Feeling Seen (and Other Woodland Tales)

Casey Cole is a friend to all animals, even the creepy, unexplainable creatures.
Photo by Evan Anderson

Walking, even for a moment, through a forest around Asheville is not a wholly solitary experience. Birds sound. Squirrels scutter through the leaves. The branches rattle above with wind and rain, but also with the scramble of animal feet — all of the forest’s furred, feathered, four-footed residents. 

Hikers may not always see the life teeming around them, but often times, they may sense themselves being seen.

Interacting with Casey Cole’s marvelous, otherworldly papier-mâché creations provokes a similar welcoming yet unsettling feeling. Her detailed animal heads, rendered in not-quite-lifelike style, reside somewhere in the uncanny valley between very cute and quite peculiar — peering out with a decided touch of melancholy and deep story from decorative, often floral-painted mounts. 

Photo by Evan Anderson

They look a bit like beloved icons of some woodland sprite, or perhaps the hunting trophies of a picture-book villain.

“I don’t know how I come up with these things,” says Cole.  “As I begin the constructing of the piece, I’ll start to see where it’s going, and just let my hands do what they want to do.”

Those hands have produced bears, birds, foxes, deer, raccoons, a few demons and zombies, orcas, sharks, narwhals, and a warren’s worth of highly expressive rabbits. 

The rabbits are Cole’s favorite to make — and they sell out quickly. “They take on a life of their own as I work on them. And they have such personality,” she says. 

The artist captures soul and melancholy in papier-mâché.
Photo by Evan Anderson

Originally from Tampa, Florida, Cole always had an interest in art. “I was drawing and painting as far back as I remember,” she says. Her work developed as she spent much of her late teens and early twenties traveling and living in different places throughout the U.S. In 1996, she landed in Asheville, where she’s been ever since. Easy access to nature by way of nearby mountains and forests might have been part of the appeal. 

“I have a deep love of the outdoors,” says Cole. “It’s probably the reason why I started making the animals.” 

Photo by Evan Anderson

But she didn’t really think about doing three-dimensional art until 2012, when making a papier-mâché head for her daughter’s Halloween costume sparked an interest that soon became a kind of obsession — and then a menagerie. 

Currently, Cole is preparing for the holidays, with a number of new ornaments available. “Mostly rabbits, foxes, raccoons and other critters,” she says. “But I’ll also have a bunch of new Krampuses and creepier ones available.”

Photo by Evan Anderson

She’ll be displaying at the Big Crafty in early December, but coming soon, in April, is a solo exhibit at Morganton’s Art in the Hall series — her biggest show yet. “I’m super excited,” she says. 

When she says it, her pensive animals seem excited, too. 

Photo by Evan Anderson

Casey Cole, West Asheville, caseycoleart.bigcartel.com. Cole’s work can be found at Horse + Hero (14 Patton Ave., horse-hero.myshopify.com). She will vend at the Big Crafty, happening at Harrah’s Cherokee Center-Asheville (87 Haywood St.) on Saturday, Dec. 4 and Sunday, Dec. 5, 12-6pm, thebigcrafty.com. Her solo show will be displayed at Morganton City Hall (305 East Union St., Morganton) April 1-May 30, 2022, morgantonnc.gov/city-manager/page/art-hall. 

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