By An Uong
Granville, NY — In our daily lives, we are constantly surrounded by material that we overlook. Slate is no exception. It is used in roofing, walkways, tile-work, and even, at one point in time, electric switchboards. Its history is less prominent in our society, but the Slate Valley Museum makes the education of slate history its mission. Located in Granville, New York, the road to the museum is riddled with small mountains of collected slate. It is hard to imagine the slabs as anything other than rocks, but the museum brings to the forefront a history filled with rich stories.
The museum’s latest ode to slate comes in the form of “Slate as Muse,” an exhibition that challenges artists to interpret the material through a more visually creative perspective. The show was put together in conjunction with Artful Vagabond Productions, and curated by Serena Kovalosky. The stone becomes inspiration for 19 artists.
Kovalosky, who grew up in the Slate Valley, sent out a nationwide call for artists. “As the online submissions poured in, I was astounded by the unique interpretations of each artist and the variety of mediums,” she states. As the endeavor continued, she says she found herself in awe of slate’s subtle beauty and quiet power.
The pieces range from two-dimensional to sculptural. In a gallery set apart from the museum’s informational displays, the idea of slate takes on a form beyond its functionality. The pieces draw from slate’s various meanings in the world. Whether it is the slate that occurs naturally on Earth, or the pieces that have been meticulously cut by a machine, each form brings a different perspective to the table.
A handful of artists chose to represent slate realistically in paintings. “Slate Truck,” 2013, by Chrissey Dittus, illustrates one step in the process that slate goes through to become daily objects. In her painting, a gargantuan truck sits stop a pile of slate at a roadside quarry. The immense detail in her work catches every reflection of sun. From the viewer’s end, it seems impossible that such a sprawling pile would later be transformed.
On the other end of the spectrum are artists who start the dialog about slate through more abstract means. Michael Kukla’s two sculptures, “Black Hole Sun,” 2010, and “Star #2,” 2012, remove slate from its functional uses completely by bringing about a visual aspect of the material that is rarely seen or even thought about.
Each work explores a smoother, more malleable underbelly of slate. “Black Hole Sun” is a slab of Vermont black slate with rounded cavities carved into its body. “Star #2,” made of Pennsylvania black slate, achieves the same effect with more lattice-like patterns. Combined, these sculptures look more like otherworldly organs rather than mere roofing materials. Kukla goes beyond the expected aesthetic and function that we have in mind.
In and around the Granville area, slate piles are as abundant as they are diverse. The varied color and texture of each piece makes it unsurprising that such a wide range of artwork would be created about it. Its physicality is intriguing in itself, but its worldly context is what leads to more pertinent questions.
(The “Slate as Muse” show will be open through November 7, 2014 at the Slate Valley Museum, 17 Water Street, Granville, NY. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call (518) 642-1417.)