Artist Liz Ward

(b. 1959) Liz Ward’s art is heavily influenced by her interest in natural history and the continuing loss of our environment. She has produced artwork relating to trees, rivers, oceans, and glaciers, and incorporates references to plant forms, weather, stars, maps and bird migrations. Her art is subtle in its presentation and almost abstract at times. She is an avid researcher and brings not only historical information to her endeavors, but also her own personal memories and experiences.

Ward works in a variety of media on paper, most often in the form of watercolor and drawing, and has recently been using a combination of watercolor, ink, graphite, pastel and collage. She is also an excellent printmaker and has produced several editions with Flatbed Press in Austin. Ward received her B.F.A. from the University of New Mexico in 1982 and her M.F.A. from the University of Houston in 1990. She is currently Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at Trinity University in San Antonio. Her art may be found in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of Art in NY, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin and the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont.


Writhing River - Liz Ward

Writhing River

Year: 2015
Medium: Watercolor, Ink, Grahite, Pastel and Collage on Paper
Location: John Gray Center, Rudy Williams Building Hallway

Gift of Rob Clark and Jerry Thacker

In 2010 Liz Ward came across a 1944 book by geologist Harold Fisk documenting ancient maps of the Mississippi River. She was fascinated by the way the river had changed course and altered the landscape over the years. Her great-grandfather’s career as a steamboat captain on the Mississippi also contributed to her interest. She began researching the river to learn more about the explorers who searched for its origin, about the slavery that permeated the south and facilitated the growth of the cotton and sugar industries along the river, and how the Corps of Engineers eventually tamed the river. Two separate bodies of work emerged from these research efforts: Veritas Caput, about the search for the river’s origin, and Ghosts of the Old Mississippi, a series of 17 mixed media collages, each featuring different bird’s-eye sections of the Mississippi as pictured in Fisk’s maps. Ward considers rivers to be metaphors for time and memory and illustrates them as such in her art.

Writhing River is from the aptly named Ghosts of the Old Mississippi series. It features a colorful map of the river overlaid with multiple references to history and time.

Flowing down the center of the piece, Ward has placed reproductions of trees and waterfalls along with collaged forms that look like large butterflies. Upon closer inspection, the viewer will recognize that the shapes are actually silhouette cutouts of faces to reference not only memories, or “ghosts,” but an almost lost art form popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Ward’s own memories and personal ties to the river are also evident in Writhing River. Her grandmother lived in New Orleans with the Mississippi in her back yard. The toile patterns around the edges of the composition are similar to those Ward remembered seeing in her grandmother’s home as a child. Other works in this series contain unique elements like her mother’s recipe cards, and several have images of butterflies and birds, two species that often navigate the river in their migration patterns. In Writhing River, she included a Baltimore Oriole in honor of her father, a Baltimore native and fan of the baseball team, and a cedar waxwing which is a favorite resident of Michigan where Ward spends her summers. There is also a Southeast Texas connection in this piece. Ward lived for a time in Port Bolivar, Texas and often saw cedar waxwings during their spring migration through High Island and the Bolivar Peninsula.