Feat of Clay opens show featuring 3 artists
FARMINGTON — It was a little more than a year ago, during the 2015 Riverfest celebration, that local woodworking artist Steve Barr began to kick around the idea of crafting pieces that incorporated the kinds of designs one might find on a Navajo blanket.
It took the Massachusetts native a while to figure out a workable process for producing such work, but he believes he’s got it down now. Barr will be showcasing his new pieces in an exhibition opening this weekend at the Feat of Clay artist co-op and gallery in Aztec, a show that also features the jewelry of Stuart Lawrence and the paintings of Gayle Lewis.
His best example of that style, Barr said, is a 2 ½-foot-by-3-1/2-foot wall hanging called “Moonlight in Canyon,” which he described as a landscape with wood.
“It’s complicated,” Barr said of the process last week from his studio, dusting himself off while taking a break from working on some of the pieces he’ll be showing at Feat of Clay. “When I started working on the process, to figure out how I could do it, it took me a while. But once I did that, it went pretty quickly ... There are some really strange symmetries involved.”
Barr’s other work in the show is no less striking, even if it isn’t based on Navajo patterns. He also has crafted two large tables and a “very strange” box, as he labeled it. The tables were difficult enough to complete, Barr noted, referring to the task of combining a flat, rectangular tabletop with a base of found wood, modified only slightly.
“You’re still working at 90-degree angles, but you’re working with sculptural wood,” he said. “But it’s a pleasant challenge.”
Barr said he draws inspiration from his frequent hikes.
“I often come to places where human beings haven’t been in some time,” he said. “Sometimes, you find trees that are so expressive, I call them ‘talking trees.’ And this part of the country has a lot of talking trees, a sort of raw, sculptural garden.”
He likes to use parts of those trees to craft pieces with pristine, mixed-wood patterns that have a strong rustic feel.
Perhaps the most unusual piece in Barr’s collection is the aforementioned box, the bottom of which he built a year ago and put away, waiting for further inspiration. The beautiful, intricate piece features 8-inch pieces of cedar wood carved into a leaf at each corner, while the lid is bordered with purpleheart. The interior of the lid features 160 small pegs positioned vertically, while a carving resembling a tulip rises from the center.
“I had the box built and thought, ‘Well, what am I going to do with this?’” Barr said of the evolution of the piece. “Then I had this thought (for the lid), and I said, ‘Well, that’s weird, but it might be interesting.”
Not surprisingly, the box turned out to be perhaps the most labor-intensive piece Barr has ever created.
“That one’s nuts, yeah,” he said, laughing and explaining that he not only had to figure out the design he wanted, but also a method by which he could create it.
Barr said it isn’t unusual for him to begin a piece before he has fully envisioned what he’d like it to become, but this box was unique.
“I don’t usually go as far into the creative process,” he said. “Usually, I don’t create the box first. I just create the outline of the box.”
Barr will be showing dozens of other pieces, as well. He crafts a variety of beds, shelves, bureaus, chests, trays, platters, bowls, cubes and other items that he markets through his web-based business, greatbasindesign.com.
The jewelry that Lawrence will be showcasing at Feat of Clay is all repurposed, recycled pieces. He likes to take vintage jewelry and convert it into something nontraditional, adding to it a key, perhaps, or part of an old, wind-up watch.
“Everything is one of a kind,” he said. “I take broken jewelry and rework it to make it more functional.”
Lawrence is an Aztec native who went to college in Albuquerque before returning to the area, resettling in Farmington in 1995. He said he got started in the jewelry business by making pieces for his wife for Mother’s Day and birthdays approximately 15 years ago and found he liked it.
“I started out doing a lot of beadwork,” he said. “My wife (who also makes jewelry) and I ... would go to Santa Fe a lot to buy semi-precious stones or beads. But after a while, that got to be too symmetrical, and it wasn’t enough of a creative outlet for us.”
That’s when Lawrence transitioned to recycled jewelry. Though he still occasionally incorporates beadwork into his art, he prefers his new approach.
“Everything comes out different, and it’s more fun, I believe,” he said.
The Lawrences typically don’t work on pieces together, but they do spend a lot of time bouncing ideas off each other. Stuart Lawrence said his wife is good about letting him know when a repurposed piece he’s created simply isn’t practical.
“She’ll let me know if it’s too long or too short or too heavy,” he said. “Some of those design elements, I don’t think about. You can’t have a piece that weighs 15 pounds. It may look good, but nobody’s going to wear that.”
Lawrence said much of his work falls into the steampunk style, a genre that he said has been attracting more interest over the last two or three years in this area.
“I think it’s got a lot of staying power,” he said.
He plans on showing between 25 and 30 pieces in the exhibition.
The work of Barr, Lawrence and Lewis will remain on display at the gallery through July 16.
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Opening reception for an exhibition of artwork by Steve Barr, Stuart Lawrence and Gayle Lewis
When: 5 p.m. Friday, June 24
Where: Feat of Clay artist co-op and gallery, 107 S. Main Ave. in Aztec
For more information: Call 505-334-4335 or 505-334-3014