CASPER, Wyo. — The Nicolaysen Art Museum will re-open their doors to the public on Thursday, June 11 and people are invited to come explore new shows, including one which artist Betsy Bower has been working on for about two years.
The show is called “Dreams” which gives an idea of both the art itself and the way that Bower thinks and speaks these days.
“The thing that inspired the show were my dreams themselves and dreams because art is probably my biggest obsession but dreams and the dreaming mind is my second big obsession,” she said on Tuesday, while contemplating how to arrange the space.
Article continues below...
With the help of museum staff, Bower aims to transform the space in such a way that offers both a glimpse of her own relationship to dreams and also invites people to reflect and relax into their own dream-like states.
“In my mind, I picture the lights being out and everything kind of just being this glow, like it being a way to the dream world,” she said. “I want it to feel like you’re walking in a dream.”
Bower’s way of speaking frequently employs the use of “both/and.” Some examples of this theme which comes up in conversation with her include:
- both dreaming and the space between dreams and the waking state
- both reality and illusion
- both life and death
- both feminine and masculine energies
- both literal and abstract representations born out of her dreaming
- both isolation and being together with others
- both the Taoist concepts of yin and yang
She has an interest in both lucid dreaming (dreams where a person has awareness and some control while dreaming) and, for this show specifically, the dreaming and hallucinations that occur as someone begins to drift off to sleep or starts to wake back up out of deep sleep.
Bower explains her interest in what goes on between the waking and dreaming states of mind.
“Exploring both spaces and and what ties them together, that’s like another interest of my focal point and obsession,” she says. “I’m just like wow, how do things connect? Because they do.”
While there may be connections between what people experience in dreams and when they are awake, Bower pays special attention to this.
“In ‘Active Imagination,’ Carl Jung says interact with the symbol in the dream,” Bower explains. “It doesn’t matter what you do, just interact with it.”
She adds an example she learnd from dream therapist named Naomi Brodner: “If you dream of eating strawberry ice cream go get strawberry ice cream that day.”
While she was thinking about what she wanted to do for her show at the Nic, Bower took a Dreaming 101 at a spiritual shop in Denver called “Ritualcravt” taught by Brodner.
“She went to school in Boulder to get a degree in dream therapy, and I’m just like, ‘This is a real thing!'” Bower says. “I was trying to think of a theme for my show and then after that, she’s just like, ‘You can ask your dreams to give you answers for things,’ and she gave this example of how it changed her life.”
Brodner told Bower that she had a dream where she was sitting in a chair watching a crowd of people who were trying to figure out their purposes in life. Brodner was shaking because she was so excited and said to the people, “I know what my purpose is.”
They all looked at her and she told them, “I want to be a dream therapist.”
Bower explains that the dream gave her clarity to get her on the right path.
“I was so inspired by that story,” Bower adds. “I was telling her I have this art show and it’s like a big deal to me and I just really need some kind of theme and I’m like, ‘I’m trying to figure out how to tie all these things together and have never really done that before.'”
Bower says that she and Brodner zeroed in on the right theme for her show simultaneously.
“At the same time, we’re just like, ‘Dreams!'” Bower explains. “We said it out loud and I got so excited and that night, I was just like, ‘Okay what do my dreams have to tell me?'”
“I dreamed that I was going down 15th Street over by Beverly and I was sliding down the street like a penguin down the hill and then I started running and I’m just kind of gliding above the ground and I run to the library and I go to the teen section.”
As she went into her dream version of the Natrona County Library, Bower says that there were teenagers being mean to a male librarian.
“I’m just observing this interaction and the librarian is so generous and so kind and so helpful to these teens,” she says. “He just wants people to be interested in books.”
“And so then, I wake up from the dream like, ‘I have to go to the library.’ So I go to the library and I walk through the teen section, since that’s where I felt like my dream was.”
But as she got to the teen section of the library, something told Bower what she was looking for wasn’t there.
“So I walked past it and then go through that door where you go to the graphic novel section, and I’m a fan of graphic novels,” Bower continues. “I just kind of scan the books for a while and there’s this one that stands out to me and I’m like, ‘That’s it, that’s the one’ and I pulled it off the shelf.”
The graphic novel she discovered was “The Sculptor” by Scott McCloud. She says that it was about a man who gave up his life to become an artist and sculptor. The man goes to a diner after losing his job and meets a Grim Reaper-type character who tells the man he’ll give him anything he wants in exchange for his life.
The man tells the Grim Reaper fellow that he wants to become an artist. He’s then given 270 days to live and “this magical power where he could make sculptures out of anything.”
The character’s experience gave him real meaning for the first time in his life before he dies.
