B y Derek Liebig
A national exhibition that explores slate as art will be unveiled tomorrow evening at the Slate Valley Museum.
An opening reception for “Slate as Muse” will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 6, at the museum.
The exhibit is a different sort of undertaking for the museum. While the museum usually focuses on the history and culture of the slate valley, the show aims to expand the perception of slate as a functional material.
Sarah Kijowski said slate is typically viewed as a melding of functionality and craftsmanship, but the exhibit allows visitors to see a different application of the material.
“Slate as Muse is meant to inspire visitors to think creatively about slate,” Kijowski said.
The exhibition features 27 works of art from 19 artists, some of whom work in the Slate Valley and others who are scattered about the country. Nearly every major artistic medium—sculpture, painting, photography, mixed media, carving and encaustic—is represented.
The idea of the project was borne from a conversation Serena Kovalosky, project coordinator and head of marketing for the museum, had with Kate Weller, the museum’s executive director, nearly two years ago.
Kovalosky said Weller asked her if she wanted to do an exhibition on slate.
“The idea just really grew organically from there to the point where now it’s a national level show,” Kovalosky said.
“The show arranged itself quickly. I anticipated the work was going to take longer than it did, but everything really fell together. I’m very pleased.”
The call for artists asked them to create work that encompassed slate and pushed the boundaries of how it’s perceived.
“There’s a story behind every piece in this exhibition,” says Kovalosky. “Artists were inspired by roofing slate, raw slate and sidewalk slate as well as slag piles, slate landscapes and even lightning on slate. It’s an eclectic show that showcases a functional stone rarely featured as fine art.”
One of the pieces, “Slate M,” was created by Nicholas Benson, owner of the John Stevens Shop in Newport, R.I., which was established in 1705 and is one of the longest continuous trade businesses in the country.
Benson, who carved the inscription on the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, etched an inscription into a six-foot long, 80-year old piece of slate that was passed down from his grandfather.
Another artist whose work will be in the show is Kerry Furlani, a Poultney, Vt., sculptor and carver who created two bas-relief pieces for the exhibit.
Furlani is unique because she works almost entirely in slate, a material Kovalosky said can be difficult to work with, especially for sculptors and carvers who have to use caution because of fault lines in the slate that can compromise their work.
“Slate suits my sensibility for its matted glean and its ‘non-art’ and ‘non-pompous’ cultural leanings,” Furlani said. “In the world of art, it’s a bit of a renegade and not the cliché stone of choice for most carvers. But this wide open potential for fresh expression has always held interest for me.”
While some work imagines slate in new and unique ways, others depicts in it traditional ways. Queensbury-based artists Chrissey Dittus painted an image of a truck atop a pile of slate while photographer Susan Breen of Bridgeport, Conn., captured images of slate in everyday life.
“There really is something for everyone,” Kovalosky said.
The museum will build its programming around the exhibition, which will be on display through Nov. 7, with round table discussions, workshops and other events. Throughout the five month, guests will be able to vote on their favorite piece and a people’s choice award will be made in November.
The exhibition will feature interactive displays that guests can scan with their smart phone to learn more about the piece they are looking at and the artists who created it. Written programs for guests without smart phones will also be made available.
Tomorrow’s reception is open to the public and a $300 first prize award, juried by Erin Coe, chief curator at the Hyde Collection, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Admission to the reception is free and refreshments will be available.
Prior to the reception, Kovalosky will lead a guided tour of the exhibition beginning at 6 p.m. The tour is free for members of the museum and costs $10 for nonmembers.