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In the Details

"Ode" at Ross Gallery; flight patterns and enamel work at the Metal Museum.

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At 87 years old, Samuel Nichols is still maintaining a successful artistic career. "Ode to Lonerock," on display at the Beverly & Sam Ross Gallery at Christian Brothers University, marks his second exhibition at the gallery, and he has also exhibited work in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon. Nichols, who studied at the Memphis Academy of Art (now Memphis College of Art) and the Art Center of Los Angeles, says he began painting seriously around 1970.

Nichols began showing his paintings while he worked as a creative and art director for Jantzen Inc., the sportswear company based in Portland. With time and experience, Nichols has come to compose brilliantly understated works with a great feel for color and simplicity.

He first came upon the town of Lonerock — a cozy hamlet in Oregon founded in 1881 as a service center for the surrounding ranch land — while searching for a location to photograph a spring line for Jantzen.

Nichols later moved his life and family to Lonerock and remained there for 12 years, inspired by the lives of hard-working people as well as the quiet beauty of the rural landscape. His "ode" is altogether joyous, with bright white skies and a pastel palette that combines almost impressionistic scenery with skillfully detailed subjects.

The pleasure in creating each painting is palpable — gently overlapping mountains fading into blues and pinks, charming schoolhouses in the midst of open fields, and big, rusty machines.

Nichols has also included a few small, clay sculptures in the exhibit as an extension of his work — what he sees as a jocular way to further express and realize forms.

Through April 13th

The National Ornamental Metal Museum opened a new "Tributaries" exhibition for Chris Irick's most recent venture, "Flight." Many of the concepts for "Flight" were inspired by a visit to the Science Museum in London, which includes an extensive gallery reflecting British and international achievements (and failures) in aviation. Drawing largely from the oval shapes and dark colors of Victorian mourning jewelry, Irick has created an elegant series of jewelry that is expertly designed and exquisitely crafted.

The piece Whittle's Daisy Chain was named after Frank Whittle, who developed the jet engine for Britain. And as an avid bird watcher, Irick has delved even deeper into the roots of flight.

"I knew when I started working with the idea of different planes that I eventually wanted to work with birds," she says.

The first piece she completed for the series, Feathered Turbine, seamlessly unifies natural and man-made aspects of flight. A semblance of the rotary engine is constructed of actual finch feathers from Irick's pet finches. She then pierced the finches' flight pattern on the back, which led to her series of brooches made up of common flight patterns.

Through April 29th

The Metal Museum also recently opened a show of a different variety with the Enamelist Society Exhibition, "Alchemy: Transformation in Contemporary Enamels." Alchemy is an antiquated, magical principle based on the transformation of matter, particularly attempts to convert base metals into gold. The term illustrates the fascinating process of enameling, as it encompasses the complex and delicate application of glass to metal to create an altogether new material.

"Enamel is powdered glass, and some way or other they magically adhere it to mainly copper or fine silver. Then they fire it, and it melts and fuses into a skin," says Richard Prillaman, a silversmith and former professor at the Memphis College of Art.

The show, made up of the 13th Biennial International Juried Enamel Exhibition and 9th International Juried Student Enamel Exhibition, highlights works that demonstrate remarkable aesthetic and technical expertise in the medium. Categorized by miscellaneous objects, jewelry, and wall works, the exhibition of more than 100 pieces illustrates most of the numerous methods of enameling, often using multiple techniques within a single piece.

"The most common technique is sifting, where they take the powder and a little cup with a screen in it and sift the enamel on top of their frame. For many techniques, that's the starting point. Then they'll do things like sgraffito, where you sift on enamel and then take a scribe and actually draw in it to give yourself a design," says Kevin Burge, a repairs specialist at the Metal Museum.

"Champlevé is a commonly used method that's like enamel inlay, where they etch into the metal to create a recessed area and lay the enamel in there, while cloisonné is an alternate method using small wires as a border to separate the colors," Burge says.

Through June 3rd

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