Behind the scenes with the curator
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | May 28, 2014When Leila Cartier first came up with the idea for "Artists by Trade," it was a different concept than what actually ended up in the gallery at William King Museum of Art.
"I was looking to present the artistry of a Barter Theatre production in a museum setting," Cartier says. "This would allow patrons of the museum and theater an opportunity to see the costumes, props, paintings and other ephemera up close rather than from the distance of sitting in the audience.
"It eventually occurred to me that any person drawn to work at Barter Theatre might have a hidden talent. Rather than focus on the stage productions, I chose to invite anyone on staff, including the actors and designers as well as the educators and administrators, to submit independent projects for the exhibition. The title was simple since it embodied the history of Barter Theatre and the present-day opportunity for artists to find employment based on their artistic talents."
The exhibit features paintings, costume pieces, digital sound and graphics, and installations. They run the gamut from traditional craft, such as Mary Lucy Bivins' fraktur to new technologies, such as Miles Polaski's sound board and visual projection.
"For resident actor Bivins, this exhibition was an opportunity to revisit and showcase her interest in calligraphy and the art of fraktur, a tradition brought to the Appalachians by German immigrants. Fraktur has served as official records for special occasions such as births, baptisms and marriages. Bivins was excited by the opportunity to create several new pieces for this exhibition, which include colorful drawings that adorn the calligraphic lettering. Each fraktur is displayed with its English translations.
"Across the gallery is the most high-tech project in the show, "The MASHine,' by Miles Polaski, Barter Theatre's sound designer and engineer. A "mashup' is known as blending two or more songs together, and Polaski created a sound board specifically for this project. It features alternating red and black buttons for gallery patrons to mashup music on their own. The hypnotic visual projection accompanying the sound spirals and pulsates as every vocal or instrumental track is changed. Polaski's intended outcome was renewed appreciation for different genres and generations of music as well as an opportunity to experience a bit of magic.
"Resident actor Eugene Wolf's installation entitled "I Can See Russia from the Church of Christ (Anchored in Love)" is a vignette of his childhood living room. Wolf recently travelled to Russia to play traditional songs from Appalachia in hopes of exploring universalities between the cultures that have been at odds for decades. Moreover, the early influence of his grandmother, Mamaw, and his adoration of her is intuitively layered into the project. While sitting on the wingback chair and watching video of Wolf singing in Russia, guests will notice a small shrine of personal photographs, the Bible, and relics of Russian culture climbing toward the ceiling. The Russian word for heaven is at the top. What does it all mean? Wolf would like us to let him know when we find the answer.
"Marcia Willard's sculptural wigs are a playful addendum to her role as wig master. Willard is highly trained in theatrical hair and make-up. For this exhibition she has presented a traditional style entitled Doodles, which implies she is capable of playing with styles as any other artist would draw a sketch with a pencil. The two more fantastical pieces "Fountain' and "Antlers' stand around two feet tall. Seeing these wigs out of the context of a performance leaves us to imagine the narrative Willard has envisioned for them."
Cartier says that museum visitors are enjoying seeing this different side of Barter personnel. "The exhibition has been well received by the public," she says. "It has been the subject of talk radio, blog postings and other articles. The show is highly interactive and of course theatrical, which makes it experiential and compelling for visitors from wall to wall."
THERE'S MORE: EUGENE WOLF'S ARTWORK TAKES YOU ON A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY