Reflections on a Fragile Earth

Much of “Fragile Earth: Reflections on the Environment” deals with the beauty and mystery of nature, along with the peril of environmental destruction. The exhibit runs through Aug. 16 at Western Carolina University’s Fine Art Museum.

Charlene Collins Haug won Best of Show for her monoprint screenprint, “Fragile Earth: Bubble People.”

As development encroaches on Western North Carolina’s forests and threatens mountain ridges, ridges and fear mounts about environmental destruction, local artists, are looking for ways to express that concern.

“Fragile Earth” was open only to artists in North Carolina’s western-most counties. The exclusion of Buncombe, Madison and Henderson’s familiar faces brings attention to some fresh faces.

Artists in those far reaches deserved to have their art seen in a professional setting, said juror Martin DeWitt, also the Fine Art Museum’s founding director.

The museum has always sought to support artists from the region by purchasing their works for the collection and through exhibitions, he said.

Still, “We felt that there were artists out there that we did not know and who did not know us – we had several very pleasant surprises,” he said. “This exhibition can lead to continuing exposure for some of these artists. The museum is committed to provide opportunities for artists who work here in the mountains.”

The museum bought one work from the show for its permanent collection. The piece, titled “Listening to the Voice of the Earth,” by Malti Turnbull. The ceramic sculpture depicts a woman seated on a turtle gazing into a vessel.

The three-dimensional works in the show are some of the most interesting and most skillfully executed. Frank Brannon’s small pieces made from exotic earth-toned papers are exquisite; so fragile-looking that you might hesitate to touch them.

Baskets by Peggy Wilcox are many-patterned. The tiny ones are soft-sided and made from things like maidenhair fern stem and long-leaf pine needles. On a much grander scale, Jan Parker’s grape vine “Tea for Two” climbs rampantly up the gallery wall.

Susan Martin documents an extraordinary mountaintop junkyard—acres and acres of cars spread over hillsides as far as her camera could see. Tim Lewis manipulates a photograph of the earth into the hopeful shape of an egg, and Carol Rollick uses bright chartreuse seed pods to create a Baroque design.

There are several well-executed paintings in the show, including Jim Smythe’s “Gas Station” and Jo Ridge Kelly’s “Cloud Dance.” “Morning Paper Milling” by Dave Punches is a small work with large impact. Smoke belches ominously from the brick chimney of Sylva’s paper plant. Sandy Webster employs watercolor in an innovative way in her “Mans Controlling Earth’s Elements #2.”

Less traditional is “Time is a Blackbird Feeding” by Kelly Popoff.  The work is courageously experimental, carefully balancing formal concerns with concept.

Charlene Haug presents a screen print titled “Fragile Earth – Bubble People.” A big blue gas mask dominates the print, and rows of gas mask wearing figures sit on one side. Nathalie Soto brings the exhibition into the digital age with her “Skitty Creek” video. A happy dog appears from time to time as Soto’s camera captures the light and creates abstract patterns at different times of day and in different weather conditions on Skitty Creek. The work is straightforward and tells us what we are loosing as development continues its merciless pace.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville based painter and writer.]

who: “Fragile Earth: Reflections on the Environment”
what: Exhibit by regional artists, in a variety of media.
where: Fine Art Museum on the campus of Western Carolina University
when: Tuesdays through Saturdays through Aug. 16, (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. or 828-227-2553)


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