Hemlock series at Turchin Center
Lowell Hayes is more than an acclaimed artist. He's an activist, a title he demonstrates with a collection of work called "The Hemlocks! The Hemlocks!: Grief and Celebration" on display at Appalachian State University's Turchin Center for the Visual Arts.
"I have made this group out of feeling for the hemlock trees, which are severely threatened by the hemlock woolly adelgid," he said.
The woolly adelgid is tiny, only 1/32 of an inch, but packs a big punch where hemlocks are concerned, according to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
First reported in North Carolina in 1995, the adelgid survives purely on hemlock. Infested trees show cotton-like globs, lose their leaves and can die if they're not treated.
"I just love these woods," Hayes said. "I love this country, and I think losing the hemlock would change it really radically. It would change it aesthetically. That would be a real loss in terms of its beauty, but it would also change the ecology. It would just be a whole different forest without the hemlock."
To Hayes, who has lived in Valle Crucis for about 40 years with his wife, nature is more than a backdrop. It's an inspiration, one that first got into his system as a child in eastern Tennessee. In adulthood, it's part of what drives his art.
It's no coincidence that he, like dozens of other artists, has found a permanent home in the High Country.
"It's just overwhelmingly beautiful, you know," Hayes said. "With the support of wealthy folks who have second homes ... we've begun to develop a kind of art site, you know, an art place that is not in a big city. Most of them are in big cities ... You don't find urban artists here. We are all people who live in the country, and that's the kind of sensibility that we're coming from."
And his art stands out, literally.
"I guess I would be classified as a realist or an impressionistic realist, because I take some liberties with reality now and then," he said. "What is more unusual about my work is that much of it is in bas-relief. It's three dimensional, and many of these pieces in the present show have real hemlock bark in them. I use ferns and mosses and sticks and just whatever comes to hand to try to evoke something of the feeling a person gets when they're in the forest and in the presence of these living things."
Art is a passion he has honed over the years, with an undergraduate degree at Lynchburg College and a graduate degree in art criticism at the University of Chicago.
"My parents, in their own ways, were somewhat artistic," he said. "My father used to be able to draw comic strips from memory, and my mother's very creative, so I was encouraged to draw when I was a child."
And he's never looked back.
For more on Hayes, visit http://www.lowellhayesartist.com. His hemlock series will be on display in Gallery B and the Mayer Gallery in the west wing of the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts at ASU until March 19. The center will be closed from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4.
Also currently on display at the Turchin Center? "In the Void," sculpture by Delaware artist David Meyer, also on display until March 19.