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Petroglyph Preservations, Voices from the Past:
Arlene Meade Connolly, Artist / Preservationist

by Wanda McKenna

Arlene Meade Connolly’s passion for petroglyphs has motivated her to develop an artistic career emphasizing preservation and recycling. Lost history plus the effects of vandalism and natural erosion on rock art panels is this Nevada artist’s motivation to create painted paper-cast rock facsimiles that replicate ancestral art.

A professional artist and teacher living in Nevada, Connolly studies and preserves the ancient messages. She visits each site to sketch and photograph rock art, then recreates the ancient message in a 3-D effect on pH-neutralized, recycled paper, adding minerals to her secret recipe. Minus bullet holes and graffiti, this work is as close to the original design as possible. Preserving these treasures from the past so that others can appreciate them is the impetus behind her efforts.

Not only is Connolly an artist, but she is an historian as well. She has studied the history of the inhabitants who made the petroglyphs. Through extensive research, Connolly was able to re-construct a series of the lost petroglyphs of Glen Canyon: these messages were once drowned by the waters of Lake Powell. She is an avid reader of archaeological research and seeks to understand the petroglyph messages. Legends, mythologies, and ceremonies are often tied into the meaning of the petroglyph left behind for us to attempt to decipher.

“When I stand in front of rock art, time dissolves, the ancients reach out through the past to present a message written in stone,” Connolly said. ”At that moment, the message is there for me. Currently I am studying the connection and similarities of rock art around the world. I have found a site in Arizona that is almost identical to one in Italy and another in Kyrzurkistan! Wouldn’t it be spectacular if the world suddenly realized that we are all one? Is it possible that our differences could dissolve?”

She speaks animatedly about her artwork and the process she undertakes to achieve the beautiful recreations of the life-like petroglyphs. Her work is truly a labor of love. Connolly’s work is found in numerous private collections around the world, and its popularity is growing. Her latest involvement is in setting up an educational art exhibit for the Winter Olympics to be held in Salt Lake City. This February exhibit will showcase petroglyphs and pictographs from the Great Basin.

Connolly never thought she would be an artist. One of her brothers used to spend all day doing art, and to her, it just seemed boring to sit around all day long and draw.

But one college course in speech opened the doors to art as expression. Instead of writing a paper describing her life, ambitions, hopes and dreams, Connolly’s professor allowed her to paint it.

“That was my first real opportunity to use symbolism to express myself. I got an “A” and continued to use painting as a form of communication.”

Connolly painted using oils, acrylics, and watercolors all throughout college, but pursued a degree in teaching English at the secondary level. She taught theatre and English classes, sixth through 8th grade, and then switched to an alternative high school where art once again became a way for students to expand their communication skills.

Weekends were spent camping and exploring the wilderness areas of Utah. After a trip to Mesa Verde in Colorado, Connolly was inspired by the cliff dwellings and the ancient messages left behind.

 “That did it for me. All of a sudden, I realized how precious these messages are. The expression people use about how something is NOT written in stone takes on a whole new meaning. Here is something that WAS WRITTEN IN STONE! It must be important!”

Her English background and love of reading was expanded to include legends and myths of ancient cultures. The native mythologies, ceremonies, and legends all go hand-in-hand with the petroglyphs and pictographs. She discovered the link with aboriginal mythologies and now wants to incorporate a global connection of rock art and indigenous peoples stories.

There are creation stories, flood stories, cosmic occurrences, and mystical encounters with the Great Spirit all over the planet. It is her belief that the messages left behind are still applicable to us today.

“Each person that connects with my work, connects to a message for them. Some people cry, some are speechless. There is an intuitive interaction that occurs. It is almost like a light turned on. The light has certainly been turned on for me. When I stand in front of rock art, messages come flooding into me. This is something I don’t usually talk about because it sounds so quirky, but once someone else feels it, they know what I am talking about.”

Connolly lived at Bullfrog Marina at Lake Powell for almost four years with her Game Warden husband Mark, and her two sons, Erik and Shaun. During that time, she researched the archives to find photos of Glen Canyon before the dam was built. From that research, she re-created some of the lost petroglyphs of Glen Canyon.

Her restless nature pushed her on to more sites in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Alaska, and Missouri. When her husband retired in 1999, the family moved to Lake Tahoe, Nevada. “Nevada is an under-appreciated state. I would like to do more research there and bring the petroglyphs forward.”

One thing most impressive about Connolly is her passion for her life’s work. She gets excited when she talks about the places she has been and the connection to the meaning of life. Her optimism is contagious. She truly appreciates the messages left behind and is grateful for the opportunity to work in this fashion.

When questioned about being a starving artist, her reply was: “Sometimes I berate myself about not having a regular job or not being able to buy things for my kids. But then I remember that I have a regular job, it just isn’t like anyone else’s. I am doing something that I feel is important for the history of our world. Whenever I am grateful, the heart opens up and everything else follows. Life is abundant. That is apparent to me every time I visit a cliff dwelling. There is enough food and shelter for all.”

Connolly has a wall full of awards. Her work is in museums, corporate offices, and private collections around the world, and soon at the Winter Olympics on display for the world’s athletes. Her dreams of going global seem well within reach.

Connolly’s artwork can be seen seven days a week at “The ARTeri’ Antique & Fine Art Gallery,” located at 10 Bell Rock Plaza in the Village of Oak Creek, on Hwy. 179 just south of Bell Rock Blvd. You may call 284-2555 for additional information or directions.

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