the keys of a baby grand destroyed in Katrina to the keys of a piano found along the Spokane River, she tells the stories of her emotional and physical travels.

Now she’s leaving her full-time, tenured position to care for her health, though she still loves the profession she chose as a child. She will never stop engaging conversation through visually stunning and curious works like a row of chickens (ceramic, wood, copper, and steel) called “Lemmings.” “I’m fascinated with the chicken mentality of our race and how we follow each other to death,” she said.

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