• 1994 graduate Heather Carter stands with her piece, "Transition," in the Fine Arts Gallery. (Photo by Lucas Adams)
    1994 graduate Heather Carter stands with her piece, "Transition," in the Fine Arts Gallery. (Photo by Lucas Adams)

Heather Carter is a woman constantly on a mission. Since graduating from Southwestern in 1994, she has taken it upon herself to live as sustainably as possible. She lives off the grid completely with her husband Marc and two young sons, getting power from the sun and water from the rain. The couple designed their house in Wimberley, Texas, and had it built using reclaimed lumber such as antique doors and old beaded board.

Carter said her commitment to sustainability actually had its genesis in her encompassing love for aesthetics and art.

 “When Marc and I bought that piece of property and we saw it raw, we thought it was so beautiful we didn’t want to even cut down a tree to put in a road,” Carter said. “It was the first thing we ever owned together that was so perfect. That’s what started it, and it just kind of mushroomed.”

If Carter’s love for art influenced her lifestyle, it seems only fitting that her lifestyle influences her art. “I knew right after we moved off the grid that my art could never be the same, mainly because I wasn’t the same,” she said. “I tried doing some pieces that went back to the old methodology, the old ways of thinking, but I kept coming back to the whole premise of, ‘I cannot keep buying new wood to bend or steam into new things.’ It just felt like it wasn’t cohesive with my lifestyle. So I immediately started using found objects to build with.”

Carter said the work for her exhibition, “Lifeboats,” which is on display in the Fine Arts Gallery through Sept. 29, is about the idea of repurposing things − taking things that have a history, taking things that have had a life before, and honoring them again in some way. Each piece in this exhibit is almost entirely made of recycled objects, many of which are leftover pieces fromCarter’s house and garden. All five sculptures, three of which are named for books that Carter said have influenced her, are large and distinct, but carry with them the theme of “Lifeboats.”

“Boats have always been a big part of my work but using the idea of lifeboats changed it for me somehow,” Carter said. “It changed it into the idea of visualizing a seed pod or a place where you can be born out of and renewed – regenerated.”

Looking around the gallery, the blending of aesthetics and activism comes together. For the piece, “Tideline,” words constructed out of repurposed old signs make waves in an undulating stream of Carter’s favorite quotes, and the three pieces hanging on the walls seem to float in the tide. The eye-grabbing piece in the center of the room, “Transition,” features stripped wood woven into a fleet of various-sized boats hanging from the ceiling. What starts out looking like separate works in a gallery becomes a rolling, life-giving ocean, which recalls Carter’s commitment to the idea of simplifying your life and renewing your views of the world.

“My hope was that in seeing the work, people might view objects in a different light, celebrating their history instead of tossing them aside,” Carter said. “When we notice the history in ‘things,’ we become connected to each other and to our past and we feel more comfortable moving forward into the future. I would ask them, what’s YOUR lifeboat made of?”

More about Carter and her sustainable art can be found on her website, http://www.heathercarter.info/.

−Jasmine SayGan