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Louisville Artists Not Sheepish About Joint 'Wool' Exhibit

Louisville artists Vallorie Henderson and Catherine Bryant have been friends for years. About five years ago, when they started talking about collaborating, the connection was fairly concrete—Henderson is a fiber artist who works with raw wool, and at the time, she raised her own sheep; Bryant, a landscape painter with an affinity for grazing animals, wanted to paint Henderson’s flock.“I said, well, if you want to paint them that’s fine. They aren’t particularly attractive,” said Henderson with a laugh. “I found out the sheep I had were actually meat producers, not wool producers.”So the flock went, and so did the project. But as Bryant continued to visit Henderson’s studio, she started seeing stronger connections between her realistic paintings and Henderson’s abstract fiber works.“She was one of the first to look at my work and say you’re actually painting with wool,” said Henderson. “That’s how the conversation started. We both respect each other a great deal, and thought wouldn’t it be fun if we had our work together in the same room?”

Their joint exhibit focused on sheep—in both form and function—is called “Have You Any Wool?” The show features Bryant’s oil paintings on birch panels of sheep and Henderson’s felted wool/silk vessels and two-dimensional felted works. It opens at Craft(s) Gallery (572 S. 4th St.) Friday and runs through Oct. 31.Henderson felts together raw Merino wool and open-weave silk using Nuno, a traditional Japanese technique. The multiple layers of hand-dyed fiber allow colors to be seen through other colors, adding what Henderson calls an almost-Impressionistic effect.“I work totally abstract, and that’s probably why Catherine and I didn’t really collaborate on one specific piece,” said Henderson. “I can’t do what she does, and she can’t do what I do.”  What Bryant does, said Henderson, is capture the unique personalities milling about in the anonymous flock.“For her to look at those sheep simply as subjects and to try to capture the differences between them really fascinated me, and I think she’s been really successful at it,” said Henderson. “Sheep are like any other animal. Some of them are really people-oriented and friendly, and some you just want to stay away from.”