Communicating Through Craft: A Profile of Aaron Hughes

portrait of Aaron Hughes working at the press in the letterpress studio

 

Art, activism, performance, protest—for Aaron Hughes, the lines between them are blurred and insignificant. “All my work is about creating stories and sharing stories,” he explains. “I’m trying to find space for people to bridge the divides we have in our world through art and through stories.”

As a veteran who served in Iraq and Kuwait for fifteen months in 2003-2004, Aaron is sharply aware of those divides. His deployment introduced him to a rougher and more complex world than he’d known growing up in the Midwest. “I felt like the ideas from my upbringing, my religion, my country didn’t make sense anymore,” he remembers. “But what did make sense was art. I felt like art was something I could invest in and believe in and put my energy into. It was something creative and not destructive.”

Aaron came home from his deployment determined to use art as a tool to generate conversations and connections about difficult topics like war, trauma, and oppression. In 2006 he graduated from the University of Illinois with a BFA in painting, and in 2009 he received his MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University. Then he went on to work with organizations such as the National Veterans Art Museum, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the Center for Artistic Activism.

 

Drawing from the series 21 Days to Baghdad/Chicago

One of the pieces from “21 Days to Baghdad/Chicago,” a collection of drawings and maps Aaron made after returning to Illinois from his deployment.

 

In the summer of 2013, Aaron came to Penland for the first time with a Windgate Charitable Fund Scholarship. “I had spent so much time helping others to tell their stories and listening to other people’s stories that I had neglected any kind of personal work I needed to do,” Aaron explains. “I applied to Penland as a part of my transition back to focusing on my own art practice.”

He has returned to Penland each summer since to take classes in the printmaking and letterpress studios. “One reason I’m super invested in the printmaking program is that I’m interested in the way printmaking and politics can help to popularize language, stories, and movements,” he says. The connection is clear for Aaron: “Your ability to communicate lies in your ability to execute a craft. That’s what I’ve been gaining each time I come to Penland—the opportunity to develop my craft and to improve my communication skills.”

Aaron readily admits, however, that his time at Penland has been about more than gaining skills in the studio. “Penland is a generous space for me as a veteran,” he explains. “It’s a place of transformation and growth and learning. I’ve been encouraging other veterans to apply there because it’s such a healing, generative space.”

When he’s at Penland, Aaron describes himself as a “studio hound.” “I just want to make, make, make, make, make,” he laughs. But Aaron also values the quieter, more contemplative moments on campus. He describes the short walk back from dinner to the print studio: “There’s a little bench that’s halfway. I’ve often enjoyed sitting there, embracing the evening as it approaches and watching the Appalachian dusk. It’s so beautiful—transcendently beautiful. And I just sit in between all this creativity and embrace the present moment of being there. I feel like that’s healing. That’s wholesome for anybody.”

–Sarah Parkinson

 

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Thank You, Mary Ann!

Mary Ann 1994

Mary Ann Scherr in the Penland metals studio, 1994. Photo by Ann Hawthorne.

We are sorry to report that metalsmith, designer, educator, and Penland’s great friend Mary Ann Scherr died at her home in Raleigh, NC on March 1. Mary Ann, who famously never looked her age, was 94 years old.

She first taught at Penland in 1968 and went on to teach at the school at least 37 times. She served on the board of trustees and contributed to every benefit auction. Her broad knowledge of metalsmithing and design made it possible for her to teach students of almost any skill level or area of interest. She pioneered the use of exotic metals in adornment and received international attention for her development of decorative electronic body monitors. She was known for her work combining drawing and metals, and she had extensive experience in product design and production work. She was able to incorporate all of these interests into her teaching.

Mary Ann was trained at the Cleveland Institute of Art, The University of Akron, Kent State University, The New School, and Durham Tech Computer Center. She served as head of the product design department at Parsons School of Design, and was on the faculty of Duke University, Meredith College, and North Carolina State University. She also taught at Arrowmont and Haystack and led dozens of workshops at universities across the country.

Her work is found in many permanent collections, including The Vatican Museum of Art in Rome, The Metropolitan Museum, The Museum of Arts and Design, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Smithsonian Institution-Medical Division, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her work is also in a number of well-known private collections including Liz Claiborne, Helen Drutt, the Knapp Jewelry Collection, U.S. Steel Corporation, and the Alcoa Company.

In addition to her metalsmithing and jewelry design, Mary Ann worked at Ford Motor Company, designing hubcaps, hood ornaments, and instrument panels; she and her late husband, Sam, ran an industrial design firm that produced designs for Tappan, Hoover, and Rubbermaid; she made illustrations for children’s books; and a cookie jar she designed found its way into Andy Warhol’s private collection and then onto the front page of the New York Times when it sold for $19,000 at Sotheby’s.

