This article showcases various exhibitions in the form of collected exhibition reviews published in the 1997 Fall issue of the Metalsmith Magazine. This features Tom Madden, Cynthia Eid, Agnes Chwae, and more!
Celebration: 50th Anniversary of the Metal Arts Guild
Ontario Crafts Council
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
September 25 – November 10, 1996
by Kathryn Hayward
“Do not follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought,” commanded Matsuo Basho in the late seventeenth century. Surprisingly, it is these words of the eminent Japanese poet written over 300 years ago that spring to mind upon seeing the Celebration exhibition. For over the past fifty years of the Metal Arts Guild’s existence, Canadian craftspeople have continued to seek out new forms, techniques, and expressions in metal subsequently pushing the craft in new directions. The resulting works are wildly different from each other but each is true to the metalsmith’s original goal.
This traveling exhibition is unique in that contemporary works are displayed as part of a continuum of artistic development. It is rare to be able to trace progression within a single gallery show and it is remarkable that an exhibit of this scope did not become a jumble of mismatched art forms. Rather, Celebration is a strong show, and effectively showcases expressions in metal over the past half century.
According to legend, the five founding members of the Guild were all good friends. They held infamous dinner parties, debated the philosophical nature of art, and supported and encouraged each other for over a decade . In 1946 they decided to establish a greater presence in Canada for metal artists and thus, they established the guild. With the promotion of ferrous and non-ferrous metals as its mandate, MAG began to hold annual juried exhibitions.
A high degree of technical expertise is evident in the early works. Finely crafted hollowware was far more prevalent at that time. Influenced by the Scandinavian modern style, artists gave a great deal of attention to creating smooth and highly polished surfaces. One of the more stunning pieces in the show is Andrew Fussell’s brass bowl constructed in 1958. Fussell’s design is simple yet effective. Its asymmetrical lines are emphasized by its oblong shape and its brilliant sheen is intensified by a finely hammered surface.
As succeeding generations are wont to do, younger artists in the 1960s and 1970s broke from traditional forms and techniques and experimented with the medium. Both whimsical and conceptual ideas began to crop up in the works as is evidenced by Pat Hunt’s pendant of 1972. The piece has a great sculptural quality with fluid lines and contrasting textures. It also depicts, with accuracy, the remnants of a pork chop.
Furthermore, artists began to introduce alternative materials such as acrylic, bone, and fabric. A necklace created by Sandra Noble Goss with nineteen clear acrylic claw-like cylinders, is a good example of this trend.
Colour was the next element artists tackled. The 1980s saw a veritable explosion of hues in metalwork as people experimented with patinated and anodized metals as can be seen in the gentle gold and rose hues in Lyn Wiggins’s brooch of 1988.
For the juried aspect of the show Boris Bally of Pittsburgh, Claudette Hard-Pilon of Montreal, and Wendy Shingler of Toronto had the unenviable task of narrowing the entries down to the forty-one included in this show. Some artists rook the theme celebration literally while others continued to develop recent personal themes.
Eric Leyland’s vase is an interesting contrast to the early hollowware pieces of the guild. His fluid, shard-shaped vase fabricated in sterling is supported by three forged brass legs. The lines of the legs mirror the lines of the vase, while three set amethysts on its side bring balance to the piece.
Two works submitted by Faith Layard mark intriguing progressions in enameling. In Sundance, zigzagging lines of cloisonné are repeated in the triangular flecks of turquoise, coral, and gold. A silver attachment, with pierced repetitions of triangular shapes, brings balance to the piece. Layard’s use of colour is even more refined in her large pendant, Reservoir. Cyan, amber, and green dance in a gentle rhythm against a brushed silver base.
A few artists brought serious conceptual themes to their pieces. Paul McClure’s sombre works, Lump in My Throat, Alveoli, and Heart serve as reminders of the fragile miracle of life. In the richness of his pearls and oxidized silver the old tradition of memento mori takes on significance. While the unwearable jewellery of Beth Albers’s Bracelet? focuses on the constrictions and restraints society imposes on individuals, especially women.
