Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Nature-Lover’s debut at Joyful Jewel

Chatham County artist and writer, Forrest C. Grenslade, PhD will debut his new book, Visitations: A Nature-Lover’s Journal at downtown Pittsboro’s Joyful Jewel on Sunday August 5th at 1 PM.

"I was that kid you could always find turning over rocks in streams, looking for what wonders nature would disclose to me," says Greenslade. His curiosity about the natural world, led him to a life as scientist and organizational executive. Now in retirement, Dr. Greenslade is again doing what he did when he was ten years old -- turning over rocks and sculpting and painting the wonders that nature discloses.

Visitations: A Nature-Lover’s Journal is the place where you can capture your own discoveries in your garden, on your walks through your special places, or just in your reveries. Greenslade’s newest book is a collection of his nature-inspired paintings and original poems, coupled with spaces to daily record your experiences in your garden and special natural places.

Along with his new book, Greenslade will exhibit a selection of his artwork at the Jewel. His organic sculptures and paintings, derived from a life-long love of nature and mythology, have a new look and feel. Greenslade’s work is highly stylized yet clearly grounded in the natural world. His relief paintings are sculptural, built up with inches of thick acrylics and modeling paste to the point that they nearly jump off the canvas. His sculptures are enhanced with innovative coatings and patinas producing color, texture and an illusion of movement. His enhanced watercolors are soft and luminous. “I want people to experience motion and emotion in my art,” Greenslade asserts, “so my faces are seldom symmetrical and my figures just can’t stand still.” Greenslade’s use of materials is eclectic. “Because of my scientific training, I tend to be experimental in my choice of media,” he explains. “I use metal, concrete, clay, acrylics, wood, found-objects – whatever tells the best story.”

"I lived a serious life, but now in my dotage, I am just letting the kid out again, " Greenslade smiles.

"It's more fun than an old guy desearves”.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A life’s voyage cast in precious metals

Metalsmith Lynell (http://www.designsbylynell.com/) is a new member of the Chatham Artists Guild (http://www.chathamartistsguild.org/). Visitors to her studio, just south of Chapel Hill, during the 20th Annual Chatham Studio Tour, will enjoy her eclectic garden and lovely nature-inspired jewelry.  Lynell’s art in precious metals captures the diverse experiences of an unexpectedly adventurous life.

Lynell in her Chatham County Studio
Photo: LD
Lynell grew up on a farm near Asheville North Carolina in the 1950’s, the third of four children. “It was a simple life – I enjoyed doing farm chores with my brother, exploring the streams and woodlands, and just being outside,” she recalls. Her father ran the farm, and her mother was a housewife and later became a beautician. Lynell worked in her mom’s beauty shop after school. Lynell was always attracted to art, but there were no art classes in school. “The closest thing to an art class was mechanical drawing, and girls were not allowed to take it,” she notes

Lynell worked in a factory and took some art classes for a time, but her life made to an abrupt change for the better, when the Winnebago Company moved into town, and opened a van conversion facility. “I heard that they were hiring artists, she states, “And I went to talk myself into a job.” Winnebago gave two weeks to prove her skills, painting murals on vans. Prove herself she did. “It was the best job!” she emotes. “I was actually getting paid to make art.” The company even paid Lynell to take art classes at UNC Asheville. “I realized that I was an artist, and always would be,” She asserts.

This period in the early 1970s was a wonderful time for Lynell. She met Denny, her now husband of 30 plus years. “He supported my art and recognized how much it meant to me,” Lynell contemplates. “We have been partners in adventure ever since.”

Artists and adventurers
Photo: LD
In the mid70s, the Winnebago plant closed because of the gas crisis. Lynell went full time into her painting – landscapes, nature, some life drawings. She began to participate in art shows.

In 1982,  Lynell and Denny moved to the Pittsboro area, and opened an upscale shop “The Vintage Gourmet” in Cole Park Plaza. They offered good cheeses, good wines, good coffee, sea food – things that folks couldn’t get in supermarkets at the time. Lynell continued to paint and did “crafty projects”. They ran this business for 9 years. Their daughter and son went on to college, and they looked for a new adventure.

