The first thing one notices when entering Nina Mihm’s Dragonfly Gallery is her sense of dedication. Every syllable describing a showcased work is punctuated with a tone of passion and a note of understanding, an understanding of the importance of art, and local art specifically. She strikes a visitor to her gallery as not only a welcoming hostess but also a custodian of artistic integrity.
The gallery is a neat, cozy building on Marathon Boulevard, the sort of place one would expect to see a woman in a sun hat, casually watering marigolds. But the building’s come a long way since Nina purchased it in May of 2010. What is now a home for the work of local artists was an abandoned doctor’s office just a few years prior. I had the chance to sit with Nina at her gallery and ask her why she felt it so important to transform this space into what it has become today.
AFM: What inspired you to open this gallery?
Nina: I have been an artist in Austin for 30 years. My journey included a formal education, wifehood, job changes, and involvements with various workshops and organizations. Through this journey I cultivated a deep appreciation for the Austin visual arts community, but I realized that there were so few homes for artists using visual media, so it became my desire to promote local artists and my mission to provide their work with validation and respectability.
AFM: Why do these particular forms of mixed media interest you, and what do you believe they articulate that some other media might not?
Nina: I started as an oil painter who then transitioned into water color and eventually fiber art. The beauty of fiber art is its tactile nature; art loses its sense of alienation or otherness when it draws the viewer into one of the most intimate of interactions: touch.
AFM: Is there perhaps a school of artistic expression, either contemporary or historical that inspires the work here or the medium in general?
Nina: Well 2012 marks the 100 year anniversary of collage, and it is in fact the only new artistic movement since impressionism. It is however a controversial medium and one not universally accepted as being valid. The reason for this is that it often employs borrowed materials, scraps of newspaper, fragments of metal, pieces of wire, all things made by other people, generally with an expressly different purpose in mind. To this question of validity I say all that matters is the product.
As I browsed the gallery, I noticed a diverse methodology of artistic expression. While the works share a common medium, they invoke very different emotional responses from their viewers. One of Nina’s works for instance, “Hill Country Cody,” patterns the familiar coat of a smiling dog with tatters of sheet music. The effect is one of unexpected intrigue in the familiar, a coalescence of the primal and the refined, and in the moment of reflecting on that possibility, I, as a gallery patron, finally understood the versatility of the medium. Many of the works being shown were more abstract in their nature, but each was rooted in that solid, tactile quality that Nina mentioned.
On her website, Nina states of the work and the medium in general that, “The layers created by rich colors and textures of the material selected invite the viewer on a journey. Each layer has an essence, but all layers become the charted voyage.” The sort of voyage that Nina describes in that statement is a very personal one, one that is shaped by the viewer in the moment. I for one am glad to have taken that voyage, and any lover of local art should do the same. I’m certain that Nina will be smiling at Dragonfly’s door, guiding your course through this tactile, versatile, and personal medium.