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Teaching Artist Q&A: Carolyn Wass and Merrilee Challiss

/ Interviews

Summer Art Camp at the BMA is well under way, but it’s not too late to register for our remaining sessions for students in grades 7-12.

Summer Art Camp is the only camp in the region that offers immediate access to a collection of original artworks from around the world, but that’s not the only reason it’s so unique. Our 7-12 grade campers will meet and learn from prominent local artists while creating their own works of art in the BMA studios. It’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else!

Register your camper today, and check out our Q&A below with local artists Carolyn Wass and Merrilee Challiss, our teaching artists for 2017.

Birmingham Museum of Art: When did you first discover your love for art and creating?

Carolyn Wass: I’ve been creating with clay since the year 2000. I had previously been oil painting in a very sculptural way with molded palette knife applied color. I took a small clay class in California while I was in between school years, and as soon as I got my hands on the clay I knew. I am attracted to the ability to manipulate forms in contrast with the permanence of 2D line making.

Merrilee Challiss: I discovered that I was able to draw and color around the first grade. I was a quiet and shy child, and making art became a primary way for me to relate to the world, communicating visually. I am a product of the public school system, and art saved my life. Having access to an art class every year of my elementary school, and then art class every year thereafter until graduation with caring teachers who took the time to encourage me was invaluable to me, grounding me to the very core of my being.

BMA: Carolyn, your “ceranimals” have been described as the perfect mix of cute and creepy. What inspired you to create them?

CW:  I believe I started creating my animals almost as a childlike desire to be the possessor of a fantastical creature. As the years have gone by, I enjoy my work because of textural additions, unusual imagery, and bold color.

Local artist Merrilee Challiss

BMA: Merrilee, your work crosses many different mediums and genres. Do you have a favorite?

MC: The message of my work is “Everything Is Connected” and part of the reason I explore different mediums is that I am trying to find the best carrier medium or delivery device for that message. I enjoy exploring the limits of pushing one material. I made a quilt out of postage stamps and another quilt from stuffed bras. I once crocheted a giant net out of thousands of yards of waxed dental floss. The question “what would happen if?” has begun many a journey, even if the beginning is absurd. Currently I am elbow deep in tens of thousands of sequins for ongoing projects, and also working on a series of surreal gouache paintings for my upcoming show in San Francisco in September. I’m also working on illustrating the fictional memoirs of a scientist, which is one of my dreams come true. The illustrations are ink drawings. I am grateful every day not only to get to be an artist, but also to find new ways to express and support myself as an artist.

BMA: Can you give us a preview of what you will be teaching at BMA Summer Camp?

CW: I’m really excited about Third Space. I know I’m going to focus on some clay carvings rooted in the spirit of Lonnie Holley’s sand profiles. I was fortunate to assist him with a workshop quite a few years ago, so I would like to pass on some of the energy that he inspired me with.

MC: We’re going to be looking at and responding to the works in Third Space that deal with the notion of identity and representation, from the figure to the body politic (and everything in between). Yes, we’ll be using a lot of mixed media!

Local artist Carolyn Wass

BMA: Why should parents send their children to BMA Summer Camp?

 CW:  Children need time to use their imaginations! Imagination allows you to think on your toes and make decisions based on the parameters in front of you. Being able to hold onto this imagination is a key to a successful future. The Museum provides the perfect location for camp. Being able to take the kids to tour the Museum in coordination with art making really is inspiring.

 MC: Especially in these frenetic and fraught times, young people / all people need to feed and strengthen their imaginal realms, and connect with the beauty and stillness of being lost in the process of observing something outside of themselves,  which is a big part of making art. It is an act that is both self-affirming and life-affirming, good for the self and for the community and culture as a whole.
Interested in Summer Art Camp at the BMA? Click here for more information!