By Judith Ernst
Every November for the past 21 years, members of the Orange County Artists Guild have opened their studios to visitors. The Open Studio Tour attracts thousands who come to meet artists, explore their creative processes, see a variety of media and styles, and purchase pieces.
Guild artists are always surprising. There's a range of fascinating personal, educational and professional backgrounds. Often, there's an unexpected use of the chosen media. And there are the atypical combinations of life, work and travel.
Take, for instance, photographer, Jamie Hegenberger (Studio No. 12), who creates colorful, experimental "photograms" in the darkroom without the use of cameras, negatives, or digital manipulation. Her process embraces the techniques and experimentation of the 1800s while combining them with color from our modern era.
Leaves, flowers, and other mostly natural objects are placed directly on photographic paper and exposed to different colors of light. Then the paper is developed. The shadows that are cast onto the paper become the shapes, and the light that passes through the object determines the color. Since the composition of objects varies every time they're placed on the paper, every exposure creates an original piece of art that cannot be duplicated.
Now that snapping pictures has moved into the digital age and negative film and darkrooms are no longer required to be a photographer, darkroom chemicals are harder to find. The process of printing color-accurate images by hand is also very labor intensive. This makes Jaime's beautifully composed and brilliantly colored images even more precious.
It's no surprise that textile artist Elaine O'Neil (Studio No. 9) received a degree in textile design and that her mother was an ardent seamstress who taught her to sew as a child. Perhaps the key to O'Neil's artistic path lies in the fact that she grew up in rural Maine, the great-granddaughter of a lighthouse keeper and the granddaughter of a farmer.
"I'm inspired by memories of special places and the good things that happen there," notes O'Neil. "I strive to make my pieces look the way you feel when you're at a place that you love. A touch of whimsy here and there allows me to create a place people happily recognize and relate to.
My hope is to evoke the pleasure and delight of childhood, when life was simple, sweet and full of endless possibilities."
O'Neil's process begins by approaching each textile collage with a simple sketch. Through snips and cuts, her scissors, like a painter's brush, slowly reveal the image. Layer upon layer of fabric, stitched into place using a variety of colors and textures, brings the piece to life.
The textile artist has shown her work in galleries up and down the East Coast as well as in the mountains of North Carolina. She regularly does commissions and has created pieces for clients in Russia, England, Greece, Italy and France as well as the United States. Her work is in the collections of many colleges and businesses. She has illustrated calendars as well as four children's books, most recently "Road Trip Carolina."
When you visit the studio of Michelle Johnson (Studio No. 33), you'll not only meet a terrific ceramic artist, but also a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, a yoga teacher, and a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Carrboro. She's been an ambassador for the Africa Yoga Project since 2011, traveling with her partner, Jeff, on four trips to Kenya to teach yoga and music.
While an art minor at the College of William and Mary, Johnson took classes in clay hand building, glaze making and wheel throwing. She continued to study pottery when she moved to Chapel Hill in 1996 to start graduate school.
Johnson creates functional wheel-thrown and hand-built pottery. Her beautiful bowls, plates, hand-built sushi sets and platters include stamped textures and glazes that combine vivid blues with earthy reds.
"While my many jobs may seem disparate, in my mind they all connect," Johnson reflects. "I think my focus through all of them is on the flow, having an understanding of the nature of change and believing in change. For me, it's all about the movement. I move bodies in yoga class, move clay on the wheel, move clients through a process of transformation and move community through my service on the Board of Aldermen."
For Carol Retsch-Bogart (Studio No. 27) there's a link between work as a psychotherapist and as an artist. Key to both is the appreciation of the many layers of life.
People's lives are textured by their past, present and future, with all the complicated nuances of feelings, experiences, hopes and fears.
Everyone's life has texture and edges, and therapy allows for its exploration. As a client begins to write her own narrative, so do Retsch-Bogart's paintings attempt to integrate odd elements, pattern and color into a new and unexpected story.
"I'm fascinated by serendipity," Retsch-Bogart writes. "An unexpected discovery of a weathered ticket stub finds itself in a painting alongside Japanese sumi ink and acrylic paints. Hand-dyed shibori silk becomes embedded into encaustic wax juxtaposed next to razor clam shells picked up on the N.C. shore."
If you venture out to Retsch-Bogart's studio, you'll find her work to be striking in its use of varied materials, evocative of psychological states and moods, and always a visual delight.
Anita Wolfenden (Studio No. 61) grew up in Sweden and graduated from the University of Lund with a major in classical archeology and a minor in European literature. She came to this country in 1965 and to Chapel Hill in 1970, where she received a degree from UNC's School of Public Health.
For many years, the eclectic artist wove tapestries, but she is now enjoying the exploration of paper as an artistic medium, especially for sculpture. The paper gives the pieces a clean, abstract quality, and she can play with light and dark and the shades in between. Slightly overlapping holes in many layers of paper make for an intriguing composition.
Wolfenden's sculptural pieces are unusual, juxtaposing minimalist and complex patterns, and they're surprisingly architectural, especially when you consider that they're built of paper. She also creates works in collage, using unusual papers (including handmade dryer-lint paper), silk, old garments, and sometimes paint as well, and they always carry her unique visual sensibility.
As an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and UNC-Chapel Hill, Lynn Burcher (Studio No. 43) studied Greek art. Later, in 1998, while concentrating on stained glass, she took a course in kiln-worked glass in order to incorporate more texture into her designs. Her focus since then has been forming the glass using a torch or kiln.
Burcher's pieces combine a range of handmade components, including small glass birds, acorns and other natural forms, with vividly colored beads and metalwork that tie everything together into beautiful jewelry.
"I like working glass in all forms - stained glass, fused glass, hot glass and enamels," Burcher says. "Making sculptural torchwork beads is my favorite technique. Natural forms have always been the central focus of my expression, and the torch allows me to sculpt small floral components and creatures that I can combine into wearable art.
"Glass is an amazing medium because it can be manipulated by so many processes with such a variety of results. I was initially attracted to glass due to its color saturation, but I've grown to appreciate the kinetic quality of the material."