Perhaps the most festive entry in the show is the fabricated and cast ring by Britta Klingenstierna. In The Confetti Thrower a figure stands atop a mound of gleaming stones, poised to throw a pan full of sparkles. Made of sterling, rhodonite, and garnets, it is a playful and creative piece.
A functional and wearable object by David Reid won the Steel Trophy this year. In his Orrery Pendant, Reid perfected his sundial design and integrated the functional with the aesthetic to create a clock, sculpture, and necklace in one piece. The coloured beads of the necklace form a binary code which act as numbers, the pendant serves as a celestial guide.
Along with the jurors, Colleen McCallum, has to be commended on this celebration exhibition. It ambitiously sought to encapsulate the past half century of Canadian metal art with vision and style. Let’s hope we continue to heed the words of old Matsuo Basho.
Kathryn Hayward is a writer living in Toronto, Ontario.
La Galerie Des Métiers D’art du Québec
Montréal, Québec, Canada
October 23 – November 30, 1997
Salon Des Métiers D’art du Québec
Montréal, Québec, Canada
December 4 – 21, 1997
National Ornamental Metal Museum
February 8 – April 19, 1998
Greybeard’s Garden of Earthly Delights
Highland Park Conservatory
Rochester, New York
July – September 1996
by William Baran-Mickle
Greybeard’s Garden of Earthly Delights, curated by the National Ornamental Metals Museum was one of several exhibitions presented for the ABANA Conference held in June, 1996, in Alfred, New York. The impetus for the show was to exhibit work by veteran artists, thus the title: Greybeard, The works were not dictated by a specific client, subsequently a greater degree of personal expression in the process of blacksmithing was visible.
The variety of forms and techniques by thirteen artists created a wonderful overview of this field. The technical quality of the work was superb. Scott Lankton’s Garden Gate, is an example of eloquent functional design that goes beyond the norm in its attention to detail and execution. Highly refined, the gate would merge very well with an outdoor environment. Though reminiscent of Gary Griffin’s gate works, Lankton’s Garden Gate includes more natural details, eschewing narrative.
One very unusual piece executed by Marte Cellura, Mountain Scape, is a six feet freestanding sculpture/fountain that blends the rock forms of traditional Chinese landscape painting with an eerie planetary landscape from “Star Trek”. Unfortunately, this piece was newly constructed and it lacked the rich surface it will someday have when time, water, and oxygen have left their marks.
A piece maintaining an interesting balance between controlled technique and expressive potential is Romeo, by Joe Peloski. Peloski manufactured a split bloom part of which rises three feet straight up in an incremental taper that ends with a delicate floral detail. The other half curls gently and flares to the side revealing a heavily forged, lush, impasto texture.
Jim Wallace’s Bull is a deceptively simple sculpture that incorporates elements of controlled beauty. At the top of a four feet taper, the head of a bull is shaped with subtle, astute plane shifts which create nose, neck, and horns. This work has a boldness and strength reminiscent of some of Picasso’s works from the 1940s.
Va Va Voom, an out of the ordinary sculpture by Steve Rosenberg, is a double-sided, near life-size rendering of a female figure. It lies horizontally along the ground in a bikini with a hand supporting a head and a mass of swirling curls. Employing a funky, stylized approach, Rosenberg shows what is possible beyond the serious and seldom referential examples of iron work most people encounter as support or background structures to architecture and landscapes.
The local press aptly billed the show “jewels for the garden”‘ Almost every turn revealed a new object, be it a bench, a birdbath, or an abstract sculpture. To the credit of the curators and sponsors, there were too many interesting works to discuss. Spread over seven venues, a wider than usual audience can see and come to appreciate the artistic possibilities iron working can provide.
William Baran-Mickle is a writer and metalsmith living in Rochester, New York.
