Naturally resourceful

Chandler Dayton and Heather Patterson

Chandler Dayton makes wall sculptures out of handmade soap, shaped in packaging from everyday stuff.

Chandler Dayton makes wall sculptures out of handmade soap, shaped in packaging from everyday stuff.

Photo By David Robert

Clean-smelling chunks of soap, shaped like throwaway packaging, hang on a wall at the South Valleys Library. A few miles north, starry explosions of watercolor fireworks welcome visitors to Reno City Hall’s lobby.

These public spaces are also known as the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust Gallery and the Metro Gallery. They’re two of the Sierra Arts organization’s satellite galleries, where visitors checking out books or attending city council meetings can see solo exhibits by the region’s artists.

Bay Area sculptor Chandler Dayton and Bay Area painter Heather Patterson each express a particular perspective on the intersection of nature and culture in their satellite-gallery solo exhibits.

Dayton, previously a Las Vegan, just moved to Oakland, Calif. She’s been experimenting with hand-made soap, pouring it into plastic packages from things like light bulbs, superballs and sushi. In her exhibit, Awash, 64 pieces of soap hang in a loose grid on two perpendicular walls. They range in off-white colors from cream to beeswax. The surfaces are smooth and perfect, funky and bubbly or somewhere in between. Slick yet handmade-looking, these small sculptures are a reminder of what we consume. They make references to waste and recycling, to things natural and unnatural. But Dayton isn’t trying to hit viewers over the head with thoughts of impeding ecological doom. She’s more into raising questions about the value of things and ideas.

“We place so much importance on certain objects,” she says. No single object is inherently important, she points out. “It’s what we give it, the importance we bring to it.”

The way Dayton gets her artwork out into the world is consistent with her observation about value being conferred instead of innate. She shows the soap sculptures in galleries and sells them (for $30-90 each). She’s also given them away to friends, expecting some of the soapy chocolates and dental floss containers to be used in the shower.


Heather Patterson, who’s from Crockett, Calif., takes careful notice of patterns in nature that repeat themselves.

“Cells under a microscope kind of look like moss on a mountain boulder,” she observes. The translucence of dandelions reminds her of how light shines through snowflakes.

Patterson makes abstract paintings with phenomena like these in mind. Her wavy lines, bold shapes and glossy surfaces are sleek and modern, but a welcoming, organic softness underlies the paintings’ starkness.

The City Hall exhibit, Glimpse: New Works, shows Patterson’s paintings of fireworks. Even though fireworks are manufactured, Patterson sees some similarity between their patterns and those she’s used to seeing in nature. She photographs them exploding in the sky, then mentally assembles elements from the photos and from memory.

Colored tracers compete for the foreground in a grand finale of lights, rendered in different kinds of paint. Only tiny bits of a black sky peek through the glare on a 3-by-3-foot background. Thick brushstrokes with deep scratches keep the still images from being static. Blotches of gloss come from poured-on encaustic paint (a wax-based paint that’s melted in a double boiler) and add to the tactile appeal.

Whether Patterson’s shiny explosives make visiting the public-works department more fun or catching a whiff of Dayton’s casts of cultural detritus gives new sensory dimension to renewing library books, these thoughtful, modestly-sized exhibits are well-placed explorations of ordinary things rendered in thought- provoking ways.