Arrowmont Connections: Leslie Pearson returns to her rural roots to make new art

Arrowmont is a special community full of creative people – a family who know that coming together and making art is important. We talk a lot about the Arrowmont Experience – connecting through craft and community. That connection exists beyond physical proximity. It is in shared memories and new ideas. It lives in the friendships we make with each other. It grows when we learn and support one another.

Whether on campus or off, we are connected as members of the Arrowmont family. Over the next few weeks, we are going to share stories from our community of instructors, residents, and students in a new series, Arrowmont Connections.


Leslie Pearson is a multimedia artist who lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She has a BFA from Southeast Missouri State University, an MA in museum studies from Newcastle University and an MFA in textile design from East Carolina University. Pearson utilizes many fiber-based materials, processes and techniques to create sculptures, installations, encaustic paintings and handmade books in which she explores themes of memory and identity.

Last week, Leslie participated in the first Instructor Roundtable discussion – a virtual lunch-table conversation with fellow artists whose work also explores themes of identity. She described an evolution of thinking in her work.

Leslie returns to her rural roots, beginning with her thesis work a decade ago.

Leslie was raised in what she described as “a really rural town in Missouri, in a family that was poor and uneducated.” She was the first in her family to go to college. She joined the military after leaving home. She explains, “As I grew up, I tried to ‘better’ myself… to get out of that situation. I would distance myself from anything I associated with ‘country life,’ like gardening, or something that I thought a ‘poor person’ might do.”

“Side By Side”
Encaustic and fabric on panel, 24″ x 18″, 2014

Leslie was beginning her graduate work in fine art in 2009 when she learned her grandmother was dying. This coincided with her search for an “authentic place within my work” and was, after years of trying to distance herself, a catalyst to reconnect with her past.

She thought to herself, “Who am I?” She began accumulating ideas and stories as she collected writings and oral histories from her grandmother and family members. At the same time, she began working with new sculptural media: hog intestine. “It is a beautiful membrane that is translucent when stretched over wire. Many interesting things can be done with it – you can print on it, paint on it, and even stitch it.

The combination of writing, family ephemera, and new media contributed to her thesis work in 2011, “Vignettes of a Family,” and has formed the basis of her subsequent work.

I’m drawn to things that have layers of history. Be it handwritten letters, journals, old books, rusty metal, postage stamps, buttons, teeth, animal bones, or bits of fabric; my studio is filled with objects I’ve collected or unearthed.

I’m a scavenger for the lost or forgotten things that have interesting textures, colors, and surfaces.

I like to imagine the stories that these treasures hold. I’m inspired by organic forms found within the natural world such as pods, seeds, nests, eggs, and shells – mostly for the metaphor they hold as keepers, protectors, and incubators.

 

New Work

In the past months during shelter-at-home, Leslie has been returning to the traditions of her rural family upbringing including gardening, canning and wildcrafting.

She shared her most recent work completed during the pandemic:

A couple of new pieces here that I have yet to exhibit due to the lockdown. Both are 36” x 7.”

My Friction Ridges series is informed by family dynamics and the notion of imprinting. Fingerprints are known, scientifically, as friction ridges. We are all born with individual fingerprints which forms part of our identity. More of our identity is formed within our family interactions, which at times can have friction. I superimposed one of my fingerprints over old family photos and heavily hand embroidered each line to create a raised surface.”

Leslie Pearson’s website: https://www.lesliekpearson.com/

Facebook: @leslie.s.pearson

Instagram: @lesliekpearson

Leslie Pearson’s artwork in the 2020 Instructor Virtual Exhibition: https://www.arrowmont.org/2020-instructor-exhibition/pearson/
Instructor Roundtable: IDENTITY video (featuring Leslie): https://youtu.be/012IB7g32hU
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