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Leah Cerise: Evolution of an Artist

By Sue Snively

He stands in the middle of the field, looking strong and personable, just waiting for the silly dog to charge. When the dog does, you can almost hear the bird laughing as he caws and flies away, only to return to the ground and wait for the next charge. The artist captures him with her camera and then draws the raven from the photograph. Ultimately this beautiful, smart bird with his iridescent feathers appears as a solar-etched monoprint.

4-FishI first profiled artist and lover of ravens Leah Cerise for a local paper in 2004, and have been rather amazed to following the evolution of her artistic endeavors. At the time, she was specializing in hand-crocheted beaded jewelry. Leah was also doing intricate drawings and paintings of the world of nature; and she was beginning to create what she called “dumpy art,” whereby she would collect objects from dumps in the area and string them together with bedsprings to form artistic creations. She has some of these “dumpy art” or found-art creations currently displayed in her front yard in Buena Vista. Fast-forwarding to 2012, Leah says this art form went out the window when the local dump was taken over by South Main Development. She did manage to collect quite a bit from the dump with the developers’ permission before it was hauled away to the present landfill.

The medium that next gained her interest was revealed at a Heart of the Arts auction (held by what was then the Chaffee County Council on the Arts). Sallyann Paschall, a local Chaffee County printmaking artist, offered a party in order to introduce printmaking to other artists. After the party, Leah was hooked.

There are several different approaches to printmaking that Leah now works with, including monoprints, trace monoprints, monotypes and solar etchings. Leah likes them all, but finds solar etchings most intriguing. One of the first series of solar etchings she did was from photographs of the tiles on the old Unique Theater in Salida. With solar etchings, the artist either draws directly on the copper plate or places a transparency with an image on a copper plate. The plate is then put in direct sunlight, and the sun etches the image onto it. Then the plate is inked, print paper is placed on top, and the plate is run through the press. One of the things Leah enjoys about printmaking, and especially solar etching, is not knowing exactly how the image is going to appear until it comes off the press. Each print is rendered slightly differently.

A monoprint is similar to a solar etching in that it has a pattern or part of an image that is repeated in each print. A monoprint and a monotype use a plexiglass plate instead of a copper plate. Trace monoprints differ in that once a plate is inked, paper is placed on top of the inked surface, and an image is drawn on the back of the print paper. The pressure of the drawing tools transfers the ink onto the paper. When the paper is pulled from the plate, lines appear on the paper. A second print can be pulled with the ink that remains on the plate, which is the negative of the first print. You are actually working on two prints at the same time – a positive and a negative. Another technique that Leah likes to use is a process called chine-collé, which involves putting a lighter paper, usually rice paper, over a heavier piece of print paper to get a delicate affect.

As evidenced by the array of monoprints Leah has produced, nature is the dominant theme. As well as being fascinated by ravens, at age fifty, to hallmark that year of her life, she trained to become a professional fly-fishing guide, so fish are another popular subject.

Besides the introductory training from Paschall, Leah has taken classes through the Arkansas Valley Art Center and workshops in Santa Fe and at Anderson Ranch near Snowmass. The instructors at these workshops are usually master printers, considered the “supreme beings” of international printmaking. These include: Dan Welden (solar etching); Michael Krueger (general printing techniques); and Catherine Kernan (woodcuts and large prints). Leah has also learned a lot from friends that she prints with, including Jude Silva, Sybil Teague and Paschall.

Leah has juried in national and international print shows and has won several first-place ribbons and business awards with her work. This year she won honorable mention in the National Small Print Show in Creede, Colorado.

Leah’s work is currently displayed in the Rock Run Gallery in Buena Vista and in Gallery 150 in Salida. Going back to her beginnings, the galleries may have some of her jewelry, including her newest venture in jewelry making – reversible bracelets crocheted from glass beads, silver and semiprecious stones.

For those interested in her work, she can be contacted at 719-395-8777, or at

This article is written in memory of the artist’s mother, Jo Ellen Conner, who died in 2011. Jo Ellen was an artist in her own right, producing many decorative and beautiful objects in her lifetime. Author Sue Snively treasures the friendship she had with Jo Ellen and has many fond memories of her.