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RVA's Noah Scalin on "365-Skulls"
By Christine Stoddard
Native to Richmond, Virginia just like Quail Bell, Noah Scalin is our magazine's tagline incarnate. As an artist and designer who dabbles with and occasionally delves into multiple mediums, Noah embraces the imaginary, the nostalgic, and the otherworldly to the tooth--especially the dead tooth. Plural. Dead teeth. Make that skull teeth and maybe I'll finally stopped reaching for wormy metaphors.
You see, Noah makes skulls. Beautiful, strange, or sometimes simply cute skulls. In his award-winning blog "Skull-A-Day," he devoted an entire year (2007-2008) to this creepily fantastic endeavor. Each and every day, Noah made a new skull, often in such an unexpected way that you couldn't help but think about it until tomorrow came. Even the New York Public Library and Martha Stewart praised the project! To this day, Noah's still famous for his skulls, a motif he continues to play with in Skull-A-Day 5.0.
In a recent email exchange, here's what Noah had to say about "Skull-A-Day," his other 365 efforts, and his show at Gallery 5:
What inspired your obsession with skulls?
Not too long ago I found a very accurate drawing of a skull I made when I was six years old, so apparently I’ve been into skulls for a long time! I guess I have to chalk my love of skulls up to the fact that both of my parents are artists and I grew up around plenty of anatomical imagery, including skulls. I was also always fascinated by how things work and wanted to know what was behind the scenes (even of our own bodies). Of course I also loved pirates as a kid, so that may have something to do with it as well.
What have you learned in doing your Skull-a-Day project?
Whew, it’s more like what have I not learned?! I think the biggest lessons are that small steps really can add up to amazing results (often well beyond your expectations) and that the key to making things happen is to just start doing stuff and not waste your time dithering over the details. I also learned that the greatest stumbling blocks to achieving your goals are always the ones in your head and once you let go of them (or create a reason to push past them), you really can do just about anything (especially if you have friends supporting you along the way).
Why do you encourage other artists to make a skull, or SOMETHING, everyday?
To be clear, I encourage others to take on daily projects – the subject/materials are entirely up to them! The reason to take on a 365 project is to have an excuse to practice your passion. Too many people think that creative inspiration is just something that comes to you if you’re lucky, but it’s really more like a muscle and if you exercise it daily, you get stronger at it! The thing I hear most frequently from people who take on daily projects, is that almost immediately they have a new perspective on the world around them---and that’s a very valuable thing.
What do you have to say about the show, "Skull Appreciation Day," that you and Philip Cheney curated at Gallery 5 last summer?
I never imagined that Skull-A-Day would be more than a personal year-long project, so color me completely surprised that it is now in its fifth year and will enter year six this June!
That said, when we were nearing year five the co-editors of the site (three fans that volunteered to help run it a few years ago) and I decided we needed to celebrate by making the original start date of the project (June 4th) an international holiday in honor of the cranium. Thus Skull Appreciation Day was born!
To celebrate the first year of the holiday, we decided to call together 100 of our favorite creative folks and ask them to transform a papier-mâché skull that we provided. The result was the exhibition at Gallery 5, that not only featured the skulls we sent out, but also mail art from around the world, and several quilts made with panels created by international fans of the site that were then auctioned off for charity. The opening of the show coincided with Skull Appreciation Day and we had several free events for the public, including a family craft afternoon.
Since that event was so successful we’ve decided to continue the tradition by bringing Skull Appreciation Day exhibitions to other cities each year. This year, we are going to be at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, an appropriate place since they have plenty of real skulls already on display!