Artist Gina Teichert’s unsettling painting, “Atomic Madonna,” highlights the nuclear legacy of the Great Basin at Springville Museum’s 99th annual Spring Salon. It was one of 290 works selected from 1,100 entries during a highly selective jury process. Riffing off the classic mother and child motif favored by the artist’s great grandmother, Minerva Teichert, “Atomic Madonna” looks to the past and possibly the future. It’s a quiet pastoral painting with a twist. Behind the figures, a nuclear bomb is blasted – a scene that feels like science fiction but was ripped from the history books.
Known as downwinders, residents of sparsely populated communities in the Great Basin and Four Corners region endured the worst of America’s continental nuclear testing. Plagued by ongoing health problems and political gaslighting, uranium workers, farms, and families were left as collateral damage in the country’s so-called “cold” war.
For Teichert, a Utah-born, Nevada-raised artist, stories of atomic testing hit close to home. Often featuring strong women as central figures, Teichert’s subjects represent family, friends, and sometimes herself. Instead of looking to the blast, the mother in “Atomic Madonna” looks to the viewer and beyond – perhaps to those responsible for putting their lives at risk.
“With renewed interest in nuclear technology and a whole lot of saber-rattling going on abroad, I think it’s important to revisit this chapter of American history and learn from it,” Teichert says of Cold War era weapons testing. Including sheep in the work was also important to the artist, who calls on their literal and allegorical connection to the subject matter. “Sheep represent many things – innocence and faith, but also vulnerability and herd mentality. The work is a reminder to ask hard questions of our leaders and to view public policy with a healthy dose of skepticism,” she continues.
Teichert believes art institutions can serve as forums for deeper discussion and the topic of our country’s military history as a timely one. “I’m honored to be included in this year’s Spring Salon given that I was born 10 miles from Springville. More importantly, ‘Atomic Madonna’s’ relevance to audiences who visit the museum is unparalleled. Their parents and grandparents lived through the Cold War, and many remember the bomb drills. I’m grateful to have a venue to showcase the work and hope the exhibition can spark deeper conversations about the tests’ impacts on families and communities throughout the West.”
Springville Museum is admission free. The Spring Salon opens with a reception on April 26 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and will remain on view through July 8.
The artist will be in Utah for the exhibit’s opening and is available for media interviews that may be coordinated upon request.