I found Virginia Abbott, a long-standing Banana Factory Arts Center resident artist, hard at work in her studio one Wednesday afternoon. Abbott warmly welcomed me. Her space is bright, open, and inviting. Like many of the studios at the Banana Factory Arts Center, there’s an almost palpable energy here—“good vibes,” if you will. Abbott has many years of art under her belt, completing her education at York Academy of Arts in 1980. She also held apprenticeships with Jacques Fabert and Zenos Frudakis for 17 years combined. “My priorities are different than many; it’s not to be rich and famous,” Abbott said. Rather, she focuses on the transformative properties of art, and this sentiment shines through in much of her work and teaching.
On Her Current Work
Abbott offered me a seat, and we chatted for a bit about her work (and a little of mine). Her work is nationally recognized. She’s currently working on a beautiful clay model of a train, which is a redevelopment of a bronze piece from years ago—1996, to be exact. After some time away from the first piece, she felt she learned more about minute details, such as the impact of lighting. She also found that working in jewelry informed the development of detail in this revised project.
Most of Abbott’s other current work utilizes materials that would otherwise end up as waste. You’ve likely seen her work, “Blue Herons,” on Bethlehem’s South Side Greenway. Her eco-art breathes new life into what many consider simply trash by pushing us to reconsider our definition of what constitutes beauty. Abbott also enjoys working in jewelry and creates pieces with a sense of humor. One piece, “chain saw,” is a pendant of a handsaw with silver chains dangling from it: a literal chain saw.
Perhaps most difficult to explain are the many sculptures of faces that Abbott creates. The exterior of the sculpture shows the faces’ details quite clearly.
However, the opposite side of the sculpture looks different depending on the angle. The expressions of the concave faces evolve as you move. This experience is difficult to capture in language and photographs since there are many potential perspectives. The more you look at them, the more they change.
Photo Credit: Hub Wilson
Abbott absolutely beamed when she recalled past experiences with students, and with teaching more generally. She excitedly flipped through the pictures of kids holding their completed art projects. At ArtsQuest’s summer art camps hosted at the Banana Factory Arts Center, Abbott “breaks things down so they can all succeed quickly.” For instance, in one project, they each sculpted a facial feature. What they didn’t know is that these are features of Michelangelo’s “David.” Zoomed in, the nose, ear, or eye is divorced from its notoriety. Then, they are less intimidated to approach the project. In the end, the pieces all combine to create a whole sculpture. Abbott also works with the kids to create magazine collages and cherished memory art with found objects.
In addition to teaching summer camp classes, Abbott has taught at Easton Clay Works and Northampton Community College. “Teaching, I will give my students everything. Everything,” she stressed. “I want them to succeed.” She believes that “some of the best teachers are difficult learners.” By this she meant that these teachers are capable of listening to student feedback, open to changing their pedagogies to fit different needs, and able to admit when they don’t know something. Abbott expressed that she wants to constantly improve as a teacher because the process of learning is never complete. In fact, she is currently working to continue her education.
Teaching also takes the form of working with other community members. Abbott took the time to discuss her work as an artist with an elementary school student for a “Community Helpers” project. The student earned an A on the assignment, but what’s more important for Abbott is the interaction’s lasting effect. She commented, “You never know how you affect somebody, but it’s an interesting thing to do.”
Resident artists are the blood in the Banana Factory’s veins, and the rent-subsidized studios help to foster life through art in the community. Abbott praises the value of such spaces: “It’s so fabulous to have like-minded people [in the same space]. As [an artist], [you] have bad days where you want feedback or you want to have a kind of connection when you’re uninspired in your studio. But, I’m so inspired by everyone else’s work.”
See more of Virginia Abbott’s work on her website or meet her at one of the upcoming events listed below.
- July 7th, 2017 – First Friday at the Banana Factory Arts Center from 6 – 9 p.m. A reception for ArtsQuest members begins at 5 p.m. Visit the studios, talk with local artists, and view their amazing work. Abbott will be in studio #337, and she encourages people to stop by, chat, and take pictures!
- July 9th, 2017 – Happened Here, Made Here: Easton Heritage Day Show at the Quadrant Book Mart and Coffee House in Room C. Reception from 1 – 4 p.m. Come see Abbott’s historical art, forged paper sculptures, jewelry, and more.
- July 26th, 2017 – Abbott will be teaching Portrait Drawing on Wednesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. for four weeks. This class will also be offered as another four-week series beginning October 30th, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
- July 31st, 2017 – Abbott will be teaching Introduction to Painting on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. for four weeks.
- September 11th, 2017 – Abbott will be teaching Pointillism Painting on Monday evenings at 6:30 p.m. for six weeks.
Check the Banana Factory Arts Center website for future class listings!