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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Karis McCaskill `24 transforms Smith Gallery

Brisa Zielina
Karis McCaskill `24 grins in front of the gallery wearing a Kermit sweater — a green frog to match the green leaves in her exhibition.

Students passing by the Edith Renfrow Smith `37 Gallery might think it is closed when they view blackout curtains lining the walls, but one peek behind the first screen reveals a shaded grove of looming branches and a shamrock-colored forest floor. The exposed spotlights illuminate hundreds of handcrafted ceramic leaves — the focal point of Karis McCaskill `24’s new installation, “keep. wander. collect.” 

Karis McCaskill `24’s original project was smaller than what is now a part of her exhibition. (Contributed by Karis McCaskill)

McCaskill’s is the third student showcase to appear in Smith Gallery this semester. Inspiration for the artwork struck her when staring at the grass. “When you’re pre-growing the grass and the grass is all sprouting leaves before they mow it down, I really liked how that looked.” 

When mowers did shave the campus green spaces, McCaskill said her project became “like a silent protest to keep the leaves.” 

Lining the forest floor of the gallery, McCaskill constructed rows of small, curved leaves. Primarily a sculpture artist, McCaskill molded the leaves with clay, layered one side of each with glaze and covered them in bright green flocking, a material similar to felt. She then attached the ceramic leaves to sticks she found around Grinnell and mounted them to a piece of black plywood. 

Talia Foley `24, McCaskill’s partner, said, “It’s been all semester, every time she’s seen a stick she just starts dragging it with her.” 

McCaskill, a studio art major, said she created the first iteration of the project in an art seminar class. This original collection of leaves only spanned a one-foot by one-foot board that McCaskill displayed outdoors. The current display extends over two sides of the gallery floor.

“I didn’t realize how much I would need to make sure it was a full project. I went through a couple weeks of dreading this project, but once they [the leaves] came out of the kiln, I got really excited. It was a whole arc,” she said. 

When rethinking the work for a gallery space, McCaskill said, “I didn’t like the look of the white walls.” As a stark contrast from natural light, she enlisted seven friends to suspend several black curtains to envelope the space. The result is a combination of natural and artificial materials that McCaskill’s friends described as eerie.

Braden Meiners `24, who helped McCaskill set up, said, “It’s really neat because I’ve never seen it [the gallery] like this before.”

Though originally intimidated by showcasing her work, McCaskill said presenting in the Smith Gallery “is a very straightforward process that you shouldn’t be scared of. I think it’s a lot of work, and I didn’t realize how many people I would need to pull this off … but everyone’s been very encouraging.” 

McCaskill’s work will be on display until April 20. If you see her there, she might let you touch the fuzzy ceramic leaves.

Karis McCaskill `24’s current art piece is installed in the Edith Renfrow Smith `37 Gallery amidst black curtains. (Brisa Zielina)
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About the Contributors
Allison Moore
Allison Moore, Staff Writer
Allison is a fourth-year gender, women's, and sexuality studies major from Granville, Ohio. In her spare time, she can be found crafting, cooking, and cuddling with her kitten, Koda. If you think her mini crossword is too hard, then too bad.
Brisa Zielina
Brisa Zielina, Staff Photographer
Brisa Zielina is a first year and an aspiring Theater major with a concentration in American Studies from Los Angeles, California. She loves singing and acting and uses the word “slay” way too often. When she’s not slaying the day, she’s probably in rehearsal or studying on the third floor of the HSSC. If you see her around campus, say howdy, she’s always happy to make new friends!
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