“I was just so inspired,” Bower says of McCloud’s graphic novel’s impact on her.
While that story was an important source of inspiration for her show, it was seeing fellow artist Shawn Rivett’s show at the Nic which really made her hungry to have her own.
Rivett died unexpectedly on March 16, 2020.
“Shawn is the person who brought me up as an artist,” Bower says.
Before his death, Bower had a dream of her own father dying. A few weeks later, Bower received a call from her mother who explained to her that Rivett had passed.
“She just gently tells me,” Bower says. “She’s like, ‘I don’t know how this can be true, but it must be true because so-and-so told me. I just felt like déjà vu from that dream.”
“[Rivett] was my art father. I just feel like I wouldn’t even be in this position without him. I feel like everybody in your life kind of has some spiritual contract with you and mine with Shawn was art and creativity and inspiring, being inspired by him and maybe even inspiring each other.”
Bower has been reviewing some of her work in recent weeks and Rivett’s influence keeps showing up. She says that as an artist, he allowed his mind to go anywhere and she learned a lot from that.
“So with the show, I just kind of let it go anywhere and be influenced by my dreams,” Bower said. “I hope it speaks to people.”
The Nic is celebrating 2020 as the Year of the Woman, and Bower’s show touches on that not only as a female artist herself, but also in her way of thinking.
“I feel like in the world there comes this pendulum swing of like now, we’re going back into some of the energy where women are standing up and breaking through glass ceilings and coming out and being being more in their power and I really want to see more Wyoming women be more in their power,” Bower says.
She says that while masculine aspects of power can be about qualities of toughness or direct activity, Bower sees feminine aspects of power in becoming receptive and open to intuition.
“You can also cry and sit with yourself and meditate and receive, because I believe that women are naturally-born receptive, sensitive, psychic, intuitive people,” Bower says. “I mean men are too, but I think women are naturally more in touch with that and I think that that there’s something so beautiful to that. A lot of that is so subtle and that’s the point: it is subtle.”
Two of the metal sculptures in the show give an example of Bower’s ideas of feminine power. They are snakes which represent “kundalini,” which is a Sanskrit term that translates as “coiled snake.”
The idea represents a kind of latent feminine energy located at the base of the spine which can start to awaken and uncoil and climb up through the body and out the crown of the head.
“These snakes kind of represent the kundalini,” Bower says. “There’s still kind of like a spiritual awakening happening. Casper has come a really long ways and something that I kind of learned when I was traveling and living other places before coming back to Casper was about the kundalini energy.”
She also thinks about another Hindu concept known as “Shakti” which translates as power or energy and represents the feminine aspect of that power and energy.
Bower describes it as “just like this divine consciousness that moves.”
“It’s not the action necessarily, but it’s like what leads the action,” she adds. “What leads is like the seed right? It’s the fertile soil, the earth energy. I think it’s in a lot of cultures where there’s a snake coiled at the base of your spine.
“And then when you awaken that through like Pranic (vital life force) breathing, then it weaves up through your chakras (energy centers in the body) and burst through your crown [and back] down, leading to a spiritual awakening, which is essentially just being really present in the moment and being more aware of what is here right now and that you are an active creator in your life and in the moment.”
Bower says she thinks masculine and feminine qualities are something present in both women and men. She points to the medical symbol of the caduceus which shows two snakes wrapping around one another and meeting at the top.
“They express themselves in opposites, but then they weave together and those points that cross is where they’re blending and they’re unified and so it’s the same snake but it takes these two forms,” Bower says of the symbol. “And so yes, I think there’s a masculine and a feminine that lives in all of us.”
“I think that’s the conscious awakening of like transgender people coming out right now, kind of like breaking through this mold. Gender is an idea that humans created and I think that we all are both inside.”
While some people may not be as interested in the significance of dreams or other ideas which inspired Bower’s show as she is, she notes that art is subjective and that there are multiple valid interpretations.
“What I hope that people can get from this show is that our unconscious minds are talking to us and they’re talking to each other and when you listen, magic happens and transformation,” Bower says. “I think that’s what creativity is about and expressing something in a physical form. You take this idea and you make it real. And that transforms you and influences other people.”
“I feel like for me that’s what life is about like, you know? It’s like the highest form of living is getting to be creative.”
Bower shared much more about the art included in her show “Dreams,” offering glimpses into the dreams, symbols and significance that both inspire and anchor her work.
“Dreams” and other exhibitions at the Nic open on Thursday. The museum is located at 400 East Collins Drive in Casper.
NOTE: This story has been updated with several names provided by Bower that didn’t appear in an earlier version.