Sculptors branch out in natural art exhibit

Medium: In Howard, artists create works using organic materials such as twigs and leaves.

January 16, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Sticks and stones may break bones in the traditional playground verse, but in the hands of four area sculptors, they are the raw materials for artistic expression.

A new exhibit at Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City, Au Naturelle, includes three-dimensional works made of twigs, dirt, feathers, reeds, seeds and leaves among other natural materials.

"We haven't done an environment-based show in a number of years," said Coleen West, executive director of the center. "We want to show a broad view of all of the arts."

While natural material sculptures have not been as prevalent as painting, drawing and printmaking, West said, "There has been a real strong movement in that area for at least 30 years."

Among the 29 large sculptures in two galleries at the Center for the Arts, Marcia Wolfson Ray's use geometric frames to tame leaves, grasses, layers of bark and dried sunflowers into cohesive sculptures.

Laura Amussen's twigs bundled with wire are the building blocks for larger shapes. Edmond Hardy's podlike structures, made of canvas stretched on wooden frames, cling to larger branches serving as a base. Several of Elizabeth Burger's works include layers of seeds that create textured surfaces on familiar and abstract forms.

Burger started using natural materials when she moved from Baltimore to a Westminster farm four years ago. She was inspired by a pile of algae skimmed off her pond.

"It looked like really interesting material to use," Burger said. "Gradually, I just started picking up more and more things."

In 1980, she earned a master's degree in art from the University of Cincinnati and spent many years making artistic furniture for sale.

But, "I felt this deep-down need to get back to art making," said Burger, who also draws, paints and teaches ceramics at Howard Community College.

Focus on texture

Amussen, of Towson, prefers materials with a lot of texture, including raffia, bamboo and twigs.

"I want people to want to touch my work," she said.

Amussen graduated this month from Towson University with a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture. Her first sculpture class got her hooked on creating art with natural materials.

Wolfson Ray of Baltimore formerly focused on painting. But while she was earning a master's degree in fine arts at Maryland Institute College of Art in the early 1990s, she decided to try a three-dimensional project, using several truckloads of branches.

"I just kept going," said Wolfson Ray, who also teaches elementary school art for the Baltimore school system.

Hardy, who lives in Charles Village, likes to use soil mixed with fibers to create clay. In finished sculptures, it can appear rough and ready to crumble or hard and smooth like stone.

Before graduate school at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned a master's degree in 1998, Hardy worked with steel and concrete. But a professor encouraged him to try materials from nature.

"I found that I felt more comfortable with them," he said. "It's just challenging ... to see how far I can go with different processes."


Hardy also draws inspiration from artifacts at the National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resource Center, where he is a contractor.

The artists have found that incorporating nature in art can be labor-intensive. These sculptors use tying, weaving and basket-making methods, with gluing and other techniques.

"As you go along, you see more things," Wolfson Ray said. "Your work evolves in a way ... you're following it wherever it leads you."

"I make the stuff and throw it out there, and hope people get something out of it," Wolfson Ray said. "I don't want to be too literal. I don't want my freedom taken away."

Anatomy influences

An interest in biology and anatomy influences Amussen's works, which often reflect or symbolize the human body. Being pregnant with her son while earning her art degree also inspired pieces titled "Myofibril," "Dilate" and "Canal."

She hopes viewers will think about life and their own body processes. "I want viewers to respond visually and viscerally," she said.

In his artist's statement, Hardy wrote that he is interested in the comparison of objects formed in nature and those made by humans. "My work exists between the two and at the same time, marries them," he wrote.

`More wide open'

Hardy said that, more than a message, he hopes viewers get an idea of what creative forms are possible when they see his work.

"I want to make it evident that sculpture is more wide open than traditionally thought of," he said.

Burger also likes to focus on the structure of the piece more than what it represents.

"I like to make beautiful, elegant forms," she said. A few of her pieces have political themes, but, she said, many are not very conceptual or in need of interpretation.

She does hope the art will help people become more aware of the world around them, including plants, trees, insects and animals.

"We look at these things and we don't notice them," she said.

"Au Naturelle" is at Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City, through Feb. 21. The gallery is open with no charge from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Information: 410-313-2787.

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