Stepping stones

Carole-Ann Ricketts

Carole-Ann Ricketts uses stones in her paintings as metaphors for adapting to life in a new culture.

Carole-Ann Ricketts uses stones in her paintings as metaphors for adapting to life in a new culture.


Habitat by Carole-Ann Ricketts, is up at McKinley Arts & Culture Center, 925 Riverside Drive, through Aug. 11. A reception is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. July 6.

Carole-Ann Ricketts has lived in the United States for close to 15 years, but the feelings of being a newcomer stand out fresh in her mind—and her work. The British artist is now settled and happy, but that was not the case when she first made the move to the United States. Her newest exhibit, Habitat, reflects her life—which has been full of beauty and adaptation—through the most basic of items, stones.

Growing up in Wales, Ricketts used to climb on big “standing stones” that ran across her family’s property, which sat atop an old hill fort from the Iron Age. Standing stones are large, ancient upright stones (think Stonehenge), and their placement on her family’s land was said to have mythical alignment. Her mother, a holistic therapist, and father, an environmental scientist, taught Ricketts to look to the physical environment for inspiration. The magical energy of her homeland was special to Ricketts, and the area “always had a pull.”

As an adult, Ricketts moved to South Beach, a neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida, and struggled to find where she fit in. Even the language felt foreign.

“It’s supposed to be English, but it’s not English,” Ricketts said with a smile. Jokes went over her head, and things she said often left people confused or shocked, as her words had much different meanings in the States.

People in Florida were quick to try to define her. They thought she must believe and act a certain way politically or socially because she was white, middle-class and spoke English. She wanted the freedom to be herself. But the collision of old culture with new left Ricketts feeling lost as to who she was as a person and as an artist. And the judgments of others crippled her creativity.

“Coming to America, I was dazed,” she said. “The idea was that we were in a melting pot, but the reality was there are separations. I went through a period when I first moved where I couldn’t make anything.”

It wasn’t until she moved to Reno in 2004 that she found a landing place where she could regain her bearings and rediscover her art. Reno’s welcoming art scene embraced Ricketts with no pretense and gave her strength to create and find herself again as an artist.

“It’s not fake,” she said. “They let you do your thing. I love that!”

Channeling her triumph over the tribulations with moving cultures and countries, and her love of nature, Ricketts developed Habitat, currently on display at McKinley Arts & Culture Center.  

The collection of prints, paintings and ceramics tell the story of an immigrant in two worlds that sometimes meld and other times clash. Oval shapes representing stones adorn every piece in one way or another. Some of the stones are aligned in an orderly way, such as in a three-by-four-foot painting titled “Manorbier Cairn.” The stones in it are organized and stacked in order of size, the biggest on the bottom, like a tall snowman made of rocks against a coastal vista of blue and green. The top few rocks look like they could be teetering, eager to move. But they stay put.

Transitions can be painful. Taking inspiration from the landscape of her youth and her current surroundings in Northern Nevada, Carole-Ann Ricketts’ exhibition captures and displays the feelings behind this common human experience.