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Sculptor Moss returns for Clay Center unveiling

By Judy Hamilton

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Besides honoring his late sister, former Gov. Gaston Caperton said that donating the "Wind Torn" sculpture to the Clay Center was a way for him to pay tribute to West Virginia-born sculptor Joe Moss.

Caperton owns another Moss sculpture, "Stone Eclipse," and described the sculptor as "world class."

Arif Khan, the Mary Price Ratrie curator of art at the Clay Center, agrees with Caperton's assessment. "I'm impressed with his use of materials and his long history with being involved with the arts in West Virginia," Khan said. "I think the Clay Center is an appropriate place for a piece of his art and we appreciate the donation from Governor Caperton," said Khan.

Moss' work has been exhibited at museums across the globe, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He's best known for his environmental installations, which are described as interactive art because of their combination of visual art with sound to create multi-sensory environments.

Moss, now 80, made the seven-hour trek from Delaware with his wife, Daphne, for the unveiling of "Wind Torn" on Saturday<co Aug. 17>.

In a telephone interview earlier this week, Moss said that he, too, was very fond of the sculpture he created in 1981 and had a photograph of it in his home. He described the picture taken in the snow with footprints leading up to the sculpture as being "so powerful and so beautiful."

His wife added, "The sculpture says a lot in a very serene way and it is fitting for a memorial."

Joe Moss said that he was looking forward to coming to West Virginia for the unveiling of the sculpture, especially since many of his recent voyages home have been sad occasions: "A lot of my old friends have died and I come home for the funerals."

Moss was born in 1933 in Kincheloe Creek, Harrison County, a community about four miles north of Jacksons Mill in Lewis County. He graduated from West Milford High School in 1951.

He said than when his father asked him what he was going study in college, he answered "art." His father had a good laugh and asked him what he was really going to study. When he again said "art," his father said "Young man, if I wanted to starve to death that's exactly what I'd do."

"I just drew pictures all the time as a kid and I could do it better than anyone else. It just kind of came naturally, drawing and painting," he said, explaining why he chose art. As a child growing up during the World War II years, he had a special fascination with drawing airplanes and ships.

Moss studied art at West Virginia University. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from WVU and taught there for 10 years. Before that, he taught four years at Morgantown High School.

In 1963, during his tenure at WVU as an art instructor, he won first prize in the Centennial Commission's art and sculpture contest for "West Virginia Moon" -- made out of a few boards, some paint and an old screen door.

At that time, Moss said that although he intended for his piece to be "a quiet picture," it created a storm of controversy that caused a record-breaking 3,000 people to attend the first day of its exhibit in Huntington, and 15,000 people during the length of the exhibit.

"Any painting that stirs people to the heights of expression now being made is an unqualified success," Moss was quoted in a newspaper account at the time.

He was happy to learn that "West Virginia Moon" is part of the permanent collection at the West Virginia State Museum. He said that he created a piece named "West Virginia New Moon" that represented West Virginia in an exhibit sponsored by the American Federation of Arts that traveled for two years. Moss is fond of the piece and is considering donating it to the state.

In 1970, Moss began a 28-year tenure at the University of Delaware, as director of the Department of Art. He also was honored as an artist fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Advanced Visual Studies in 1973, 1985, and 1987-88.

The installation of "Wind Torn" at the Clay Center was completed by Jeff Fetty, an award-winning artist-blacksmith from Spencer.

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at judy.hamilton@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.

 


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