February 21, 2010

Virtuosity of crafts blurs artistic line at bienniel show


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.

click image to enlarge

“Jewelry Box” by David Klenk.

Courtesy of Atrium Art Gallery

click image to enlarge

“Gourd #95” by Ron King

Courtesy of Atrium Art Gallery

Additional Photos Below



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




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.


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.

Any detailing from so many items is by its nature a matter of individual preference, but certain among them galvanized me. Two by George Bellows are infused with anguish: the print ''Electrocution'' of 1917 and ''The Law is Too Slow'' of 1923. In the former a blindfolded man is strapped in The Chair attended by a chaplain for the comfort of his soul and the Warden for the dispatch of his life. Bellows makes it into a form of butchery and the lynching in ''Too Slow'' makes the point more literal. Lewis Hines' black-and-white photograph ''Coal Mining Town, Pennsylvania 1920'' with its twisted vanishing point is an image of despair. Elke Morris' black-and-white photograph series ''Symphony, Brandenburg Gate, Berlin'' (1991) has the darkness and compressed history that I find in the work of the very great photographer Josef Koudelka. Morris' prints are sinister and intimidating, and thus irresistible.

To any list I could add Adolph Dehn's lithograph ''Manhattan Night'' (1946), Philip Pearlstein's lithograph ''Girl on Sofa,'' Hyman Bloom's drawing ''Old Lady,'' Robert Birmelin's etching ''Tree Study II,'' Michael Mazur's etching ''Confrontation, from Locked Ward'' and much more.

Not everything in this wonderful event is as dark as my psyche can be.

The second exhibition at Bates, ''Barry Nemett: Drawings from Italy,'' is as bright as Bellows et al's are dark. His gouache ''Cloud Watching II'' is gorgeous. In it the sky rolls on to complete and then dominate the perfect landscape of, perhaps, Umbria. ''Stufa,'' also a gouache, floats a ceramic stove against an almost nonexistent wall and then floats it away. The ephemerality of it all contributes a sense of departure that makes my fingers tingle. Other gouaches and the heroically sized drawing ''Florence Foyer on Via Pandolfine'' will fulfill those among us who have a longing for the ancient art of drawing. Bravo.

Philip Isaacson of Lewiston has been writing about the arts for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 44 years. Contacted him at:


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

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

click image to enlarge

“Stufa” (stove) by Barry Nemett

Courtesy of Bates College Museum of Art

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)



More PPH Blogs