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The art of caring

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By Birdie Jaworski

A tiny gray rock outlined in craggy black paint rolls against a stack of comic-book Stonehenge slabs.

The stones expand in an exponential arc, a burst dam of yellow-red emotion mixed with icy blue spikes. The large abstract expression calls to mind subdivision sprawl, the furious cell-division chaos of mother earth egg and tractor sperm. Las Vegas artist Dakota Mills’ oil painting, “Reproduction,” asks the viewer to step inside the collective hive mind — an unsettling place of highway noise and microwave energy.

“The inspiration for Clarity Gifts and Gallery came because I wanted an art space where I could represent my husband’s work,” explains gallery owner Tara Trudell-Mills.

“I want to be able to offer art and gifts that mean something to the people who purchase them, perhaps wearing something comfortable to feel good, or lighting a candle for healing. Life should be a celebration where we do things that help each other feel better and we do things to help the earth.”

Trudell-Mills understands the human need for comfort, for healing in the face of adversity. Several years ago her husband fell ill with encephalitis, an often-fatal viral infection of the brain. In a short period of time, Dakota Mills lost his hearing, his ability to walk and talk, his competence with an artist’s brush.

“Dakota had to learn to walk and talk again. Learn to paint again.” Trudell-Mills paused, her eyes heavy with responsibility, yet with a hint of trust. “His work really transformed as he transformed himself. He’s been an artist his entire life, but after his illness his art changed. He became a more focused, more intense artist. His new works pull emotion from everyone who sees them.”

Mills’ series, “Traffic,” spans across one sunlight-drenched wall of Clarity Gifts and Gallery, each painting a huge testament to man’s crush of nature. In “Traffic II,” a twist of highway metal seems to play between the brush strokes as the suggestion of a lone church peers from the horizon - forgotten, unsure. Mills’ work offers a heavy contrast to Trudell-Mills’ other offerings, a selection of locally made and Fair Trade clothing, jewelry, candles, and small artworks.

“When you buy Fair Trade, you are already giving back,” says Trudell-Mills. “To be a Fair Trade company, you don’t just sell something that someone is getting paid for, you have to adhere to a set of high standards such as finding resources in your area so you aren’t importing materials, preserving local culture, and preserving dignity for women and children who work for you. Many women who make things are disabled, and children have to work from young ages to support their family in disadvantaged areas.”

Tiny pocket altars tooled from tin and painted with serene saints decorate a corner of the shop’s sales counter. Made in the traditional manner by Claudia Lange of Raton, the altars offer consolation against Mills’ raucous works. A long wooden table sports hand-made potholders printed with fanciful crows, woven reed bracelets, whimsical purses made from recycled tires. Racks of sZoft, detailed yoga clothes mingle at the back of the store, inviting visitors to touch, to try.

“I love working with different artists in the community,” Trudell-Mills says. “I love all of the local jewelry artists; they do such intricate work. I sell a range of products from bath salts to soaps to candles, little things to big things. I like to donate a portion of products to the Seva Foundation,” she adds, referring to the non-profit organization that has served people around the world who are struggling for health, cultural survival and sustainable communities.

Other artists represented at Clarity Gifts and Gallery include local metalsmith Debbie Morse, whose fantastic metal sculptures add a futuristic feel to corners of the store, and Trudell-Mills’ mother, Fenicia Ordoez, a print-maker and painter. Ordoez’ contemplations on local scenery can be viewed along the east wall of the gallery. In “Montoso Study,” a slim mesa illuminates the clouds behind it, a play on the necessity of dark to see light.

“Tara and I put that painting up in the window in June, and people stopped to look at it a lot,” says lifelong Las Vegas resident Ordoez. “We put it out because it was so dry, hoping the clouds in the painting would call in the moisture. Once we put it up it started raining. We’re seriously thinking of moving it down,” she added with a laugh.

“My favorite thing in this store is the feeling I get when I come here,” muses Trudell-Mills. “We all have our personal tastes, but this store is for the people that need it. People feel better when they leave, when they take home a little something that makes them feel that healing energy. I feel that’s what my purpose is.”

Clarity Gifts and Gallery is at 66 Bridge St. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Visitors are invited to browse and examine the art. For more information, call 425-3955.