Guest Voices: Working with the Earth – Artist Margaret Boozer in Our Own Backyard

Today’s guest post comes to us from Anthony Stellaccio, the Project Manager for Earth Matters, who worked on the exhibit through its early research stages all the way to making the show a reality. Through this process, he met and worked with other artists to learn more about how the earth informs their work – read on to learn about one of these artists, Margaret Boozer. 

I am a ceramic artist, I work with clay. Better still, I might make the claim that I work with the earth. Let us consider that part of what qualified me for my job as project manager for the exhibition Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa.

While working on the Earth Matters exhibition, steeped in research on mining, the environment, and all the other themes that the Earth Matters touches upon, I had the good fortune to be introduced to another ceramic artist, Margaret Boozer. Boozer is the founder of Red Dirt Studio, a collective of ceramic and multi-media artists just six miles from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, where Earth Matters is currently on view.

Originally from Alabama, Margaret Boozer grew up surrounded by red dirt. When Boozer reminisces about her southern home, she recalls that red dirt with enough fondness to ensure that anybody listening will make an unmistakable connection between it and her identity.  Hardly surprising, then, that as an artist, Boozer has taken an interest in the raw and colorful clays that surround her wherever she goes. In fact, Boozer has made “the earth” her primary medium, often working with clays, minerals, and soils that come straight out of the ground and go straight into her art.

 Burst cotton bolls in a field in Auburn, Alabama

How does one work directly with the earth?

In some cases, Boozer “draws” with the earth. By creating compositions from the multi-colored materials that she extracts from the earth, Boozer creates what she calls “dirt drawings.” Despite being called “drawings,” these works of art are more like sculptural installations since what she draws on is not paper but the gallery floor. Boozer begins these installations by hauling buckets of different clays, minerals, and soils into the gallery. She then responds to the unique features of each space that she is asked to work in by creating a different work for each place. When the show is over she hauls the buckets of earth out and the pieces disappear. From then on the work she created will exist only in photographs.

Dirt Drawings by Margaret Boozer

Margaret Boozer also paints with the earth. Working with the same diversity of materials, Boozer creates rectangular compositions much the same way she creates her “dirt drawings.” Only with her “paintings,” instead of just brushing them away, she makes them permanent by building frames and backings, and then embedding the earthen material into them. Boozer refers to these as “rammed-earth paintings,” and they are paintings in the sense that they exist in frames and can be hung on walls.

Paintings from the Rammed Earth Series by Margaret Boozer

Last but not least, Margaret Boozer is also a ceramic artist. By saying ceramics, of course, I mean that Margaret also uses the clays and minerals that she finds to create two- and three-dimensional objects that she then transforms by heating them to high temperatures in a kiln. Once fired, the materials that Boozer works with have become something rather different than what they were when she first dug them out of the earth, and their new forms are far more permanent. Looking at all the different ways that Margaret Boozer works with clay, I find myself asking not only “how does earth matter,” but also “what can earth be?”

Ceramic Sculpture by Margaret Boozer

Be sure to check out more works from Margaret Boozer here, and stop by Earth Matters to see ways that other artists work with earth as a material and an inspiration. 

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