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Friday, September 21, 2012

Apple and the Tree 

Leigh Werrell has been hanging around her father's studio since she was a mere seedling. When we asked her in an exclusive interview last week, before her first show with her father, Tim Werrell, the artist-in-residence at renown local sculpture studio, Liberty Arts,1 whether she had ever been chided when she was little for the studio being too dangerous or unsafe for a little girl, she laughed. It was indicative.

An early picture of father and daughter, Tim and Leigh Werrell

Her father works with welding tools and metal, yet neither of her parents objected to her being in the studio regularly at an age as young as five. She loved the excitement, the loud noises. She delighted when on occasion her father would ask her where to attach some piece of metal to one of his works, even if he only sometimes took her advice.

Both Leigh and Tim said, it was assumed at a young age, Leigh was going to be artist. She was always drawing, often the family, Mom, Dad, her brother Henry, and even the family cat and dog as well. Ms. Werrell told your interviewer that the sketch books of her youth were the equivalent of journals, where, in pictures instead of words, she would record impressions, memories and observations of the world about her.

Her family heritage was steeped in the arts. Her great-grandmother, Ruth Reeves, was a well-known textile designer in the 1930's. She did the wall fabrics and the curtain at Radio City Music Hall. In addition, she compiled the first American anthology of Folk Art. Leigh's grandmother spent time as a student of Hans Hoffman, the influential German-born American abstract expressionist painter.

As it turned out, in Leigh's case, youth and genetics were good predictors. She recently completed her Master's degree at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. A graduate of Durham high schools, Leigh was featured in the Craven Allen exhibit "Homegrown and Under 35" showcasing a generation of rising, young, Durham artists.

Tim has also long known that he would be a sculptor. He attended Beloit College and apprenticed to O.V. Schaffer, his mentor, with whom he is still in contact regularly. He worked with his hands growing up, tinkering in his own shop, building bicycles and the like.

Tim also built the barn that served as the studio behind the family residence in Cincinnati, before they moved down to Durham, where his wife, Emily, had gotten a job at Duke. She started the Perkins Library Education and Outreach Department. Even she had her own artistic bent, Tim recalled that she used to sketch the clothes that she was looking for, before going out shopping to find something that matched what she saw in her mind's eye.

After the Werrell's came to Durham, Tim ended up in the old, since condemned2 Liberty Arts warehouse in the Central Park District working alongside Jimmy Alexander and Andrew Preiss. He got his studio in 2001, even before the family had settled on a house. The stories that could be told from out of that place, you will have to ask around yourself, from Walker Stone to the Claymakers to The Scrap Exchange and the "Liberty Hilton," the building had character and housed characters.

Of course, as we all know, after the roof collapse, Liberty-Arts collaborative moved to the Cordoba Center for the Arts, where they have never been stronger. Tim Werrell is part of a diverse collection of talented artists composing in a multiplicity of mediums. He recently had two of his pieces purchased by the City of Burlington for a downtown sculpture garden and has installed and been commissioned for numerous large scale public works.

The Werrells have always bounced ideas off of each other. Leigh has even drawn renderings of what Tim's sculptures would look like installed before they were. This will be the first time they have exhibited together.

The Clarion Content was lucky enough to be able to preview one of the tree themed pieces Tim is building for this show. And while Leigh isn't making any apples, she will be bringing some of her latest works down from Philadelphia. Her recent work has been exploring family and ways that we perceive family. She had been delving into how we see ourselves, and each other, in our families. How apropos.

The show opens Friday, September 21st, as part of Durham's 3rd Friday art walk, at Liberty Arts in the Cordoba Center for the Arts, #923 Franklin Street, 27701. The reception is FREE and open to the public from 6pm to 9pm. The show will be in Liberty Arts gallery.

Flyer created by the Clarion Content's multi-talented Cady Childs.

1Full disclosure, the Clarion Content does marketing and promotion for Liberty-Arts.

2That's another story for another time, but remind us one day and we will tell it.

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