Smart craft

“North Carolina is steeped in the crafts,” says Asheville-based sculptor and furniture maker Brent Skidmore, whose work is featured in Possibilities: Rising Stars of Contemporary Craft in North Carolina. That show, on display at the Jones Gallery of the Mint Museum of Craft + Design in Charlotte, features six up-and-coming artists, selected by the Mint Museum to illustrate the vitality, diversity and complexity of a new generation of North Carolina artists.

Function meets fantasy: Brent Skidmore’s “Low Slung Boulder Table” uses ash, basswood, acrylic paint and glass for a culled-from-nature result.

“I’m honored to be considered in such a small group of talented makers,” Skidmore says. “This kind of show is critical so that people continually know where they live and what the value of the handmade object is in North Carolina.”

Along with Skidmore’s pieces, Possibilities explores the potential importance of the work of artists Vivian Beer (metals), Devin Burgess (glass), Cristina Cordova (ceramics), Anne Lemanski (mixed-media sculpture) and Jerilyn Virden (ceramics)—all in the broader context of contemporary craft. All six call Western North Carolina home; their combined work represents the rich future of craft in the region while also demonstrating a solid foundation in what came before.

Skidmore is a recent recruit to the area. In 2007, he accepted the directorship of UNC Asheville’s future Craft Campus, moving his family and studio from Grand Rapids, Mich., where he taught and worked. Possibilities features three of his pieces: A giant clock, coffee table and full-length mirror, all toeing the line between sculptural and utilitarian. “For a long time I just resisted the power of functionality in my work, but I feel more comfortable with it now,” he says. “It allows people to get so much closer to the work and propels me as a maker.”

Most notable in Skidmore’s latest work, functional context aside, is the color palette and textured surfaces of the balanced rock shapes made of mahogany and basswood. “All three pieces are a response to a trip I took to southern Utah. I really had no respect for browns and blacks and particularly rust colors,” he says. “When I came back, I felt it really helped me dive into my own vocabulary. It’s the idea that my existence and all the work that came before were more about people, but this work is more of a response to place.”

Still, the influence of people—especially those closest to him—is felt in Skidmore’s work. “Another part of these pieces is having two grade-school-aged sons,” he admits. “They are constantly changing—they’re awkward, they’re dealing with balance, and most of all, they represent all of our paths into the world and what a balance this can be.”

Balance is an important pursuit to the sculptor, who explains, “I’m always focused on bringing disparate elements together to represent our existence.”

Before the his Utah trip, he describes the colors in his work as “repelling each other.” After the trip: “The colors were coherent, it seems. I like the more familial feeling of this palette.”

Like Skidmore, all of the artists featured in Possibilities are dedicated to a rich creative process that allows for new ideas and techniques, without forgetting the pedigree of their media. As the show attempts to articulate what North Carolina’s next generation of craftspeople will bring us, the answer seems clear: Smart craft. Craft that goes beyond the basic parameters of functionality. Craft that invites conversation by its refusal to define itself in contrast to sculpture. Craft that dares to blur the lines between the medium and aesthetics.

[Katey Schultz writes from Bakersville and can be reached via http://katey.schultz.googlepages.com. ]

who: Brent Skidmore and others
what: Sculptor and furniture maker represented in Possibilities: Rising Stars of Contemporary Craft in North Carolina
where: Mint Museum of Craft + Design, Charlotte
when: Through Sunday, Nov. 30 ($6, $5 students and seniors, $3 children. 704-337-2000 or www.mintmuseum.org.)

 

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