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Denise Kester draws on her dreams to create 'story art'

The mystical animals in Denise Kester’s paintings and prints — bears, crows, turtles, monkeys, rabbits and sometimes people — are often friendly and powerful allies and always carry an important message about life. The animals come in her dreams, says Kester, a longtime Ashlander whose work can be seen at the Ashland Art Center. “I call it story art because most of them (animals) bring stories with them, their own personal stories,” she says. Her story art has reached galleries all over the country and spawned a thriving line of posters, greeting cards and blank books. Now it’s found its way into a new, richly illustrated book, “Drawing on the Dream: Finding My Way By Art.” Kester will do a reading-signing at 7 p.m. Monday, April 2, at Bloomsbury Books, 290 E. Main St., Ashland. The book, aided by a $4,000 grant from the Lloyd Haines & Friends Fund in 2015, is published by White Cloud Press in Ashland. It is $19.95. The book details not only Kester’s inner vision and the strength she draws from her dreams, but also the complex process of printmaking. Kester makes viscosity monoprints, using oily lithograph inks on a single Plexiglas plate. She draws with a Q-tip and applies color with rollers and palette knives, then runs it through an etching press, creating a unique, original image. Each print comes with an inspiring, entertaining, often whimsical story. The message is often about celebrating one’s positive powers and engaging dark times, using their “seeds” to fulfill one’s true vision. “Gaia Walking” shows a woman with a rabbit in her arms and a bird at her feet. The accompanying story notes, “She is one of those older women, you know, a free spirit who is always picking up strays. She helps those who are damaged in one way or another. No one knows that she is the Earth Goddess in human form, walking among us, doing what she can to restore wholeness and repair the broken…What if Gaia is us walking?” In “The Meeting,” Coyote is driving his convertible, being lured to the boonies by Rabbit, who claims the meeting is very important. It’s a trick. Perhaps it’s to remind us to lighten up and get a laugh out of it. The book’s cover, showing a dark, whirling figure seeming to spin all matter into being, is called “GrandMother is the Maker.” Kester has been teaching workshops in the creative arts for 20 years, including “Awaken, Amplify and Sustain Your Inner Artist” with philosopher Jean Houston’s seminars and Women of Wisdom conferences in Seattle. She’s a former artist in residence at the Horace Mann School of New York. Kester’s art is widely known, but she begs off on the notion she’s famous. “My art is all over America. I just got an email from Scotland. Someone there loves my book. I feel so grateful and fortunate to be able to do this,” she says. “I’m making a living but I’m not a legend, like Georgia O’Keeffe. I’m just an artist who loves our beautiful country and the Earth.” In her Ashland studio, Kester teaches classes on printmaking, collage, stamp carving, bookmaking and more. Her work and videos of her printmaking process are on denisekester on Instagram. She can be found in her display space at Ashland Art Center on First Friday art walks. — John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.