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Lewis woman honors Women’s History Month with art exhibit

Brenda Belt Ives honors Women's History Month with her art exhibit on view at the Dolores Public Library through the end of the month.
Exhibit on display at the Dolores Public Library through March

Brenda Belt Ives first became a sociologist at 8 years old.

Although she was born in Cortez, her family had just moved from Berkeley, California, to the Navajo city of Holbrook, Arizona.

She would peer over her backyard fence and think, “How can I fix it?”

Her family wasn’t wealthy, but they had running water. In Holbrook, that translated to wealth.

Belt Ives became the host of frequent slumber parties for the Navajo children she befriended.

Later on, her father was the chaplain at Arizona State University, and her parents gave her a pass to the school’s library.

“It changed my world, and that's when I began to read and do art way back then,” she said.

She believes the experiences she had at a young age shaped her into the sociologist, educator and mixed media artist she went on to become, as evidenced by her exhibit on view at the Dolores Public Library through March, held during Women’s History Month.

“This particular show is a celebration of women's art, history, creativity and the thousands of years of women’s history that has basically been undocumented,” she said.

The art references world figures and draws connections between history and art. Many of the pieces were created as reactions to literature, a practice known as reverse ekphrasis.

The art is largely about “just teaching that women rise in the world, that we are coming up,” Belt Ives said.

One collage in the show highlights women who were considered “firsts” at something.

Each March, Belt Ives would create a piece for Women’s History Month. Some of them are on display at the library.

She got her start teaching out of a one-room schoolhouse in Egnar, Colorado, and she went on to instruct in kindergarten through college, later becoming one of the first women’s studies teachers in the country, she said.

Her career as an applied sociologist paid the bills, but she dreamed of attending art school. So she incorporated art into her work.

The late Stanton Englehart, artist and professor at Fort Lewis College, was her mentor.

He told her: “Just paint, I don't draw at all. I was failing art school, I can't draw.”

Belt Ives moved back to Montezuma County after retiring from teaching at The Art Institute of Colorado in Denver.

Her art is not professional. The pieces are not framed. And really, anybody could do what she does, she said.

“I’m sure this isn't going to be a very popular show,” she said. “That's OK with me.”

She wants others to feel like they can express themselves freely the way she does, even in as simple a way as growing a garden.

“I think it should inspire people to not be so shy about what is or what can be produced, but what is possible,” she said.

March is Women’s History Month, and Tuesday is International Women’s Day.