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Arts Features

March 2009

Arts Feature: Eye of the Beholder

Form and function intersect in the studios of nine Greenville artisans

The Naturals

Feast for the Eyes

Review: The Cazbah

Our guide to eating and

drinking in the Upstate

Written By:    Lydia Dishman

Photographs by:   Paul Mehaffey

Art is never about just one thing. An artist works in

layers: tradition, technique, inspiration, and

experience are brought together to infuse a piece with

a multi-dimensional sense of purpose that transcends

the medium and makes it alive.


This is perhaps most easily seen on a painter’s

color-laden canvases, where splashes, daubs, fine

strokes, and thick swathes come together to form a

portrait, a landscape, or an abstract expression of

light, shadow, humor, or pathos.
But what of those who labor to weave vines, carve stone or wood, cut glass, or shape clay? Those who layer time-honored traditions with a modern sensibility and combine classic design with contemporary style? Those artists who create objects that are useful as well as beautiful?


Within Greenville’s burgeoning community of creators, the Metropolitan Arts Council counts more than 700 individual artists and organizations as members, each working with different methods and media. This diverse group—along with dozens of other art-focused programs—recently helped Greenville earn a national ranking by John Villani, author of 100 Best Art Towns in America. Were we a town of 700 painters or 700 photographers, the designation may have eluded us. Art towns, as defined by Villani, serve as creativity incubators where cultural diversity is central to civic identity.


To celebrate our variegated landscape of creativity, we’ve turned the lens on potters, blacksmiths, stone carvers, and glass workers. We introduce you to these specialized creators—artisans, as it were—and open the door to their unique ways of seeing art in the function and the beauty of pieces that can be used every day.


Mimi Conlon

stone carver
Take the classical art of stone carving and put it in the confident hands of a bright college junior and you have the makings of more than just the continuation of an age-old tradition. Mimi Conlon, a Greenville native who currently attends the American College of the Building Arts (ACBA) in Charleston, wields a hammer and chisel to bring out the art in edifices both ancient and new.


When Conlon landed an internship in England this past summer, she was able to apply her skill and strength to assist in the restoration of Lincoln Cathedral, part of which dates back to 1072. After three weeks with thirty master artisans—who Conlon says were most welcoming and willing to mentor her—she moved on to The Prince of Wales’s Building Crafts Apprentice Programme to learn the role of her craft in the larger building culture and focus on green urban design. As part of the project management team, she helped design a youth shelter in keeping with traditional building materials and designs. Though she has not yet seen the structure in its completed form, she is confident that she’ll return and visit someday.


And despite accumulating such broad experiences at such a young age, Conlon also has a firm grip on her identity. “I’ve always done things with my hands,” says the former student of Greenville’s Fine Arts Center, who professes she’s never wavered on her desire to work in the arts, though she originally thought her destiny might lie in ironwork. Watching Simeon Warren, Dean of ACBA, carving stone during an open house changed her mind.


But Conlon admits without the support of fellow Greenvillian Shirley Roe, she might not have achieved all she’s set out to do. Ms. Roe had been looking for a stone artisan to work on her home, and promised that if she could find a young, dedicated worker, she would finance their higher education. “She gave me a full scholarship to ACBA,” says Conlon adding, “I would not be here otherwise.”


As she looks to the future, Conlon is optimistic that her training at one of the only licensed collegiate programs designed to educate and train a new generation in the traditional building arts will serve her well. She’s planning to try her hand at carving a statue for her senior project, then spend two years working in the trade. And after that? With a confident voice that belies her youth, Conlon says, “I plan to return to Greenville to start my own business.”


Mimi Moore | Moore Carver LLC | www.moorecarver.com | (843) 367-2020


Ryan Calloway

artist blacksmith

Extending a rough hand with a welcoming grip, Ryan Calloway eagerly leads the way into his office/gallery filled with examples of his iron work. A delicately scrolled rendering of a gate on paper hangs above his desk, and the walls hold bracketed bunches of flowers, somewhat abstract in their muscular form, yet still recognizable as native plants rudbeckia and echinacea. A soaring classical column topped with an intricate pediment stands in the middle of the room. Off to one side of the vast space is a wide door that conceals the workshop where the blacksmithing is done.

