The Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands showcases color, pattern and texture – Mountain Xpress

While an old idiom tells us not to judge a book by its cover, it may be reasonable to approach a vessel by first considering its surface. From pottery to woodturning, surface design extends across craft mediums, and there we can find a richness and complexity that brings us to ruminate on an object’s exterior. This season’s Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands features three artists who create vessels with interesting surfaces in vastly different results.

The four-day event, held Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 15-18 in the U.S. Cellular Center, will showcase the wares of nearly 200 craft artists. Worth noting, of the two annual fairs organized by the Southern Highland Craft Guild, the autumn show is the larger one, with 20 to 30 more craft vendors and a higher attendance, bringing the yearly visitor count to 20,000.

Carved with care

The densely patterned surfaces of Becky Lloyd’s work are covered with intricate marks in bold black and white. Using a technique called sgaffito (Italian for “to scratch”), she carves through of an outer layer of black slip in order to reveal the underlying white porcelain. Taking care to find a unison between the form and the surface, she says, “I sometimes look at a piece and know exactly what pattern should be carved on it. Other times, it takes me a week or even months to decide what pattern I will carve.” Since she began working with the technique in 2001, her patterns slowly evolved, growing smaller and denser.

Based in Haywood County, Lloyd worked with her husband, Steve Lloyd, until he passed away last year. The Southern Highlands show will be her first large fair without her partner, another step in continuing the work that the couple began. Having previously used Steve’s thrown forms on which to create her surface designs, Becky is returning to the wheel after nine years. “Steve had a good eye for form and was an amazing thrower, so I have pretty high standards for myself,” she says. “But I am starting to enjoy it more.”

Becky’s primary interest remains the surface decoration of the piece, acknowledging the necessary dialogue between form and surface. When developing the surface, “I really have to pay attention to the curve of the lip, the undulations of the wall and sweep of the neck of the pot,” says Lloyd. “This shows me where I need to break up the pattern in order for it to enhance the shape of the pot.”

Woven into form

The type of weave used in making a basket determines the texture and surface of the end result. Will the form be open and airy, or will it be tight, with a densely rippled surface? These are some of the considerations of Matt Tommey, who has been making baskets for the past 21 years. “I made traditional forms using locally harvested vines for about 15 years before moving exclusively into sculptural forms about six years ago, upon moving to Asheville,” he says. Tommey now has a studio in the River Arts District.

With nontraditional materials such as kudzu, honeysuckle and wisteria, the tactile quality of the woven natural materials creates a richly textured surface with a rustic luster. Tommey enhances the overall forms by incorporating other natural materials, such as pine cones or wood, while also altering the surfaces with clay, wax and paint. In some pieces, the surface pattern is orderly and linear, showing his inspiration taken from traditional Appalachian baskets. Other pieces give the appearance of a nestlike chaos with a random weave. “I’m always interested in making my sculptures reflect the beauty and aesthetic of nature,” says Tommey. “I want people to think [of] things like nests — natural, beautiful sculpture — not necessarily [of] baskets.”

Stacked and turned

Rather than the surface design being a final addition, Fairview-based woodworker Jim McPhail begins his process by imagining the finish. Using a stack-lamination technique, he composes a block of diverse wood types that will determine a bowl’s final color and pattern. The layers of interesting and exotic woods eventually reveal their grain after being turned on a lathe.

“I look for really exciting, pretty woods, ones that have really a nice composition with each other,” says McPhail. He also seeks textures, stripes and unusual wood grain patterns, like those found in wood burls (growths or deformities on trees). Although the finish is smooth and shiny, the surface design is vivid. “I look at wood not so much as being wood, but as being texture and color,” he says.

McPhail has been making his layered bowls commercially since 1995, keeping the pieces small — approximately 2 to 4 inches in diameter — so they’re priced to suit his market. The woodworker uses narrow veneers for stripes and certain exotic grasses for their tactile qualities. But while he’s the one choosing his design palette, there’s still an element of surprise and risk. “The design of the bowl is determined by how I stack up the wood originally,” he says. “If I want to change my mind, it’s too late.”

See these works and others at the fall Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands. The four-day event also includes crafts in metal, fiber, paper, leather and mixed media, as well as exhibits, demonstrations and live music.

WHAT: Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands

WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, southernhighlandguild.org

WHEN: Thursday to Saturday, Oct. 15-17, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 18, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $8 per day/$12 two-day pass/free for children younger than 12