It's a 'Small Work' after all

Arts council welcomes wee art
By Stina Sieg | Nov 12, 2012
Photo by: Donated image "Fire Water" by Teri Siewert is one of hundreds of pieces, all less than 12 inches in every dimension, currently on display at Gallery 86. The show, which has its first opening reception from noon to 4 p.m. this Sunday, is open through Dec. 29.

Gallery 86 is always morphing into something new. Depending on the month, the Haywood County Arts Council space might be showing off local jewelry, paintings or photos, to name a few. But there is one time a year when all this media and more crowds the stage at once.

“It’s a Small, Small Work,” up through Dec. 29, is a crazy quilt of creativity, brought together by one little thing: size. Nothing in the exhibit is more than 12 inches in any direction — and everything is for sale. With nothing more than $300 and most pieces priced around $80 to $100, the small-works show is not only a way for all kinds of artists to share the limelight, but for people who might not normally buy art to purchase a “small” taste of the arty community.

For mixed-media artist Paula Woods, it’s also a way to get inspired. Woods, who’s based in Crabtree, doesn’t make art full time, but gearing up for this show again reminded her how much it matters to her. This time around, her second, she’s looking forward to seeing her work hanging alongside that of more than 80 other artists.

“I like it,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us not making a living with our art to show what we’re playing with on our own time.”

Woods, a self-described “on-again-off-again” artist, has worked her way across a spectrum of media throughout her life. Locals might remember her baskets, which used to hang in Twigs and Leaves several years back. These days, she’s settled on mixture of different techniques and textures, and her work in the show blends her figurative drawings with painting and paper images and, in one piece, even a belt. These three-dimensional collages show off a freedom she feels, both from being retired and from letting herself explore artistically.

“I just get to play with whatever I want to,” she said. “I’m blessed.”

Those same words could have been uttered by “Small Work” first-timer Teri Siewert. The Waynesville resident, also retired, explained that she spent decades working as a nurse and raising her children. Now, she’s looking at studio space downtown, as well as getting the word out about her colorful encaustic pieces.

“And this is my second life,” she said. “I’m loving it.”

That’s obvious just from how she describes her work, which uses a process not everyone knows. She happily talks about how her paintings combine beeswax, resin and pigment. She often embellishes her pieces, too, maybe with little gems or something else to help make them feel more precious. “Luminous” is a word people sometimes use for her medium, she said. She likes that.

Because people often don’t know much about encaustic, her small and whimsical work tends to stick out, even in a show as large as this one. One of the great gimmicks of the medium is that it’s not as fragile as, say, a porcelain bowl or an oil painting. In fact, she encourages curious people to touch her pieces.

“Actually, the more they touch it, the more it gets shiny,” she admitted, before letting out a laugh. “Pet my art!”

If someone buys her work, they’re not just getting a small painting that can be mixed and matched with others of hers. They’re getting a little piece of her and her story — whether they know it or not. It’s like that with all the artists in this show and, really, with all artists everywhere.

For some, probably most, the journey the works represents is a complex one. Rick Hills, an acrylic painter who lives in Hazelwood, is surely on the other end of the spectrum from many participants in the exhibit. After four decades of making a handsome living selling his work at shows across the country, he knows that world is over for him and pretty much everyone else, too. The economy saw to that. But even so, he can’t put down his brush. He’s happy to be in a show with dozens of others, across all sorts of  media, who feel the same.

“You’re seeing genuine, handmade expression,” he said, not the troubling trend of “sweat-shop-labor paintings” and resold crafts he’s seen at other shows.

Though he usually works large, this “Small Work” veteran kind of likes the chance to go little. His pieces, which capture nature scenes across Western North Carolina, are “more spontaneous” that way, he said, and less mapped-out. Because his colorful, almost impressionist work conveys the feeling of a place instead of photographic accuracy, this freedom works for him.

With some, he could have spent a little longer a certain mountain or tree, “but the spontaneity said to leave it,” he explained.

He was happy to listen, just as he’s happy to let himself become enfolded in the local artistic scene. While it’s not the same template he was used to for years, it’s vibrant and varied, full of people willing to take the risk to display what matters to them. This show proves that.

In Hills’ words, “Small Work” gives him “hope for the future, faith in the future.”

“I think it’s a wonderful, diverse group of people putting their heart out there for others to absorb and appreciate — or not,” he said.

That’s the other thing about “Small Work.” Though everything is for sale, inevitably not everything gets sold. Some of it speaks to people and some of it doesn’t. In that way, this show is always a risk for artists. But, for those like Hills, Siewert and Woods, there would be no fun in not taking it.

“It’s a Small, Small Work” will run through Dec. 29, with artist receptions from 1 to 4 p.m. this Sunday, Nov. 18, and from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7. Learn more by visiting or by calling 452-0593. Gallery 86 is located at 86 N. Main St., Waynesville.