The Greenville Tech alum who holds a degree in welding admits it was quite a journey, both artistic and logistic, before he landed back in Greenville. But a turning point came when he was introduced to the artist blacksmith movement in 2003, a moment he describes as “heaven.”


Now a member of the S.C. Chapter of the Artist Blacksmiths’ Guild, Calloway spent several years working in New Orleans, honing his skills on the intricate wrought iron that embellishes many of the city’s facades. Then, Hurricane Katrina wrought devastation. Calloway’s home was flooded, but his studio was unscathed. Along with the good fortune that spared the tools he uses to earn his daily bread, Calloway considered himself lucky to land back in Greenville, find clients and the space to store the heavy equipment necessary for iron work.


His building near St. Francis downtown formerly housed a textile machine shop and still contained some useful materials. To this he added his 100-year-old anvil (“I bought it from a cowboy in Louisiana”) and a swage block that he found when rummaging through a surplus yard. He built his own massive mechanical hammers (the force of the eighty-pound one could pulverize a finger, yet Calloway maneuvers it as easily as if it were a kitchen tool). He nods to the forges, one coal and one gas, as the heart of the operation. Within their fiery enclosures, tools, classical techniques, and design, as well as the metal itself, alchemize to form modern pieces done in the traditional style.


Calloway stares into the forge, currently dormant, waiting for the next firing. “I’m inspired by the anvil and the heat,” he explains, “to transform metal into something beautiful.”


Ryan Calloway | 12 Andrews Street | Greenville
www.creativeironworks.net | (864) 386-5546


Liz Daly-Korybski

glass artist

Creating glass is a highly technical art form. It must be precise to the tenths of degrees of temperature,” explains Liz Daly-Korybski as she sorts through the boxes of small, jewel-colored glass pieces she will fuse to create her signature jewelry. Fingering a vibrant pendant beside them, the pad of her thumb running across the miniature landscape’s ridges and valleys, she continues, “to create something functional out of glass, that is also an art form.”


Art in many iterations abounds in the combination gallery and studio she owns on South Main Street. Filled with a plethora of pleasing glass objects that range from tactile pendants, fluted vases, sturdy wine stoppers, and a whole section devoted to “up-cycled” treasures created from guitar picks, bottle caps, and other found materials, it is a place that begs lingering. Daly-Korybski admits this was done with intent, just as she positioned her studio to be open to the gallery, inviting browsers in to explore her creative process.

“I owe a lot of my success to Open Studios, and this way, it is like Open Studios all the time,” she notes. Confessing she is “obsessed with glass,” Daly-Korybski chronicles an artistic journey that began with the study of jewelry design in college. She took a detour through corporate America (one that she credits for her shrewd business sense) then rediscovered her love of glass and jewelry and never looked back.


But she’s quick to point out that her style and the pieces she creates are always evolving. “Every few years as a designer you have to not just keep up with the Joneses, but go ahead of them,” she declares. To that end, the painted signs she’s posted around the walls, “Play,” “Create,” and “Learn,” serve as constant reminders to keep stretching her creative boundaries. Daly-Korybski is also adding classes to the mix. “I like to encourage artists. When they create, it inspires others, and me, too.”


Liz Daly-Korybski | Daly Designs | 421 S. Main Street
Greenville | www.dalydesigns.com | (864) 325-4445


Michael McDunn
artisan woodworker
I didn’t want to starve, but that was not where my heart was,” says Michael McDunn as he describes the dilemma of being a contemporary wood worker in a community that prized antique furnishings. But necessity (in this case, supporting three children) was the mother of invention. McDunn adapted his modern eye to classical designs from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Then, he mixed in some Asian-inspired details, and voilà: tables, desks, and dressers that would rest well in any style home.


Take, for example, one of his latest: A glossy table is topped with a cherry slab that retains its irregular edges. Cracks in the surface are not filled, they are actually featured as McDunn employs his trademark, contrasting wood “bats” like sutures, to hold them together and enhance the imperfections. Below are thick, arched supports separated by painted silver wooden orbs. “Part of the beauty is the roughness combined with a refined base,” explains McDunn. “It drives your eye around the table.”