Lynell and Denny learned pottery from well known potter Jim Pringle, and worked with him for a time. To help out a friend, Lynell took a job in a local dental lab, and learned the very precise skills of metalsmithing.

Denny had always loved sailing, and Lynell wanted to learn. “We rented a little sailboat at Jordan Lake, and he tried to teach me,” she smiles. “We fought all day.” Lynell decided to go to a women’s sailing school in Chesapeake to learn the basics, and after that the couple got along fine. They began talking about an extended sailing activity. Denny began studying for his captain’s license. Lynell helped him study. Denny encouraged her to take the captain’s test too. They each passed the Coast Guard exam, bought a 27 foot sail boat, packed up their belongings, rented out their house, and launched a 7 year voyage all up and down the Eastern seaboard. For a time, they ran a marina in the Florida Keys. They later took a 3-month road trip across the US.

Lynell's creation in precious metals
Photo: LD
Upon returning to Chatham, they continued to explore various art media. They became interested in working with metal. “One day we took the Chatham Studio Tour, and visited Monnda Welch,” Lynell explains. Lynell said to Welch, “You’re going to teach me how to do this.” She worked under Welch’s tutelage for 3 to 4 years. “I am still learning from Monnda,” she stresses.

In the mid 2000s, Lynell established her own metalsmithing studio. She creates artful jewelry that reflects the many facets of her life’s adventures. “My work reflects a love of the rich cultural heritage and environment of not only North Carolina where I grew up, but also as a result of traveling across our beautiful and diverse country.” She notes. Monnda Welch says, “Lynell paints with metal.

Lynell is one of the many regionally and nationally recognized artists and fine crafts people who will open their studios the first two weekends in December at the 20th Annual Chatham Studio Tour (http://www.chathamartistsguild.org/about/details.html). Visitors from all around enjoy Chatham’s rural beauty and share with the members of the Chatham Artists Guild in the creative process. It is a holiday tradition, and an opportunity to purchase unique original art.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Twilight for the Lord God Bird

I was born in 1939 in a small town in upstate New York. By that time, the territory of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, which before 1800 had ranged from Texas to South Carolina, had been reduced to a tract of land in Louisiana. The demand for lumber in the US after the Civil War had stripped the South of its vast woodlands. The need for boxes to support the effort in World War II then caused the destruction of those woods in Louisiana. That year, A Cornell University PhD student, working with the National Audubon Society, reported that there might be only 25 Ivory Bills alive in the US, mostly in that Louisiana tract, and only one mating pair.
Twilight for the Lord God Bird
A painting in watercolor and colored pencil by Forrest C. Greenslade, PhD

The last recorded sighting of an Ivory Bill was in 1944. I was in grammar school. We had a Junior Audubon Club in our school – I was an enthusiastic member. What I remember most in the little magazine that we received, was J. J. Audubon’s iconic painting of a family of Ivory Billed Woodpeckers. He had painted it in the 1820s, and published it in 1831 in Birds of America. Back then, the Ivory Bill was known by many colloquial names: the Van Dyke, White Back, Pate, Tit-Ka. Audubon noted, that because of the size and beauty of the Ivory Bill, many folks exclaimed “Lord God, what a bird”.

Audubon and the Junior Audubon Club had a lasting impact on my entire life. I was that kid you could always find turning over rocks in streams, looking for what wonders nature would disclose to me. I was lucky to study biology in high school, college and graduate school, which takes me to another encounter with the Lord God Bird.

In the early 1960s, I went to New Orleans to attend graduate school at Tulane University. Our library had an original elephant folio copy of Audubon’s Birds of America. We were actually allowed to touch this precious book. I luxuriated in leafing through Audubon’s wood cut prints, and again the Ivory Billed Woodpecker painting was my favorite. I was taking a program in Biological Sciences. This required courses ranging from Botany to Molecular Biology and Natural History. In an Avian Biology course, we went on a field trip to a swampy woodland about an hour from New Orleans. Deep in this wild place, we all swore that we caught a glimpse of an Ivory Bill.

