In the Belly of the Beast:  Metal Arts on Display in a Steel Town

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In the Belly of the Beast: First Degree in Stephen Smith Fine Art exhibition space

Iron and steel were once the heart of industry in Birmingham. Central Alabama was the ideal site for producing steel as all three of the components needed (iron ore, limestone, and coal) could be found in abundance in the area.

Like its sister cities in the northern Rust Belt, Birmingham has seen a decline in steel production over the years. But it is also transitioning. From metalwork skills needed to make parts for other industries throughout the state to the arts and tourism, steel remains a vital part of the region.

Steelworkers would often call a furnace full of molten steel “the belly of the beast”. While the bellies of Birmingham’s furnaces may not always be full nowadays, smaller furnaces and ovens can be found in artists’ studios throughout the country. These little beasts are working overtime for artists to transform the steel culture and creatively forge the future.

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Artwork by Lauren Koch

Sometimes futuristic, sometimes realistic, the ideas coming from the sculptors featured in Stephen Smith Fine Art’s In the Belly of the Beast provide examples of how this industry has evolved. The artists assembled by exhibition curator Stacey Holloway bring up themes that challenge, comfort, confront, and confound.

Holloway’s knowledge of sculpture and depth of her previous exhibitions inspired gallery director Paul Barrett to approach her about curating In the Belly of the Beast. Her installation successfully demonstrates the versatility of the medium as well as pieces that will amuse and delight viewers.

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Artwork by Katie Hovencamp

One of the biggest challenges in bringing sculpture – and especially metal arts – to show in a gallery setting is space. The Smith Gallery is able to meet that challenge thanks to its original life as a movie theatre. With the open space and the high ceilings, the gallery has the ability to show more artists and display pieces of greater size and depth than some of their peer galleries.

Besides the collection of artists, what excites Barrett about this show is the approachability and versatility of the metal arts. Locally, there are classes available through an ongoing program at Sloss Metal Arts (SMA). Plus, metalworking skills are transferrable to the workforce. Information about creative and industrial training will be available during the run of the exhibition.

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Artwork by Dominic Sansone

In fact, the 30-year-old SMA program will benefit from sales of the works on display in In the Belly of the Beast.  Keeping artists in Birmingham, supporting the creative community, and helping sustain successful programs like SMA are important, and Barrett is glad the gallery is able to support the community. One thing he stressed is that, no matter whether or not you intend to purchase art at an exhibition, showing up is vital to supporting and sustaining a creative community.

In the Belly of the Beast will be exhibited in two parts. First Degree opened Friday, May 4 with a reception celebrating the installation. As for the Second Degree, additional pieces will be on display beginning June 29, and will also feature an iron pour and demonstration class.

In the Belly of the Beast: First Degree

When: Opens May 4, 2018

Where: Stephen Smith Fine Art Gallery, 5104 Gary Ave., Fairfield, Alabama

Public Hours: Noon-4:00pm, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or by appointment

Contact: 205.417.1098 // stephensmithfineart@gmail.com

In the Belly of the Beast: Second Degree

When: Opens June 29, 2018 (with Iron Pour Demo)

Where: Stephen Smith Fine Art Gallery, 5104 Gary Ave., Fairfield, Alabama

Public Hours: Noon-4:00pm, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or by appointment

Contact: 205.417.1098 // stephensmithfineart@gmail.com

Featured Artists (Both Shows) – Leticia R. Bajuyo, Robin Baker, Adam Bodine, Michael Bonadio, Jason Sheridan Brown, Page Burch, Marshall Christie, Jacob Chrzan, Jeremy Colbert, Dylan Collins, Erin Cunningham, Nicole Davy, Kaylee DeWees, Sarah Dorau, Kurt Dyrhaug, Claire Lewis Evans, Feral Fagiola, Tobias Flores, McArthur Freeman II, Cassidy Frye, Katelyn Gabbard, Anastasia Green, Jack Gron, Liz Helfer, Ira Hill, Katie Hovencamp, John Stewart Jackson, Rachel Kidd, Lauren G. Koch, Coral Penelope Lambert, Teresa Lind, David Lobdell, Morgan Lugo, David Marquez, Andrew Marsh, Gerry Masse, Holly Reese McCreary, Kim McKenzie, Ted Metz, Garrett Millsap, Christyn Overstake, Sarah Caroline Padgett, Kenneth Payne, Allen Peterson, Wayne E. Potratz, Eric Powell, Cliff Prokop, Dominic Sansone, Ashley Seilhamer, Luke Sides, Ian Skinner, Kristen Tordella-Williams, Jen Torres, Steven Torres, Alex Townsend, Kevin Vanek, James Wade, Michael Wickerson, Ajene Williams, Ben Woodeson, Jason Tanner Young

First Degree Only – Danyelle Harlan, Joe McCreary, Forrest Millsap, Jacob Phillips, Logan Smith, Savannah Smith

Second Degree Only – Reid Arowood, Melody Hollenbeck, Garrett Millsap

By Rebecca Dobrinski

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