Natchez Project ends with gallery open house

Published 12:32 am Sunday, January 17, 2010

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Project came to an end Saturday, and the artists involved had their work on display.

The Natchez Project was the brainchild of local pottery artist Conner Burns. He brought in three outside artists — Mark Chatterly, Scott Bennett and Steven Hill — to spend the week working in his Franklin Street studio, and the results of their work were exhibited there Saturday night.

When the artists got together, they had no plan or agenda other than just to get something done. They didn’t directly collaborate on anything, but all shared the same space, which Bennett said could actually contribute to each artists’ individual creativity.

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“In the clay world, people are pretty open, and will share their ideas,” he said. “They’re not very secretive about some new technique they’re using.”

Working without any kind of pre-conceived project is a completely different experience than working with an agenda, Hill said.

“We interacted a lot,” he said. “It was great just to have the opportunity to work with and be around three peers I know and respect.”

“The people I was working with were helpful in giving input on any questions I had.”

For his part, Bennett said he enjoyed working with the other artists, but decided to let them do the experimenting with their work. He spent much of the week working on cups and other practical pottery.

“My thought process was, often when you come to something like this, you step outside of the box a little too much, and so I decided to concentrate mostly on my usual thing,” Bennett said.

Chatterly’s usual thing is large sculpture, but with limited studio space he decided to do something different. At the end of the week, he had produced a number of cups and four large clay sculptures of the artists’ heads. Each head had a hole in the middle, and Chatterly said he planned to put a pole through them and mount the heads to form a totem pole.

“I started working on them all at the same time,” Chatterly said. “The other guys didn’t like me staring at them, so (the heads) aren’t exact.”

Burns said that throughout the week he continued to explore sculpture work he has been doing lately, but that good times were had not only inside the studio, but outside as well, a statement Chatterly agreed with.

“Conner has been such a good tour guide, I feel like I know the town now,” Chatterly said.

Now that it is at an end, the weeklong project was a positive experience, Burns said.

“It was great to work with these guys,” he said. “They have all enjoyed having a part of this southern culture,” Burns said.

Bennett is the co-owner of the Red Dot Gallery in Birmingham.

Chatterly is an artist based out of Williamston, Mich.

Hill is the co-owner of Center Street Clay in Sandwich, Ill.