By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Art isn’t just paintings hanging on walls.
To Ruby Merritt, it’s a living, breathing, growing — even decomposing — thing.
Merritt, a North Tonawanda native and a student at the University at Buffalo, will present her master’s thesis exhibit starting Thursday at the Carnegie Art Center. “Ology” will run through April 25, with an opening reception from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday and a special artist talk and eco-demo from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 18.
The show takes a look at natural processes via a trio of stations in the Carnegie’s main gallery — a large, Plexiglas-covered worm farm, a stream table showcasing the work of water and erosion and another table where people “can get their hands dirty” working with earth and soil, Merritt said.
“Everything is really related to my very strong passion for layers, the idea of under-earth,” she said while setting up the exhibit recently. “I really want an interaction to happen. Where you’re not just looking at stuff, but using all your senses, smell, touch, sight.”
In the Carnegie’s side gallery, visitors to the exhibit will be able to investigate an array of displays and objects. As Merritt worked to set up recently, it was full of tubs of earth, rock and sand, tree trunks and cross-sections of trees. A display planned for the wall contained sticks and fungi, moss and leaves. (Merritt called it her “exploded cabinet of curiosity.”) One table held a tray with all manner of rock samples and a mortar and pestle, while another held laboratory apparatus and glasswork.
Merritt, a member of the WNY Nature Sanctuary Society, said all of the natural materials will be returned to the areas from which they came. In a way, she sees herself as bringing the art of the Earth itself to a place where the public can see it.
“It’s actually taking organic objects from the forests,” she said. “All this will also be returned. My show is just a chance to have it be seen ... and hopefully to encourage people to go out on their own, too. I call myself more of a nurturer.”
Visitors to the exhibit will be able to use small magnifying glasses to inspect the work. On April 18, Merritt’s artist talk and eco-demo will give them a chance to get closer still, to play around with the stream table, crack open geodes, look through microscopes, touch more and play more, she said. “I want to say, ‘Here’s how you can handle these things, to deep a little deeper.’ “
In way, the exhibit marks a homecoming for Merritt. She graduated from North Tonawanda High School in 2006, and attended Niagara County Community College before heading to the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she received her bachelor’s degree in drawing and painting.
While a child in North Tonawanda, she took art classes in the basement of the Carnegie, and still treasures a canvas with pressed flowers on it that she created there.
“Nature has always been a part of it,” she said. “It’s just fallen into place. I think that’s a big part of it.”
Merritt also credits Cindy O’Mara, her high school art teacher at NTHS, with whom she’s now working on the Carnegie exhibit. O’Mara, she said, told students both that art was something they could make into a career and to create an experience for those who encounter their work.
“It’s a thing I’ve never stopped doing,” Merritt said. “What I’m trying to capture is awe and wonder. Pull you in with that ... and then slowly start to look a little closer.
“It’s really just a different way of looking at art. ... Art can be anything. Art is more an experience.”IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Ology," master's thesis exhibition by Ruby Merritt • WHEN: Thursday through April 25. Hours are from noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and noon to 2 p.m. Saturday. There will be an opening reception from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday. There will be an artist talk and eco-demo from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 18. • WHERE: Carnegie Art Center, 240 Goundry St., North Tonawanda. Call 694-4400 for more information.