HARVIN COLUMN: From the mind of an artist

“Bookity book” is one of the pieces that will be in a new exhibit called “Aggie Zed: Keepers Keep” at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art running Saturday through March 10.

Aggie Zed makes creatures that haunt -- odd collections of bits of copper and porcelain, disconnected heads, animals that float and roll like the stuff of dreams, or maybe nightmares.

The creatures that populate Zed's world are not ones that we have seen before -- they emerge from her imagination as random ideas. Human and animal figures collide with furniture or landscapes; rabbits sprout wheels or wings, while horses drown in collapsing scaffolding.

Zed is having a showing at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art starting Saturday, and she's been working on it for two years with the help of director Mark Sloan and his staff.

"Getting a chance to stretch is wonderful," she says from her home in Virginia. "I've been able to work in multiples for this show."

That means that there are 100 miniature elephants in one installation, a series of paintings for the space that allowed her to double the size of her works.

But best of all, she was able to create about 200 "scrap floats," small constructions that tease and jar the imagination. Her titles are lighthearted, and she transmits great delight in their creation.

This a woman who grew up on Sullivan's Island near Fort Moultrie when that end of the island was still wild with dunes and the animals her family loved. Those animals seem to float free-form through her work.

So it's fitting that this show is called "Aggie Zed: Keeper's Keep," alluding to British usage of the term "keeper" for "curator," and plays on the double meaning of "keep" as both noun and verb.

While the exhibit at the Halsey, which runs through March 10, is the first of its kind in Charleston, there are Zed lovers all around town. Her work has been featured at Nina Liu and Friends since about 1989, and local collectors have found their way to Liu's State Street shop.

Liu said that the collectors buy pieces in multiples, and she has shipped Zed's work all over the world.

Billy Vandiver, one of those collectors, ducked into Liu's shop last week and smiled when asked about the artist. For a woman whose fantasy life is so strange, he says, she is so straightforward and, well, normal.

"To know her is to love her even more," he said. "She has such a sense of humor."

His collection numbers in the dozens, and because his apartment is small, much of the artwork is tucked under the bed.

"It's sort of like an art show with a flashlight," Liu said.

The opening reception for the show will be 5-7 p.m. Friday at the Halsey, and the public is invited. There will be complimentary wine and hors d'oeuvres. The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is on the campus of the College of Charleston at Calhoun and St. Philip streets. Admission to the gallery is free.

'Color in Freedom'

Another exhibition not to be missed is "Color in Freedom: Journey Along the Underground Railroad," presented at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park by the city of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs.

Depicting the stories of the Underground Railroad, the show features 49 paintings, etchings and drawings by Joseph Holston that capture the courage and determination required of slaves to escape to freedom. "Color in Freedom" is a visual interpretation and expression of a range of human experiences and emotions.

Holston said that the Underground Railroad was part of his personal history and the work is a way of honoring those who came before him.

"This was a very personal undertaking, during which I could almost feel the dread of capture, the degradation of enslavement, the terror of escape and the exhilaration of freedom. I had many of my own down days while re-creating this journey, which I now know were essential in order for me to communicate these stories," he said.

The exhibition has four movements that follow the lives of those who traveled along the Underground Railroad: "The Unknown World," "Living in Bondage," "The Journey of Escape" and "Color in Freedom."

The opening reception is 5-7 p.m. Saturday at the City Gallery, 34 Prioleau St. downtown. Admission is free. The exhibit will be on view until March 4.