'Hair' exhibition challenges art center staff and visitors

The Baltimore Sun

Staff members at the Columbia Art Center have installed many works of art for the gallery's changing exhibits, but director Liz Henzey said the latest show offered unique challenges.

"It's the first time we've had to comb an artwork," she said.

Along with more traditional paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures, Hair: A Juried Exhibition inspired conceptual pieces with real and artificial hair attached. Two sculptures used long, straight locks of black hair flowing from wax bases. Another, which featured blond locks made of wool, arrived at the gallery with curlers that had to be removed.

Henzey said a variety of approaches is exactly what the art center was looking for in the exhibit, which opened yesterday in Long Reach Village Center and runs through Oct. 8.

She credited Rebecca Bafford, the former gallery director, with encouraging more themed exhibits, which offer a venue for numerous artists - including seasoned and less experienced ones - working in many media.

Themed exhibits also "build on a couple of different kinds of audiences," Henzey said, because they attract people who enjoy art and people who are interested in the theme.

Bafford drew the theme of a previous exhibit, Bike, from her love of mountain biking. This time, she was inspired by her hairstylist.

"Becky and I were just tossing around some ideas," said Doreen Nionakis, owner of Hey Red! Inc. salon in Laurel. "We were chatting while she was in my chair. I said, 'Have you ever considered doing anything about hair?'"

The idea clicked, and Nionakis, whose salon has done several community outreach projects, agreed to sponsor the exhibit. Among other roles, she provided cash prizes for the artists, which will be awarded at a reception being held Sept. 16.

A portion of the artists' entry fees and additional donations raised during the show will go to the National Cosmetology Association's Disaster Relief Fund for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"I think it's exciting," Nionakis said of the show. "I don't think people realize there are so many different colors, different textures [of hair] out there."

The gallery received 120 entries, and a jury chose 53 works by 33 artists in Maryland and 10 other states.

The selections make up a diverse group.

One traditional oil painting shows a girl with long red hair. Another painting features a nude woman with flowing blond hair riding a white dog through Baltimore. A photo collage shows an artist sporting a variety of haircuts over many years. A wood sculpture uses a mirror at the center so viewers can see their faces surrounded by a carved and painted version of flowing red hair.

Jonathan West said his approach was "tongue-in-cheek," but it persuaded the judges to accept three of his works. One is a fur bikini and other garments called Cavewoman's Wardrobe. A bagel covered in brown, curly clumps of hair is titled Bagels and Locks. A shrunken head with thick brown hair and a beard hanging from the end of a vintage fishing pole is just named Bob.

"I like to play around with stuff," said West, of Bel Air.

West also was part of the Bike exhibit because he often makes artistic bicycles with his son. He said being accepted into a juried show is "a pat on the back. It's exposure, somebody gets to see your work." And, he said, it is satisfying when "somebody has the same sense of humor that I do."

Karen Cain's painting of a brown, furry raccoon wearing a red ribbon is one of the few depictions of animals in the show. She said she used as a model an animal preserved by a taxidermist that her art teacher, David Zuccarini, keeps in his studio and often adorns according to the season.

"I did five paintings with animals with fur and hair," said Cain, a retired local government employee who lives in Laurel. "It was more or less an exercise to work on that."

She said she keeps an eye out for juried shows in which to enter her work, and was "pleasantly surprised" to be accepted in the art center show.

Once the works were chosen, it fell to the art center staff members and volunteers to display them in a way that is visually and thematically interesting.

"I have to say, we have had more fun trying to figure out how things should go together," said Winnie Coggins, an art center board member who helped hang the exhibit. "We've never seen such inventive minds at work, and coming from completely different directions."

Coggins, a potter and sculptor from Columbia, had one work accepted into the show. It is a green ceramic mask with shiny gold ribbons of hair on top.

"I'm interested in masks of different cultures," said Coggins, who made her piece specifically to enter in the Hair show. She said putting up a mask - whether figurative or literal - is a common theme in our society.

"I think hair can be [a mask] in the sense it's a persona," she said.

She added: "Everyone that comes to this show is going to love some things and hate some things. It's going to be a great show to come and talk to people."


Columbia Center for the Arts is at 6100 Foreland Garth in Long Reach Village Center. Information: 410-730-0075.

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