By Madeleine Ahlborn |

FRIDAY, April 8, 2022, I joined local artist and farmer Cari Conari in her studio where we talked about spirits, souls, art, herbs and birds. Unexpected twists, but all these puzzle pieces fit together to create this space she calls home. 

The following pictures are from our visit together.

Cari is the featured Artist of the Month for the month of April at the San Luis Valley Museum on Hunt Avenue in Alamosa. She has what are called scratch boards on display in the back room above the players piano. These pieces are created just as they are described: using small tools, intricate lines are formed by scratching away a black surface to reveal a metallic or colored base that provides contrast in order to see the image come to life.

Cari is not a one-hit wonder of an artist. “Art is life,” is an inclusive understanding of all things created, from the food (and herbs) we grow, to connections we make with people, plants, animals, and our environment to recognise the coexistence among all things. 

“It’s been a ‘healing myself’ kind of journey… I started using herbs to kind of slowly heal myself.”

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Listen to The Unexpected Artist (HERE) to learn about the symbolic nature and stories behind the images that Cari Conari has created.

herbs growing in Canari's greenhouse

CARI grows her herbs locally at the Rio Grande Farm Park in Alamosa and during (warmer) summer months provides opportunities for tours to community members. She also has multiple garden beds outside her home, currently nesting under a blanket of wool to keep warm in this early spring season. Her painting, faux finishing, mural and design website is; follow her on Instargram @infinitecrowma.

pieces in wood

“I’m so glad I found the Valley though. It’s weird even with Blanca, I would drive down the street and would feel this feeling of being home … I don’t know what it is because I’m from Denver … why am I getting this? Ya know, what is this? I don’t know, I have no idea.”

I hear this sentiment a lot through conversations I’ve had with artists, this unknown or indescribable feeling of home when coming to and spending time in the San Luis Valley. It seems we all stick around long enough to find reasons to stay, even if that reason is out of curiosity of discovering the why. Cari speaks to this notion of curiosity and not always seeking the end, though it is inevitable in some cases; projects, podcasts, paintings ect. The environment we choose to be in and/or create determines the character we are and the things we make.

“Environment affects everything … everything”. 

If we are conscious of it or not, as creatives, we innately react to our surrounding space. Sometimes, our environment is conducive to travel inward to ponder or percolate ideas.

Other times our environment can almost force us outside to communicate with others. There is this back and forth between extroverted self and introverted self. All based on the environment, based on context, they are pieces to the puzzle of the overall experience of life. 

“The knowledge that I know of art is because of living in Denver, I wouldn’t have gotten that here, there’s just no way … no matter what, you don’t even have to intentionally do it, your experience is part of you.”

walls with bottles, painted pieces and found objects embedded

“There’s not a lot of wall space, that’s been one of my downsides in life”.

When we walk outside to have a tour of her land, I think to myself; “not a lot of wall space, so she just builds these creative walls instead.” 

Cari tells me the story of how her curiosity with birds began, not only because she had a bird growing up but adopted 20 birds from a close friend of hers in Denver who could no longer keep them. “Signs would just appear everyday in my life … I went to this concert and I bought the CD and the CD was called ‘build the aviary’ and it had birds, white birds on the cover … not sure how much more sign the universe can give me. I’ve had them for 9 years.” 

Cari with some of her birds

“THE feeling of releasing a bird is so spiritual and so physical at the same time … emotions are so intangible. A lost loved one or even at a wedding, all those expectations – who you’re going to be for that person, what you’re going to do for the rest of your life, it’s so much expectation. So a lot of it is about that release. Just like for a wish or desire, if you hold on to that it’s never going to happen, it allows you to physically see the metaphysical representation. It’s just so powerful.”

Cari has had a successful dove release business where she would do just that: attend funerals, weddings, events and people would have this experience of letting go. Her birds are trained, so they fly home once released. She will be releasing her birds in the next few weeks and will continue this opportunity of letting go right here in the San Luis Valley. 

Holding the title “Pigeoneer,” Cari participated in a rooftop installation at The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver by idea-based artist Jon Rubin. Visitors could take a homing pigeon and release it, then the pigeon would fly back to the rooftop coop. There were over 1,000 successful flights. Find photos and more information about the project HERE;  the project website is HERE.

“When I do art for myself, it’s kind of a regurgitation of all that’s been going on in my head.”

There is a natural progression in our conversation that leads to this place of unexplained and intangible wonder. 

How do you create a work of art based on an idea that can’t be explained?  Cari investigates and is fascinated by symbols, everywhere; in paintings, in life, symbols and signs she recognises in her everyday life lead her to this process of unveiling concepts in a visual and tactile way. These symbols she utilizes throughout her work feel like connecting points to help create a throughline. 

“Connecting, that’s why I feel like us humans are here on earth. We’re having a spiritual experience and when you die you go back to the spiritual realm.”

“We all just go back to that, it’s hard to even understand that because who are you and who am I? Will I, Cari Conari, see Maddy? Maybe not, maybe!…Plants have a soul and a spirit. So for instance, calendula vs. yarrow, they’re different, but if you put them in water they both turn into alcohol, that’s the spirit. The essential oil is their soul. You know, clary sage smells different than lemon. We may both turn into alcohol, so to speak, or turn into the light or turn into eternal bliss of nothingness or everythingness or whatever, you’re unique. You have your essential oil.”

I had never heard of this kind of explanation before about spirit and soul. I think this piece of our conversation is pivotal in the sense that, of course we are all different, but in some ways we are very much the same. Though there are many different beliefs around why we (humans) are here and where we go when our time is done on earth, our essential oil, our soul, creates lingering remnants of our being. Art is life. 

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