"Wired" for Creativity
We are always talking about what to do next. Brainstorming the possibilities and discussing what both you, the reader, and quite honestly us, the authors, want to learn and read about next. Since we moved here now ten years ago we have noticed that our community's art scene has taken off like a wildfire. The Lowcountry certainly offers a beautiful landscape, with so many natural wonders and seasons that lend so much inspirations to artists. There is also so much beauty in the cultural landscapes found here, and the deep rooted history in a place that dates back to pre-Revolutionary times. So we decided that what we really wanted to do was start highlighting some of the amazing local artists that are right here in our backyard.
We are so excited to introduce you to Alison Ross. We first saw Alison's absolutely stunning work in a little coffee shop we had visited in the Park Circle area of North Charleston called the Orange Spot Coffeehouse. Alison's art is like nothing we had ever seen before. Alison uses wire, yup you're reading that right, wire, to create 3-D pieces of so many designs. Alison's pieces jump off the walls and seemingly come to life in front of your eyes. We couldn't believe the stunning art she was turning out and in such a unique way. We were so fortunate to be able to catch up with Alison in such a busy season. We're so grateful to her for taking time out of her schedule for us.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? (i.e. are you from South Carolina originally, if not, what brought you here).
I am born and raised in Charleston, and my husband and I live in Park Circle currently. My background is in graphic design and illustration, and wire taxidermy came about with this sort of a study of lines and nature in three dimensions. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have a family that has always been very supportive of whatever I wanted to do and when I was deciding to go to college I couldn’t decide between a fine art degree and a journalism degree so I ended up going for graphic design when I was little older. It seemed a nice mix to make words pretty. But I quickly realized that I was quite terrible at the cubicle. This lead to an interest in handcrafted work, from illustration and sign painting to wire taxidermy, which led to creating my business in 2014.
Has art and creating always been a big part of you life? Where do you draw inspiration for your art?
I have been making things my entire life. Nature has always been a huge inspiration for me. As a kid, instead of imaginary friends I had an imaginary zoo and nature documentaries on VHS. Nature and evolution have created so many astounding forms I don’t know how people can look at it and not be inspired.
Is wire taxidermy something that you've always been interested in, or is it a medium that you transitioned into later?
Wire is one of those mediums that has always just made sense. I actually tracked down an episode of Reading Rainbow from 1993 with an artist named Elle McKay. It was the first time I had seen someone use wire and it just absolutely made sense.
As far as wire taxidermy, it just kind of evolved on its own. I’d done some wire sculptures during school -- it was actually preparing for a show that was going to be entirely lettering and illustration at the Orange Spot in Park Circle. I made a little sheep's head which seemed very awkward and my husband cut out a little shield from a cedar shingle, that's where wire taxidermy was born. It's one of the only pieces to never have a name and that will always stay with me in the studio.
When did you launch into selling your handmade pieces?
Oh, I think that first show was in 2014!
Wire seems like a very challenging medium to work with. Can you tell us some of the difficulties with working with wire, but also some of the reasons you love using it?
It’s a really interesting medium, and you have to have an idea of where you’re going when you get started. As a silversmith explained best to me, metal holds onto all of the energy that you put into it, and reserves it as potential energy. This is why when you bend a piece of metal back-and-forth it will eventually snap. And also why you can’t unkink wire once it’s bent.
It’s a really wonderful medium to work with for me, because as an artist I like to move quickly, and I also really like to be mobile. So wire is something that I can take a road trips, into classrooms, and demonstrations.
The process of simplifying lines and still capturing the character of the animals has probably been the most difficult part. When trying to figure out lines and where the wire will go next, especially difficult piece that I haven’t done before, it’s almost like visually following the roller coaster ad at the beginning of the movie.
We saw recently that you've worked with schools to help students who are interested in art. Can you tell us a little bit more about your work in the community and the impact it's had?
In person, I have only had the opportunity to teach adults. Once with a group in Charleston called Cultivate which pairs artist with scientists and has an evening class with a scientific lecture and artwork pertaining to the science discussed. (It was absurdly exciting to be paired with a paleontologist and teach people to make dinosaurs!)
The next time was teaching professional development to middle and high school art teachers in the Charleston area. Which was very cool experience, especially considering my middle school art teacher was one of my students.
Since then, I’ve provided photography and basic guides to art teachers from around the country interested in challenging the way their students think. I’d be very happy to keep doing so in addition to going into classes to work with students. Arts are such an incredible way to foster, not only creativity, but creative problem-solving.
We heard you have an exhibit at SEWE this year! Is this your first year participating? What are some other places or events people can go to see your work this year?
Yes! This will be my third year at Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, and if people are interested I will be in the Gaillard ballroom along with many other talented makers and artisans.
I also have artwork at Art Mecca on King Street. The pieces there are available for purchase, and also rotate regularly.
What has been your favorite wire piece that you've completed to date? What about the most difficult piece?
My favorite so far was an owl in flight named Merlin. He was supported by just a wing tip touching a wooden base, and he would move and wave in a room with air flow.
I’m constantly trying to make new animals, and ones that I haven’t made before. I think insects usually prove the most difficult with the body segments, and extra legs. Though, I’m proud to say I haven’t made anything I can’t twist yet.
We love the variety of wire pieces! If someone has an idea and is interested in a custom design, is that something you currently offer?
Absolutely! The majority of my business is custom work. I’ve made everything from vintage cars to favorite pets, even a stampede of wildebeest! It can truly goes as far as your imagination can take it. If people are interested in custom work they are welcome to email me. Turnaround time on pieces usually ranges from 6 to 12 weeks.
We've seen that you are doing more work in the area of hand lettering. Is that a new area you are pursuing and can we expect to see more of your lettered pieces in the future?
It’s something I’ve always loved to do, I've actively been practicing and working much more on it lately. While the wire is the majority of my business, I also do illustration and graphic design.
If people are interested, I will be teaching a beginner lettering class at West Elm on King Street on March 20 for $35. This one will have very limited seating, but I hope to be scheduling more in the very near future. Tickets are available through my website.
Do you have a favorite place to eat/drink here in the Charleston area?
So many. I worked in food and beverage for 15 years here in Charleston, there are just too many to name. I think my new favorite is Harold’s Cabin.
What keeps you here in the Charleston area? How have you seen the art community change since you've been directly involved in it?
Having spent my whole life here, Charleston is an incredible place. Few people get to enjoy the sense of community and support that has grown around me as my business and work have grown and changed. Some of my closest friends have come from me reaching out to artists I respect and want to know more about, and Charleston fosters a kind of community where you can do that.
What Alison is doing is so incredible. Not only for herself and for the artist community, but for the community in which we live as well. The collective passions that we find here, not just in Charleston but in South Carolina, for our community as a whole is something we have not found anywhere else. You can tell how deeply Alison feels about the place she calls home. She loves what she does and loves where she lives!
Thank you Alison for making this a very special piece for us to write! And thank you for allowing us, however small, to be a part of your journey!
All photos courtesy of Alison Ross.