With her bold-patterned togs and jubilant grin, Margaret Couch Cogswell is a bright presence on the campus of Penland School of Crafts. “A smile or a chuckle is a worthwhile goal in this world,” says Cogswell, who’s as content and colorful as the creatures in her imaginative drawings and sculptures. The 51-year-old mother, wife, and animal lover has worked as a studio artist for more than two decades, and is concluding a three-year residency at Penland, where she crafts books, cards, fabric collages, and mixed-media pieces.
Cogswell’s list of materials is long—from book pages, graphite, and paint to wood, found objects, and fabric—and her approach is simple, using rivets, tabs, wire, and stitching to integrate the disparate components. “For me, materials that are common allow freedom—I don’t like to follow a recipe or to be bound by the limitations of a particular tool,” she says.
The results include a delightful array of small sculptures and crowns that convey the sparks of stories, inviting the viewer to imagine a narrative. “I think of myself as a storyteller,” Cogswell says. “I want my work to be a trigger point for the viewer; to bring an idea, a memory, or a connection to mind, but not to tell the whole story.”
One book sculpture, Confessions of a Small Dog, portrays a whimsical pooch with one leg that’s a pencil. Another sculpture, Ralph, depicts a dog with a wheel for a leg. In both cases, these characters appear playful at first glance. But closer examination reveals a tenderness toward the animals’ handicap that evokes a sense of empathy and curiosity. This theme is consistent in Cogswell’s work. Indeed, all of her creations appear as though they’re born from the same child-like sensibility—a sensitive yet optimistic world where even the inequities and impediments of life are greeted with a sense of wonder.
“The biggest gift from these three years at Penland is that I feel I have become totally integrated. There is consistency between the work I create, the person I am, and the way I live in the world,” says Cogswell. It’s that sense of integration that will guide her as she transitions out of Penland this winter and back to full-time studio and family life in Asheville. In the meantime, she has a small business, Two Sisters Designs, to operate with her sibling and graphic artist, Jesse Couch Brinkley, weekend workshops to teach, and a much-anticipated exhibition at Blue Spiral 1 gallery opening this month.