Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 8:55 a.m.
The land of North Carolina hangs on nine wooden panels along a long wall in Wilmington’s 621N4TH gallery. It’s not just representational, with strips of the state map stretched across the panels from the mountainous west to the flat coastal east, but literal, too: The panels are caked in a wide color spectrum of North Carolina clay, collected from Boone to Wilmington by local artist Vicky Smith.
“I tried to keep it true to what clays you can find there,” Smith said of her nine-panel piece, “North Carolina Clay,” the highlight of her solo exhibition, “Collected Clay,” on display at 621N4TH through March. “That and trying to keep the landscape. The white clay in Seagrove is like the sand hills. I wanted the green to represent the trees, and the blue is getting down to the coast and all the water that we have in this state.”
With support from the North Carolina Arts Council and with additional funding from local arts councils in Cumberland, Moore, New Hanover and Robeson counties, Smith spent 10 days in March 2012 traveling across the state to meet with regional potters and collect a rainbow of indigenous clay. Upon her return, Smith added glue to the red, orange, yellow, green, blue and pink clays and arranged them to dry out on wooden panels. The result is highly textured, primordial wall art, peppered with rocks and minerals, and crackled with dried-up-mud-like fissures. Those crackles are Smith’s favorite feature, an element that’s entirely up to chance.
Smith began making functional ceramic pieces in high school. She stepped away from clay for years, but became re-interested in the medium after taking classes with local pottery guru Hiroshi Sueyoshi.
She studied art at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, then went to East Carolina University for her masters degree. It was in graduate school that she began using the clay found in her personal clay mine on property she inherited from her grandparents in Greene County.
“It’s just this big giant hole in the ground, but you know, it’s out in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “So, a fox will walk through there every once in a while, and I’ll have all the trees and the birds around there, so I like to keep that like it is as much as possible, so the nature can be there.”