Mary Ann Scherr at Penland

Mary Ann and her friend Charlotte Wainwright at Penland’s 2008 Annual Benefit Auction, when Mary Ann was honored as that year’s Outstanding Artist Educator. Charlotte was the founding director of the Gregg Museum of Art & Design at North Carolina State University. Photo by Robin Dreyer

Her list of awards includes an honorary doctorate from Defiance College in Ohio, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Distinguished Women of North Carolina Award, the North Carolina Governor’s Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of North American Goldsmiths, and she was a fellow of the American Craft Council. In 2008, she was honored as a Penland School of Crafts Outstanding Artist Educator.

Penland has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of Mary Ann’s knowledge and generosity. And for her, the connection was a very personal one. In an interview several years ago she said, “For more than forty years, Penland has remained positively important in my life. As the world moves, so does Penland in its own way, and it offers me an opportunity to grow with it. Each time I go back, I find new ways of thinking.”

Mary Ann was predeceased by Sam Scherr, her husband of 54 years, and is survived by a daughter, Sydney, who lives in Malaysia, two sons, Randy, and Scott, daughter-in-law, Debora, and grandson Dylan, all from Raleigh.

The family asks that memorial contributions be directed to the Gregg Museum of Art & Design (516 Brickhaven Dr Suite 200, Raleigh, NC 27606) or to Penland School (PO Box 37, Penland, NC, 28765) where The Mary Ann Scherr Metals Scholarship has been created in her honor. (You can also contribute to that fund here; just put “Mary Ann Scherr Scholarship” in the “additional gift information” field.)

You can read more about Mary Ann’s life in this article from NC State and in this oral history from the Archives of American Art.

 

Mary Ann Scherr, Neck Lace

Mary Ann’s extraordinary piece titled “Neck-Lace” was presented to the Museum of Arts and Design by a group of donors at Penland’s 2015 Annual Benefit Auction. The piece is made from 14K gold with 50 diamonds. Photo by Mercedes Jelinek

 

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Photo of the Week: TV Crew at The Barns

Seth Gould on Craftsmans Legacy

This crew, from the TV show A Craftsman’s Legacy, was at Penland last week filming in the studio of resident artist Seth Gould (in the gray and white check shirt). That’s host Eric Gorges (in the blue and black check shirt) next to Seth. The weird thing on the tripod is a camera jib. There’s a camera on one end and a counterweight and monitor on the other.

The show is available online and also airs on CreateTV. We don’t know when Seth’s episode will be available, but we’ll keep you posted.

 

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Illuminating a Community

Jack Mackie posing with a handful of the week's glass orbs. At right is a close-up of the glass pieces layered inside one of the metal baskets that will adorn the installation.

Jack Mackie posing with a handful of the week’s glass orbs. At right is a close-up of the glass pieces layered inside one of the metal baskets that will adorn the Burnsville Gateway installation.

 

Jack Mackie does not identify as a glass artist, nor has he studied the art of blowing glass. But this January, he came to Penland for a week of winter residency in the hot glass studio with some big ideas. “I’m a public artist,” he explains. “The project is the medium, and I make the framework.”

The project that brought him to Penland is the Burnsville Gateway, a public art installation planned for the nearby town of Burnsville, NC as part of the North Carolina Arts Council’s SmART Initiative. The initiative aims to use art to build stronger communities and economies, and those goals have been at the forefront of Jack’s mind throughout the design phase. “There’s a deep tradition of craft here, of quilts, of weaving, of pottery, of baskets, and of glass,” he explains. “One of the things that I wanted to help illuminate through this project is the community of glass that is here, to give prominence to something so special about the area that is not always visible.”

 

group shot of the artists outside the studio

The Burnsville Gateway artists. From left: Kenny Pieper, Dave Wilson, Courtney Dodd, Rob Levin, Hayden Wilson, and Jack Mackie. Photo via Courtney Dodd.

 

To that end, Jack brought a team of skilled local glass artists with him to Penland: Courtney Dodd, Rob Levin, Kenny Pieper, Dave Wilson, and Hayden Wilson. Together, they worked to create the first glass prototypes for the Burnsville installation, filling the studio with between 800 and 1000 blown-glass pieces in the course of a week. “This artwork is being made by the people who live here,” Jack states. “I simply am providing—conceptually and literally—the frame that their glass artwork is going into.”

Jack’s vision for Burnsville is expansive and draws on the town’s artistic heritage, mountains, history, and designation as one of only a handful of “Dark Sky” communities in the country. At the center of his plans is the telescope, which he connects both to the town’s past (Burnsville’s founder, Otway Burns, was a naval hero who used a telescope in navigation) and its future (a large public telescope and observatory is being planned for the nearby Star Park). The central feature of Jack’s installation will be six giant “telescopes”—towering columns of illuminated metal and glass that stand at the entrances to the town, three on each side, viewable from the highway as visitors crest the hill.

