RUSSELL — After moving home to her native Kansas, Angela Muller felt drawn to capture the beauty of the wide-open prairie.
Five years ago, she picked up a paintbrush and began a journey to do just that. The self-taught artist began painting “art inspired by the Great American Prairie” from a studio above her garage, which overlooks Fossil Lake.
“Everything’s inspired from the American Prairie — either the wind, or the land, or the animals, the night constellations — everything’s inspired by that,” she said. “I try to really connect people to the earth by putting actual pieces of the prairie into the paintings.”
She uses the ancient practice of grinding some of her own pigments to include in her canvas paintings, using an antique mortar and pestle. Muller often grinds limestone or sandstone, as well as plant matter, into fine pieces that are painted into her works using a binding agent.
She also collects fallen twigs and bark from Cottonwood trees and burns them, then uses the plant matter as a charcoal crayon to add dark coloring. All of her nature pigments are made by hand and add rich textures to her canvas paintings.
Muller creates her own glazes out of cedar berries, and sometimes incorporates a bit of oxidized iron in her paintings to incorporate rust. She believes nature is a great teacher.
“I want to reconnect the viewer to nature,” she said, “and to help, each piece is inspired by a story that nature has to share with us about overcoming adversity or transforming our life.”
Much of her work is abstract, but reflects nature through the design and color choices. An example would be a piece called “Watershed” that resembles streams weaving their way to the ocean.
“What it interprets is all tributaries lead to larger bodies of water,” she said. “So here, nature is teaching us the lesson of letting go and allowing ourselves to move forward.”
She also is fascinated by local folklore and Native American culture — which also is reflected in many of her creations — and writes a short story to accompany each painting.
“This one over here is the Orionid meteor showers in the fall,” Muller said. “The indigenous cultures believed they usher in winter. They’re the winter-makers. And so these are just my interpretations of the natural world around me.”
Her paintings can take several weeks to complete, as each layer is created by hand and must be allowed to dry before continuing. Several galleries in Kansas and Arizona have displayed her work.
Muller also works as executive director of the Russell County Area Community Foundation, so her studio is open by appointment only. More information about her art can be found on Facebook, Instagram or at amullerfinearts.com.
Though she grew up in Russell, Muller moved to the East Coast shortly after finishing high school. After living in Washington, D.C., for several years, she said she has a new appreciation for the rural landscape. It was difficult in the big city to even see the sky or watch an approaching storm, she said.
“There, there’s a real disconnect from nature, and it is very noticeable,” Muller said. “So when I returned to Kansas, it’s this great opportunity to rekindle my love for the prairie. Living in Kansas, we notice those things, like the storm coming, like the birds migrating.
“You notice when that starts to happen, and you notice when the cottonwoods start to turn. We have a real tie to the land that others don’t have. Because I lived so long away, I have this appreciation and kind of can see things through fresh eyes.”