Anna Campbell Bliss, 85, is a local artist, architect and designer who blends technology, nature and math to give SLC's public spaces a unique ambiance. She studied with artists of the '20s from Germany's Bauhaus school and is a pioneer for women in higher education, modern art and architecture.
She finished her 36-foot mural, Let Their Spirits Soar, at the University of Utah's College of Nursing in November - twelve individual panels with silhouettes of dancers across a Utah landscape. Now, she's looking forward to two things, resting before she takes on any new projects and completion of the film about her life and work.
"It's frightening sometimes, because you don't recognize yourself too well," Bliss says. "But the filmmakers are all doing a good job, and it's interesting to see another persons' vision of you."
Executive producer/director, Cid Collins Walker, invited SLmag to a reception and preview of the movie, ARC OF LIGHT: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss, at the Bliss' home on Jan. 28 - the night before the Sundance Film Festival 2011 awards night.
Collins Walker plans to finish the film by September for submission to Sundance 2012.
"Principal photography on the film is done," she says. "We have quite a bit of editing on the film left that we hope to release later this year, probably by summer."
More than 40 hours have been shot, and now Collins Walker is trying to edit it down to about 45 minutes. "But that's not uncommon for a documentary, particularly for historical documentaries when you're doing a lot of interviews," she says. Close to 20 interviews were filmed with Campbell Bliss' admirers and colleagues throughout the feature. Collins Walker also gathered archival footage and photos from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Black Mountain College and the Bauhaus school.
"We began shooting in 2008, but I met Anna in the '70s, so I've known her the better part of my adult life," says Collins Walker. "It was probably only four years ago I decided to make this documentary."
Beforehand, Collins Walker worked as a designer for television and short films. She graduated in painting from Scripps College in Claremont, California and received a fellowship with the Whitney Museum of American. ARC OF LIGHT will be her first feature-length film.
"I think Anna and I have a lot in common; it may take me longer, but I want the final product to reflect precision, power and beauty," she says.
For Kimberly Skyrme, marketing and distribution director of the film, it's also about promoting women's equality. "To meet and know a woman, who studied at a time when women were not even going to college, and then studying architecture and forging ahead in a male-dominated field, is personally compelling."
Skyrme says the project still needs another $25,000. "Typically, a budget for a documentary is more like $100-200,000, and we're operating on less than $50,000 to get it out there."
Two screenings were held at the reception, both met with applause and enthusiasm. Along with a free DVD of what's been released of the film so far, guests at the reception went home with envelopes to mail donations.
"It really has been the $25 checks or the $100 checks from individuals, who have been generous enough to support this story, that's kept it going," Collins Walker says.
Ben Butler, Campbell Bliss' assistant, played bartender at the reception and feels more like a close-family friend. "My first experience with her was actually helping her (organize for the printer) with her book, Art for a House of Mathematics," he says. "She's a gifted writer, and the depth of Anna's work amazes me."
Butler helps Bliss by adjusting images on Photoshop or mixing paint. He's only seen small parts of the film, but can't wait for the final product.
"She couldn't have finished the Nursing College project without Ben and her other assistant, Trent," says Robert Lewis Bliss, Anna's husband. "My favorite piece by her is probably one that's in our house. It's the Deep Sea, the big tsunami wave, but she's so prolific; it's hard to pick just one."
Jim Glenn, manager of the Utah Arts Council, works with Campbell Bliss on public art commissions. "Working on deadlines and all of that is really stressful for her, but I'd welcome her work any time," he says.
"I've known her a long, long time," says Edie Roberson, a local artist and friend. "From the film, I learned a lot about her that I never even knew, and now I'm even more impressed by her. She deserves everything she gets as far as accolades."
You can see Anna Campbell Bliss' artwork at the Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City International Airport, St. Thomas More Catholic Church and the Leroy Cowles Mathematics Building and College of Nursing at the University of Utah.
In addition to Sundance, Collins Walker and Skyrme plan to submit the film to Toronto International Film Festival and several women's film festivals. Campbell Bliss has lived and worked in Salt Lake City for nearly 50 years.
Her advice to anyone who wants to follow her steps: "Just get to work."
"It's like a fountain, you have to keep filling it with inspiration from different sources and developing your own attitudes toward things."