Folklore to the Front

Exhibit features the most storied members of the animal kingdom

Woodland Spirit – Christina Kosiba, photo by Tim Barnwell

Long before there were sword wielding, shapeshifting heroes and warrior turtles on our movie screens and in our comic books, there were the ancient myths and legendary figures from which those modern-day icons have sprung. The Transylvania Arts Council throws a gallery spotlight on those origins with this month’s exhibit, Mythological Creatures, featuring the work of Brevard sculptor Christine Kosiba in collaboration with painter/musician Shannon Whitworth and potter Margaret Kimball. All three women draw on potent symbolism from traditional storytelling and Native American mythology, seen most explicitly in Kosiba’s complex clay figures.

“I’ve always been attracted to mythology,” Kosiba says. “Humans are storytellers by nature, and mythology, fables, and folklore inspire human creativity and imagination.” The stories themselves are often violent, but their very longevity, the artist feels, “provides a sense of stability in an unpredictable world.” 

Particularly prominent in Kosiba’s work are the ravens and crows which often figure as messengers between the human and spirit worlds — this dynamic is found everywhere from indigenous folklore to the Bible to Aesop’s Fables to ancient Greek legends. One of her largest, most compelling pieces is a wall installation depicting three ravens transporting a limp fox — visual shorthand for the power of ancient mysteries over cleverness and rationality, of subjective experience over objective analysis.

A careful observer of animal behavior and motion, Kosiba anchors her figures in the real world while suggesting age-old knowledge of human foibles. Recalling a children’s book of Greek mythology she treasured as a girl as an early source for her artistic grounding, she felt even then the contradiction between the stories’ clash of compassion and cruelty. “These stories can guide us in our daily lives,” says Kosiba. “They remind us that every action has consequences.”

The sculpted and painted figures are coil built, often around a simple supporting armature, with most of the animal figures at life size or somewhat smaller. “I’m going for a sense of believability over hyperrealism,” Kosiba explains. Accompanying the avian figures are hares, horses, mice, frogs, and bears, often posed in conversation with one another. More mysterious are the human figures — a masked and horned woman seated on a wolf; a Pan-like faun with an alarmingly long, red tongue and a beautifully rendered reed basket strapped to his back.

Although her first love is sculpting in clay, Kosiba has also cast larger-scale figures in bronze for public installations (despite experimenting with ceramics in classroom settings, she is mostly self taught). 

Returning to her favorite animal spirits, the ravens, Kosiba decides they are emblematic of our own complicated mixture of kindness and cruelty, of light and dark. “They, as we,” she says, “are complicated beings.”

Mythological Creatures runs at the Transylvania Arts Council (349 South Caldwell St., Brevard) from Friday, Oct. 25 to Friday, Nov. 15. For more information about the show, call 828-884-2787 or see tcarts.org. Kosiba’s work can also be seen at Red Wolf Gallery (8 East Main St., Brevard, redwolfgallerync.com) and at the Southern Highland Craft Guild shop in Biltmore Village (26 Lodge St., Asheville southernhighlandguild.org). For more information about the artist, see christinekosiba.com.

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