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Cahaba River Watershed Project

Cahaba River Watershed Project

The Cahaba River Watershed Project is a collaboration, exhibition and lecture by new media artist Elisabeth Pellathy, sculptor Lee Somers and printmaker Scott Stephens. Their investigation focuses on the visual language of the river and how its iconography serves as vessel for memory, as well as the history of the Cahaba River Watershed and how it has been shaped by human activity. The exhibition features the working methods of the artists using drawing, photography and CAD generated and 3D modeling images that are laser engraved into acrylic plates and printed using traditional intaglio and relief techniques.

Statement:                                                                                                                                                                                     Through a mutual interest in the natural world and desire for deeper understanding of place, we began working together on a visual exploration of our local river. The project has focused our attention on the interwoven ecology, geology and social history of the watershed, engaging us with layered thinking about the past, present and future of the river.

The Cahaba River is currently the longest free-flowing river in Alabama. Around two-hundred miles in length, it is a tiny artifact of the state’s massive river drainage to the Mobile Bay. Deposits of coal, limestone and iron ore flank the Cahaba as it cuts into a layer cake millions of years in the making. In the nineteenth century, settlers found these resources conveniently exposed and the river begat Alabama’s first coal mine and ironworks. Two-hundred years later, the Cahaba weaves through one of the most densely populated regions in the state and bears the marks of significant human activity.

In spite of this, the Cahaba River is one of the most biodiverse waterways in the country, home to an impressive variety of fish, snails, mollusks and plants. In recent years, the river has become the focus of environmental study and activism. Cahaba researchers have discovered previously unknown plant species, rediscovered snails and mussels thought to be extinct and proposed to reintroduce the critically endangered Alabama Sturgeon. The Cahaba Lilly (Hymenocallis coronaria) has become emblematic of the region, with visitors flocking to see the largest remaining stands of this once common flower blooming in the rocky shoals every spring.

The river is poised in a liminal state, a relatively intact legacy of nature carrying on amidst the swelling tide of human progress. As such, it serves as a powerful metaphor for our global condition. We hope to provide our audience a rich and layered experience of the Cahaba River, to encourage others to form relationships with place, to contemplate the magnitude of our moment in time as a confluence of forces great and small and reflect on our role in this unfolding story.”

Elisabeth Pellathy is a visual artist whose work investigates the rearranging of relationships in the studio based on current ideologies of accessibility of information, which can often negate the tactile experience of objects. Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1982, Elisabeth Pellathy received her BFA in 2005 and MFA in 2011 from Alfred University School of Art and Design, Alfred, New York. Pellathy serves on the Faculty at The University of Alabama, Birmingham as an Assistant Professor of New Media Arts. Pellathy has exhibited both nationally and internationally, at such venues as The Alfred Ceramic Art Museum at Alfred University and the Booth Museum of Natural History, Brighton and Hove, UK.

Lee Somers, born in 1977 in Durango, Colorado, studied art at the Alfred University School of Art and Design where he received his BFA in 1999 and MFA in 2006. Travelling, living and working in a variety of locales fuels his investigation of place, exploring the landscape as a subject of contemplation. Lee’s work has been featured at the Jane Hartsook Gallery, Greenwich House Pottery, NY, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY, the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum, Alfred, NY and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL. He has taught at the China Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing, been a Franzen Teaching Fellow at Colorado State University and the recipient of numerous grants and awards. Lee teaches three-dimensional design at the University of Montevallo, where he maintains an active studio practice in ceramics and cross-disciplinary experimentation.

Scott Stephens is a printmaker and Professor of Art and Chair at the University of Montevallo where he has taught since 1983. He earned his BFA degree at Washington University in St. Louis and his MFA at the University of Alabama. Stephens has completed artist residencies at the Centrum vor Grafiek Frans Masereel in Kasterlee, Belgium; the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, France; the Hamilton Printmakers Arts Association in Ontario, Canada and the Institute of Electronic Arts at Alfred University, New York. His work has been recognized with a fellowship from the Southern Arts Federation/National Endowment for the Arts and two individual artist fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts in 1992 and 2002. Stephens was designated the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching CASE Alabama Professor of the Year for 2006. His studio practice is in large-format printmaking and historic photographic processes.

Reception and Lecture with Artist Panel
February 19, 5:30 - 7:30pm
Lecture begins at 6pm - Library Theatre