Ann DerGara usually does abstract work. But living in Brevard “put me back in touch with nature,” she says. Now horses and crows routinely show up in her paintings. B.J. Precourt is a self-taught woodcarver from Mill Spring who creates his frogs, eagles, and other creatures in a 100-year-old barn using 100-year-old tools. “I would have loved to have lived in the 1800s,” he confesses. Precourt never buys wood for his carvings, only using pieces discarded at construction sites or what he finds in the forest.
The wildlife of the southern mountains has inspired both of these artists, and they join almost two dozen others in a summer exhibit at the Gallery at Flat Rock titled All Creatures Great and Small. Pieces range in mood from earthy to distinctly lighthearted, but never cartoonish. Gallery director Suzanne Ball notes that “I picked artists who have a fascination with animals — and are nuanced in their interpretation.”
The works exhibit a full range of media including clay, wood, oil, pastel, pen-and-ink, watercolor, metal, glass, and fiber. Precourt explains the complex process that results in his sculpture. “I like to stain the wood with wax, paint it, and then scorch it with high-intensity flames,” he says. “The wax starts to bubble — and almost catches fire. Then I hit it with steel wool to reveal different hues.”
He says his contributions to the show contain “lots of whimsy.” One piece is a “six-foot-tall frog that I made from a tree branch. Another is a walking stick with a fish and snake wrapped around it, and there is a pediment — a feature usually placed over the doorway — with crows on it.”
He says he’s excited to see a new generation of artists — including Molly Brouwer and Klayton Huff — doing what they’re passionate about. Brouwer and Huff incorporate creatures in pottery for the exhibit: a platter sporting worms and another piece celebrating owls. Precourt, who’s in his retirement years, acknowledges that making art is not an easy way to make a living. “You want to do what you love. But you have to pay the bills, so you do what you need to do. I only started doing my carvings about 15 years ago — but I planned them for a lifetime.”
All Creatures Great and Small: A Group Exhibition Exploring Animals as Subjects in Art will run at The Gallery at Flat Rock (2702-A Greenville Hwy.) through September 4. 828-698-7000. An artists’ Q&A session happens August 11, 5-7pm. galleryflatrock.com.