McDunn says he gets his wood from all over the country, but keeps his eye on the trees close to home. During the last ice storm he was able to salvage fallen dogwoods and hollies, the latter a prize because of its hard, white wood. And he gets his inspiration from all over too, from books to other artists’ work. One inspiration he returns to again and again is history. Drawings of Chippendale, Heppelwhite, and Sheraton furniture populate the wall over his work table, reminding him that classical proportions are the best foundation for a new design.


Right now he is working on one of his largest projects, a maple and mappa burl closet for a homeowner. In this massive piece it is easy to see that one thing has remained constant: his love for the functional aspect of his art. Running a hand across the silky pale swirls of a cabinet door he says, “I like to be able to live with everything, touch it, and use it.”


Michael McDunn | 41 Rutherford Road | Greenville
www.mcdunnstudio.com | (864) 242-0311


Jay Owens


Standing in the cottage studio that Jay Owens built himself (still a work-in-progress), he is surrounded by the work of his own hands: floor, walls, roof, and windows, of course, but there is also pottery in various stages of completion, jar upon jar of his own glazes, hand-mixed clay, and cleverly repurposed tools. Just outside the window is a garden, a series of raised beds where Owens cultivates vegetables and herbs.


The breadth of these experiences has set Owens on a path to self-discovery. “I learned a lot about my work and myself,” he says, ruefully rubbing an ear with a freckled hand. “I started with formal surfaces and forms,” he says, nodding to a large jar in Greek classical style that sits at his feet. But that style, too, has evolved to incorporate more aspects of popular culture, even as his techniques are rooted in centuries-old traditions.


Picking up one of a series of unglazed jars, he points to the decorative designs imprinted on the sides that include forks and spoons and a pattern of exclamation points. “I’m just exploring everyday items,” he says. “I go back to what I was doing four to five years ago, but now I am designing with more flat space that can still be usable,” says the artist who admits that he also loves to cook, another creative process of layering, only with flavors.


He explains that although clay has a memory (“It wants to pull and push in different directions”), he doesn’t ever feel that his many creative efforts are scattered. The way he sees it, the loose, gestural drawings, the letterpress printing tiles, the colors, shapes, and abstract motifs that punctuate his pottery all personify the human condition, a continuum that reaches from ancient times to modern society. That the jars and bowls are also functional is all part of his plan. “Everything has a purpose,” he offers. “It is all about coming together.”


Jay Owens | 12 Windtree Court | Travelers Rest
www.claydirt.blogspot.com | (864) 517-2235


Nancy Basket

basket weaver

Kudzu has long been declared a noxious weed in our state; most people simply curse the viny stuff as they rip it off trees and out of gardens and relegate it to the trash heap. But one man’s weed is Nancy Basket’s treasure. The Cherokee artist has made a name (literally) for herself by weaving baskets of kudzu vine and pine needles.


Even though kudzu climbs poles and covers roadsides with abandon, Basket notes that availability and accessibility are two different things. “I am looking for pieces that are a thumb width or thicker, and you won’t catch me stopping at the side of the highway to get some,” she says, noting that a friend got fined for a non-emergency stop by a trooper on one such roadside-collecting mission. The challenge of gathering notwithstanding, Basket is passionate about her material.


“It is perfect. Even a kindergartner can split it themselves and weave it into a ‘bird’s nest’ basket,” says the artist who has done extensive work in the school system to teach children the techniques that have been passed down for generations. Over the years, Nancy Basket has plied her skills to create more than simply containers. In fact, the largest “basket” she’s ever crafted was turned into a light fixture for FISH, a trendy restaurant in Charleston. “I used a coil technique like the Gullah weavers,” she says, pleased that between the food and the décor, the restaurant serves up a true mélange of the different cultures represented in the state. She’s woven a ceiling for Louis’s Restaurant in Las Vegas and has made cradleboards and masks. She’s gathered bales to construct a barn on her property. Out of kudzu fibers she makes paper, a best-selling item for her, and out of the fragrant grape-scented flowers she makes jelly.


“I am always coming up with something new. I never get tired of working with pine needles or kudzu. I hear it, it speaks to me,” she says of her connectedness to Cherokee tradition and the natural world. But above all, she reminds, “I think it is important now, when people have so much less to spend, that they can actually use a work of art.”


Nancy Basket | 1105 E. Main Street | Walhalla
www.nancybasket.com | (864) 718-8864

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