Born and raised in Sequatchie County, Tennessee, the son of a coal mining Pentecostal preacher, metal artist William Brock was based in Atlanta for over twenty years of his working life and supervised high-rise and other commercial construction all over the Southeast—taking structure, aesthetics, and movement into consideration. In the late 90s he decided he’d had enough of Atlanta traffic and crushing schedules and moved back to Tennessee, where he eventually settled into his own version of semi-retirement: finishing drywall and spending as much time as he could on the back of a horse.
“There’s so much beauty and grace in nature, and we keep covering it up with concrete. I’ve certainly done my share of it,” says Brock.
“But as a kid, I tagged along with my grandmother, who was Muskogee. She used the natural world as her medicine cabinet, and she taught me a lot about plants and animals. I hunted with my daddy and uncles. I practically lived in the woods as a kid. As a grown man and a sportsman, I hunted and fished some of the most beautiful habitat in the South. Since I no longer hunt, I spend as much time as I can riding my horse on old logging roads and deer trails and studying animals, birds in particular. Their connection to the prehistoric world fascinates me.”
“I’m going to make a bird,” Brock told his wife one morning shortly after getting a mig welder. A few days later Brock had made a life-size flamingo from old roofing tin and rebar he found in his barn; the eyes were screws and pieces of plastic cut from old five-gallon buckets. Each bird he made looked more lifelike than the one before. One of his most recent birds is a Heron landing on a rock with its spread wings spanning 80 inches.
“The engineer in me focused on learning how to make the bird look accurate in size and proportion,” says Brock. “When I managed that, I got more into showing movement and the grace inherent in a bird’s motion, particularly larger water fowl. That’s where I am now. I give myself different challenges to convey the spirit and physics as well as the form of a particular bird, give it some sense of animation, while maintaining the structural integrity. I always learn something from the bird I’m making. And each bird takes on its own personality. ”
Brock is a self-taught artist and the calluses on his hands are a testament to each individually hand-cut feather. The principle materials used for his birds are old roofing tin, used five-gallon plastic buckets, rebar, old copper flashing, and wire. Brock considers the gradual rusting and patina of the birds to be part of the art’s maturation. Each bird is banded with a copper ring bearing William Brock’s signature.
“One morning I had several metal herons and cranes sitting in the grass outside my studio,” says Brock. “I was across the yard in a shed when I saw a Blue Heron land in front of my birds and spend a couple of minutes checking them out. When I stepped into the yard, he flew away. I don’t know if he was looking for a fight or for love, but he let me know I’m doing something right.”
For more information about William Brock’s birds, visit www.rustedbirdstudio.com/.
With over twenty-five years of teaching experience, Betty DeBord recently retired as associate professor of art from Lincoln Memorial University. She holds the Master of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in Painting from The University of Mississippi and a B.A. in Art from Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“It seems to be a paradox that one fleeting moment in nature, which never lasts, can feel so eternal. My work is an attempt to pay homage to that experience. In these recent landscape paintings, I am more interested in conveying a mood of reverie than I am in capturing a photographically real scene. I want each painting to be as close to a meditative experience as I can make it, and color is my primary focus. I usually start a painting with one color as the base, also known as under-painting, and try not to cover it up completely as I work. This helps to create a unifying, harmonious feeling. The infinite variety and beauty of the colors in nature are endlessly fascinating to me.”
The landscape is ever changing. Once an avid hiker, and now runner, Elissa Graff takes inspiration for her artwork as she runs the trails that remain. This healthy practice also deeply connects her to the landscape. She often walks back to points along her routes to photograph and sketch ideas for her enamels. Her work usually draws on nature in both functional and spiritual ways. However, recently, instead of gazing at distant vistas, beautiful trees, or gorgeous mountains, Graff has witnessed the non-stop campus development at Lincoln Memorial University. Originally frustrated by the seemingly never-ending construction, she has come to find beauty in the transformation. The tools used for certain kind of progress have become a source of inspiration and obsession. “I feel as though the equipment and machines, when at rest, are posing for me.”
Creating work from nature has motivated Graff to educate others on the need for both appreciation and preservation of our world. Recycling and reusing materials have become recurrent themes in both her art and her teaching.
For her enamels, the work is drawn twice with wire – first to be fused into the fired silica, second as an abstraction of the enamel image for the pendant setting. The picture of the equipment is created using cloisonné, a method of enameling incorporating wire lines that separate the colored glass. The enamel pieces are then set like stones in a related metal and combined with additional links to hang on chains. The result is a fusion of the visual and physical, forever encapsulating a moment and a memory within glass.
Elissa Graff received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Miami University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Kansas. While working at Appalachian State University as a curator, she obtained her K-12 Art Teaching Certification. Now a professor of Visual Arts at LMU, Graff lives in the Cumberland Gap region of Southeastern Kentucky and is currently pursuing her doctorate, which focuses on engaging today’s college students through use of experiential practices.
Deborah Routman studied at the School of the Dayton Art Institute. After a career in performing arts management and set design, she returned to the visual arts. Many of her photographs and found object pieces have been selected for inclusion in juried gallery showings and art festivals throughout southern California. For over thirty years Ms. Routman has enjoyed teaching 7-12 year olds art through her “Art—The Basics” workshops. Since relocating to Harrogate, she has conducted a successful summertime “art in the Park” project.