Deep in the bogs and marshes of English folklore – and possibly in the marshes of the damp Florida Panhandle – a traveler might come across flashes of blue ghostly lights or will-o’-the-wisps. While scientists today attribute natural phenomena to the decay of organic substances that release a cocktail of colorful gases, stories about will-o’-the-wisps fired the imagination of artist Lauren Walker.
The myth serves as the story behind the naming of their wood resin art shop “WillioWisps”.
“Travelers used to think they were the souls of young children trying to play with or attract them,” says Walker. “You shouldn’t go near one or you will sink into the swamp. When winter came and the swamps were frozen over, people would see a hand or a foot sticking out of the mud and say the will-o’-the-wisp caught this person. ”
While Walker is mesmerized by the mystery surrounding these twinkling fairy lights, she wields her own wand in the Able Artists Gallery studios on Railroad Square. Walker’s signature style uses fractal burning, also known as Lichtenberg.
The process creates images on wood using high voltage electricity and a conductive solution. With safety equipment on, she burns her pieces of wood and bone in the safety of her garage at home before taking them to the gallery for the finishing touches.
A place in the Able Artists Gallery
The Able Artists Gallery opened in May and is the brainchild of Walker and her mother Karen. Mother and daughter began to think of a gallery that would present works by artists with disabilities. Walker, who suffers from Asperger’s, was determined to find a room that would be an open door to anyone who needed a place to express themselves.
“Everyone is capable in some way,” says Walker. “People think that if you are disabled there is nothing you can do. If you are able to make art, you can. Can artists. Everything in the world is based on perception. So if we move away from art and you can make art, you can. ”
Growing up, Walker always loved making art out of random objects she found around the house. She took any leftover popsicle sticks, tissue paper, and string and made a boat out of them. In school, the art space, with its endless offerings and possibilities, was their refuge from a bad day or school bully.
Today, when Walker is looking for new materials, she turns to thrift stores to find everything from birdhouses to lazy susans. When she can’t find what she needs, she builds pieces of scrap wood before burning it. Walker doesn’t see her artwork as a particular style, but lets her mood dictate the brightly colored colors she uses in the final steps.
Random Nature of Electricity
“Electricity isn’t really controllable, so it’s very random,” says Walker. The only thing I can control is the color. When I feel bad, I use cheerful, warm colors. When I have a relaxed day, I use cool colors. ”
Walker loves to give her pieces a glow-in-the-dark finish, adding resins, paints, and glitter into the cracks of the burns to make them glow like an otherworldly glow of fire. She refines the functional wooden dishes by hardening them with a polymer resin and testing them in her own kitchen.
Walker starts over if there are bubbles or melts and grinds everything back down onto a blank slate. In addition to functional art, Walker’s home decor-oriented “Mammal Series” includes fractal burning skulls of deer and rams. When she gets into the zone, she can work almost twenty hours straight.
“I want it to be perfect,” says Walker. “If you make a burn line and it gets cold, the electricity can no longer follow that burn line and has to take a different path. Sometimes I don’t want to do that, I want it to have a certain stinging, so I do what I have to do. ”
Fireworks, TikTok and ADA celebration
Nature is still Walker’s greatest inspiration. When she was younger, she was able to collect glass made from pink lightning, the hottest lightning in the world. Hoping to find more naturally-made glass in the wild one day, she’s constantly thinking about the new, unusual surface that can electrify her next.
To Walker, the burn looks like a mix of fireworks, sparklers, and the slow lightning bolts that precede a summer storm. She created a YouTube and TikTok channel showing off her process. Walker says it was also done at the request of people who find watching the burns as relaxing as they do.
On July 26th, the Able Artists Gallery launched a two-week celebration of the 31st anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The gallery distributed scratch cards to visitors asking them to identify common disability myths, with prizes for the winners.
Walker likes the importance of celebrating a second Independence Day in July as the ADA gives independence to the disabled community. Walker says that anyone who has doubts about their own abilities welcomes them to just look at their art.
“Art is that my soul is created and shaped for the world around me,” says Walker. “It is your own fingerprint in the world.”
Amanda Sieradzki is a columnist for the Council on Culture & Arts. COCA is the umbrella agency for art and culture in the capital region (www.tallahasseearts.org).
Never miss another story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat using the link at the top of the page.