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February 6, 2007

Patio Gallery exhibit honors the sculptress

The word “sculptress” tells you two things — the artwork is a sculpture and a woman created it. The feminine ending is outdated now, but it was hard-won. A male sculptor told Louise Nevelson, one of the prominent artists of the 20th century, early in her career that she couldn’t be a sculptor. Nevelson said he told her, “‘Don’t you know, Nevelson, you’ve got to have balls to be a sculptor.’ And I replied, ‘Oh, well, I’ve got balls.’ And (the man) shut up.”Louisvillian Enid Yandell also fought against this type of prejudice as a female sculptor working at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. She excelled in college, which gave her the opportunity to study with some of the best sculptors of her day, including Auguste Rodin and Lorado Taft. Along the way, she racked up many commissions and was the first woman admitted into the National Sculpture Society. Two of her important sculptures are “Daniel Boone” in Cherokee Park and “Athena,” created for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition. When a group of local female sculptors were deciding on a name for their organization, it made perfect sense they chose ENID, in honor of Yandell’s accomplishments.  The 21 sculptures in the Patio Gallery by 13 members are abstract, so the viewer has to do a little more work to relate to a piece. So much the better; if the meaning does not come easily, it may be more personal when you do “get it.”Ewing Fahey’s “Continuum” is a good example of this. The green stone-twisted circle stands on its own as a beautiful work of art, then takes on additional meaning when you understand it was meant to be placed in a cemetery. As her posted artist statement explains, “The circle is symbol of eternity. Here its twisting, broad planes form a continuous surface — if an imaginary line were drawn, beginning at any point, it would circle three times around before returning to its start. This is intended as a metaphor for the seamless nature of life, death and the hereafter. If a cross section were cut, they would reveal triangles, which symbolize faith, hope and love and the Trinity.”Spirituality also flows through the art of Jeanne Dueber, a Loretto, Ky., nun. Her hammered copper “Angel of Mercy” shows a face and two hands emerging from the smooth background, as if reaching out through the darkness to assist someone in need. This will be my mental image of a guardian angel from now on.Fun and humor highlight the work of collage artist Jacque Parsley. Her mixed media “An Arranged Marriage”diptych is full of doll parts, light bulbs and a turtle shell. Another of her works, “Death Plucks My Ear,” strikes a more serious note. Using a washboard as the support, she attached a doll’s head and plastic ear on the top. On the bottom are bronzed baby shoes. In the center of the washboard she placed an image of an Egyptian sarcophagus, then wrote the saying, “Death Plucks My Ear and Says ‘Live, For I Am Coming.’” Wouldn’t you love to see her studio, with its mounds of doll parts and assorted jumble? That would be an exhibition in itself. Caren Cunningham’s work is fun, as well — and recyclable too! After having surgery, Cunningham realized her usual medium of stone was too much for her. “I asked myself what would be the opposite of working with heavy, gray 350-million-year old limestone, and I decided that it would be lightweight colored plastic,” she explains in her artist statement. Her “Eight Totems,” created out of plastic, wood and galvanized steel, have been placed outside the building (they can be viewed from the gallery windows), and are the perfect antidote for a dreary winter day.More thought provoking and serious is “Saltation,” the sculpture by Joyce Ogden. Resembling a portion of a large hourglass, the steel frame, polyurethane rubber over cloth funnel has sand inside it as well as on the floor. The shape and function are familiar enough for the casual viewer to understand, yet it resonates, which is typical of Ogden’s work.A photograph of Enid Yandell, with chisel in hand, is posted on the gallery wall, letting her survey her namesake exhibition. I believe she would be proud.