Marilyn "Angel" Wynn grew up in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and spent her young adulthood pursuing an art career. When she was in her 30s, she took a job as a mining prospector in Arizona. Suddenly, she found herself embedded in a rough-and-tumble crew of geologists and miners.
"They always called me their angel, because I was the only gal on the job," Wynn recollects. "One night, they went out to dinner and I stayed back to plot some findings. They came back at one in the morning, drunk, with a belt for me that said 'Angel' on it." From then on, Wynn went by Angel.
After the Arizona job ended, she took another prospecting gig in Sun Valley, Idaho, and staked mining claims all across the West. She became a filmmaker, and then a photographer specializing in Western imagery.
You might imagine Wynn as a New Woman of the American West, coming into her own in the 1880s. In fact, she started prospecting a century later, in 1980. After 33 years in Sun Valley, she moved to Santa Fe in 2012 and took up her art practice again in a home studio on Canyon Road. Now she exhibits her mixed media photographs in a six- person artist cooperative called 7 Arts Gallery on Lincoln Avenue. Much like her life, Wynn's artwork feels firmly embedded in history.
"I'm going to add a couple more layers of wax to create that translucent, dream-like feel," Wynn says. She's brushing one of her photographs with encaustic and passing a blowtorch across its surface. It's a black-and-white image of a buffalo, but with each layer of wax it takes on a richer tone of sepia. Sometimes she'll add oil or pastel pigments to the mix, giving Western wildlife, landscapes and people the Technicolor feel of a midcentury postcard.
Encaustics were first used in Egypt in 300 BC, Wynn notes. "Using an ancient painting medium on images you're trying to make nostalgic is really wonderful. I want these works to look like they were in an attic for 100 years."
Wynn is particularly interested in the untold stories of women. "A lot of women throughout history, their stories have been buried," she says. "Now that we have women historians, they're digging deep to find really unique stories." A recent body of work depicts women who followed their husbands and lovers into battle during the Mexican Revolution. Known as Adelitas, they acted as cooks, medics and soldiers throughout the decade-long conflict.
The artist cobbled together a visual record of these women for her Adelitas series, and filled in the gaps with new portraits of models in period garb. Using her encaustic painting technique, she united the old and new photographs in a colorful retelling of the conflict from the perspective of the women who were in it. Her first exhibition of the series sold out at Gallery 901 last summer, and she's producing another round of works to show in summer 2017.
The Annual Manual's cover image is from an array of works that Wynn calls her "Warhols," which depict Western imagery with 1960s flair. Even with its pop art-inspired stripes, the artwork has a strong regional provenance: Wynn chopped up the photograph and attached it to weathered wooden boards. It's a portrait of the West's most legendary beast, atop the fence slats that annexed its territory.
Wynn relates to the buffalo's wild persistence in face of obstacles. "Life is this rollercoaster, and I've just learned to go with the punches," she says. "Those are the things that build character, and make your life more interesting."