Cid Collins Walker doesn’t have children, but, she said, it feels as though she has just given birth to a child she carried for three years.
In October, the Laurel artist and filmmaker wrapped up post-production of her first full-length documentary. The film tells the story of 86-year-old Utah artist Anna Campbell Bliss, who has been working on small- and large-scale paintings, prints and sculptures for more than 50 years. The 52-minute film premieres 7 p.m. March 19 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in the District.
“But just like when you have a child, next comes finding a place for it in the world,” Walker, 59, said of her film, which she started working on in July 2008.
The film, “Arc of Light: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss,” is one of 64 that will be screened at the museum as part of the 20th annual Environmental Film Festival.
Flo Stone, festival founder and president, said the film was chosen because of Bliss’s use of science and the environment in her work, which often depicts the Utah landscape.
“You see in the film that she’s inspired by the natural world,” Stone said. “I think the arts take people into the environment in really strong ways.”
Walker met Bliss more than 20 years ago, when Walker was a young artist growing up in Salt Lake City, and Bliss has remained a major influence in Walker’s art as it has evolved from oil painting to multimedia to film.
“I thought carefully about what I wanted to make my film about,” said Walker, who makes her living in TV production and has worked for Discovery Networks, National Geographic, Black Entertainment Television and Voice of America. “You have to know your subject, because you’re living with it day and night.”
Bliss said she had mixed emotions about her life story being documented and wouldn’t have gone ahead with the project without knowing Walker as a friend and fellow artist.
“I think [Walker] did a good job with it,” Bliss said. “She’s been an adventurous artist in her own work, and it shows in the film.”
The familiarity between Walker and Bliss is evident in the film, Stone said.
“The interviews are so strong in this film,” Stone said. “The subjects seem so relaxed with the interviewers, and the discussion is in-depth.”
Walker shot 15 hours of interviews for the film, which was funded largely by donations, and then recruited her husband, freelance journalist Richard Walker, to write and edit the script, turning the interviews into a cohesive story. She declined to provide the cost of the effort.
“It was a daunting task,” said Walker, who has made short films before but never a full-length feature. “But I wanted Anna to tell her own story.”
Bliss was educated at Wellesley College in art history and mathematics and at Harvard University in architecture.
Her work blends art with computer science, engineering and technology, an approach she said is influenced by the Bauhaus school, a German school of design from the 1920s. She works both on a small scale and in large environmental installations, with several works commissioned by the state of Utah and Salt Lake City. One of her more recent pieces, “Extended Vision,” finished in 2003, is an installation of 100 aluminum panels on three floors of the Cowles mathematics building at the University of Utah. The panels are screen-printed and laser-etched with visual references to mathematic principles and math in nature.
“She’s doing work at 86 that’s more cutting-edge, more important than all the young artists combined,” Walker said.
Bliss said she doesn’t see herself quite in those terms but said she has pushed the boundaries in her art more for herself than for the sake of recognition.
“Sometimes I’m in fashion, sometimes I’m not,” Bliss said.
Walker said she also wanted to document Bliss’s life, as Bliss’s story hasn’t been told to many outside of Utah and because, as a woman, Bliss’s work and influence have been less celebrated than they deserve.
“Women have had a hard time getting where they are, through systems where history is being chronicled,” Walker said.
And, she said, if some people find her story compelling, like her move west to follow her husband’s career in academia or when she lost and regained her eyesight in 2004, that’s a bonus.
“I hope it will be helpful to other women, because there have certainly been difficulties over the years, and making it in this world this day and age can be hard,” Bliss said. “It might encourage women to see someone my age, still working.”
For more information on the Environmental Film Festival, visit www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org.