Lost and found: Found objects meet vivid imagination in this friendly 'invasion'

August 25, 2018 10:02:05 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


In the hands of a good science fiction writer, an invasion of robots will send shivers up the spine. Amy Ballard's army of robots, or bots, however, is no threat. Instead, these stationary metallic sculptures are keepers, companions, friends who don't snitch. Ballard is building a benign community of them at her Fourth Avenue ArtWorks studio in downtown Columbus. They come in all sizes and have names, like Bella and Flora, or Chef Bobby Black Bear and Mojo, king of the monkey bots. Each has a story. 


They are birthed in Ballard's fertile imagination and a workroom bursting with this-and-that, whatnots and thingamajigs.  


"I see everything as body parts," the 48-year-old said, moving past tables, picking up a vintage jello mold here, a piece of a candlestick there. 


"Those will be toy soldiers -- you know, at Christmas," said Ballard, pointing to a pair of black wrought iron lamp bases standing at attention. Moving on, she lifted a small, latched metal case, about 6 inches square. It's adorned with a stylized art deco face reminiscent of a flapper.  


"I've got to give her arms today," Ballard murmured, almost to herself.  


The Eupora native is a collector of found objects, gleaned from yard sales, antique and thrift shops and from her good friend, Fred Haley. He runs Quirky Antiques on Second Street North, next to Columbus' Hitching Lot Farmers Market. Haley's specialty is American relics. 


"She sees things other people just don't see," he said. "Her imagination floats so high. She'll show me something, and I can't come up with the body part it could be. Then, she'll bring it to me when it's finished, and there it is -- an arm!" 




Back to school 


Ballard was self-taught until she enrolled as a fine arts student at Mississippi University for Women at 31. She was inspired by the work of area artists, like Elayne Goodman and Kay Calloway.  


She has high praise for her instructors at The W. She mentioned many by name. 


Of Tom Nawrocki, whom she took multiple classes from, she said, "He taught me to think three-dimensional. He brought out the best of me. ... He just said, 'Go!'" 


Ballard found inspiration, too, in history, in work by found object artist Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), found object sculptor Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964) and Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). 


She creates palette paintings and mixed media paintings, but bots became a focus about a year ago. Since then, an unexpected find in a thrift store, or a leftover piece of electrical cable from a friend in construction fires her artistic nerve endings.  


"Each work seems to take on a life or character of its own," Ballard said. 




Meet the family 


"These are the floozy goosey bots, Frances, Felicia and Flora," Ballard smiled, introducing three petite bots on a glass shelf in the studio showroom. They are extravagantly decked out. Like many of the bots, they have light-reflecting disco ball heads. 


Nearby are Miss Priss and Priscilla, much larger. 


"Miss Priss is the princess bot. She represents preteens. She's a little self-absorbed," Ballard said, noting the glittering eyes that were once sequin flowers on an old sweater. The bot's irises are earrings. Priscilla is her big sister. 


Bella, a dog bot, has spoons for paws, a metal record rack for a tummy and a decorative plant pot for her face. 


"Look, you can hide a little message in here," Ballard said, opening a silver container that forms Bella's upper body. 


The most imposing sculpture wears angel wings and holds a golden trumpet, noble with his milk churn torso and colander helmet. 


Ballard said simply, "He's a soldier in the army of the Lord." 


Chef Bobby Black Bear stands at the soldier's base. He's inspired by celebrity chef Bobby Flay. Ballard likes television cooking shows. 


"He's the only cook in the family," she laughed, lifting the bot's spatula arms. 


There are many others -- a ballerina bot, a butterfly bot, a monkey bot. They will be up for adoption in September, complete with certificates, when Ballard is featured in an exhibit at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center. The opening reception is Thursday, Sept. 6, from 5:30-7 p.m. 


"Amy's robot sculptures and paintings are so whimsical," said CAC acting director Beverly Norris. "The bots each have their own distinctive character and are just a lot of fun for young and old alike." 


Haley remarked, "There's just a connection people have when they see these bots because she builds them with nostalgic pieces, and in every bot you'll see something from your childhood or something from your imagination." 




Sharing gifts 


Ballard is a also teacher, mentoring private students and working one-on-one with fourth-grade through 12th-grade art students from Victory Christian Academy in preparation for the Alabama Christian Education Association Fine Arts competition each year. 


Haley said, "I've always admired Amy because of her teaching talents. She's a great teacher, so willing to share her gift with everyone." 


Her students' work will be displayed in September, too, in the arts center's Artist Alley, which adjoins the main gallery. 


Ballard knows some of the bots may find new homes during the upcoming show. In the meantime, though, "they are giving me good company in the studio," she said. More will be coming. 


"The next thing is always in my mind," she said. "I really can't tell you where it comes from ... they almost form themselves, and I can't predict where it goes."

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.