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The fantastic world of Kala Marshall – metal and magic


A certain piece in the recent Radford University Student Jewelry/Metalsmithing Show caught my eye. I did not mention it before because I had a fantasy agenda for it. When I first saw this piece, an intricate silver flower and vine necklace, two of my colleagues joked with me (or so I thought) that my partner had left word for me to pick out whatever I wanted and he would buy it for me. Later I told him about the comment and we laughed, but I happened to mention the necklace at the same time.

Then my birthday happened. And no, there was no jewelry box for me. But what there was instead was a card and picture of the necklace, saying that when the show came down, it was indeed mine. Wow. Just wow.

Then it occurred to me that the artist, Kala Marshall, who graduated with her MFA this weekend, would make a marvelous interviewee. Even with commencement festivities, she still found time to answer my questions. This Christiansburg, Virginia artist creates sculptures and jewelry in metal, clay and other materials.

And on a side note, I asked her if she had any studio pets or animals muses. She said yes! They are included in the pictures.

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© 2016 Kala Marshall

Kala’s words:

1. Describe your work and your inspirations.

A. I think of my work as storytelling through use of three-dimensional forms. I am drawn to flora and fauna and tend to include that in my work or base the story or scene around that. I love fantasy stories as well, so I also try and infuse that into many of my pieces. I have, as of late been inspired by simple things such as dandelion leaves. I love their raggedy edges. I also take inspiration from stories, movies, TV shows, and song titles and lyrics.

2. With all the intricate detail in your sculptures, what is the most challenging aspect of creating your nature-in-miniature work?

A. Each piece has its own set of challenges. With making a piece that is going to function as a lamp or fountain, a lot of planning goes into how to construct the piece – will this work functionally.

I think the hardest part in most of my pieces was how can I bring my vision into reality. How can I physically make this work, how do I attach this piece, make it look the way I want, and have it be strong and sturdy?

Also sculpting small things out of wax is time consuming and can be frustrating. There are many layers and techniques I use with my pieces which can make them physically demanding and time consuming. Through sculpting pieces, casting pieces, fabricating pieces, soldering, chasing metal – it all adds up to a lot of hard work but I like to think that each piece is worth the effort and it’s something I can be proud of.

3. How do you see the differences in your sculpture work and jewelry processes (or are they the same)?

A. The difference with sculpture work is that anything goes; sharp edges or even the way pieces are attached. I would be more likely to glue a piece together and also use other mediums with a sculptural piece, such as clay. Whereas with a jewelry piece that you plan to wear, you have to think about the functionality of the piece – the comfortableness of the piece, rounder smoother edges so pieces don’t scratch the skin or snag clothing. With wearable jewelry the piece will move around a lot, so I want to make sure everything is connected and soldered so the piece can with stand wear and tear. As far as aesthetically I tend to still work in the same vein of nature unless it’s a commissioned piece.

4. After receiving your BFA, what influenced your decision to go for and finish your MFA?

A. I listened to what my family and faculty were saying and thought it would be a good idea. Hopefully the masters will open up more job opportunities for me. I have definitely grown as an artist while in grad school. It has been nice to have the equipment and time to develop myself more as an artist.

5. What are your plans after graduation?

A. My goal is to eventual build up a studio, so I can make and sell art. I have slowly been purchasing equipment, but it’s a slow process because everything is so expensive and money is what I am short on at the moment. So I am going to try and find a job (fingers crossed) so I can hopefully save for equipment and start paying back my mountain of student loans.

To learn more about Kala’s work visit:
Kala’s artist statement

My overall goal is for the viewer to have a magical experience when they look at my art, as if they are stepping into another world or time. The overarching theme of my work stems from my own personal story. I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains and some of my earliest memories are of my mom taking me on picnics and walks to the Cascades. We would pick up leaves and rocks and make art projects out of them. I was always drawing, coloring, painting and, most importantly imagining. I would make villages for the ants and nests for the birds.

My mom gave me a Little Tikes potter’s wheel when I was little. I made cups for everyone in my family and when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them, “a cup maker”. In high school, I started sculpting busts out of clay and it soon became a love of mine to manipulate the clay. I was introduced to metalworking during my undergraduate years and I quickly fell in love with the medium. My father is a welder and being able to work with metal has made me feel closer to him.

Metal has been the most challenging medium I have ever worked with and the most gratifying. I make pieces that are inspired by the natural world such as flora and fauna. I fabricate metal foliage and flowers and cast pieces sculpted from wax for the creation of my whimsical environments. These whimsical environments host fantastical small-scale hybrid creatures that I create, inspired by bugs, birds, and plant life. The individual pieces not only stand alone as their own sculpture, but they also interact each other as a whole. Each piece has a narrative. A three dimensional scene plucked from the pages of a story. Some of the stories I portray are from fairytales I have read or seen, while others are my own creation.

My overall goal is for the viewer to have a magical experience as if they are stepping into another world or time. I make my work so the viewer can engage with the piece of art; on certain pieces objects can be removed. An example of this would be my piece, Thumbelina’s Teapot. The flower lid can be lifted to reveal a tiny sterling silver Thumbelina lying on a flower. Thumbelina can be picked up and held in your hands. I want the viewer to be able to explore and discover aspects of my art that they may not have noticed upon first glance. In some of my works, I include light or water to further add dimension and unexpected elements to the piece. When viewing my work I want the viewer to feel the whimsy and playfulness of childhood fantasy, to take their minds off the mundane and spark excitement and curiosity.

After graduating with my MFA degree, I plan to continue working on this body of work by creating one of a kind pieces complimented by a production line. My production line will contain smaller scale sculptures, such as lamps and terrariums, as well as a jewelry line. It is my goal to have my work published and exhibited both nationally and internationally.


The Unwinding Path is the blog of L.S. King – photographer, want-to-be printmaker and sometimes hypnotist. By day she is an arts communications officer at a rural university (translation: photographer, writer, and media content provider), and most of the rest of her time she is an MFA graduate student at Radford University.


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