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Leu Gallery’s ‘From Pit to Pedestal’ to feature sleek sculptures and stone drawings

It’s hard to believe that Kentucky-based artist Julie Warren Conn’s sleek sculptures begin as large stone blocks.

The elegant lines and subtle sheen of her pieces give the sculptures a look of effortless ease, but her process involves a lot of labor.

“I believed that if Michelangelo could do what he did with only a hammer and a chisel and take the sculptures to a spectacular finish, then surely I could cut a huge stone with all the power tools and assistance I had at my disposal,” Conn said. “It was a challenge.”

Conn, a self-professed “traditionalist in process,” uses classic materials like granite and alabaster to create her sculptures.

And it all begins with drawing on the stone. She then saws the marked lines and breaks aways the excess rock with a hammer and chisel to achieve the desired shape.

Bushing tools, grinders and sanders are used to polish the stone into smooth, shiny surfaces.

Conn started studying art during her sophomore year at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The degree she received from the university was the first Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture that the school awarded.

After earning her degree, welding became her main process for 10 years.

“Then I became involved in a Tennessee Coral Rouge sculpture, which I had started in college but never finished. Once I polished the stone, I never returned to welding,” Conn said. “I’ve been working stone for almost 40 years.”

Conn lived in Nashville for years before returning to Knoxville. Her first exhibit in the city was at Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art.

But she’s excited to show her art to younger people.

“[Leu] is a beautiful gallery space in a huge, wonderful city. Belmont has an outstanding arts program,” she said. “Sharing the art experience with other people, especially young people, is always exciting to me.”

“From Pit to Pedestal” will feature unique hand-sculpted pieces, bronze casts from the original stone works and sandblasted bas-relief stone drawings.

“Stone carving is not something that we have the facilities for, so the opportunity to see beyond the limitations of our studio and discover other possibilities for future artistic investigations is priceless,” Jessica Owings, director of galleries and exhibitions at Belmont, said.

Conn maintains a working studio and showroom in Winchester, Ky, where she usually sculpts alone, except for when she’s working on large commissions. For those projects, she hires assistants.

“From Pit to Pedestal” will be one of many solo shows she has had this year.

“This is my third solo exhibition in six months,” Conn said. “I’ve never had that many solo shows in a year, so it has been a challenge getting the needed work to put together for the exhibition.”

“From Pit to Pedestal” will be on view starting Oct. 23 through Dec. 11 in the Lila D. Bunch Library’s Leu Art Gallery. A gallery reception will be held Oct. 23 from 5-7 p.m., with a gallery talk with Conn starting at 5:30.

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