A! Magazine for the Arts

"Earth" by Carole Farris Blevins is one of the pieces on exhibit as part of "Mapping the Cosmos."

"Earth" by Carole Farris Blevins is one of the pieces on exhibit as part of "Mapping the Cosmos."

"Mapping the Cosmos' is on exhibit at William King Musem of Art

January 28, 2015

Ambitious projects don't daunt Jan Hurt. She's helped initiate several of Abingdon,Virginia's public art projects and collaborations, including "It's in the Cards," "Gotcha Covered: An Exploration of Clothing, Costume and Masks," "Seeking the Sacred Source: Artists and Spirituality," "The Apron Project" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia's Wolves."

Her latest collaborative project on exhibit at William King Museum of Arts, Abingdon, Virginia, is "Mapping the Cosmos: Jan Hurt and a Constellation of Artists."

The exhibit's opening reception is Thursday, Feb. 5, from 6-8 p.m., as part of Abingdon's monthly First Thursday event. The exhibit is on display until May 17.

"Right after I moved here, I organized "It's in the Cards,' the Tarot card exhibit. Twenty one artists interpreted a major arcana tarot card. What I wanted to do this time was to bring in some people whose work might not normally be seen in Abingdon," she says. She got together with Leila Cartier, William King Museum of Art's curator, and they made a long list of artists. "We were talking about the Tarot exhibit and kind of wanting to revisit it, but realized that it had been done. Although doing it with a new group of artists, it would be a whole different animal. We wanted something that was totally conceptual, so the artists would have to interpret the assignments. We came up with 'Wow, we could do the cosmos, the universe.' We went from there. We probably had a drink, too, and that helped," she chuckles.

After they chose their theme, they needed to choose the initial group of artists. They started by throwing out names and making a long list. "It was in no particular order. We were just throwing out names. We figured if a third of the invited group accepted, it'd be great and we'd go from there, but all of them accepted," Hurt says. Hurt and Cartier tried to choose people who lived outside Abingdon, but were close enough to deliver their artwork and attend the open house.

Hurt says that she and Cartier are included as original artists because "I said if you're not going to be in it and I can't, as a curator, then I'm not going to do it. I want to play too, and you have to," Hurt says. "Leila said 'ok,' so there were two artists right there. The idea was we'd get 11 more who would each invite one person, so we'd end up with 26 artists and they would interpret the 26 themes: the nine planets (we included Pluto), the sun and the moon, the signs of the Zodiac (which have the planetary influence), Halley's Comet, the North Star and the Pleiades."

The original 13 artists had the choice of whom they wanted to invite. "We were kind of hoping that the first group would ask some of the other people on the original list, and I think maybe only one did. They picked some other people who were out of the region. It really worked out well. It's going to be interesting," Hurt says.

"Leila and I held off inviting our people, so we would see what kind of media we were getting, so maybe we could fill in with what we thought the show needed. She got ceramic artist Peter Morgan, who's going to have a show at The Arts Depot, because we didn't have any ceramic artists. I wanted a photographer. I own two pieces of Ralph Slatton's work; and I just wanted him to be in it so badly, so I asked him."

Hurt also asked Stephen Curd, a clothing designer in Glade Spring, Virginia, to be the 27th artist and create a garment(s) representing the entire cosmos. "So that'll be fun too,"she says.

When the artists were chosen, most of them met at Wolf Hills Brewery in Abingdon,Virginia, and drew their assignments out of a hat. "By choosing a theme for the exhibit, then having artists accept their assignments randomly, rather than picking what they want to interpret, we are all forced to think beyond normal boundaries and step outside comfort zones.

The challenge generally results in both artist and viewer being intrigued by the outcome. The rule was, there's no trading; you get what the Cosmos wants you to interpret," Hurt says.

Even Hurt didn't trade though she received the sun. "Personally, I wanted to interpret something dark but was forced to accept the ultimate source of light for my project."

Hurt says that there is a wide variety of media in the show - everything from ceramics to paintings , installations to video, sculpture to prints and more. The co-curators did not place any limitations on the artists except that their creation had to be able to get in the door. Artists can also submit multiple pieces, all of which will be exhibited if there is space.

"I think it's really going to be fantastic. Some of the things that we've seen are wonderful. Ray Stratton from UVA-Wise got Halley's Comet, and they are wonderful. (He did three separate installations.) His wife Misty, whom he picked, got Venus, and she is recreating Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' but with one of the students at the school. The student apparently has fabulous tattoos, and it's going to be a whole rockabilly 'Birth of Venus.' Eric Smith got Capricorn. His work is incredibly fabulous and bizarre, so I can't wait to see what he does. My husband and I are so crazy about Eric's work that we say if Eric does five things, we want four. So I think it's going to be a really interesting show," Hurt says. Shawn Crookshank is planning to do two big panels in the style of a circus poster featuring Aquarius as a freak. Hurt and Cartier have been working on this show since October 2013. "Knowing artists, we wanted to give everybody time for the idea to germinate, knowing that they would all do it at the last minute – although a lot of them didn't."

They've given themselves a week to install the show. But first they're going to paint the gallery "a deep navy, purple. It'll be very dramatic," Hurt says. "The work will really pop against that color." The sun and the moon will hang in the center of the cosmos with the planets and their zodiac component surrounding them. The North Star, Halley's Comet and the Pleiades will be interspersed.

Hurt and her husband, Sam, recently received Abingdon's Arthur Campbell Community Service Award, the highest honor given by the Abingdon town council. They moved to Abingdon in 1999 and embraced the community with a voluntary effort to create and share high-quality art in every possible public place. Both artists (Jan in mixed media and Sam in photography), they participated in and helped initiate many public art projects and built a labyrinth on their Valley Street property and donated it to the town. The labyrinth is easily accessed by the public and invites contemplation as well as conversation.

>> Ralph Slatton examines the duality of Libra