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Artist keeps culture through abstract art

By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

At an art studio in Lower Town Paducah, June Edmonds is using the abstract to tell a very clear story.

On Feb. 1, she began the Paducah Arts Alliance Artist-in-Residence program.

This month she continues the work that includes her ongoing "Circle/Curve" series -- inspired by Adinkra symbols that originate from the Ashanti people of West Africa.

Her circle motifs have held symbolic allure, Edmonds said, since she developed a taste for the abstract 10 years ago.

Yet her work has always maintained a rich spiritual identity, deeply rooted in African-American culture and history.

"I feel I'm reaching a new potential in how impactful this work is," Edmonds said. "It's abstraction, and it's also about having a cultural connection.

"The Adinkra has different symbols with different meanings, but I learned the concentric circle has the meaning of 'God the most high.' The symbols are used in (African) tribes and clans to self-identify, and that is the symbolism I connect to."

An elementary school art teacher, the California-based artist has a long resume teaching at various colleges and institutions. In addition to a background in oil painting, her projects have also used acrylics and mixed media.

Also a travel enthusiast, Edmonds said visits to other cultures have only strengthened her work.

Murals seen at the University of Mexico influenced a collection of Venetian glass mosaics she did for Metro Blueline Stations in Long Beach, California.

The mosaics, she said, were spurred both by multiculturalism and her own African heritage.

"I've studied (many) different cultures," she said. "They've all related to African culture, and it was after seeing these murals that I knew I wanted to try this medium."

As Edmonds has grown as an artist, she's also noticed a similar progression in the world around her.

During her undergraduate years at San Diego State in the 1980s, she recalled a time that her school library lacked for books featuring "artists of color."

"I see more African-Artists (recognized) now," she said. "But some influential artists still are not included in canon today. You can't (always) see their work in museums, and I can't associate that with how active African-Americans have been in the art movement."

New to Paducah, she said the Artist-in-Residence program has been an artistic reprieve.

"It's been supportive, and it would be great to find a way to continue at this level (of productivity) when I go back to 'real life,'" she said. "A residency is a gift of time and space, and isn't that what an artist wants?"

As the wheel turns, she simply wants to continue her work.

"What I'm creating now is what I want to continue," she said. "I'm fulfilling a potential I haven't been able to before. I'll continue to paint and practice my art -- you know, even if that means getting up at three in the morning like I've done in the past."

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