 

rendering of the Burnsville Gateway installation

Sketch of the telescope columns and surrounding landscape architecture planned for one end of the Burnsville Gateway.

 

It was these telescopes that the team focused on during their week at Penland. Each one measures between twenty-four and thirty feet tall and features “baskets” of blown glass orbs held in by a sturdy wire mesh. At first, Jack envisioned each telescope as a different color, but a sunset one evening changed his mind. “I was driving, and I looked in my rearview mirror,” he tells me. “I saw the colors of the sunset and I thought, ‘That’s it!’” Now, the telescopes on the east entrance to town feature gradations of the yellows and pinks of sunrise, while the western telescopes boast the intense oranges and purples of early evening. From a distance, the reflective rainbow effect of all that glass is quite stunning. “It’s so much more than my color sketches,” Jack comments. “It’s light moving through color held in the medium of glass.”

Up close, the telescopes maintain their power to draw the viewer in. Rather than simply creating smooth, hollow globes, Jack’s team of glass artists created richly-textured shapes—some are ridged and round, while others are curved and spiraling or bulbous or decorated with diamond patterns or delicate bubbles beneath the surface. “I like that each one is different, that they’re tactile and engaging, that people can reach in and experience the glass,” Jack says. “In a society where more and more things are built uniformly and built by the billions, to have these handmade pieces as part of our civic public infrastructure was very attractive to me.”

 

glass artists at work

At left, Hayden Wilson, Rob Levin, and Kenny Pieper at work blowing forms. At right, Courtney Dodd finishing a piece before it goes into the annealer.

 

Over the next couple months, Jack and his team will be busy fabricating hundreds more glass orbs for the project, which will likely involve at least one more trip to Penland and possibly the participation of a few other local glass artists. “We couldn’t make this happen without the vision and ability of these artists and a place like Penland for people to come together to work,” Jack notes. “I want to give these artists ownership of the project and at the same time funnel money into the local community through their work.”

The Burnsville Gateway—complete with the six telescope columns, as well as artistic benches, walkways, and other streetscape elements—is set to be installed sometime in the second half of 2017. When it is finished, it will be a testament to the creativity, skill, and vitality of the Burnsville community and the artists who built it piece by piece. “That’s one of the things that public art can do,” Jack concludes. “It can make a place unique, draw out its special qualities, and illuminate them. In our case, it will literally illuminate the quality of the work and the lives that are here.”

 

For more information on the project, the process, and the artists behind it, we highly recommend watching these two videos by local videographer Chanse Simpson.

Part 1: Telescope Gateways into Burnsville, NC

Part 2: Telescope Gateways into Burnsville, NC

 

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The Altered Image: Mixed-Media with Photography

Nick DeFord, “Cibola,” Hand-embroidery, Highlighter, White-out and adhesive stickers on found map

Nick DeFord, “Cibola,” hand embroidery, highlighter, Wite-Out, and adhesive stickers on found map

 

“The type of work I make is not the kind of thing I can speed up. It goes at the pace it goes,” says artist Nick DeFord. “It’s stitching. I can only do so many stitches.”

It’s easy to imagine stitching and to think of detailed quilts or elaborately-embroidered handkerchiefs. But to imagine those items is not to imagine the work that Nick makes. Nick stitches not to attach two surfaces or enhance them with detail, but to add meaning, distort meaning, change meaning.

“My work explores the visual culture of cartography, occult imagery, geographical souvenirs, and other structures of information that are altered to examine the relationship of identity, space, and place,” Nick explains. He often chooses a found object as a starting point—an old photograph, a map, or a page from a book. From there, he adds layers with paint, stickers, paper, yarn, or thread, adding dimensions to it or changing its context. “Embellishing the truth” is how Nick describes the process.

 

Nick DeFord, "Invasion," hand embroidery on paper, four panels, 13" x 13" each

Nick DeFord, “Invasion,” hand embroidery on paper, four panels, 13″ x 13″ each

 

This spring, Nick will bring his unique approach to the Penland studios for a 1-week workshop called The Altered Image: Mixed-Media with Photography. The class, which will run April 24-30, 2016, will focus on physically altering photographs through collage, drawing, painting, and embroidery. Each student will transform photographs into pieces of layered art—but whether those layers are supernatural, whimsical, spooky, romantic, contradictory, or something else all together will be entirely up to them. The image is just a starting point.

“If you like spirit photography and stitching, then this workshop is for you,” Nick states. Register for The Altered Image now.

