Down a dirt drive on James Island, local batik artist Mary Edna Fraser hoards maps, charts, aerial photographs, and hundreds of pieces of her own artwork in the studio building next to her house. It’s in this space that she usually stretches out yards of silk on sawhorses and spends hours waxing, dying, waxing, and dying again in the process of making her original pieces. When she doesn’t have silk stretched wall-to-wall in her studio, she can be found out on a new adventure, traveling around the world teaching, lecturing, and conducting research with artists, geologists, and scientists, including the folks at NASA.
It’s rare that Fraser has a bit of down time to tidy up her home studio and invite in guests. But that’s exactly what she’s doing this holiday season as she turns her usual workspace into a pop-up art gallery Dec. 10-21.
During these rare gallery hours, the public is invited to meet Fraser, browse more than 80 of her batiks and other pieces on sale, and hear the unique stories behind each one. The batiks cover every wall and range in size and subject, from the aerial views of Charleston’s waterways to recreations of satellite images of stars and planets in outer space.
Each piece takes Fraser anywhere from a few months to a few years to create, and she strives to make each one unique. Batiks in their own right are not common in the art world, though the Eastern art form predates written history. Fraser’s technique sets her apart because of the detail of her aerial perspectives and her tendency to paint, instead of wash, with dye.
“Every single piece I try something I haven’t done before: a new technique, or a color or a brush,” she says. “So I’m constantly growing, which is very important for artists, not to get stuck in a little tiny box.”
The art on display during her holiday gallery will demonstrate the variety of her work, most of which is inspired by aerial imagery. Many of the pieces are based off photographs Fraser took herself while flying, but lately she’s also been using satellite images, maps, and sailing charts.
Recent collaborations with the science world have allowed Fraser to share her passion for the environment. She’s partnered with marine geologists in depicting the world’s barrier islands, inlets, and deep-ocean exploration in exhibits that bring art and science together.
“I try to humanize the fragility of each earthscape or planetscape so that science can teach,” Fraser said. “My art promotes awareness of environmental beauty and change.”
While most of her artwork is based on realism, Fraser says a certain amount of creative flair and emotion goes into each one. From the beginning when she’s penciling the image onto silk, she lets her mind’s eye guide her on choosing perspective, shading, and color.
“Deciding on colors is a daily adventure,” she says. “It’s how I feel that day. Sometimes I want to be realistic. Sometimes it’s more about emotions.”
Along with her silk batiks, Fraser will also display a variety of giclee prints, monotypes, silk scarves, magnets, and coasters during her holiday gallery, covering every price point from $5 stocking stuffers to valuable collector’s items.
After the holiday gallery, Fraser’s studio will once again become her wax-and dye-filled workspace — that is, when she’s not off chasing a new adventure.