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Larry Favorite Crafts from Ironwood

On the first Friday of October, visitors ambled through the front room of Piedmont Craftsmen to view its newest exhibit: “Of Trees and Vines.” The exhibit featured two artists, Carol Kroll and Larry Favorite, who work with natural materials to make their pieces. Kroll crafted multi-media sculptures out of dried gourds that hung on the wall, and Favorite carved vessels out of ironwood inlaid with sterling silver or turquoise that sat on pedestals in the gallery.

Favorite stopped by to see the exhibit’s debut. He is in his late 70s, with wire-framed glasses and hands clasped behind his back. He stood beside one of his pieces during the opening. It was one of his newest creations, a wall hanging. The polished surface had a turquoise tree inlaid into its surface.

Favorite's newest wall hanging (Photo courtesy of Piedmont Craftsmen Facebook page)

Favorite’s newest wall hanging (Photo courtesy of Piedmont Craftsmen Facebook page)

“I let each piece of wood talk to me,” said Favorite. “I have pieces of wood I’ve lugged around for the last 25 years that haven’t talked yet.”

Favorite harvests a specific material for his work. He collects a species of desert ironwood – a kind of extremely hard, dense wood – from the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Desert ironwood can only be found in the Southwestern United States, and it comes from a particular flowering tree called Olneya. He then carves the wood like stone into vessels, boxes, wall hangings and animals. On average, it takes 20 hours to make a piece.

“He uses very amorphic, beautiful shapes – very of the earth,” said Rosemary Epperly, an artist herself visiting the gallery. “He captures the light within the wood.”

Favorite decided to use ironwood for his work because it was free – a medium he could find lying in the desert, put into the trunk of his car, and drive home for no cost.

“What can I do with this thing to avoid poverty?” Favorite remembered asking himself the first time he came across the ironwood. He had quit his job as a mechanical engineer in Phoenix, Arizona in 1975 and has now been an artist for 42 years. “I’ve been working on the poverty thing ever since.”

Favorite in his studio (Photo courtesy of The Alamance News Facebook page)

Favorite in his studio (Photo courtesy of The Alamance News Facebook page)

Favorite currently lives in Mebane, North Carolina. He has to rely on sporadic trips to the desert to gather wood to bring back.

The second exhibiting artist, not present at the opening, also used a unique material for her art. Kroll, originally from New Jersey, grows the gourds at her Siler City home, which are then naturally cured, carved, sculpted and painted. Her pieces showcase lots of texture, pattern and color. According to her website, her work “celebrates the beauty and wonder of nature’s design and honors her resilience as well as her fragility.”

“I love how they blend,” said shop manager Chris Asuncion-Haynes. He has been with Piedmont Craftsmen since 2010. “It’s a really pretty show, and it’s our first show of the fall, so it’s kind of warm and cozy.”

The Piedmont Craftsmen is a local non-profit organization supporting the appreciation of traditional and contemporary crafts. Exhibits rotate monthly, with the exception of December. “Of Trees and Vines” will run until October 28.

While featuring two artists in one exhibit is typical at the Piedmont Craftsmen, Asuncion said he was excited to see how beautifully Kroll and Favorite’s art looked next to each other.

“The two artists are both really quietly powerful,” said Asuncion-Haynes.

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