Laura Terry’s ‘How to Measure a Forest’ Exhibition on Display Through Oct. 21 in Vol Walker Hall

"metaphor" (45 x 40.5 inches, watercolor on paper with hand embroidery, 2022) is one of the pieces featured in an exhibition of new work by Laura Terry, an associate professor of architecture.

Image courtesy of Laura Terry

“Metaphor” (45 x 40.5 inches, watercolor on paper with hand embroidery, 2022) is one of the pieces featured in an exhibition of new work by Laura Terry, an associate professor of architecture.

As the wood and timber initiatives at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design grow and intensify, Professor Laura Terry wanted to contribute to these conversations through an artist’s lens.

“I wanted to tell a more poetic story of the forest,” she said, “from an artist’s perspective and get involved in these initiatives in a way that was authentic to me.”

The result is a body of work that she is showing in the How to Measure a Forest exhibition, on view now through October 21 at the Fred and Mary Smith Exhibition Gallery in Vol Walker Hall on the U of A campus . This is part of the Fay Jones School’s public exhibition series.

There will be an opening reception on Friday, August 26 at 4:30 p.m. to which the public is invited.

Terry, an associate professor of architecture, began her observations and research for this work at Anthony Timberlands in Bearden, Arkansas. It made sense to start there since the company is the state’s largest lumber producer, supports programs within the Fay Jones School, and has more than 200,000 acres of (mostly) pine forest. In 2019, she spent several days there with her guide, asking questions as they drove through the woods, stopping to take photos and sketch.

Terry has many trees to study on the eight wooded acres in the Ozarks that she shares with her husband and pets. But she also spent a week in the Bavaria region of Germany; Rome, where she drew the umbrella pines of Italy threatened by a boring beetle; and in their native Georgia, home of great oaks and many pines.

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When she started this work in 2019, she imagined having an exhibition by 2020 at the latest. An opportunity to teach at the U of A Rome Center in Spring 2020 caused her to reconsider how she would approach the work. Since she would be traveling and working in close quarters, she invested in a watercolor set. In Rome she bought some small watercolor pads and started painting bark pictures, studies in the textures. These pieces were first ideas, studies and all from memory.

When the pandemic forced everyone home in March 2020, she continued to paint the bark paintings and spent hours at her dining table. She created about 100 small paintings – each about 5 x 7 inches – with no idea what she was going to do with them.

“I think the act of painting her during those first few months of the pandemic and lockdown was my therapy,” she said. “I’ve worked in watercolor before, mostly for quick studies or travel sketches. I never considered the medium for larger, enduring works. Watercolor is spirited. You have to let it do what it wants. This is difficult for a control freak. So maybe I’ve learned to let things happen organically?”

Eventually, Terry cut up the small paintings and they became the Tree Tapestry piece. This is a collection of sliced ​​watercolors with vertical grain “quilted” together with hand-sewn circles.

Her template for the circles came from the piece of cardboard left over after she die-cut the pieces for a two-player board game she ordered during the pandemic. It occurred to her that the circle is the architectural convention for drawing trees in plan, which she liked. In addition to the circles embroidered on Tree Tapestry, she used this template to create tiny, imaginary landscapes, made primarily of pine trees, that eventually populated various pieces throughout the exhibition.

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During this creative journey, Terry rediscovered her love of depicting landscapes. It has been the subject of her work for 20 years.

“For a while the work was all about reducing landscape elements to pure geometries. You could always find a line or edge that represented the horizon, and the color palette was usually related to a landscape, but the work was so abstract that ‘landscape’ didn’t immediately spring to mind,” she said. “This one new collection has pieces that are open and distinctive landscape lined up with pieces that are still abstract. I enjoy that my two artistic sensibilities coexist in this collection. It’s forest-like that way. Every tree, even of the same species, is different.”

This exhibition features nearly 30 pieces – the smallest just 4″ x 4″ and the largest 48″ x 56″, with all sizes in between. The intention of the work is to show the forest on a micro and macro scale, so some pieces are on bark scale while others show the forest from a distance.

One of the most textured pieces is Measure Me by the Rings of Trees, a collage of graphite, monoprints, watercolors, and found doilies. The piece is a vertical composition measuring 18 and 7/8 inches wide and 40 and 1/2 inches high.

“I was out in the woods in winter when the leaves were gone and I was surprised at how colorful the landscape was. It was still green with moss and lichen,” Terry said. “I was watching lichen growing in circles on tree trunks and I immediately thought of crocheted doilies, you know the ones your grandmother used for home decorations?”

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She acquired some doilies from a local bargain hunter and started adding them to this piece. The resulting texture in this piece is important, she said, and the fact that it’s made up of many smaller pieces makes it “forest-like.” She hand stitched the concentric rings onto the composition, adding another element of texture and giving the piece a different meaning.

“A forest is a collection of trees; Trees are individuals, unique, but together they form the forest. I like that metaphor, the part-to-whole relationship that’s in the work. In fact, many of the pieces in the exhibition are collections or aggregates of smaller pieces that are combined into one larger piece,” she said.

Terry applied for a Creative Research and Practice Grant from the Dean at the Fay Jones School to support this research and work. This investment in and support for their creativity has been critical to their success.

“Being an artist is a luxury. I didn’t miss that. While the world was falling to pieces during the pandemic, I was painting. Bark painted with watercolor on paper Type of work is important,” she said.

Her dedication to producing this work—and the deadlines and timelines that came with it—gave her the ability to stay focused and look to the future when so much was uncertain.

“I tend to be ‘glass half empty’ except when I’m making art. I lose myself in the act of making. And I tend to do my best while I’m doing,” she said. “Or vice versa. I don’t think at all, I paint.”

Admission to the exhibition is free. Located on the first floor of Vol Walker Hall, the exhibition gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The U of A will be closed on September 5 for the Labor Day holiday.

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