HandMade in America talks with CSA artist Ben Elliott

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When did you decide to become and artist and why?
I was interested in art/craft as long as I can remember. My great uncle was a painter and I remember seeing his paintings in many of my relatives’ houses. At some point, I started drawing a lot and pretending to be an artist.  I also remember driving through WNC at a young age and being in awe as we passed houses with beautiful quilts, pottery, and woodcarvings set out by the road for sale. I credit those memories for planting a seed that inspired me to become a maker.

What would you say informs you work?
Currently, I am working on a series of sculptures informed by old sayings associated with time.  My interpretations of these phrases translate into a series of sculptural objects. Through my choices of imagery, each piece becomes a passage from a personal narrative. This work tends to referenc my cultural surroundings here in rural WNC. My functional line of work is influenced by the history of glass, other glass artists, and the natural world.

What’s your design process like?
Designing a piece used to involve lots of trial an error. Now that I don’t have as much free time I have to plan things out a little more. I usually start with some thoughts on the idea and sketches. Sometimes I will make a more detailed drawing before I start constructing a piece.  I always leave room for the idea to evolve during the process.  For the more functional work, a large part of the design comes out of the process. With this work I usually start with an Idea, make it, then try to make it better.  This may involve altering a shape or changing a color pattern several times. Constantly filtering out unwanted elements of a design allows my work to continue evolving.

How has your work changed over the years?
When I started exploring three-dimensional work, I worked mainly in clay, wood, and metal. Some of this work had small elements of flameworked glass. This work was much larger in scale due to the materials and influences at the time. After moving around a few times, storage and transporting large heavy sculptures became an issue. As I got more involved in the glass community, glass became my main focus. I now have a line of functional glass and continue to make small-scale sculptures.

What is the most challenging thing about working in your medium?  
Like most mediums, the process of working with glass provides many life lessons. Working with glass is a humbling experience. It requires patience, persistence, and focus. It is common for hours or even days of work to crash to the floor for what seems like no reason. There are days when I wonder why I chose to work with such a fragile, unforgiving material.

Why or how did you choose your medium?
I’m still not sure if I chose glass or glass chose me. Over the years it seems like we have shaped and molded each other to the point where we have a somewhat of a symbiotic relationship. We don’t always get along, but we manage to make it work.

 If you weren’t doing this work, what would you do?
I did a little bit of everything before being devoted to art/craft. It’s hard to imagine doing anything else. I do have concerns about the energy and resources that a glass studio requires. This is the main thing I question about my career choice. I guess if I had to change my occupation, I would like to do something that doesn’t add to our current environmental issues. I would like to think the positive aspects of arts/crafts counterbalance the negative impact it has on our resources.

How is your work integrated with the community?
I try to stay involved with some public glass studios to teach classes and interact with the community. Continuing these traditional forms of art/craft defines part of the culture in our community. The void of these traditions is replaced with more destructive forms of consumerism. I like the thought of my functional works used in everyday life by our local patrons. The recent emergence of a local awareness has helped encouraged more support in the art/craft community. I hope that this idea grows and results in a more sustainable local economy.

 

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Friday night was unbelievable. Our gallery was filled to the brim the entire evening with people who are passionate about Western North Carolina Craft. We are so fortunate to live in an area where Fine Craft is as appreciated as it is prevalent, and the turnout we had Friday night evidences that our community is thriving. We had between 150 & 200 people in attendance throughout the night and almost all of the artists were able to make it. There is just nothing better that being able to ask the artists themselves about their pieces.

 


If you weren’t able to make it out Friday night but would like to learn more about the artists and their work, please visit the links below!

Anna Johnson
Jeana Eve Klein
Janet Williams
Gwendolyn Bigham
Kenn Kotara
Sondra Dorn
Dustin Farnsworth
Hayden Wilson
Rachel Meginnes
Sam Reynolds
Robin Johnston
Kathie Roig
Heather Allen Hietala
Ben Elliott
Austin Richards
Michael Parry

HandMade in America is pleased to announce the upcoming opening of its new exhibition, Breaking Ground: Innovative Craft. Opening reception will take place on Friday, March 8, from 5:30- 8 pm to celebrate the work of regional artists. This exhibit, running from March 8- June 30, is supported by the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, Starbucks and Windgate Charitable Foundation.

“What is innovation in art? Perhaps it is a willingness to fail or make mistakes in service to fearless creativity. ‘Breaking ground’ by definition, engages the unfamiliar and is key to an innovative studio practice.”
-Kathryn Gremley

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Breaking Ground: Innovative Craft features the work of WNC craft artists who are pushing the boundaries of their medium in unexpected ways. Featuring 26 works in clay, fiber, glass, metal, wood, or mixed media, the pieces in this exhibit illustrate a balance of craft processes and unique ideas, combining tradition with innovation.

Artists featured are: Michael Parry, Austin Richards, Jeana Eve Klein, Janet Williams, Gwendolyn Bigham, Kenn Kotara, Sondra Dorn, Dustin Farnsworth, Hayden Wilson, Rachel Meginnes, Robin Johnston, Sam Reynolds, Kathie Roig, Heather Allen Hietala, Ben Elliott and Anna Johnson

If you haven’t seen Kenn Kotara’s braille poetry piece, in the eyes of memory, Stacks by Hayden Wilson, or Dustin Farnsworth’s Saint Anne’s Theatre, you are in for a real treat. These are just a few among a slew of beautiful pieces.

in the eyes of memory, Kenn kotara 01.bSaint Anne's Theatre, Dustin Farnsworth_01Stacks, Hayden Wilson 02