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Vicky Smith: ‘Collected Clay’
Opening Exhibit
Friday, 2/1 • 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
621N4TH Gallery
621 N. 4th St.

LAYERS BENEATH: Part Vicky Smith’s NC exhibit, ‘Collected Clay,’ which will hang at 621N4TH Gallery, opening on February 1st. Courtesy photo

LAYERS BENEATH: Part Vicky Smith’s NC exhibit, ‘Collected Clay,’ which will hang at 621N4TH Gallery, opening on February 1st. Courtesy photo

For those who have roots planted in North Carolina, many can recall moments of their childhood when they dug their hands into the soil and discovered clay for the first time. Almost like an endless supply of Silly Putty hiding underneath our feet, it is really a unique natural element to behold. In fact, NC is unique as its clay ranges from dark orange, pink with mica, deep blue and bright yellow. For years, locals have utilized this natural element as a continuous source of work and of art in sculptures, pottery, jewelry, and more.

Local artist Vicky Smith recently traveled across the state collecting, studying and bottling the types of clays. She is presenting her finds—along with several pieces of art that also incorporate clay, which play on the theme of NC landscapes—at “Collected Clay.” The show will open at 621N4TH Gallery on Friday, February 1st.

With funding from the NC Regional Art Project Grant in 2012, Smith set out last March to begin collecting blue clay in New Hanover County. From there she traveled westward to the mountains, searching for and collecting other sample types. Along the way she met many NC potters, all who generously shared their knowledge of the local clay. Samples of each clay will be displayed in bottles along with a multi-panel “North Carolina Landscape” piece at “Collected Clay.”

Smith, a native North Carolinian, currently divides her time between teaching studio art at UNCW and working at her studio, which is built on 20 acres of family land that includes a large clay mine in Greene County, NC.

encore spoke with Smith about the new exhibition, her travels across NC and the significance of her medium.

encore (e): What was the inspiration behind “Collected Clay”?
Vicky Smith (VS): The body of work is the varied landscapes of NC and the clay that lies beneath the surface. Clay is abundant all over NC in a large range of colors; the colors are as varied as the landscapes of NC. In New Hanover County, we have blue clay from an ancient riverbed. The clay washes up on the shores of our local beaches after storms. We also have yellow clay in the northern part of the county. In this exhibition I have labeled samples of the different clays I collected. One of the wall pieces starts with the landscape of the mountains and stretches to the coast. I also incorporated maps of the areas in this piece.

e: Can you tell me a little more about the experience of collecting and about the various clays throughout the state?
VS: I began this project by contacting other clay artists; almost everyone knows someone in North Carolina that uses local clay. Ceramic artists are very generous and willing to share their knowledge and their clay. When I started out I thought I would be digging clay; as it turned out, this was the exception, not the rule. Most potters gave me clay from their studio; one person [even] had it packaged and waiting for me.

e: Overall, how long did it take to collect the samples and create your pieces?
VS: The collecting took place in March 2012. It took 10 days of traveling. I worked in my studio most of the summer and fall on the project.

e: You also made fired clay pieces and grids for this exhibition. Can you describe the process behind this?
VS: The fired clay pieces in this exhibition are vases and pods. Both are fired in the wood-firing kiln I built while in graduate school at ECU with Professor Seo Eo. The kiln sits on the same property with the clay site. I fire the kiln twice a year with friends. It takes about 26 hours to get it to 2500° F. We spend the weekend throwing wood into the kiln, eating, drinking and chatting.

The pods are wheel-thrown and altered. I put glass shards inside the pods before they are bisque-fired; the glass fuses to the clay during the firing.

The pods are inspired by a trip to Nepal I took last year with my husband when we went for a hike on the former hunting grounds of the Nepalese kings. The government owns this property and it has never been deforested; huge trees produce large seedpods that covered the ground—I wanted to make something similar to these pods.

e: Have you always found inspiration in nature or specifically with clay?
VS: My maternal grandparents were tobacco farmers, [and] there was primary clay on the farm. The clay was unearthed in the 1940s when sand was mined by the state transportation department. As a child I spent part of the summers playing on the farm. The clay always intrigued me with its bright colors.

I took art in high school and was introduced to the [color] wheel, and I wanted to learn more about this medium. It was several years later before this happened, but I always remembered the clay on the farm and how beautiful it is in its natural state.

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