Silversmith Blair Anderson believes something should be at stake when she creates art. The Glen Echo-based jewelry maker said that art should not only stimulate the eye but also make the beholder think. Ergo, she is drawn to “political [or] metaphorical” works.
“Each one of my pieces is abstractly representing a story,” she said. “It could be spiritual; it could be political.”
A gallery of Anderson’s work, called “Silver Linings: Stories in Silver,” is on display through July 29 at Glen Echo Park’s Popcorn Gallery. “Silver Linings” offers visitors a tour through Anderson’s preferred medium, and of “telling stories in wearable art.”
“This particular exhibit focuses on stories that are sort of enhanced by the optimistic metaphor that every great cloud has a silver lining,” said Anderson, an artist in residence at Glen Echo Park.
“Silver Linings” also features works by other faculty members of SilverWorks Studio & Gallery — where Anderson is an instructor. A young artist she is proud to include is SilverWorks junior-artist-in-residence Louis Kutyla, who Anderson has been mentoring since the young man was just 15.
“He came to take one of my classes because he had broken his leg and had to find something to do,” she said of the student she took under her wing more than two years ago. “After five sessions, I took his mom aside and I said, ‘I need to talk about your son because he’s a complete prodigy.’”
While Kutyla also makes silver jewelry like his mentor, the now-18-year-old isn’t afraid to tackle controversial — even uncomfortable — subject matter. His work “Freeze,” featured in the show, depicts the April 4, 2015 slaying of Walter Scott, an unarmed South Carolina black man who was shot in the back by white police officer Michael Slager.
“It’s a very important piece,” Anderson said of “Freeze,” which won a gold medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. “Louis’ [work] is very controversial because of what he’s displaying, and so, his artistic statement is reflecting that.”
Slager is currently serving a two-decade prison term at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in Colorado. Other infamous residents of the facility include disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Subway pitchman Jared Fogle.
Helping bring Kutyla’s art to the fore is one of the missions of Anderson’s Exnihilo Art Center, a program that offers promising youngsters free classes and studio time, with their work then professionally photographed.
“The first exhibit he did with me for his residency, he sold everything he made. I’ve never seen a young man more talented than this,” Anderson said of Kutlya, who already has been accepted for study at Pratt Institute in New York and Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Anderson said that learning how to work with silver is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process that takes, in her estimate, “10,000 hours [and] about five years” to master. Furthermore, there are relatively few female silversmiths, so Anderson hopes her program will nudge the field toward at least some measure of gender parity.
“My studio is a little different that way. It’s very laid back, very friendly and it’s predominantly women,” she said. “I may have helped that just by opening that door a little wider.”
Anderson believes that the arts have the ability to “bridge the gap” when it comes to tackling controversy and discovering common ground. “I have people come to my studio from all religious and political backgrounds,” she said. “And doing a craft brings people together [not only] because it’s very therapeutic, but [also because] we recognize that we have a voice.
“You can get away with saying more through visual arts and crafts, I think, than just speaking.”
But does Anderson worry about the limits of — or even backlash against — free speech in the current political moment? Even she has courted some controversy in the reaction to some of her output.
“There was one piece I [made] that was the American flag wrapped around a shell casing. I got a lot of reaction,” she said. “I told people the historical [context] that the shell casing was actually from my father’s 21-gun salute. And so, they recognized that I wasn’t making a political statement at that point — it was a very personal statement.”
The Exnihilo program — which translates from Latin as “from nothing” — aims to also bring young artists to a studio in the Bahamas as part of a residency. “We have the land, this beautiful beach on one of the small islands,” Anderson said. “We have the buildings designed. Now we are fundraising. It’ll probably be another couple of years before we’ve got that thing launched.”
Post-“Silver Linings,” Anderson said her next big show at Glen Echo Park will likely be a retrospective to mark a decade of her residency.
“I normally sell a lot of my works, but occasionally there will be one be held back from an exhibit. I will probably have at least one piece from each of the last 10 years” in the upcoming retrospective, Anderson said. “As far as moving forward, my passion right now is teaching and our residency and what we’re building in the Bahamas.”
Anderson advises up-and-coming artists to shy away from do it yourself YouTube videos in order to try to learn crafting arts. Rather, she said, just get out there and try.
“Explore. Be willing to explore and be very forgiving of yourself,” she said.
Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture presents “Silver Linings: Stories in Silver” Saturdays and Sundays, open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through July 29 at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Admission is free. Visit glenechopark.org/exhibitions or call 301-634-2222.