Women of NoHa 'Piercing the Mundane'

Aug 31, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg

Most everyone’s heard of SoHo. Charlotte folks know NoDa. But NoHa? For most of us, that’s a new one — but maybe not for long.

The Women of NoHa, as in North Haywood, have burst onto the local art scene with their extremely collaborative and stunningly modern show, “Piercing the Mundane,” now at Gallery 86. Last week, as these six ladies in their 50s and 60s painstakingly put their exhibit together, they took turns joking around and looking dead-serious, carefully gauging where each piece should be placed. They were doing what should be next to impossible but somehow isn’t — blending six completely different styles and media into one lovely, giant collage of a show.

Caryl Brt, the wood carver of the bunch, looked especially tickled at their creation. When asked how she was feeling about the exhibit, the White Oak resident replied with a wide-eyed smile.

“Excited, so excited,” she said. “It turned out so good.”

It has. Everything offsets everything else, with Brt’s nature-infused paper and wooden pieces playing off Sheree White Sorrells’ woven, functional works, Kim Thompson’s stone-and-sterling-silver jewelry, Suzanne Gernandt’s mixed-media textiles, Susan Livengood’s bright, mixed-media paintings and Kaaren Stoner’s stunning ceramic creations. The blend looks classy and effortless, as if it just came together on its own accord. All the artists, however, were happy to debunk that idea.

As Sorrells put it, “When you have six women working together, there’s an element of craziness.”

But there’s an element of diverse beauty, too. Sorrells, who lives in Jonathan Creek, explained that there’s something different about having her work on display next to that of her friends’. She spends so much time alone weaving her tapestries and rugs and other works in her studio, she said, that being with such a colorful group of women is a “fun exercise.”

“It’s a very enjoyable thing. That sounds like a cliché, but it helps you keep your ego intact,” she said, adding that sharing the spotlight is actually comforting, not to mention grounding.

Inevitably, the show’s juxtaposition can’t help but inspire new thought forms — in which the women take delight. For Livengood, who lives out in Fines Creek, being surrounded by so many new pieces of art is a big change from her beautifully situated but isolated studio space. While she likes it out there, where she’s free from the world’s influence, she also enjoys the influences provided by her fellow Women of NoHa.

“I feel like I’ve got all sorts of new ideas,” she said.

That’s got to make Gernandt, who originally came up with the idea for the group, smile. Though in the beginning this show was supposed to be only her work, the Ironduff artist decided a collaboration might be more powerful — and less daunting — than a solo show. She explained that the Women of NoHa came about over “several very long lunches” in March. It was decided back then not only that they would have a show together, but that they would continue to work apart, just as they always have. Each of them, Gernandt feels, is “piercing the mundane” in her own way.

She explained that her most recent works, which mix hand-woven fabric with vintage handkerchiefs emblazoned with images from her property, didn’t really come into their own until she started to step off the grid a bit. In the beginning they were too plain, but she covered them in colorful paint until, finally, they spoke to her. She believes this kind of comfort with experimentation is happens after years of making art.

“I think that’s what comes with maturity, trusting that instinct to know when the work is your own,” she said. “Learning to trust your own voice.”

All artists go through this, and part of the joy of this show is seeing how each woman of NoHa did exactly that. Thompson, for example, created all-new jewelry pieces for the exhibit. She admitted she’d spent the last two months pretty much in solitary confinement in her Ironduff studio, where she’d crafted the serene, simple, almost Asian-inspired pieces. It’s been “exhausting” she said, but also worth it.

“I think this is really going to move me in some new directions with my work,” she said.

With a tired smile, she added that, sure, she would like to do this again, “but maybe not too soon.”

Stoner — and surely the rest of the gals — feels the same. The Ironduff-based ceramist, whose work in the show includes an ode to a graceful stack of rocks, admitted that working with such a mix of women “can be hairy at times.” But it’s also been an important challenge, and a big change from the delectable solitude she requires to create her work.

“So, it’s been a fun experience,” she said, before joking she wouldn’t want to do it every three months.

Like all of the Women of NoHa, Stoner knows this show is as rare as it is extraordinary. It won’t happen every month, but it’s not meant to. Between all the mediums and all personalities it brings together, “Piercing” is, simply, bigger than the sum of its parts.

“Piercing the Mundane” continues at the Haywood County Arts Council’s Gallery 86, 86 N. Main St., through Sept. 22. An artist reception is slated from this Friday, from to 6 to 9 p.m., during “Art After Dark.” For more information, call 452-0593 or visit www.haywoodarts.org.