"From These Hills: Contemporary Art in the Southern Appalachian Highlands," a biennial exhibition, is on display through Feb. 16 at William King Museum in Abingdon, Va. A long-standing tradition of the Museum, 2013 is the 20th year of this guest-curated and juried show of regional artists who live and work in Southern Appalachia.
Steven Matijcio, recently appointed curator at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio and former curator of contemporary art at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, N.C., served as guest curator for this year's "From These Hills." Artists applying to this exhibition must live and work in Southern Appalachia. Matijcio selected 37 works from 20 artists living in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia for this year's exhibit.
Upon entering the exhibit, it is surprising that geography is the only required connection between artists: the space is gorgeous. Even before reading about Matijcio's curatorial vision to "highlight the conceptual approach" of each exhibiting artist in the well-done gallery guide, the "connection" between the works is immediately obvious and inviting to a viewer.
The viewer's impression while visiting this exhibit is there is a great deal of high caliber fine art being created in the Southern Appalachians. It is a challenge to pull one artist or piece of work out of the exhibition to discuss without wanting to relate every artist to each other. Fortunately, Matijcio's essay for the exhibit does this beautifully. (Thanks to William King Museum's recently updated website, the gallery guide can be downloaded at www.williamkingmuseum.org.)
The representation across media is quite impressive: oil painting to installations using helium, to disposable ballpoint pen and inks to political collages, to photographs featuring blurred, memory-like nude figures. Although tough to call in this strong show, a personal favorite is Robin Johnston's woven tapestries. It is refreshing to see a traditional craft technique stand a strong ground amongst fine art in today's world. They are beautiful cloths using traditional materials: refreshing, timely, charting and scientifically beautiful.
Often curators at William King use this biennial to develop future exhibits at the museum. Leila Cartier, curator at William King Museum, should be well primed with a plethora of concepts for future exhibitions from this year's "From These Hills." The show would be just as impressive in an urban gallery. "From These Hills" is a wonderful resource for gallery owners looking for new talent and regional teachers to inspire students with artists living within local communities.
About the Reviewer:
Robyn Raines is a graduate of Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia, Pa., where she studied textile design. She spent two years as a Core Fellowship student at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, during which time she studied a variety of media and materials. She maintains a studio and creates conceptual mixed media sculpture. Upon returning to her native Southwest Virginia, Raines was director of the Appalachian Arts Center in Richlands, Va. She has worked in Abingdon,Va., at Barter Theatre as an advancement officer, and is the center director of Southwest Virginia 4-H Educational Center.