Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.17.31 PMMadison and Main guest artist Toby Baker drew inspiration from nature and leaned on a skill set she developed as a child to work on her art show “River Remnants.”  M&M is currently showing numerous pieces from that collection. Each work is a fascinating sculpture in its own right, but add to it the story behind the work, and you have an opportunity to go deeper into the art.

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The pieces (which were shown at the Town of Windsor Museum Art & Heritage Center earlier this year) feature sculptures made from driftwood, or “flood sticks” as Baker sometimes calls them.

She made her pieces in “River Remnants,” from materials she found around Windsor following floods in 2013 and 2014.

As a child growing up in Wyoming, Baker would search in nature for objects of beauty and interest, often going on hikes or camping during the weekend with her family.

Over those weekends she would look for arrowheads, pieces of wood and rock that eventually filled her room, she said.

She still curates a collection of sticks and other lost relics she finds during daily walks along the Poudre River.

Flotsam that eventually becomes art first speaks to her.

“If you look around my house, my house is full of sticks and rocks,” Baker said. “I can’t help it, they jump in my arms, they fill my pockets.”

At the end of the day, she takes care to empty her pockets of sticks, rocks and other treasures she finds.

“I’m like every little 6-year-old, at the end of the day I have to empty all the rocks out of my coat pockets,” she said.

An artist and writer, Baker works through many mediums. She feels most at home when she can feel the work take shape.

“I see with my hands,” she said. Even when painting, she will take a break from the brush at times to work the paint with a thumb or forefinger.

Because of that, it might not surprise people to hear she feels her strongest when she works on sculptures.

Baker’s environment inspires her, she said. During flooding in September 2013, she watched the river rise and saw the flows jam “these big massive sticks into the mud,” Baker said.

As the river calmed down, small natural debris caught on and settled upon the logs.

After the river fully calmed, she thought the natural structures looked akin to altars that peacefully marked the path of the river’s rampage.

In her early work, she attempted to render what she saw after the floods. Each piece of wood and stone looked carefully placed, working into the layer of driftwood above or below it, Baker said.

Her first piece, “DEFIANT,” a sculpture appearing to be almost woven of “flood sticks” crowned by a feather, a necklace and an old key stamped with the word “defiant,” still hangs on the wall of her home.

Her driftwood work has become even more abstract since her first few pieces, Baker said. Now some pieces feature only a single part of driftwood attached to a base of found wood.

Some pieces just speak to her, she said. Not literally speak to her, of course, but the way the branches of a limb knit together might look to her like intertwined hands.

Baker listens to the flotsam of the Poudre River and even talks to it in her own way.

Each day before she takes anything, she asks the river and the wood for permission and thanks them when she’s done.

Her process is similar to a quiet prayer, she said, which almost fits her memories of the rough driftwood altars she saw after the floods.

Shown above is Bend Like a Willow. Baker’s “River Remnants” will be in Madison & Main Gallery through June 27th.

article excerpt and photo of Baker from The Greeley Tribune Jan. 8, 2015

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