Deer with kind, glossy eyes peer curiously at the viewer, their coats lovingly rendered with strokes of black ink. A bespectacled quail dressed in stylish garb looks ready to strut down the streets of Brooklyn. West Virginia illustrator and trained sculptor Staci Leech-Cornell draws on her family's deep-rooted tradition of artisan and handmade crafts as well as her rural upbringing to create her sweet, imaginative drawings of the natural world. She says that her home state has impacted many aspects of her practice.
"The gentle, inquisitive, profiled stance and posture of all the creatures are a staple in my works. Growing up in rural West Virginia provided many opportunities to be surrounded by nature and the creatures that call it home," Leech-Cornell tells Creators. " The living rooms and kitchens of family members were the homes of vast collections of ceramic birds and bits of nature. These ceramic menageries are ever present in my memories and conscience, which invite them to grace the drawn pages of my portfolio."
The artist's imaginative works marry a Mother Goose storybook aesthetic with influences from master illustrator Edward Gorey and multidisciplinary artist Kiki Smith. "Black line drawings, handmade paper, small wall reliefs, and vintage children book illustrations from around the 1950s to 1980s are just a few items that entice my particular aesthetic," Leech-Cornell says.
The artist admires photographers and digital artists but says she's drawn to a handmade aesthetic. "Having grown up in a home where many things were created by hand led to a particular quality I admire in art and art practice. I enjoy being able to see artist's hand come through in the final piece and not have it become so mechanical or supremely glossy," she says.
Leech-Cornell grew up in a rural part of the mountainous state, and she says Appalachia has a storied tradition of artmaking. "In West Virginia, the art scene is a meeting of contemporary techniques and traditional themes. In the same exhibition, one could view an oil painting of a autumnal tree-covered hillside landscape alongside an installation of one hundred ceramic tampons with political overtones," the artist says.
Up next, Leech-Cornell will show work as part of the multi-art celebration FestivALL, which takes place in June in Charleston, WV. It's an opportunity to publicly display work created during a monthlong art challenge Leech-Cornell created for herself. Each day in February, the artist drew one or two women who had inspired her in some way and included a hand-lettered quote by the subject. Some of the women featured were Lily Tomlin, Kathy Bates, Nelly Bly, and Angela Lansbury, and proceeds from the sale of this work benefits the YWCA. "I am also creating a book of all the drawings with some blank pages that will allow purchasers to include women they admire, who offer them inspiration," Leech-Cornell says.
Explore more artwork by Staci Leech-Cornell by visiting her website.