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Most articles about artist Ginny Ruffner begin with an account of her recovery from a 1991 car crash, and it's easy to see why.

Ruffner was driving near her parents' home in North Carolina when she was struck head-on by an errant teenage driver. She suffered a massive head injury and lapsed immediately into a coma. Doctors weren't sure she would live. Even when Ruffner opened her eyes five months later, she couldn't speak, see clearly or move the left side of her body.

So the fact that Ruffner is once again a prolific artist, not to mention a fully functioning adult, is nothing short of astounding. Maybe that's why so much of her post-accident work reflects an intense joy, a love of science and a fascination with the mysteries of life.

"All my 3-D work, whether glass sculpture, installation, public art or steel-and-glass sculpture, provokes the viewer to think," she says in an artist's statement submitted with her exhibit. "There are enough visual clues provided to stimulate the viewer to either construct a narrative or investigate deeper the meanings created by [my] recognizable imagery."

Ruffner's art is in 30 museums around the world, but she's never displayed her work in Utah until now. "Aesthetic Engineering," a series of 11 metal-and-glass sculptures, opened Saturday in the main gallery of the Kimball Art Center in Park City, where it will remain on display until Jan. 10.

Ruffner says the sculptures were inspired by recent developments in genetic engineering that allow animals and plants to share genes. In her fertile mind, this creates infinite possibilities for new genetic traits - and hybridlike sculptures with titles like "The Garden Inside a Seashell."

The works in the "Aesthetic Engineering" series combine bronze, stainless steel and colored glass to create "visual thought experiments" (Ruffner's term) that suggest wondrous new plant forms. Many are large, as tall as 6 feet, and adorned with glass flowers and symbolic shapes. Ambitious and ornate, they sell for as much as $90,000.

Now in her mid-50s, Ruffner lives in Seattle in a large brick house with a studio and a teeming garden that often serves to inspire her work. Although her voice is still weak, she can walk slowly and even exercise at the gym. Assistants help her assemble her sculptures. Like many people with a second choice, Ruffner has embraced life to the fullest, and it shows in her artwork.

"Specifically, my art has asked questions about beauty, origins, myths, containment, physics, math and the nature and history of art," she says. "It has increasingly reflected my wonder at the beauty in everything, especially in the way things work."

* "GINNY RUFFNER: AESTHETIC ENGINEERING" will continue through Jan. 10 in the main gallery of the Kimball Art Center, 638 Park Ave., Park City. Admission is free. For more information, call 435-649-8882 or visit