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Serena Supplee
by Joan Gough
Serena Supplee graphics
Serena Supplee
Serena Supplee soon after coming to Moab

The art of Serena Supplee is familiar to most Moabites and visitors alike because most of us have purchased her cards over the years. What few know is that since the early 1980’s we have also been seeing Serena’s work on the Grand County Maintenance trucks, the Moab Area Travel Council sign, and the staff’s patches wherever Canyonlands Natural History Association (CNHA) has an outlet. Then there are the early Half Marathon T-shirts, the Fat Tire Festival posters, early Rim Cyclery and Rim Tours logos--all Supplee’s.

Like so many twenty-somethings in Moab even today, Serena worked several jobs, often all at the same time. After her first summer in 1980 when she lived with her aunt and uncle (Mary and Tom Rees) in Castle Valley, she started river guiding. From 1981 through 1983, she guided for Tag-a-Long Tours, and through 1988, she freelanced as a river guide for Ken Sleight Expeditions out of Green River and Wild Rivers in Bluff as well as Moab companies.

Two things pushed Serena to quit guiding in 1989. First, “I wasn’t getting any better as an artist; I just wasn’t painting enough.” And secondly, “About that same time I had a woman passenger on a San Juan River trip who wouldn’t get her feet in the mud. Her husband wouldn’t help her, so I carried her to and from the boat every night and morning. When we took out at Clay Hills there was a 100 yards of mud between the water and the gravel road. I carried her that entire distance and said, ‘That’s it! No more guiding!‘ Quitting was a scary step.”

Serena and Mary Mullen McGann started a T-shirt silk-screening business in 1985. In addition to the shirts for the early Half Marathon and a variety of designs for Rim Cyclery, they printed shirts for Sherri Griffith Expeditions, Wild Rivers, the Slick Rock Trail and many local events including protests of the nuclear waste repository proposed for Lavendar Canyon (next to Canyonlands National Park). She worked with Eleanor Inskip, then director of CNHA, designing logos, coloring pages for young visitors, and signs for the national parks served by CNHA. In 1990, she got out of the T-shirt business and started focusing on painting.

All of this time Serena had been designing her watercolor cards which were originally hand painted. The sale of cards took off in 1989. “Just recently a woman from Carbondale, Colorado called and said, ‘I’ve had your card Swirling Sandstone since 1989, and it is looking rather dusty and frayed. Could I get a new one?’ This happens several times a year.”

Serena Supplee_Pockets of Power
Pockets of Power

Today, Serena is painting what she wants. She says it was 2006 before she could support herself solely as a fine artist. Recently she had a show in Page, Arizona at the John Wesley Powell Museum. The museum web page describes Serena as a “True Plateau artist: Over the last few decades, few artists have connected with and expressed the Colorado Plateau at the same level Supplee has.” The Page City Council declared March 4th through the 10th “Serena Supplee Week” to kick off the exhibit which opened March 8 to a “full house of local residents and dedicated Supplee art enthusiasts.”

On May 25th, Serena opened at the St. George Art Museum. This show runs through September 25th. As well as the shows, she is now publishing calendars which are labor intensive, but give her another format for expression. The other format that is relatively new for Serena is her book of paintings and poetry, Inner Gorge Metaphors, which is nearly sold out of it’s second printing.

Art collectors are recognizing Serena’s work. “The last few years at the Grand Canyon Plein Air Festival, I’ve sold to collectors, and a group of Utah collectors are coming from Salt Lake to look at my work. They mainly collect dead artist’s work, but are making an exception for mine.”

Serena Supplee sculpture
Rest Assured protecting Serena Supplee

There have always been lovers and collectors of her work here in Moab. As fellow artist Jacci Weller observed, “Serena’s work represents the art and artist of Moab. She is part of my first impression of this area.” Who can say how many people came here to see those fanciful sandstone forms in person after getting one of Serena’s cards from a friend.

It is easy to think we know Serena’s work from her cards, but that is like thinking we know the Colorado River after a drive up the River Road. Her work has evolved and matured over the years, and she is still sharing it with us. Next time you go to the Moab City Offices to pay your water bill or walk past Dixie Park--the pocket park on the corner of 300 South and 400 East--take a look at Serena’s more recent contributions to the community in the form of her large, sandstone-inspired sculptures. Jazz Cat sits regally in front of the brick wall in the Moonstone Gallery. Rest Assured in Dixie Park invites you to sit in the shade of its sheltering wings, especially this time of year.


Serena Supplee_Singing Green
Singing Green
Serena Supplee _ card
notecard design


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