Beguiled by Tales

Carol Eckert’s coiled animals illustrate human truths

Each piece begins with stories --  creation myths, legends of great floods, tales of journeys and quests, parables of good and evil  -- ancient stories that explore humankind’s relationship to the world. 

I’ve been immersed in stories since I was a child, beguiled by tales like Baba Yaga and Peter and the Wolf.  Even today, my studio is filled with books  --  volumes of mythology, art history, and poetry, including a collection of antique editions of Aesop’s Fables.

The universal nature of these ancient legends appeals to me. Passed down through the centuries, they reflect themes that appear in storytelling traditions throughout the world, illustrating essential human truths and often employing animals with similar symbolic associations  --  snakes as symbols of evil or cranes as harbingers of good fortune.

The particular beasts and birds that populate my compositions often evoke dualities, and I select these creatures with their symbolic implications and allegorical references in mind. My influences include old bestiaries, illuminated manuscripts, and Nordic mythology.

The coiled fiber process I use to construct my pieces is as old as the stories they tell.  Coiling is an ancient technique, intertwined with human’s enduring connection to nature --  it’s earliest known use was the construction of vessels from gathered plant materials.

I construct my pieces from cotton, linen, and wire. It is a simple, meditative process, requiring only a threaded needle. The forms are built up stitch by stitch, row upon row. I draw extensively before beginning construction, working out the composition and making color choices in advance.

I arrived at basketry by a circuitous route, training first as a painter, then working in various media, including clay.  Art history has had an impact on my work since the beginning, particularly ritual and ceremonial pieces from African and Latin American cultures, and carved Medieval altarpieces.

My first pieces were vessels, and they began with a mistake. In the midst of my early self-taught explorations, I came across a photograph of a Yoruba crown, and mistook it’s rows of beaded decoration for coiling. Entranced by it’s bird imagery, I began experimenting with coiling to create similar forms. From that simple beginning — a small lidded vessel with a single bird perched on top — the pieces became larger and more complex, developing gradually over the years into stacked and layered containers, staffs, shrines, book forms, and wall pieces. Over time, my work has become more two-dimensional, flattening out to parallel my drawings more closely. I have not abandoned the vessel form, though it is now more likely to appear as an element in a larger, more two-dimensional composition. I work extensively with color, but observing shadows cast by the staff sculptures led me to explore ways to incorporate those shadows into compositions, resulting in a series of black silhouette pieces. 

My work has increased in scale over time. The largest of my recent wall pieces is nine feet across and I am currently working on a processional composition that will eventually encircle a room.

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