Two mixed-media artists join for a show matching precious artifacts with contemporary remnants 

Martha Avrett and Cole Cathey both create art around found objects, but while she loves bones unearthed in Italian fields, he uses discarded wine bottles picked up in rural Oklahoma. Their distinct art styles will contrast Old World elegance with Western pop art in an exhibition at the Individual Artists of Oklahoma Gallery.

Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Avrett studied in Italy and the Netherlands before she moved to Houston and Stillwater, where she now lives. Her jewelry and reliquaries combine organic materials with gemstones, gold and silver.

"The only difference between my pieces and piece of sculpture is you can wear them," she said.
A necklace or brooch starts when a beautiful object falls into her hands. Like her reliquaries, her jewelry is created to protect these precious found objects, as in her brooch "Ganymede and the Night Moth," which combines a cameo sheltering moth wings and a vintage postcard. Her pieces all play with the interaction of light and dark, mixing the white of fossils and ivory with the black of ebony or worn pebbles.

"One of the major influences in the things that I do now is we go to Italy every year, because my husband teaches a landscape painting class in Tuscany," she said. "There's a cathedral I visit that's my favorite place. It's predominately black-and-white patterns. I reference that in almost everything I do."

Many of the bones and stones Arvett uses in her jewelry are found in the pastures of the organic farm where she stays in Tuscany. The containers for the relics of saints in Italian churches also inspire her reliquary series.

"They come from observing the way that things that people consider precious are preserved and kept," she said. "The two reliquaries in the show were made for a client who had her grandfather's pocket watches, and she wanted them to be displayed. So the reliquaries are made out of found boxes, which I've added onto things I thought were traditionally grandfatherly: wool suit materials, watch fobs, cufflinks and other found objects. I wanted to give a sense of a benign and protective paternal presence."

Cathey's mixed-media art is also made from found objects, although rather than precious stones, he favors scraps of cardboard and empty bottles. He is showcasing roughly 100 of these works in the exhibit, creating a narrative about a young artist tackling small-town boredom and ideals.

"It's just going to be my everyday happenings and thinkings, kind of a like a visual diary; it's going to be a little piece of me on every square inch," he said. "I was pretty much born and raised in small-town Oklahoma, and it's one of those things where you just kind of don't belong in the environment you were thrust into, and you're rummaging around trying to find the meaning of it all."

One piece, "Dead Object," has a pink skull painted atop an 8-track tape, equating obsolete technology with death. Other works have cigarette packages, naked women and beer labels spliced in with buffalos, guns and Indians. The imagery is inspired by his upbringing in Bowlegs, a town of less than 400 people, and his time as a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M.

"That's part of who I am is Western heritage and Western culture," he said. "I was raised by a cowboy and an Indian, and I love it and I embrace it."

Bright colors and pop culture references bring a contemporary edge, but it's the found objects that keep Cathey's art grounded in his everyday experience.

"I started going through (my dad's) old tools and found these saw blades that I decided to paint on," he said. "Whether I'm going to town or digging through our attic, I'm finding something in my everyday life that means something." "?Allison Meier

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