An artistic ode to the elements

Woodcuts and pottery team up at Sargent Gallery in Aquinnah.

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"Bailer" —Wil Sideman

The work of four Island artists is on display at Sargent Gallery in Aquinnah during its new “Elementality” art show. Ruth Kirchmeier is the Island’s foremost woodcut printer. Micah Thanhauser and Lainey Fink Scott are Island potters, and Wil Sideman sculpts with glass.

The show’s title was inspired from an essay written by Timothy Morton about Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert’s book, “Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire.” Kirchmeier’s woodcuts represent earth and water, while Sideman fires glass sculptures that hold water or float on water. Thanhauser and Scott’s use of clay mirrors connections to earth and fire. All four artists’ works exist in air and rely on it.

Gallery owner Megan Ottens-Sargent calls the current exhibit an ode to Kirchmeier, who has been creating woodcuts for more than 40 years. Her work is richly colored, and can include as many as 10 different inks. She frequently repeats a woodcut using different colors. Her portraits of streams and other forms of water capture abstract and meditative qualities. Flowers are another frequent subject, and Kirchmeier often centers the compositions while investing them with movement. In one of Kirchmeier’s most striking new woodcuts, “Geese at Carl’s Cove,” a yellow sun image hovers above a grassy field and water, sending a circle of streaks. The geese of the title are mere black specks lined along the top edge of the foreground.

The gallery also honors Sideman, Thanhauser, and Scott. Ottens-Sargent calls Sideman a master at handling glass — a skill that by employing fire and heat is dangerous work. A charming glass decoy contains his grandfather’s journal, visible through a translucent bird. A glass bailer is fashioned after a Clorox bottle. Another arresting piece is his “Piscatorius Sacrum,” a blown-glass bucket with a flame-worked handle and wooden lure. This sculpture, like the glass bailer, asks the viewer to consider the nature of the object created.

Thanhauser grew up on-Island and majored in pottery at Brown University. He uses native clay that he fires over three days. There is a lot of ash in the firing process of his work, according to Ottens-Sargent, who suggests it creates an ancient look. While one of his wood-fired vases may look as if it is simply traditional in form, an indentation on its shoulder catches the viewer with surprise and pleasure.

Scott studied graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design, and with her husband Ben Scott, they founded Bluerock Design in 2011. After they moved to Martha’s Vineyard, she began spending more time with ceramics. Scott’s background in design is evident in her work exhibited at the gallery, which includes plates and cups, as well as vases and bowls. She relates her work to the Island’s environment through its coastal rocks and glacial deposits. One vase is a nearly perfect sphere with a diminutive opening, and uses a gold Japanese tenmoku glaze.

“Pottery is a mystery,” Ottens-Sargent said. “You don’t know if the form will blow up, what the glazes are going to do, or what the colors will be. The more you’re exposed, you end up appreciating them more.”

“Elementality” continues through July 22. Sargent Gallery is located at 32 State Rd. in Aquinnah. For more information, visit sargentgallery.org, or call 508-645-2776.