Lucy Gentry Meltzer's "Biophilia Collection" at Salon Refu is a selection of small voodoo dolls and sculptural figures on dress mannequins standing on the floor and floating from a natural wood frame just below the gallery ceiling. Figuratively, they are wood sprites, fairies, Medieval warriors and goddesses, and a sleek, blue mermaid in the window - and shrunken figures of long-deceased women from some mythological otherworld. This collection of strange, fascinating and eerily gorgeous figures is unlike anything ever seen in South Sound art galleries.
The artist is a costume designer. She has designed costumes for theaters on the east coast and locally for many shows at Harlequin Productions. And like costumers in major theatrical costume shops, she employs teams of assistants (in her case, volunteers) to fashion her imaginative creations with thread, needle, scissors, glue and an amazing variety of natural materials including such unusual things as grass, leaves and moss; bones and animal parts, and in one of her creations, even a dead bird.
She began using her costuming skills as fine art with a series of small voodoo dolls that hang on the walls. There are seven of these in the show plus four more that are in wood and glass cases, some of which are shaped like caskets. Their faces look like skeletons or shrunken heads. Their bodies are covered with ragged cloth. Some are dark brown and look like worn leather and animal skins. Some are predominantly white and look like wedding dresses, but dresses that might have been worn hundreds of years ago and are now tattered and rotted. One is a bright crimson. She fashions these voodoo dolls out of such materials as papier-mâché, cheese cloth, fur, gut, palm leaf, bone, mole parts and coyote knuckles. The faces of the voodoo dolls are dark, and the eyes are sunken depressions that are darker still. They look brittle and broken, yet lovely in a romanticized, ghostly sort of way.
Her latest works are the life-size and larger-than-life figures built on mannequins and either free-standing or hung from the wooden frame built by John Corzine, whose handmade lamps were recently shown at Salon Refu.
There is one called "North Facing" that is apparently so-named because of what we learned from the Boy Scouts, that moss grows on the north side of trees. This figure is majestic, a kind of woodland queen with a crown of grass and sticks and a huge cape draped from shoulder to floor and covered with moss and twigs and pine cones.
There is one called "Vestment of St. Patula" that stands nine feet tall and is encrusted with razor clam shells, and another that is a tutu skirt in navy blue and covered with sea shells.
Many of the figures have what can be interpreted as hats or heads that float above their shoulders and necks, and many wear waist-cinching corsets.
"I re-form my collected objects into unconventional beauties, mythological figures, heroic women," the artist says. "I aim to reconnect people with nature to remind all of us of Earth's fragile treasures and to rally us to support planet-healing practices."
The phrase "must-see" is overused, but this show truly is must-see.
"Biophilia Collection," 2-6 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, and by appointment, through April 23, Salon Refu, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, 360.280.3540, facebook.com/salonrefu