Art teacher Carrie Pendergrass's work takes flight

Art teacher Carrie Pendergrass's work takes flight

December 20th, 2011 by Holly Leber in Life Entertainment

Carrie Pendergrass, an art teacher at Notre Dame High School, is also an artist and a jewelry designer. Her works include "Sew Storm," a mixed media drawing.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

ABOUT HER

* Age: 36.

* Education: Bachelor's degree in fine arts, master's in education.

* Hobbies: She wants to go to South America and Italy. "I've been fantasizing about living in another country for many years."

* Family: She is the middle child of five.

* Interesting fact: Enjoys words and letters. She loves old fonts and takes note of song lyrics. "I was almost an English major."

In one of Carrie Pendergrass' signature artworks, there are two canvases, each picturing a bird in a tree. Each bird has a tin can with a string attached, like the tin-can telephone toys of childhood.

Looking closely, one can see the birds are not painted but stitched on to the canvas with colored thread. She calls the paintings of the birds "The Dangling Conversation," after the Simon & Garfunkel song.

Pendergrass, an artist, jewelry designer and high school teacher, is the owner of Sewn to the Sky designs. Her company is named after an indie rock album.

The Chattanooga native is also a lover of trees, nature, tiny things and music.

She uses Shrinky Dinks to make earrings. "There's a lot of trial and error because ovens can screw stuff up," she said.

When Pendergrass is not creating paintings, she teaches art at Notre Dame High School.

"My students inspire me," she said. "They look to me for advice, and it keeps me thinking creatively and keeps me making things in my mind."

Q: How did you get started?

A: I've been into art ever since I was a little kid. In high school, I decided I wanted to pursue it. I went to UT in Knoxville and got my [bachelor's of fine arts degree] there. I used to work for a record store where, instead of posters of the new albums they had coming, they would have artists paint pictures of the album covers and put them outside. That was my first time making money at art.

Q: How does one teach art?

A: Sometimes we'll copy someone else's work. That's an age-old tradition; apprentices for years have copied the masters' works. We'll do that a little bit. For the most part, I try to start with some of the basic elements of art, and I start with simple lessons, and then we get a little more into other things as the year goes on.

Q: How do you nurture students' artistic ability and style?

A: It has some to do with individual encouragement and repeating that not everybody draws the same. You actually all have your own style, whether you realize it or not. You have a natural way you hold a pen or pencil. I point that out to kids sometimes. I tell them nothing's wrong but encourage them to experiment. I don't know that a goal is to encourage them to develop a style as much as to keep them thinking creatively and making things.

Q: What about your own style? How do you develop that?

A: It's hard for me to say what my style is. I like simple things. I like thinking about objects being art or tools to create something else, like a spool of thread. The spools of thread in my paintings are representative of me in that way, even though I can hardly use a sewing machine. I love nature. Trees are another obsession of mine. I look at everything. I love vintage things. My mom owns an antiques store, and we've always had weird things in our house. I can't really say what wouldn't inspire me.

Q: Why make miniature paintings and Shrinky Dinks earrings?

A: I've always liked mini things. I like tiny things. I never thought I'd have the control to be able to do something so small, but I love the idea of being able to do something so tiny and so precious. You could wear it as a piece of jewelry if you wanted to, but you don't have to.

Q: Why a bird motif?

A: My mom and my grandmothers always loved birds. My mom's mom assigned each of myself and my siblings a bird persona, and I was a cardinal. I think they're beautiful, but of course you could say funny things about freedom because they can fly and go wherever they want. I find them fascinating.

Q: Why use thread and stitching in your paintings?

A: I came up with the idea in college. My mother never taught me to sew. I didn't know much about artisan kind of girly crafts. When I drew how things looked, I thought I liked the idea of stitching representing a line. It's an illusion. When you look close, you realize they are stitched, but from far away, they look painted. I don't know traditionally how you sew. I just made it up, based on how I think brushstrokes or feathers should look.