Piliated Woodpecker
Watercolor and colored pencil by Forrest
There had been a lot of rumors of Ivory Bill sightings all around the country. Most experts dismissed these observations as mistaking the slightly smaller and common Piliated Woodpecker for the Ivory Bill. Did we make the same mistake? Probably – but this experience is a memory that I have cherished for a lifetime.

My curiosity about the natural world, led me to a life as scientist and organizational executive. Now in retirement, I am again doing what I did in grammar school -- turning over rocks and sculpting and painting the wonders that nature discloses.

In 2002, a six-person international team searched the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area in Louisiana. They found some signs of Ivory Bills but no birds. In the last couple of years, there were purported sightings in Arkansas and Florida. Is the Ivory Billed Woodpecker extinct? Likely – But if not extinct, the Lord God Bird is in its twilight.

My painting is my wish that this magnificent bird has a little more time.


Notes: Historical information was taken from Phillip Hoose's excellent book, The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, Melanie Kroupa Books, 2004, New York. To my knowlege, there are no colored photographs of the Ivory Bill. I used J. J. Audubon's painiting, which he did from dead field specimens, to guide my selection of colors.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Basket Maker Weaves Diverse Experiences into a Creative Life

Jan Dunn can walk her Golden Retriever Buckeye to the Haw River from her Chatham County home and studio. “The other day, we were sitting on the river bank looking at the rushing water riffling around a large rock out in the water,” she explains. “My mind immediately turned that image into a woven pattern,” she continues. Over the last few years, Dunn has purposefully woven a lifetime of personal experiences, love of nature, and supportive friendships into her unique creative artworks.

Jan Dunn in her Chatham County Studio
Photo: FG
Jan Dunn was born in Alabama while her Organic Chemist father attended graduate school. Growing up involved moves to Nebraska, Delaware, Ohio and Virginia, as dad finished his education and pursued a career. “Our family life centered on hiking, exploring and sailing,” she recalls, “always around nature”. She earned a degree in Psychology at Virginia Tech.

Marriage took Dunn to Florida and finally North Carolina with her ecologist/naturalist husband, a life again strongly influenced by the natural world. “I guess I played more of a supportive role and took advantage of opportunities to experience nature”, she reflects. “Our past-times were gardening, camping, learning about nature,” she states. “I loved learning about nature’s constant interconnections.”

Dunn enhanced basket
Photo: JD
Dunn works primarily in government jobs, currently at the EPA, in information technology, usually in database development. “I was searching for a past-time that would spark creativity, as well as produce tangible results for my efforts,” she relates.   “Baskets had always tugged at me when browsing in craft galleries, and my mother-in-law’s basket making gave me a gentle nudge.” She took a couple of short courses in basket making at Raleigh’s Sertoma Art Center. Several years later, she discovered basket maker Susan Laswell at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, who weaves baskets made with beautiful colors and patterns.  “Under her tutelage, I was completely smitten with basket making,” Dunn asserts. 

Dunn’s creative life recently became more focused by a period of personal challenge. “I lost both of my parents, and my marriage of thirty-plus years became unraveled,” she reveals. “Looking back, those experiences pushed me to a place where I was more open to enjoying my art – I hadn’t realized how much I loved it”.  Dunn now meets with basket-making friends each week to weave and share ideas. “The influence of fellow weavers has encouraged me to think outside the box (or basket),” she quips.

The ancient traditions and designs of basket making have influenced Dunn’s work. Traditional weaving techniques are coupled with natural and unconventional materials.  “I enjoy incorporating contemporary twists into baskets and weavings, adding beads and found natural objects as well as personal mementos to add a touch of whimsy to the pieces,” Dunn concludes. 

Nature-inspired basket
Photo: JD
Dunn’s original designs are inspired by nature – colors and patterns seen in wood grain, fungi, and riffles in a river.  “It’s challenging to translate those impressions to a medium that is primarily linear,” she explains.  “The weaving materials guide the design, but sometimes, the basket ‘speaks’ to me to change the direction.  The predictable rhythm of weaving, and pleasing touch of the fibers has a meditative quality that generates a creative peace.”

