Local metalsmith and artist Erica Stankwytch Bailey likes to create pieces that explore small things within their larger context, so it’s not surprising that she found so much inspira-tion for her latest exhibition. Everything is small against the backdrop of the Grand Canyon, which is where the artist spent three weeks in January and February 2010, hiking, collecting inspiration, and eventually creating on-site many of the pieces in Seeing and the Relevance of Small Things, which is on dis-play until June 22 at Cape Fear Studios.
The exhibit is a collection of jewelry, photographs and art pieces that reflect different aspects of the canyon. The hues of the desert, angles of cliff walls, outlines of cacti, and petro-glyphs are represented, as well as the artist’s personal experi-ences while trekking through the park, like the series called “Climb.”
“The first piece I made in that series is called “Vertical Climb,” so it was about moving up,” Bailey said. “So there’s the simple climb, these things just like small steps forward. Also, for me, so much of this adventure, this journey, was a challenge. Leaving my family, I have small children, you know, doing all of the hiking and things alone, a lot of these were firsts for me, so I thought a lot about the challenge we accept with that journey.”
Bailey’s journey began when she was selected for the Grand Canyon National Park’s Artist-in-Residence Program, which allowed her to stay for free, at the park.
“They gave me a place to live, a really great apartment overlooking the canyon,” Bailey said. “It was indescribably beautiful. Probably the best view from a building in the national park. It also had a studio.”
Traveling through airport security with metalsmithing tools proved to be a chal-lenge, so Bailey was forced to leave many of her tools behind.
“I just hiked as much as I could,” Bailey said. “I hiked down into the canyon by myself. I took something to the effect of 1,600 photographs. … When I finished some of that major hiking, I went up into that little studio and I just knocked out what I could in metal, which was interesting, from the maker perspective, because I ended up kind of having to go back to the beginning of how I learned to make things, because I didn’t have all my stuff.”
After she returned, she worked on the collection for about a year. Two weeks before the exhibit was ready, she returned to the canyon briefly to finish a few pieces and re-experience the place.
Used to thinking in terms of the small and the large context, Bailey said her time at the canyon changed her own perspective.
“I was going there to see the relevance of small things, and I was really just blown away when I got there because it is such an enormous and vast place,” she said. “It didn’t seem real, it’s just so big. My definition of small changed. … All of a sudden, I was also sort of the small thing, the thing that could be consid-ered irrelevant. Then, if you think about your impact on places, how relevant I could have been. … It was a more profound experience than I thought it would be, and I went with really high expectations.”
Chris Kastner, executive director of Cape Fear Studios, said Bailey, who is a member artist of the gallery, won the right to have her solo show in the annual compe-tition between member artists. She said the uniqueness of the show is that it’s not just jewelry, but pieces inspired by the Grand Canyon.
“She’s very creative and she’s very skilled as a metalsmith, so I think the thing that’s interesting about this show is to see the pictures from the Grand Canyon and how they actually inspired the pieces,” Kastner said. “And, how she views things that wouldn’t strike a lot of us. She picks up on that and then takes that and actually cre-ates something inspired by that.”
Bailey, who has exhibited her works in many places before, is still thrilled to have this show.
“It’s really exciting,” Bailey said. “Probably having a solo show in your home town is maybe more exciting than anywhere else. Where you live is where the people who love you are, and the people you love.”
Cape Fear Studios is located at 148 Maxwell Street, open Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Photo: Erica Stankwytch Bailey featured with her work.