Mar 07, 2008 Nancy Keefe Rhodes Uncategorized
Downtown pioneer and sculptor, Carol Cole, creates “green” work for CNY shows:
As an unemployed TV producer who “did pottery on the side” in the early 70s, Carol Cole didn’t foresee being a pioneering founder of the arts and crafts cooperative that endures today, in modified form, as Armory Square’s Eureka Crafts and its two-year-old toddler offspring, Eureka East, outside Manlius. Then she visited a new venture called Village Square in the basement of the old E.W. Edwards department store on Salina Street, crafters got paid to make their wares in public, talk to visitors and, if they sold anything, they could keep the money.
Cole said she wasn’t a very good potter, but she “had a big old kick wheel, I sat under a spotlight and talked to kids. I had to be there 50 hours a week. You know, you get pretty good, so I decided I wanted to be a full-time artist.”
The Village Square experiment eventually broke up, but Cole joined a smaller cadre — woodworker Bill McDowell, toymaker Tom Cunningham, art teacher/potter Tina Parker and others — who set up shop in the building that now houses Empire Brewing, moving to Eureka’s present location on Walton Street in 1983. Eureka Crafts, now owned by Parker and Cunningham, was established in 1986, 10 years after Eureka Studios.
Parker said Eureka hosted a show of Cole’s work a dozen years ago. Now there’s a window display at Eureka downtown and 11 large pieces in the Manlius gallery, sculptures from Cole’s recent solo show “Transformations” at Colgate University’s Longyear Museum. Parker drove to Hamilton for the opening and invited Cole back to her old stomping grounds.
Where has Cole been?
Cole left Syracuse when her husband finished his SU PhD and got a university teaching job in Philadelphia. She quickly found another artist-friendly situation in an old brick building rehabbed into studios. There she moved on from clay to paper pulp, used like clay, built upon a Styrofoam armature, embedded with found objects, painted to resemble old wood, leather, rusty iron or bronze patina. Her work is paradoxical. Looking heavy and old, inspired by ancient Moroccan doors, Etruscan and New Guinea-style shields, Mayan and African totems, it’s new, amazingly light and “elegant but made from trash.” Hair brushes, a round floor-polisher brush, red tufts, bottle caps, beads, shell casings tinted turquoise, strips of studded leather belts, brass eggs, a piece of vertebrae, sea urchin spines and computer parts — these are Cole’s re-cycled “art supplies.”
Cole now exhibits across the US, takes large private commissions, and teaches artists’ motivational workshops and school residencies. She spoke by phone last week from Philadelphia. Here are some highlights of the 15-minute interview that stretched nearly an hour.
Your favorite color is rust, but there’s often a touch of red?
That’s new. I look at African sculpture a lot. I started looking again and seeing a lot of red. It’s almost a trick. It’s such a powerful color emotionally and visually. The next thing is to add some pure blue. I like the turquoise. I grew up in Tucson. As a child in the early 50s we were exposed to a lot of Native American art. The two colors I really liked were turquoise and burnt sienna — the same colors as rust and copper or brass patina.
You use paper three-dimensionally — what’s this “cast paper sculpture”?
You can use paper pulp like clay. It’s like the old egg cartons — you put it in a mold, pop it off when it dries and it’s sturdy. But I don’t like to repeat — everything is one-of-a-kind. Someone I know did beautiful paper pulp sculpture and she said you don’t take the Styrofoam out — you leave it. It was like a light bulb! I’ve been doing it ever since. I make the shape, carve the Styrofoam, cover that with paper pulp. The pulp is about 1/2 – 3/4 inches thick when applied.
How did the Village Square mall happen?
Edwards went out of business and a retail specialist came in who said, turn the basement into a small business mall. Hippie craftspeople was the attraction. Bill McDowell had the Dragon’s Emporium near Westcott. He knew everyone and was hired to manage – 25 or 30 people started out there. Kate Woodle, who does illustration for the zoo, was doing batik. Joe Panzarella made brooms — he runs Imagine Gallery in Skaneateles. Linda Sherman’s an art teacher — she made pottery with horses on it. Jim Rausch made jewelry. Judy McNally was a weaver. Harry Freeman-Jones made banners. Somebody made Western shirts to order. Shortly afterward they stopped paying us, but it created a situation. People brought in their animals and kids. We covered the booths with barn wood. We were encouraged to look “hippie.” For a while they hired a blue-grass band. As it succeeded, some people left.
Your work and your audience changed significantly in Philadelphia?
Things I wanted to do with clay got too hard. In order to use found objects I had to go too large. Paper let me grow, maybe because I was hanging around more fine artists too. If you make what’s authentic, people will like it. Too often we don’t value what comes easily — if everyone would relax and do what they physically enjoy, we’d all contribute. I make things intuitively. You learn tools, techniques and problem solving from others, but then your direction’s your own.
You have a real affinity for archetypal forms.
A professor at Colgate talks about globalization — that people used to just be exposed to art in their own village, then they’d travel and see something slightly different. Only recently with photo, now the Internet, an artist can see everything. Now the whole world is part of an artist’s world. I’ve always been drawn to tribal works and architecture. I have a faith — the right person sees it and wants it — they’ll want a particular piece. You won’t make a regular living but there’s the deep enjoyment of the making, and it’s pretty amazing when people tell you they love your work! I borrowed a piece for the Colgate show that was sold — when I brought it back they were so happy, they’d missed it.
Carol Cole’s “Transformations” at both Eureka locations to March 31st. Armory Square’s Eureka Crafts, 210 Walton St., open seven days, 471.4601 & Eureka Crafts East, 8188 Cazenovia Rd. (cor. Rt. 92 & Pompey Center Rd.), Monday-Saturday, 682.1938. See eurekacrafts.com and carolcole.com.
Photo: Etruscan Shield