Ashley Hope Carlisle: Sculpting Her Life

Story and photography by Courtney Wilhelm

Friday, October 8, 2010

Getting Started

New Orleans-native Ashley Hope Carlisle has found her place in the west. Carlisle is currently an Assistant Professor in Sculpture at the University of Wyoming after receiving her B.F.A. in Sculpture at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1997 and later her M.F.A. in Sculpture at the University of Georgia in 2002. Carlisle seemed to fit right in with the UW Art Department in Laramie, Wyo., upon her arrival in 2003.

Carlisle declared a major in graphic design as an undergrad but later decided to make the switch to sculpture. The decision came after accompanying her 3D Design professor, who also taught sculpture, to an iron casting conference in Birmingham, Alabama.

“He’s one of the best castors in the South,” Carlisle explains when talking about her professor whom she learned about iron casting and sculpting from.

That’s when she officially decided to make the switch.

Her Works

Many of Carlisle’s works are based around the region that she is from. The effects of Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill in the Gulf play a role in her work for a couple reasons. With family still living in New Orleans, the effects of these devastations really hit home for Carlisle. Also, here in Wyoming, these disasters are portrayed by the news but people still don’t realize the full effects like she does. That’s what she wants people to understand and see in her works.

“Contrary to popular belief, making art is not just all about fun,” Carlisle said. “I’m still trying to talk to people through my work and get them to think about something that I would like them to consider.”

Carlisle is very proud of where she’s from, but not all of her works are centered on New Orleans and the disasters in the Gulf. In fact, dandelions are a popular subject matter in many of her works. She relates the dispersal of their seeds to how people, herself included, seem to get dispersed as life presents new opportunities.

As much as she loved New Orleans and the South, she chose to go to college in Mississippi to get away from home. She later decided to move to Wyoming to put herself in new situations, to meet new people and to see new things.

“We as humans are asked to get up and leave to move on to something else,” she said. “Maybe sometimes that’s not always a bad thing. So, I take that idea and I merge it with imagery of seeds because seeds are then dispersed by the wind.”

Carlisle clearly isn’t afraid to take advantage of new opportunities, but her passions have led her through a few obstacles. First of all, she admits that sculpting is physically demanding and it is often difficult to do sculpture as a woman. The present state of the economy also poses problems for a free-spirit like herself. Since jobs are hard to come by, Carlisle has decided that she will definitely stick around Laramie for a while and keep the good job she’s got. Fortunately, she has found a way around these obstacles by keeping a positive mindset and staying determined. Her passion for sculpture has driven her and helped her accomplish great things.

Not only is it evident that Carlisle has a passion for art and teaching, but she also really cares about her students. She says that she is almost always in her office and always there to help her students. One of her colleagues in the Art Department has had some great things to say about her as well.

Her Influence

Linda Ohler, secretary in the UW Art Department, seems happy to work with Carlisle in the same department. Although the two don't actually work together on projects, they can both relate with one another in sharing their passion for art and helping students.

Ohler has worked on campus at UW for 26 years, but has only been with the Art Department for two years. In her short time with the Art Department, she has attended two iron pours, one of which lead by Carlisle.

"I always enjoy it. I think it's really neat and fun to watch," Ohler says about the annual iron pour.

This year Ohler took part in the event by carving a design into a scratch plate, which was then cast by Carlisle and her group of students.

Carlisle and her class went through a lot of work to host this year's iron pour. Now that it is over with, she is back to her regular teaching routine and working on her own projects. A couple of her current projects include a sculpture that will be placed at the north side of the Arts and Sciences building on campus as well as works that will be displayed in the UW art museum in January.

One of her favorite and most well-known works is her piece that she calls "Fleeing Fate." "Fleeing Fate" is a series of about 60 dandelion seeds that are suspended by fishing line and hang together as one piece to resemble dandelion seeds being taken by the wind. Carlisle received a fellowship through the Wyoming Arts Council to create this piece for a show and has since sold four versions of it.

She continues to stay busy, stay positive, and teach people both in the classroom and through her works. It's no wonder that Ashley Hope Carlisle continues to make a name for herself in the field of sculpture.