Finding Art Well Off The Beaten Path
by Kevin Hale
August 16, 2017
Discovering the Liquidambar Gallery at the Sequatchie Valley Institute
Chattanooga and the Tennessee Valley are known for their natural beauty. Likewise, if you follow the Tennessee River around the base of Signal Mountain, through the winding turns of Suck Creek Road and the Prentice Cooper State Forest, you will find Highway 28 to Cartwright Loop, where off the beaten path you will discover a case in environmentally-conscious living and a newly opened art gallery which draws inspiration from its breathtaking surroundings.
Liquidambar Gallery at the Sequatchie Valley Institute just opened its doors under the direction of Carol Kimmons, whose family has lived on the land since 1971.
“When we moved here, the 350 acres we now own were completely untouched,” says Kimmons. The family soon cleared enough shrubbery and brush to build a rough, temporary house while they built their dream house halfway up the mountain.
Once the family moved into the new house, the old house was lost to fire. They decided to rebuild and add an extension onto their dream house to make room for their extended family, essentially constructing two houses.
Both Kimmons’ mother and her husband Johnny’s mother passed away, which left the houses available for an SVI office, art studios, and the new Liquidambar gallery.
“A visual feast of art is made here in our studios featuring ceramics, flame worked glass, metal ornaments, sculptures, kaleidoscopes, and paintings,” says Kimmons. “I take native leaves, flowers and plants and include them in the pottery I make.”
Kimmons, her son Patrick Ironwood, along with her daughter-in-law Michelle, are some of the main artists featured in the gallery. Visitors can also find special exhibits from local artists and workshops detailing technique and artistic skill development.
It’s hard to talk about Liquidambar Gallery without talking about the Sequatchie Valley Institute. The Institute gained its non-profit status in 1997. It started as a family homestead—sustainably and scientifically designed—then gradually became a learning center for both children and adults in permaculture gardening and greenhouses, natural hand-crafted construction, solar power, forest ecology, food and nutrition, and sustainable forestry.
Marked nature trails for hiking and picnicking and an Arboretum Trail with 100 identified native and domestic trees and shrubs populate the mixed mesophytic forest, from Hick’s Creek up to the sandstone bluffs of the Cumberland Plateau. All of the land is protected forever by the Land Trust for Tennessee.
“Liquidambar Gallery is a natural extension of the work of SVI,” says Kimmons. “Our hand-crafted passive solar structures, built of wood from trees killed by the southern pine beetle, are part of our sustainable forestry program. “
Kimmons was taught sustainable building and farming by her parents, who she calls Tennessee hillbillies. The whole institute is a model for sustainable living. Both Simmons and her husband teach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Both teach biology, while she also teaches environmental science.
“Everything they teach is practical,” says former board member J. Barry Wilde. “Even down to the wine and beer making, they have a real back-to-nature approach.”
Ironwood collects glass from around the world and understands the chemical processes to generate color for his kaleidoscopes. He exhibits at both Liquidambar Gallery and his own Nature of Reaction space.
“His sculptures and jewelry are made through a process called electroforming,” says Simmons. You can also get a glimpse of his work on Instagram and Facebook under Nature of Reaction.
Even, Kimmons’ daughter-in-law Michelle, owes a little something to Liquidambar and SVI, depicting root systems and other natural objects in her watercolors and sculptures.
The gallery, surrounded by nature trails, and an arboretum are open mainly on weekends and during SVI activities and events.
So it’s natural to ask, “What does Liquidambar mean?”
Young sweetgum trees initially populated much of the property. They named their first house “Sweetgum” and also several subsequent structures “Sweetgum 2” and “Sweetgum 3”.
The earliest mention of Liquidambar is by Spanish naturalist Francisco Hernández in 1651, where he describes the species as a large tree producing a fragrant gum resembling liquid amber, hence the name Liquidambar.
This name was established as the genus name of the tree by Linnaeus in 1753, again referring to the sweet gum that oozes from the bark, now used as chewing gum by kids.
Sweetgum grows rapidly and is one of the first trees to re-colonize areas that have been cleared or burned. The gum has been used as medicine for sore throats, coughs, diarrhea, and wounds. The autumn leaves develop a variety of flaming brilliant colors, sometimes described as a conflagration.
“Truly this is a magnificent tree to represent the unique art of our gallery,” exclaims Kimmons.
by Kevin Hale
August 16, 2017