African Inspired Artwork Showcased at the Appalachian Festival

Brenda Harrison
Brenda Harrison showcases her booth at the Appalachian Festival.

The Appalachian Festival took place this year at Frostburg State University (FSU) on Thursday Sept. 14 through Saturday Sept. 16. On Saturday, the upper quad at FSU was filled with various events, including musicians, food vendors, numerous artisans, and festival goers. The festival was very well attended.

Brenda Harrison was one of the artisans at the Appalachian Festival on Saturday. Harrison grew up in Emmitsburg, Md., and attended Hood College in Frederick, Md. She spent two years majoring in Social Work at Hood College before she decided to change her major due to an experience she had in Vermont one summer. Harrison went to a pottery show in Vermont and saw a potter making bowls. She was intrigued by the process, and the potter in Vermont ended up showing Harrison how to make a bowl. When her hands hit the clay, she knew that it was what she wanted to do. Harrison remarked, “The feel of clay in my hands, something about touching the earth and being a part of the earth,” was what drew her to pottery. The Vermont experience is what ultimately made Harrison decide to change her major at Hood. She ended up graduating from Hood College with a Studio Arts degree in ceramics.

Harrison’s heritage is Native American and African American; her inspiration for her artwork is heavily influenced and inspired by both of these cultures. Multiple observers of her work remarked that it resembles artwork from Ghana. The Native American and African American influence in her work was easily identified by the artwork she had on display at her booth during the Appalachian Festival. Brenda had African inspired jewelry, gourd banjos, fridge magnets, African American face jugs, and washboards on display. She had various necklaces which resembled the form of a mandala, due to their patterns. Many people visited Brenda’s booth on Saturday and multiple festival goers stopped to admire the fridge magnets on display. The shiny fridge magnets seemed to keep catching people’s eyes throughout the day as they passed by her booth. The fridge magnets are tiny masks, made from stone, high fire clay, and low fire clay, which come in a variety of colors. Each mask had a unique look and color to it and was about the size of the palm of a hand. Harrison also makes masks that are not fridge magnets, and those masks come in a variety of sizes.

Masks #1
Harrison displays her African inspired mask fridge magnets.

Harrison currently has an African inspired mask on display at the Maryland Art Place located in Baltimore. This mask was made using a cast of Harrison’s actual face. It is on display in the Altered Realities exhibit, which is the Maryland Art Place’s Fall Benefit Exhibition. Their website states, “Altered Realities focuses on uncanny interpretations of the everyday experience. The show will highlight works of art that subvert the viewer’s perspectives literally or metaphorically.” Brenda’s mask will be on display at this location from Sept. 14 to Nov. 4, 2017.

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