“I loved and respected Kitty as a woman from my mother’s generation who refused to follow the ‘rules,’” writes local photographer Alice Sebrell in an artist statement. “I loved her bravery, audacity, and her extraordinary embrace of life.”
Even though late ceramist Kitty Couch spent the first half of her adult life as a traditional upper-middle-class Southern wife and mother (Sunday school, Junior League, family picnics etc.), her legacy is an inspiration both to her peers and to the generations of artists following her. For Couch—born Clara Roundtree, but known to her countless friends as Kitty—the muse didn’t show up until she was in her early 40s, during her first trip to Europe, where she fell in love with art. She returned home to learn about clay, pursue an art degree and boldly enter a new phase in her life.
Couch, who did most of her work from her Burnsville studio, created not just extraordinary pots but also an aura of joy around everything and everyone with whom she came into contact.
“We weren’t related in any standard way but in the one that really mattered,” writes photographer Roger Manley, who once shared a house with Couch. “We could make each other laugh.”
Like other artists touched by Couch and her works, Manley contributed one of his own pieces—a selenium-toned gelatine/silver print of self-taught potter Georgia Blizzard (whom he visited with Couch)—to Blue Spiral 1’s Honoring the Earth Series. The exhibit benefits Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy as well as paying tribute to Couch’s life.
The local potter didn’t use shiny glazes or sophisticated, mysterious firing methods. She shaped her pieces from coils of clay (a way of creating vessels that dates back to pre-history) and wood-fired them without glazes. The end result: simple, almost classic shapes, each with some quirky undulation or turn giving them their sublime edge. Fittingly, the organic, sculptural vessels titled “The Earth Series” were Couch’s final body of work. In 2004, in her 80s, the artist died in a bus accident while traveling with a friend in Vietnam. Couch’s daughters organized the Honoring the Earth exhibit in memory, and other artists, also touched by Couch, have contributed creations to the gallery show.
Ceramist McLeod Turner says that he included his piece, “Kittypede,” because “I want to remember Kitty, honor the land, and think of her fabulous laughter if she were to look at this absurd piece.” Mixed-media artist Ann Eringhaus asserts in her artist statement, “I will always be inspired by Kitty’s love of laughter, her willingness to say or do the unexpected, and her living example of how exciting life can still be after 80.”
The exhibition includes paintings, sculptures, photographs and, of course, ceramics. A late work of Couch’s is up for auction on Blue Spiral 1’s Web site, adding to the proceeds slated for local nature-preserve organizations in time for this year’s Earth Day.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]
who: Honoring the Earth series
what: A multimedia collection honoring artist Kitty Couch and benefitting local nonprofits
where: Blue Spiral 1
when: Exhibit is on display through Sunday, May 11. (Free. 291-2513). Special opening event is Friday, April 4, beginning at the Fine Arts Theatre with a short film and reading, followed by a presentation and reception at Blue Spiral 1 (4:30 p.m. $20. www.bluespiral1.com or 251-0202)