 

Nick DeFord, "Lost" (detail), hand embroidery on found map, 19" x 27.5"

Nick DeFord, “Lost” (detail), hand embroidery on found map, 19″ x 27.5″

The Altered Image: Mixed-Media with Photography

Nick DeFord—Photographs are perceived to be artifacts of truth—but truth can easily be distorted, embellished, and exaggerated. This class will use embroidery, collage, and drawing/painting techniques to physically manipulate photographs as a metaphor for the psychological dissection of truth, memory, and time. We will work on photos brought from home and found photos (both from the physical world, but also the cyber world). While students are welcome to shoot and print digital photos during the workshop, we will not be using the darkroom, and the emphasis of the class will be on manipulation and embellishment after the photo has been printed. All levels. Code S03P

Studio artist and Program Director at Arrowmont (TN); teaching: University of Tennessee, Arizona State University; exhibitions: William King Museum (VA), Vanderbilt University (TN), University of Mississippi, Coastal Carolina University; collections; City of Phoenix (AZ).

nickdeford.com

 

Nick DeFord, "Give the Devil," hand embroidery and Scotch tape on book page, 7" x 7"

Nick DeFord, “Give the Devil,” hand embroidery and Scotch tape on book page, 7″ x 7″

 

 

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Photo of the Week: A Clay Circus

Janice Farley and her elephant sculptures

Elephant ceramics by Janice Farley

Winter resident Janice Farley spent six weeks in the clay studio exploring both functional and sculptural forms. The unifying theme? Elephants. Above, Janice poses with a selection of her pieces, including statues of circus elephants ready to be placed on starred pedestals, an elaborate bowl with elephants in low relief, and a mug with an elephant trunk as the handle. Two notable pieces in the second picture include a large blue apothecary jar embellished with the silhouettes of elephants and an ornate champagne holder with pink elephants around the base and rim. Elephant-astic!

 

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Printfest with Aimee Joyaux | April 10-16, 2016

Letterpress print on old ledger paper

Aimee Joyaux, “Posh RVA,” letterpress, rubber stamps, ledger paper, 16″ x 20″

 

“I love narratives,” says Aimee Joyaux. “Life is full of stories.”

As a mixed-media artist and educator for the past 30 years, Aimee’s life is certainly rich with stories—her childhood on the island of Maui, her time as a photographer for a local newspaper, the eleven years she and her husband spent renovating the historic Virginia cotton warehouse they now call home.

“My work examines contradiction and bias, situating a personal experience within a grand narrative through language, iconography, and gestural fields of color,” Aimee explains. “This engagement with cultural memory explores ideas of power and place.” All that, and Aimee manages to do it with a bit of fun and whimsy.

 

PAAL_Aimee_G_JHW_9648

When Aimee was able to salvage hundreds of printing plates from a seed and feed bag company in Richmond, VA in 2011, the plates and their history quickly worked their way into her explorations of narrative. Through Cornmeal Press, Aimee’s co-op community print factory, she and others have been telling stories of agriculture, local production, and the southern United States—with a personal twist. The prints draw on historical imagery but add new layers through color, text, paper, and composition so that each one also speaks of its maker.

 

letterpress print on old wallpaper

Aimee Joyaux, “Don’t Postpone Joy,” letterpress on hand-printed wallpaper, 24″ x 30″ (1 of 15)

 

This spring, Aimee will bring Cornmeal Press and her love of stories to Penland for a week-long printing spree appropriately titled Printfest. “It’ll be crafty and fun—perfect for those new to printing (we’ll cover lots of basics) and the old pros (they can crank out a bunch of work),” Aimee says. “Come on down to North Carolina and put a pig on it!”

Registration is currently open for Printfest, which will take place April 10-16, 2016. If you’d still like more information after reading the course description below, take a look at the Cornmeal Press page on Aimee’s website.

 

Three women working at a printing press

 

Printfest

Aimee Joyaux — This workshop will be a fun week of introductory printmaking using dozens of plates salvaged from a seed and feedbag company in Richmond, Virginia. We’ll mix and match chickens, pigs, cows, and horses to make unique posters and simple broadsides. We’ll review basic printmaking processes with an equal emphasis on fun and exploration. We’ll cover ink application, color mixing, and printing on paper and fabric (tea towels!). We’ll print with a press or by hand using oil-based inks. Students will leave with a shared portfolio of prints and will contribute to the collective work of Cornmeal Press.

Aimee: Studio artist; teaching: Visual Arts Center (VA), Ball State University (IN); exhibitions: Catherine Edelman Gallery (Chicago), National Museum of Women in the Arts (DC), Melanee Cooper Gallery (Chicago), Center for Book and Paper Arts (Chicago); representation: Quirk Gallery (VA), Walton Gallery (VA).

Register to be part of Printfest.

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Aimee Joyaux, “5 O’Clock Somewhere,” letterpress on Atlas Sheets, 11″ x 15″

 

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