Ember Studios and Gallery gathers together an eclectic collection
There is a very good chance that future generations will view our current era as a second Renaissance. Evidence of this can be seen everywhere—in the media, on the walls of buildings around town, and in the studios and galleries of a new generation of creatives.
The development and application of technology is facilitating this movement. In the past 30 years we have progressed from landlines to smartphones, from newspapers to blogs, from analog to digital. With the push of a button, artists are able to instantly share their work and to be inspired by people all over the planet.
Now is one of the best times in history to be a working artist. Many young professionals have chosen art as a career and more of them are succeeding in their endeavors every day. A perfect example of this is the Southside Historic District’s transformation into one of Chattanooga’s cultural hubs.
In less than a decade, lots of hard work and business savvy have changed Main Street from a dilapidated commercial corridor into a bustling arts district. Part of the story of the Southside’s revival comes from the newest addition to the neighborhood’s selection of fine art purveyors, Ember Studios and Gallery.
Located next to The Local Juicery + Kitchen and across the street from The Certified Electric Bike Specialists, Ember is a space that is devoted primarily to contemporary ceramics. When Seth Cathy and his wife, Sarah, bought the building, it had been vacant since 1960. It was a dirty husk of a structure, with boarded-up windows and a graffiti-covered plywood facade.
The pair completely renovated it, making the eyesore into an impressive venue for clay. The walls, high ceilings and exposed ventilation system are painted bright white, giving the room a modern feel. The pedestals that hold many of the pieces blend in with the blank walls, leaving nothing to distract the viewer from the work.
Though many of the artists represented by Ember are local, the Cathys’ goal is to host works from all over. They currently have 23 artists displaying several hundred pieces, ranging in style from traditional pottery to sculpture, plus a photographer and a painter. Seth is a champion wheel thrower, and he maintains a workspace in the back of the shop. In addition to the ceramics studio, the back is also home to the metal shop of Jonah Williams.
Seth’s pottery is classy, simple and extremely consistent. He mixes all his own glazes from raw chemicals, giving his pots a distinctive quality and feel. “The fun thing about clay is that you can do a million things with it—it doesn’t necessarily have to be functional like cups, et cetera,” he says. “You can make anything with clay. For instance, one of our artists makes buttons. People have even used clay to make musical instruments.”
One of Ember’s most interesting collections of work was made using a fascinating method. Adam Kirby’s sculptures are definitely pushing the boundaries of ceramic art—more precisely, pushing them very hard and fast with gunpowder.
Adam’s process for making these “ballistic sculptures” involves shooting various guns at blocks of clay. The force of the bullet rips and tears the clay, deforming it and leaving a hole like an Arnold Schwarzenegger shot in a T-1000. Adam then glazes and fires the sculptures.
The result is wonderfully unique and impressive, which is why he recently won a juried show in Nashville and sold his entire inventory. “I like the idea of using a gun for something creative, as a sculpting tool instead of as a weapon,” he explains.
One of Adam’s mentors is also represented by Ember, and his art is truly magnificent. Let it suffice to say that Shadow May’s work is museum quality. Not only has he exhibited at The Hunter; last year he won Best New Exhibitor at the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C. His functional pots are as thoughtful as his sculptures, exuding a feeling of Zen and peace. His aesthetic does a fantastic job of being inside and outside the box at the same time.
In his artist statement, Shadow May says: “I work from the perspective that life is fleeting. That belief lends to the urgent and spontaneous nature of my sculptures. ‘Did I do enough in my life? Did I live in fear too often? Did I challenge myself to taste greatness?’”
Ember is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and at other times by appointment.