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The 29 original lanterns at Wilmington’s Cameron Art Museum were made by artists from all over the country. They’re on display through Jan. 13.
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2018 stands out as the year when much of the Cape Fear Region was stranded in the dark for days in the wake of Hurricane Florence. For those who stayed and lost power, literal darkness. For those who evacuated, the uncertainty of how and when to return, and what they’d return to.
Given all that darkness, it’s no wonder Florence would show up in some of the works on display in the Cameron Art Museum’s “Illumination 2018,” the fourth installment of an annual, juried group exhibition of original lanterns that are diverse in scale, scope and material, but bound by one enchanting quality: the magic of light.
“Light brings you out of the darkness,” said sculptor and University of North Carolina Wilmington art professor Andi Steele.
Steele is one of three artists who directly reference the hurricane in “Illumination,” on display at the CAM through Jan. 13. The show features 29 lanterns created by artists from throughout North Carolina and as far away as Westmont, Illinois. As far as materials and content, the works are pretty much anything-goes. The CAM’s main stipulation is that each lantern must use the same bright, cool-running and environmentally friendly L.E.D. bulbs supplied by the museum.
Steele’s work, “Revival,” takes the form of a tree trunk, with light emitting from within the steel-wire “bark.” She had a basic concept for the work prior to Hurricane Florence, but the piece evolved after the storm.
“It was based on a pine tree I passed every day going to work that was broken in half by the hurricane but was still standing,” Steele said. “Then the trees started blooming, and the thought of new growth out of something so damaged was encouraging. The light shining through the lantern represents the strength and resilience to start again.”
Richard Conn, who teaches sculpture at Cape Fear Community College, made a symbol out of a post-Florence image almost as ubiquitous as fallen trees: a blue tarp. In Conn’s “Fallen Forest,” jagged planks of ebonized mahogany are arranged at sharp, haphazard angles, evoking woods whipped by wind. The mahogany suspends a tilted house, glowing blue and lit from within. The little blue house is made from the same material protecting damaged roofs on homes around the region.
“Even with the synthetic nature of the tarp material,” Conn wrote in the CAM’s exhibition program, “I see it as symbolic of the resiliency of the natural environment and the community that finds a home within it.”
Many of the works on display stood up for the environment, including two of the works receiving top honors from the jurors. This year’s show was juried by Rhonda Bellamy, Kristen Brogdon, Hiroshi Sueyoshi, Jennifer Kraner, Fidias Reyes, Khadijia Tribie and Elizabeth Wells.
Second place was awarded to Robert Anderson for his “Reclaimed Plastic Lamp.”
“Instead of using paint to make art,” Anderson said, “I want to use reclaimed materials to do it.”
For the past two years, Anderson has created sculptural works by repurposing beach debris and non-recyclable, single-use plastics with the aim to keep waste out of the environment and to inspire other artists to do the same.
“I live down in Holden Beach,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of places that serve frozen ice stuff. So I go down there and just take their trash and clean it out.”
For his “Reclaimed Plastic Lamp,” Anderson melted frosted white plastic cups with a heat gun to create floral forms that seem natural and beautiful, not like anything you’d find in a landfill.
First place went to “Full House,” a lantern by Trinity artist Cara Bevan, who also makes art from gourds. Bevan tied for second place at “Illumination” in 2016 for her alluring, gourd-based tree sculpture. She often carves out gourds grown in North Carolina to form amazingly realistic renderings of plants and animals. This year, her mesmerizing “Full House” features a crowded tree of glowing yellow owl eyes carved into the front of a pumpkin gourd, and a web of thin lines carved into the back of the gourd. Placed near a wall in the CAM, the lines project a ghostly forest of shadowy trees behind the full house of owls, evoking themes of deforestation.
Third place went to Wilmington artist Katherine Wolf Webb, who took second place in the first three “Illumination” exhibits. Webb chose the most magical subject out there — fairy tales — in sculpting a whimsical paper castle adorned with icons from 15 distinct children’s stories and dotting the form with translucent portals of light that invite the viewer in for a closer look.
Webb said she created ”The Magic Lantern of Fairy Tales” for her granddaughter.
In a show of lanterns shining for hope, resilience and the wonder of a child, a little light goes a long way.
Contact StarNews arts and entertainment at 910-343-2343.