The North Carolina Arboretum recently opened its newest exhibit, Earth Skin, in the upstairs gallery of the Education Center. On display daily through July 22, 2018, Earth Skinis a ceramic art exhibit by Asheville-area artists Crystal Allen and Trish Salmon. Allen and Salmon based their pieces on the forms and textures of the earth using inspiration from aerial photographs of Western North Carolina and topographical maps of local areas, including Pisgah National Forest and Balsam Range. Their exhibit includes ceramic wall structures and pieces designed for mantels, shelves and tables, all intricately designed to reflect Western North Carolina’s beautiful mountainous landscape. I recently had a chance to catch up with Allen and Salmon to learn more about their pieces, passions and techniques.
1.) What led you to start working in ceramics?
Allen: I have always worked with my hands and I love pottery, so it was a natural progression to start working in ceramics.
Salmon: I guess I have always been a 3-D artist. I have been a painter (and I will be pursuing that more and more), but clay is such a wonderful medium to create any 3-D form. It can do anything.
2.) Why did you decide to exhibit at the Arboretum?
Allen: The Arboretum’s focus on our region’s natural biodiversity was a good fit with the direction my pottery and sculptural pieces have taken.
Salmon: The Arboretum is a wonderful venue for art. Of course, my art is inspired by nature and that is what the Arboretum specializes in. I feel fortunate to exhibit in such a wonderful space where people from all over the world can come and see how beautiful North Carolina is and how diverse the plant life is here.
3.) How do you describe your method?
Allen: My functional pieces are wheel thrown or hand built, and then glazed. I usually add a hand-formed handle or knob.The wall pieces are more sculptural and involve hand building, glazes, under-glazes, oxides, paints, etc. They require multiple firings and assembly afterwards.
Salmon: I will say that many times I just have to start. Sometimes I have a vague notion and just have to start working, and then I wait for the piece to tell me what to do next. I don’t do sketches or keep journals. I know that is so highly recommended and I see so much value in it, but I just can’t seem to get started on that aspect of creativity. Maybe I just don’t have the discipline? I usually work 5 or 6 days a week. I love being in my studio and trying new things.
4.) What is your favorite piece in the exhibit?
Allen: The oak leaf and acorn pieces. They remind me of my grandmother, Lena Duncan Anders, who had huge oaks in her yard. I had many happy hours at her home when I was a really young child, collecting acorns and watching my grandmother coax the squirrels by feeding them peanuts out of her hand.
Salmon: I have really enjoyed making the Earth Skin Modules that have mica, nails, agates, fossils, etc. in them. They were so much fun to make and I plan to do several more and incorporate more natural elements into them. I also really enjoyed making the Earth Skin Bowls that have glass in the bottoms of them. I wanted the effect of looking down into a chasm and finding a pool of water there.
5.) What do you hope visitors will get out of your exhibit?
Allen: I hope visitors will develop an appreciation of the small and almost hidden treasures that can be found in our mountain coves – trillium, lady’s slipper, the caps on an acorn, the intricate veining of a leaf.
Salmon: I want visitors to enjoy seeing what clay can do. The pieces that Crystal did are so different from mine, but we are both using the same material. I hope they can relate the pieces to the natural world and their own experiences in nature.
6.) Anything else that you’d like to share?
Allen: My part of the exhibit is dedicated to my grandmother Lena for piquing my interest in the small things in nature.
Salmon: I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of the Arboretum for the next several months. Nature is truly grand.
Earth Skin is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through July 22, 2018, in the upstairs gallery of the Education Center. Most pieces are available for purchase and a portion of the proceeds will benefit The North Carolina Arboretum Society. For more information, please click here.