The Charlotte Observer Friday, July 31, 1998
Visions of childhood, stilled
Sculptor Cantey Gannaway captures
youth in all its glorious innocence
By JANE GRAU Columnist
Cantey Tomlinson Gannaway, whose portrait sculptures are
on exhibit in Watkins Gallery at Queens College, was a psychologist
before she toured a sculpture garden in Charleston and decided
sculpting was what she wanted to do the rest of her life.
Up to that point, she had no formal training in art,
especially not for hands and feet -- the hardest part of the
human body to render, but which she thinks are ``fun.'' Nor
for drapery, also tremendously difficult. And just a little
for handling clay, her favorite medium.
Not necessary with talents like hers.
After falling in love with the garden sculpture, Gannaway
enrolled in a portrait sculpture class at Queens College.
Then another and another. The classes served merely to hone
her innate skills. Now she has her own students.
Gannaway's specialty is children in ``relaxed, casual
poses, being themselves,'' which is exactly what parents want
in portraiture. More than that, they want something that says
to the world, ``Look what we produced -- a creature like no
other!'' But the prime requisite for children's portraits
is that they capture forever the unblemished innocence of
In every instance, Gannaway succeeds admirably as
a portraitist. It is to her credit that she doesn't cross
the line into sentimentality and nostalgia. Her children sit
cross-legged or atop a stool, comfortable in sneakers and
overalls. They're sometimes pensive, sometimes reading or
playing. But in each case, they are the essence of simplicity,
the better to let their individuality shine through.
This simplicity belies the intense scrutiny required
for discerning the details and nuances that make each one
unique. Like psychology, Gannaway's sculpture is a natural
offshoot of a lifelong habit of observing people. She has
an acute understanding of how both the human psyche and the
human form are put together.
``There are millions of people in the world, each
with two eyes, one nose, and one mouth,'' says Gannaway. ``My
job is noticing the subtle distinctions that make them all
different, and I about go crazy trying to do it. I study every
aspect intently, including the backs of knees and armpits,
and work as hard to get a shoulder right as I do the face
-- they're both important in getting a likeness.''
In one piece, she worked extra hard to make the sitter's
second toe turn away from her big toe, a quirk she'd inherited
from her father.
In a portrait, the face is the focal point. Other
parts do two things: direct the viewer's eye to that focal
point and contribute to the overall character of the sitter
-- without detracting from either. Same goes for body posture:
It must be expressive but not distracting.
A figure in space must be properly weighted and balanced
so we believe it is subject to the same forces of gravity
as a real body. I am particularly taken with the piece titled
``Helen,'' where a willow switch of a young woman, obviously
absorbed in her violin playing, almost imperceptibly shifts
her weight onto one delicate foot.
Gannaway's expertise with drapery is best shown in
the skirt of a garden piece, ``Robbie.'' Although the fabric
has substance, it subtly serves to feminize and define the
figure beneath it. Should Robbie come to life -- which all
great figure sculpture promises to do -- the skirt will move
accordingly, keeping the child's limbs and spirit running
Especially masterful is the way Gannaway left space
between the strap of the girl's pinafore and her shoulder,
the better to emphasize the curve of the joint and the softness
of the skin.
In the bust of ``Brown,'' a plain shirt collar gently
frames the head to prevent it from looking like it's been
bluntly cut off, while ``Helen's'' long skirt moves the eye
fluidly and directly to where her arms bend gracefully to
cradle the violin.
WHAT:Cantey Gannaway's portrait sculptures.
WHERE: Watkins Art Gallery at Queens College,
1900 Selwyn Ave.
WHEN: Through Aug. 23. Hours are 9 a.m. to
5 p.m. weekdays.
DETAILS: 337-2286, gallery hours.