Mona Wu stares in adoration and disbelief as her 4-year-old granddaughter draws and creates stories — the same thing she did as a kid.
“The comic books at that time would be like picture books telling stories, and I was so enamored by those drawings of people and storytelling, so I would make up stories of my own,” Wu says.
Wu — a calligrapher, printmaker and collage artist — is a member of Artworks Gallery in Winston-Salem, a collaborative founded in 1984 operated by artist members and volunteers. The gallery temporarily closed its doors in March due to COVID-19 but reopened in October with limited hours of operation and capacity, only allowing six visitors at a time.
From Dec. 4-27, Artworks will host HeArt Works 2020, an all-member group show featuring two or more pieces from each gallery artist. The works will show their “HeArts” and what they have created during quarantine months.
“Winter Sky, Night”by Wu features a single, bright-red cardinal — a bird typically seen in winter months — perched on a tree with branches covered in snow. The image represents Wu’s longing for cold weather during the summer months in which she thought of the idea.
“It’s sort of, escapism for me,” she says.
The work also subtly touches on the certainty of the everchanging seasons in an uncertain time.
“It’s also comforting to know that, too, because these are for certain to come, whereas now that we’re in the pandemic, we just don’t know when it’s going to end,” Wu says. “That’s what the despair is for a lot of people.”
Wu creates her designs by etching an image onto a wooden board. The board is then covered with ink, and a piece of paper is laid on top to transfer or “print” the design. Wu then carves another design into the board, inks the board and prints it again. She repeats this process until the design is complete. She states that while printmaking sounds simple, it’s really anything but.
“Printmaking by itself is to be able to work backwards,” she says. “You have to think mirror-like because whatever is printed out will be backwards.”.
While Wu was printmaking for HeArtWorks 2020, her colleague Susan Smoot used her time in quarantine to explore new ways to make art.
“The pandemic has given me an opportunity to kind of explore different avenues and different outlets,” says Smoot.
Smoot joined Artworks four years ago after volunteering the previous eight. The representational painter is inspired by her surroundings in North Carolina. Much of her art is “things that have been touched by nature.”
During quarantine, she found a new appreciation for something she had been doing as long as she’s been making art.
“Stitching became a really satisfying expression for me. I could sort of sit back, take my time and just stitch,” she says. “Especially when you feel like, Oh my goodness, we don’t know how long we’re gonna be doing this for!”
Her interest in nature influenced some of the textile collages that appear in the exhibition. One collage features a red leaf sewn onto three layers of fabric, mimicking the appearance of art on a canvas. Smoot uses a variation in stitches throughout the collage, opting for small, close stiches toward the edge of each layer of fabric. The stem of the leaf was created with crisscross stiches, mimicking the thickness of a leaf stem.
Although she doesn’t call herself a bookbinder, Smoot’s prized possessions of HeArt Works 2020 are the leather-bound journals she’s bringing to display. She enjoys the challenge of using leather, as it is flexible yet durable. She says leather feels more like thick fabric than animal skin.
“Working with it and sewing through it, it’s just a pleasing material to work with,” Smoot says.
She continues, “Whenever I’m making art, I want it to be something that is an expression of my love for the materials or for the image.”
Wu’s favorite thing about being a member of Artworks is observing other artists create, using that to motivate her to produce more work. To her, Heart Works 2020 represents people coming together through arts and crafts, but in a different way.
“It’s really a combination of art and craft,” says Wu. “Art is making the design, the image, the conversation. Craft is when you execute it.”
HeartWorks 2020 is free and open to the public. For more information, visit Artworks Gallery’s website. To learn more about Mona Wu, visit her website. To learn more about Susan Smoot, visit her website.