After she clicked on the “submit” button for “Materials: Hard & Soft,” University of North Texas graduate student and artist Abby Sherrill said she went on about her schoolwork.
She didn’t expect her piece, Spoon Collection, to be selected to the well-known contemporary American Craft competition and exhibition in Denton.
Sherrill also said she didn’t expect to win a juror’s award.
It turns out that Spoon Collection, a mixed-media installation made up of handcrafted spoons, charmed juror Judy Gordon and earned an award.
“Each of these objects is impeccably made,” Gordon said weeks ago, when she came to Denton to select award winners. “They’re curious, aren’t they? The material the artist has used is ordinary, but the detail is really magnificent. This is something I’d be happy to have on my wall at home.”
Spoon Collection grew out of artist’s block and an observation.
“I was stuck,” Sherrill said. “I couldn’t think of anything to make. I was thinking about what I could put up there that would mean something, and mean something that has a lot of memory. My grandmother had a pretty extensive spoon collection hanging on her wall.”
Spoons rang a bell for the artist. While studying fiber arts at UNT, Sherrill began working in three-dimensional concepts, merging sculpture and fiber. Sherrill researched spoons and discovered the small, handheld tool is meaningful across cultures — as a utensil and as a collectible.
Sherrill said she started taking bits of paper and cardboard littering her studio and forming them into objects, and eventually spoons.
That process turned into the award-winning installation. Sherrill used found objects, paper and cardboard, and bits of wire to approximate spoons arranged in a rectangle of similar objects, all of them measuring about 8 inches. They all look humble, simple. But each object is lovingly made and technically precise.
“It came from an interest in collections, and how collections can create meaning beyond the object,” Sherrill said. “The materials I used was, I think, more of an investigation of meaning in what would be trash around my studio.”
Using paper, cardboard and the like was intentional for Sherrill.
“One of the biggest challenges was finding different materials and using found objects, and the materials I used and the found objects changed the foundation of the collection in a way I’m OK with,” she said.
As she studied spoons and collections, Sherrill realized that she was indeed working in the craft form — rendering a functional object decorative.
“I was working intuitively, asking questions like ‘How would someone hold this, and what would it hold?’ I was thinking about just the shape,” she said.
Ultimately, it was the softness of the paper and cardboard in the form of something typically hard — flatware — and Sherrill’s careful construction that sold Judy Gordon on the piece. Yes, she was looking at a spoon collection. Each of the objects suggested an intimacy and meaning.
“It plays with those ideas in a way that’s clever and fun,” Gordon said.
Sherrill said paper and cardboard have a sort of dual identity.
“Yes, it’s a worthless material that used to have a function, but it also has aesthetics,” Sherrill said. “I think the material can easily be shaped into something else. And then there’s the preciousness of the handmade. Really, I could spend three hours working on something made out of cardboard, something impressive, but it’s still cardboard.”
She labored over the pieces that make up Spoon Collection in varying intensity. Some were made in a matter of minutes, crafted almost automatically. Others needed more planning and attention.
The point of the piece was to make objects that could actually perform a function, thanks to technical execution. But the goal? That was to suggest the meaningful objects in our lives or the lives of others — whether the rectangular shape evokes posters, stamps or boxes, or whether the objects remind viewers of carefully preserved knickknacks.
It’s Sherrill’s first time to submit to “Materials: Hard & Soft” and her first time to make it into the show.
“I’m humbled,” she said. “I know it’s an important show, and important locally. I think it’s kind of cool that it’s local. It was really nice to be able to drive to the gallery, hang the piece and go back home the same day.”
THE HUMBLE SPOON
The tradition of the Welsh love spoon has roots in the 17th century. Sailors would pass time at sea carving intricate wooden spoons to be given as gifts for their intended brides.
Spoons were and are used as percussion instruments in American, British, Canadian, Greek, Russian and Turkish folk music.
There are more than 65,000 entries for spoons on Etsy.com, representing jewelry, cooking and decorative objects.
The spork: Largely recognized as a spoon with short, fork-like prongs. Wikipedia says that, in the United States, a combined spoon, fork and knife most closely resembling the modern spork was invented — patent and all — in 1874.
PROFILE: ABBY SHERRILL
Education: bachelor of science, Auburn University; studying fiber arts in the UNT College of Visual Arts & Design
MATERIALS: HARD & SOFT
What: Greater Denton Arts Council’s annual contemporary American Craft competition exhibition
When: The exhibit runs through April 4. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Where: In the Meadows Gallery at the Center for the Visual Arts, 400 E. Hickory St.
Details: Admission is free. For docent tours, call 940-382-2787.
On the Web: www.dentonarts.com