Jan Dunn is one of the many regionally and nationally recognized artists and fine crafts people who will open their studios the first two weekends in December at the 20th Annual Chatham Studio Tour. Visitors from all around enjoy Chatham’s rural beauty and share with the members of the Chatham Artists Guild in the creative process. It is a holiday tradition, and an opportunity to purchase unique original art. She will exhibit in collaboration with her friend and fellow Guild artist Jane Eckenrode.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Academic “Black Sheep” Creates Unique Furniture in Chatham

“I’ve lived in Chatham County for 23 years, and I finally have my studio here,” notes Erik Wolken, who has just become a member of the Chatham Artists Guild; but Wolken’s journey to Chatham has taken many twists and turns, with a few detours along the way.

Erik Wolken in his Chatham County Studio
Photo by Michael Schwalbe
“Looking back at growing up in Pittsburgh, I was sort of the black sheep in an incredibly creative and brainy family,” Wolken recalls. “My father was a biophysicist and professor at Carnegie Mellon University – My mom was a fiber artist –My one sister who is a painter in California, and one who used to be a producer and director for the Chicago public radio station, and she now is executive director of Third Coast International Audio Festival – My brother became the founder of the athletic dance troop Pilobulus – and me,” he summarizes. It was assumed that Wolken would become either an artist or a scientist, but he didn’t show much artistic inclination.

Wolken pretty much grew up in his dad’s laboratory at the Carnegie Mellon University. He admired the craftsman who designed and built the tools and machines that supported his father’s scientific investigations. “Dad was a completely cerebral guy, living in his own head to the point that he didn’t even drive,” wolken observes.

He worked in his dad’s lab while attending college, when a minor accident became the tipping point in his life’s script. “I was pushing a cart full of culture bottles down the hall on the fifth floor of that old building on the way to the elevator to go to the sterilization room,” Wolken explains. He hit a little bump. The cart tipped over. The culture bottles flew in all directions in a shower of broken glass. People came running out of all the labs. “Did they ask me if I was OK? Did they offer to help me clean up the mess? No – they inquired whether I had lost the samples.”

“My dad didn’t even come out of his lab.” Wolken suddenly thought, “Maybe science isn’t for me.”

He pursued a bachelor’s degree in geography at West Virginia University, most interested in classic mapmaking. A chance encounter in the library with a book by iconic furniture craftsman, Wendell Castle, again refocused Wolken’s direction. He took courses in woodworking at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and then moved to North Carolina in 1988 to participate in the Program in Fine Woodworking at Haywood Community College. From 1989 to 1995 he worked as a cabinetmaker for Woodpecker Enterprises in Apex, NC.  In 1995 he opened his own studio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and has been working on private commissions and showing his work nationally since.

Sculptural Furniture by Erik Wolken
Photo by Seth Tice Lewis
ErikWolken builds functional sculpture, work that serves both a sculptural aesthetic and a utilitarian function. There is a rhythm and poetry in his pieces, a flow to the lines, a confluence of color and texture that makes a complete statement. “My pieces are often the result of a process of discovery,” he asserts. “Seldom do I start with a plan written in stone, but just a series of rough pencil sketches and the belief that I can divine the meaning of a piece in the process of building it.”

“All of me, even what is not so pretty, I try to put in my work.”

The final passage in Wolken’s journey to Chatham was catalyzed by a gift of a table saw. He had wanted to bring his studio home for some time, and had applied for a loan to fund its construction. While teaching at Penland, a fellow artist was offering an old saw that didn’t have all the modern safety bells and whistles. Erik accepted the gift as an omen that his odyssey was complete. Two close friends helped him in the construction of a spare and functional workspace.

Erik Wolken is one of the many regionally and nationally recognized artists and fine crafts people who will open their studios the first two weekends in December at the 20th Annual Chatham Studio Tour. Visitors from all around enjoy Chatham’s rural beauty and share with the members of the Chatham Artists Guild in the creative process. It is a holiday tradition, and an opportunity to purchase unique original art.