“It’s about the singing of the soul,” says David Hutto, Dean of Technology and Development at Blue Ridge Community College, referring to his latest project, Soul’s Journey: Inside the Creative Process.
The series of five independently funded one-hour PBS-linked documentaries explores the lives and work of 22 contemporary Southern artists who work with wood, metal, glass, fiber and ceramics.
Hutto, who has received more than 60 awards for his work in media, got the idea for the series when the college worked in partnership with a visiting international artist — David Nash — a well-known sculptor in large-scale wood pieces. “We put together a video which included his version of the creative process, his approach to his work, his ideas, his philosophy, the sort of things that were behind why he did what he did,” he says. “That provided motivation and gave us something to show what our capabilities are and what the concept for the series might be.”
The first step was to identify Southern artists whose work was emblematic of the region, but that wasn’t easy — Hutto discovered many artists originally came from other parts of the country. And the work had to be of very high quality and representative of the field.
Opinions and recommendations were gathered from working artists and from galleries and educational institutions, such as the Penland School of Crafts. Consideration was also given to artists from minority communities who were doing exceptional work. “We went through this investigative journey, which has been very rewarding and the part we’ve documented has been very enlightening,” adds Hutto.
It’s this format — creating an intimate story around each artist — that contributes to the power of the series.
“What has always interested me is the telling of a story, which we’ve been able to do with this series; to use this rich mixture of media — sound, graphics, and sometimes animation — to tell a story about some great creative people who work in various media,” says Hutto.
David’s partner was field director Chanse Simpson, who manned the video camera on location. Rather than simply spending a few hours with each artist to obtain a cursory overview, Simpson dedicated himself to a more ambitious goal: to spend as much time as necessary with the artist in their studio or work environment — often a week or more — in order to get inside the artist’s head and find out what he or she thinks and feels at the deepest levels and at any given moment throughout the entire creative process.
“I would go in with the attitude that we were working together,” says Chanse. “I’d research to find out as much as I could about their background and work, of course. Then, we’d spend the first hour or two just talking and getting to know each other until we reached a point where we felt comfortable and relaxed. From there, I encouraged them to work the way they normally do and told them that I’d just be in the background, documenting their work.
“It wasn’t always one straight week. Sometimes, if there was repetitious work like sanding or grinding, I’d spend a few days with the artist and then come back another week and stay with them to the end of the process.”
Jackson, MS observed during the week Chanse spent with her, “It amazes me how much time and effort he puts into collecting all this material and then having to condense it down to 15 minutes…not for just me, but every other artist in the series.”
Chanse compares his technique to that of taking someone backstage, so they can see what happens behind the scenes. Like a play, the artist’s finished work is what an audience normally sees; but much more insight and appreciation can be gained if one can observe all that an artist goes through to reach that point.
Award-winning wood sculptor Stoney Lamar of Saluda notes, “The series is a real cross section on artists and craftsmanship in the South…what artists make and create.”
“It took us about a year to come up with just the title,” says Hutto. “Art is a reflection of our souls, our inner being. It reveals what we’re all about. It makes a statement about our values, about our priorities, about our visions, about our fears. So, it’s a part of us. How this evolves is the journey.”