A sculptor exhibiting at the Hinson Art Museum turns pencils into works of art
WINGATE – Do you remember the feeling of possibility that overwhelmed you the first time you opened a brand new 64-pack of Crayolas? Artist Herb Williams never recovered. Instead, he took pencil creativity to the next level. His work will be on display at Wingate University’s Hinson Museum of Art beginning Wednesday, February 23. And through a partnership between Unionville Elementary, the Union County Community Arts Council and the university, some 50 fifth-grade students will be able to experience Williams’ passion for the creative process first-hand.
Contributions from Wingate’s One Day, One Dog donation campaign in 2021 helped the university’s art department purchase Williams’ “The Ripple Effect” for the museum’s permanent collection and organize its artist talk . Unionville teacher Eric Hinson, a 1995 Wingate alumnus, then arranged for members of the school’s art club to attend the event. To further inspire young artists, the Union County Community Arts Council will provide everyone with a box of crayons and a sketchbook.
“Pencils are a gateway drug. For most adults, the sight and smell of crayons produce specific childhood memories,” says Williams. “The detour on the path to nostalgia is the creation of a new object from a medium for which it was not intended.”
Although he’s always loved colored pencils – he carried them around in a fruitcake box as a child and now orders monochrome cases from Crayola of 3,000 at a time – it’s only just getting started. 2000s that he realized they were really his vehicle. Growing up in Alabama, Williams carved sculptures out of the red clay of the hills, her own temporary Rushmore Mountains. As a teenager, he worked in construction and brought his growing understanding of form and materials to Birmingham-Southern College, where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in sculpture. From there he worked at a bronze foundry in Florida, helping cast hundreds of sculptures before moving to Nashville in 1998.
Williams received the Joan Mitchell Foundation Museum Purchase Grant in 2004 and the Next Star Artist Award in 2008. He was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2011 and was commissioned in 2019 to provide artwork for a wing Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta. Airport.
Although some of his well-known works include melted crayons, Williams’ most distinctive creations are not melted but formed from crayons in their original form. He cuts the sticks to the length he needs, then glues them to a shape he has sculpted or molded, enveloping it completely.
“Whether I’m using the tips or the butts of the pencils is going to change the look of this one, make it more kinetic or more illustrative,” Williams explains in an episode of Nashville Public Television’s “Tennessee Crossroads.”
“There’s so much promise in that little box of pencils that everyone gets because there are so many possibilities before you even put one on paper. And that’s a big part of what drove me to work with the whole stick of the pencil, because when you put it on the paper, it’s never as saturated and rich and thick in pigment as it is in this stick. There’s just something so satisfying about working with and working with hundreds of thousands of them.
It’s this satisfaction of creating something new and unexpected from an everyday object that Wingate’s visual arts coordinator, Charlene Bregier, hopes Williams will inspire in students in her Art 404 Creative Process class.
Williams first took more than four months and 40,000 pencils to sculpt “The Ripple Effect,” a brightly striped deer drinking from a similarly colored pool, as part of his nature-inspired Call of the Wild exhibit. Williams says her use of the same color spectrum in the pool and the animal evokes the idea that the simple act of drinking from a spring has a deeper meaning than the human eye can perceive.
“I’m really interested in the idea that there’s more going on right in front of us that we’re just too busy or too distracted to notice,” he says. “There’s this condition called synesthesia, where you hear a sound and see a specific color. This led me to explore the idea that nature and the animal kingdom use a higher level form of synesthesia in every single thing they do.
Although he melted crayons to create a finished surface look on his original work, the piece he will bring to Wingate is one he created specifically for the University with the same form of sculpture but using the unmelted pencil tips. He also changed the colors a bit, Brégier says, leaving the upper part of the deer white, with the color spectrum starting at the top of the legs.
As excited as she is about adding the sculpture to the collection, it’s the interaction between Williams and the students that she most looks forward to.
“With our increasingly diverse population, including many low-income and first-generation students, access to art through the artworks, artists and exhibits of the Hinson Art Museum is something that many may never have had the chance to live,” says Bregier.
Likewise, Williams says the pencils keep him connected to his own blue-collar roots.
“There were no museums in my city. I don’t think I walked into a gallery until I was in college,” he told Nashville Arts Magazine. “I want to give a window to a lot of people with humble beginnings that will allow them to smile at something and want to get close to it, and open doors for them to embrace the art world more.”
Williams’ speech, scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, is free and open to the public. The museum is located adjacent to the Batte Center at 403 N. Camden Road, Wingate, NC 28174.
Luanne Williams is Director of Content Development for Wingate University Marketing & Events.
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