IN THE ARTS

February 21, 2010

Virtuosity of crafts blurs artistic line at bienniel show

PHILIP ISAACSON

The current crop of notable art events is in Lewiston. Divided between Bates College and USM's Lewiston-Auburn College, they exemplify distinction at a time that has phased other houses of art in similar pursuit. On a personal level, I take them as harbingers of spring; they slice through the peculiarities of this winter.

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“Jewelry Box” by David Klenk.

Courtesy of Atrium Art Gallery

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“Gourd #95” by Ron King

Courtesy of Atrium Art Gallery

Additional Photos Below

IF YOU GO

“THE INSPIRED HAND IV” – MAINE CRAFTS ASSOCIATION BIENNIAL

WHERE: Atrium Art Gallery, Lewiston-Auburn College, 51 Westminster St., Lewiston, 753-6500

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

CLOSES: March 26

 

“COLLECTION PROJECT 4: ALUMNI COLLECTIONS”

“BARRY NEMETT: DRAWINGS FROM ITALY”

WHERE: Bates College Museum of Art, 75 Russell St., Lewiston, 786-8302

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday

CLOSES: March 27

I begin with ''The Inspired Hand IV'' at Lewiston-Auburn College for reverse alphabetic reasons. It is the fourth in a series of biennial exhibitions sponsored by the College and the Maine Crafts Association. This effort has provided sparkling exhibitions in the past and version IV follows suit, albeit in sparser numbers. Juried from the membership of MCA, its participants have been whittled down to 15, but their performances are fulfilling. They tug at the strings that join utility and art, not without conceit as in some unattainable ideal, but with very deep bows to the latter – art. Crafts of the kind in this show are largely works of art achieved through processes classical to functional objects. They may resemble those objects, but their purpose is quite different.

I mention the work of Paul Heroux with hesitation. He is a distinguished ceramic artist and nothing in this column will add to his luster; still, a particular work in this event urges my pen. It is an untitled, small piece of soda-fired stoneware, marked with ribbons and panels of golden luster. A footed vessel in elongated form, it joins his scaled-down work even closer to architecture. For work in its scale, I take it to be iconic. David Klenk's jewelry box in birds-eye maple is another candidate for craft immortality. A fusion of rectilinearity, the effusiveness of birds-eye and eye-popping technical skill, it takes straight woodworking about as far as woodworking can go. His writing box in cherry is more demure and utterly svelte. It is all a display of virtuosity.

I cite Sarah Shepley's fetching and meticulous paste-paper book and its accompanying box. Here restraint, modesty of materials and beautiful craftsmanship keep the work within the craft tradition although its urge to hop the line into the arts is evident. Restraint has economic drawbacks, but as a virtue it is almost unmatched. Susan Mills' goddess forms in handmade felt are excursions into whimsy and enchanting.

Ron King – who I remember as a weaver – is represented by a group of decorated gourds with features that suggest American Indian basket work. One among them has a spiked collar of porcupine quills set into beads of turquoise that evokes tribal forms from Southern California; another with feathers and turquoise beading and still another with freshwater pearls continue the ethnographic nod. All are compelling in innovation and finesse.

I mention Brian Reid's maple and white oak ''Screen With a View'' for patterned complexity balanced with fastidious surfaces. It has compressed energy and I close with Meryl Ruth's ''Black Cherry Tea, A Ceramic Teapot.'' It's dazzling in invention and in technique.

JEWELS AT THE MUSEUM

Among the Bates College Museum of Art's current shows, two have not been treated in this column. I begin my comments with ''Collection Project 4: Alumni Collections.'' Some of the works in the event have now found their way into the holdings of the museum, others appear to be owned by the estates of their collectors, but regardless of proprietorship, it is a jewel of an event. And not a small one. The upper gallery – a cavernous space – has been subdivided into aisles and the resulting additional walls have offered the curators space for a large exhibition. And large the exhibition is.

The works in it are American and European, primarily from the 19th and 20th centuries and principally on paper. The moderate scale of the items admits quantity and their elegant presentation enhances their appeal. I can't estimate the number of works on view, but surely more than 100. To see so much in a single home-grown show and of such admirable quality is a rare opportunity in this state.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

“Screen With a View” by Brian Reid

Courtesy of Atrium Art Gallery

click image to enlarge

“Cloud Watching” by Barry Nemett

Courtesy of Bates College Museum of Art

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“Stufa” (stove) by Barry Nemett

Courtesy of Bates College Museum of Art



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