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Artist of the Month: Sculptor Mary Lee Kerr and other artists to ‘take a stand’ in State College

by on February 01, 2019 2:06 PM

Mary Lee Kerr says she was hooked on sculpture the first time she tried it.

“I partly just love the feel of clay in my hands and the flow of the creative process,” she says, “but I also love the challenge of trying to express big ideas and untangle personal and ethical problems through art.”

Kerr was an exhibitor and organizer of the first Artists Take a Stand exhibition of the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania in 2017. She’ll be an exhibitor again this year.

The Artists Take a Stand 2 exhibition opens Friday, February 1, from 5-8 p.m. at the Art Alliance Gallery Downtown as part of First Friday in State College. The exhibition continues through Sunday, February 24, with gallery hours Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. and Sundays noon-4 p.m. 

The Art Alliance, a 50-year-old community arts organization, has been Kerr’s artistic home for 16 years. She has served on the board, taught sculpture classes, taken classes, and participated in and organized art shows.

“Mary Lee was the chair of our first Artists Take a Stand exhibition and feels strongly about many of the current concerns about our country,” says Marie Doll, executive director of the Art Alliance of Central PA.

The first Artists Take a Stand exhibition took place the March after the 2016 presidential election. The artists Kerr spoke to at the time had very strong feelings about the election and were looking for a way to express themselves.

“The Art Alliance set aside time and space for an exhibition that would focus on politics,” Kerr says. “Every perspective was welcome, and we had an overwhelming response, both in terms of art submitted and visitors to the exhibit. There was also a popular afternoon of poetry reading.”

For the exhibition, artists are encouraged to make art about the current issues that concern them the most, including electoral politics, racism, the environment, women’s issues, economics, education, foreign relations, and more.  

“While I’m not an organizer this time, I think this year’s show will be similar in that artists have strong feelings about what’s going on politically right now and welcome an opportunity to make a statement through their work,” Kerr says.

For the first show, Kerr created a piece called Resist. When she went to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in January 2017, she saw a diversity of people protesting. The piece, done in different colors of clay, depicts a diversity of fists raised in protest.

This year, Kerr is entering a piece titled Our History, which addresses the issue of race in America. Also in clay, two portrait heads – one black and one white – are placed back to back, facing in opposite directions.

“This piece is a commentary on the fact that African Americans and whites have lived very closely in this country for hundreds of years, yet their experiences and perspectives have often been in direct opposition,” Kerr says. “I’m working with a group in the community called SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and am acutely aware that we have a long way to go in addressing racial issues in our own community and beyond.”

The first Artists Take a Stand exhibition created a lot of dialogue about current issues, and Kerr hopes this year’s show will accomplish that and more.

“I can only address this for the past show, but there was discussion and dialogue about the political landscape as people looked together at the artwork,” she says. “Looking at political issues through the lens of artwork is useful in several ways. There are lots of talking heads out there analyzing the news. Looking at a painting, sculpture, or other form of art gives people a fresh way to view an issue, perhaps from a perspective they hadn’t thought of. It also gives artists a chance to express strongly held views in community with other artists.”

Kerr has exhibited her work in galleries and art shows in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Australia. She has also shown work and won awards in Art of the State, a statewide juried art exhibit at the State Museum in Harrisburg.

As a mother of young children, Kerr did sculptures divided in parts titled Zerrissenheit, meaning “pulled-to-pieces-hood” in German, about women juggling partners, children, work, parents, friendships and their own needs.

“It’s a theme that resonates with many women,” she said. “My southern upbringing during the Civil Rights era implanted in me a deep political and racial awareness, so recently I’ve done artwork with political and racial themes,” she says. “I’d like white people to stop and think about the history of race in this country, how their privilege and power has created a divide, and how to move forward from that.” 

 

See more of Kerr’s work on her website, kerrsculpture.com. For more on the Art Alliance, visit artallianceofcentralpa.org.

Jason Klose is a freelance writer from Mifflinburg.

 



Jason Klose is a freelance writer from Mifflinburg.
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