SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV—Shepherd University’s Phaze 2 Gallery will feature living sculptural work by Sonya Evanisko, professor of art and coordinator of the painting and drawing program, during an exhibit February 2–18. A reception is planned Tuesday, February 2 from 4–7 pm on the opening day of the exhibit, which is titled “Like Moss Between the Cracks.”
Evanisko, who is one of five finalists for the 2015 West Virginia Professor of the Year, has primarily produced painting and collage work during her 20 plus years as an artist. She was awarded a sabbatical during the fall 2015 semester and in that time she delved into something completely different that merges her art with her interest in gardening and in collecting objects she finds while traveling. Evanisko has been creating Japanese kokedama, which are a type of bonsai plant that is grown in a moss-covered ball of soil.
“I just started making these Japanese kokedamas and giving them a contemporary thrust by combining real with artificial,” Evanisko said. “Real being the plants and mosses that are alive and growing. I have ornamented the kokedamas with fake and artificial things, the things I collect, like stuffed or felted birds, or plastic lambs, or glass-blown mushrooms.
“Obviously the lifespan of the artificial element will last much longer, perhaps forever, when compared to the temporal nature of the sticks, the moss, and all of those things that are going through their cycle of growing, changing and eventually deteriorating,” she added.
Even though the new work is different visually, it deals with the same issues Evanisko has always addressed in her art—the natural versus the artificial, what’s real and not real, and how there’s a propensity to discard many consumer items.
But creating sculpture with kokedama is very different from working on paintings and collages because the plants require constant attention. Evanisko points out that when she’s painting she can walk away for a few months if she gets busy and the work will be fine.
“This work is different,” she said. “It takes daily engagement because these are growing, living forms. Not only that, they have exposed root systems.”
Evanisko has to mist the kokedama three times a day with non-chlorinated water. Grow lights that have to be turned on and off at the correct times are needed to give them sufficient light. When she travels Evanisko has to arrange for someone take care of them.
“There has been a learning curve for me because some of these things, like the moss or some of the particular plants, I’ve never dealt with in my outdoor gardening,” she said.
Evanisko spent her sabbatical researching, collecting plant material and assembling the kokedama in her studio, an airy, light-filled glass addition on the back of her historic house. For the exhibit the kokedama will be hand-carried to the Phaze 2 Gallery, where they will be hung at various heights from the 16-foot ceiling. Evanisko plans to use cables, pulleys, and hooks to hang the kokedama in the gallery, which will provide an entirely different environment for the plants.
“There are no outdoor windows in that gallery though, so the grow lights are going to be essential,” she said.
Evanisko said part of the inspiration behind her kokedama work came from observing a crack in a Shepherdstown sidewalk.
“There’s this beautiful green moss that fills the crack,” she said. “I think it’s gorgeous. The title for this exhibit is ‘Like Moss Between the Cracks’ because it’s very fitting how this work relates to the beauty I see in the broken sidewalk and how the crack has filled with moss.” She also relates the crack filled with moss to the Japanese aesthetic of kintsugi, where a crack in a piece of pottery is mended with gold. The breakage and repair become a part of the history of the object and are illuminated rather than disguised or discarded.
The project is Evanisko’s first foray into sculpture. She has always created two-dimensional art, primarily paintings and collages.
“I knew when I started this it would be daunting,” she said. “I do not consider myself a sculptor. Although they are three-dimensional and a lot of people will call them sculptures, I am looking at them like the work that I do outdoors in my garden where I am growing three-dimensional things and they need to be staked up or they need a particular tying or string methods to keep them growing the right way. I think I handled the construction of these more like a farmer or gardener.”
Evanisko will display 12 kokedamas, and she’s invited three guest artists to create one work each for the exhibit. Each guest artist is involved in gardening or floral design.
Louisa Zimmerman Roberts is a B.F.A. painting alumna of Shepherd who is currently the main grower and plant designer for her family’s business, Thanksgiving Farms, in Adamstown, Maryland. Kathryn Bragg-Stella is a Shepherdstown resident who is the caretaker of the Town Run Garden between Knutti and White halls and organizer of the annual Back Alley Garden Tour and Tea. Mark Harding is a floral designer who operates a floral design business for weddings and events, Flower Haus, from his home studio.
“I am looking forward to their unique interpretations of kokedamas,” Evanisko said.
Two weeks before her exhibit opens, Evanisko will travel to Charleston to do an interview with representatives from the Faculty Merit Foundation of West Virginia for West Virginia Professor of the Year. Evanisko said she’s honored to be one of the five finalists and is excited about doing the interview.
“I love, love, love that somebody is interested in getting to know me as an individual and as a person and that this decision is not solely relying on how I translate on paper or a résumé because there’s so much more to an individual than what can be put down on paper,” she said. “I do what I do here because I feel like that’s my life’s calling. I feel like I’m a natural teacher, educator and nurturer. I feel so fortunate that I’m able to do this for a living—something I’m so passionate about. When someone’s highlighting you it’s rewarding.”
Evanisko will learn in March whether she’s selected as Professor of the Year. And her kokedama may be on display again May 21 and 22 during the annual Back Alley Garden Tour and Tea sponsored by the Shepherdstown Community Club.