BARBOURSVILLE, W.Va. -- Installation art. Shopping mall.
These two phrases do not usually go together in West Virginia.
Yet for the past week, behind a scrim of black fabric at Huntington Mall's center court, an artist now based in Germany has fabricated an ambitious piece of installation art.
"Hope Blossoms" was unveiled Dec. 8, revealing hundreds of pink cherry blossoms of paper, folded by hand, sprouting from white branches, surrounding a swan ballet dancer. A cascade of blossoms rises from the branches, floating upward on string like soap bubbles toward the skylights.
"The mall company, the Cafaros, have a campaign called their 'Believe' campaign," says the work's creator, Kelly O'Brien. "One of the themes is 'hope.' So, I kind of played with the idea of hope and it ties into the idea of the optimism related to hope. There's more to it than that, but that's the underpinning."
The cherry blossoms recall the artist's decades of work in that cherry blossom capital of Washington, D.C., where O'Brien was a late bloomer to the life of international installation artist.
Born in Norfolk, Va., she worked for years as a government contractor, hired to consult on leadership development and change management for a range of agencies, including NASA, she said. "Basically, that's the equivalent of being an industrial shrink for big agencies."
She began to manage some change in her own life of power suits and PowerPoint presentations, veering dramatically from the D.C. job she'd landed with her master's degree in human development. "I had shoulder pads back in the day," she said, smiling while ascending a ladder to hang a branch.
When younger, she'd pursued the artist's life, training as an undergraduate in classical and contemporary dance with the Washington School of Ballet. In her early 40s, she returned attention to that life, taking workshops with a friend on waking up one's inner artist.
She started taking paper-making workshops in 2008 and fell in love with the idea of becoming what she now calls herself: "A paper artist." She began to make limited-edition handmade books and sculptural paper objects and then installations as a juried artist through the Torpedo Factory Art Center, in Alexandria, Va.
Her inner artist had become an outer one.
"The art has always been in me. So, this was a way to re-find it," she said as she affixed branches and pink paper cherry blossoms to her mall piece. "The thing that's so interesting about this work is I feel like I'm dancing again. Because it's so visceral, it's so physical. It's moving through space."
This is her second piece of installation art at the Huntington Mall. And therein lies a separate tale of two West Virginia sisters bringing installation art to the hinterlands.
Visitors to the mall last year may recall encountering O'Brien's piece "Grace's Garden" in the main mall entrance. It featured a mannequin on a swing in an elaborate dress of many-colored, intricately folded paper flowers.
The mannequin wore a hat of black butterflies ascending in a swarm on strings to the ceiling. The train of the dress -- composed of folded rose-colored shopping bags from Rose Tree Boutique --- swept out behind like a peacock's tale.