Tom Madden Defining Space
Wearley Studio Gallery
Royal Oak, Michigan
January 25 – March 29, 1997
by Nicole Jacquard
I am interested in the complexities inherent to the vessel, interior verses exterior, transitions into and out of the structure, as well as stability, balance and utility. Tom Madden
It seems that traditional utilitarian metalsmithing exhibitions have fallen way to make room for controversial explorations into the meanings of contemporary adornment. The rich historical craft of hollowware is often overlooked. This is hard to believe considering my own education. Learning to manipulate metal through projects such as salt and pepper shakers, cups and saucers, vases, and even the all encompassing challenge of the teapot, were some of the most important lessons to absorb. It is refreshing to see a show that focuses on the deft tooling of hollowware.
Tom Madden is the Instructor/Acting Metal and Jewelry Section Chairman at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. He has been working with metal for over twenty years. Madden’s metalsmithing not only explores the realm of hollowware, but the adornment of the body as well. His latest work at the Wearley Studio Gallery, reflects the title Defining Space. Over ten pewter vases were on display from January 25 through March 29 1997.
This most recent work explores the interdependent nature of the vessel. The dialog evident as interior space expands against containment. This give and take creates the visual tension which animates both the structure and the space it occupies. Tom Madden
This attitude is most evident in the Untitled Vase #4, made of pewter and brightly colored, electroformed copper. The body of the vase is a stretched tower leading up to a flared top which appears to be being strangled by a copper twig around its neck. The neck of the vase is not completely closed letting the viewer see the strain being caused by the choking of the copper wire.
The vase is part of a series which ranges in size from basketlike forms of eighteen inches tall to small intimate vases of five inches. The surface treatment is sanded or matted, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the overall-form. The vessels all have a familiar quality: plant and animal forms, figural references, as well as what appears to be animated gestures. Like elegant origami, all of the pieces look as if they were simply folded pieces of metal. Untitled Vase #12 references not only flower forms, but shells and birds. The three top flutes appear to be growing from the base allowing their wing-like forms to stretch. Their animated, skillfully crafted illusion draws the viewer to peer into the vessel to reveal its contents. Looking inside the vessel reveals a protrusion, a pyramid form, extruded from the vase’s three pointed base.
What captivates my attention within these forms is the sense that the structure is in transition: growth, decay, expansion, and contraction. Tom Madden
Untitled Vase #2, which measures eleven by seven inches, looks like a magnified dissection of a seed. Three gentle bumps create a pillowing effect on the top of the vase. Tension is created by vertical cracks appearing to break the three pods apart. The trio of forms is held together by tiny horizontal copper bands, which encourage the viewer to look inside.
Defining Space was a show worth seeing. Madden’s sculptural approach to working within the limitations of the vessel, encourage the viewer to investigate the entire form. The work was not about social, economic, or political statements. It did not need to be. It was about the metalsmithing tradition in a contemporary context, the functional and the practical, creating an object, skillfully executing an idea, and mastering the metal. This is a part of the tradition that cannot be overlooked or emphasized enough.
Nicole Jacquard is an artist and International correspondent, living and working in Rochester, Michigan.
Cynthia Eid Undulations: Hammered Metalworks
DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Garden
March 28 – May 4, 1997
by Jane Port
Cynthia Eid currently teaches advanced silversmithing at the DeCordova Museum School. She began as a student of Alma Eikerman at Indiana University in the late 1970s. This exhibition of functional metalwork includes neckrings, vessels, tableware, and ecclesiastical ware made from 1990 to 1997. The works adhere to a modernist aesthetic of pared abstract forms Many of the objects are articulated by a quiet, sinuous line derived from the natural world.
Eid’s richly patinated copper oil lamps Sea-ish X and Molluscan Lights resemble weathered stones found along the seashore, but the crevice-like opening for the wick is reminiscent of a bilvalve’s inlet. Similarly, the inner curve of the neckring, Slither, neatly duplicates in silver the curling form of a reptile or vine; it looks as if it would slide comfortably around a woman’s neck as well. Sea-ish VI, a sterling silver scent container, seems to rest its undulating horizontal body solidly like an ancient fossil on the bottom of the sea, its quartz crystal cap appearing to have grown on the spot. Sure in approach and unerring in execution, Eid’s works are fluid and natural, belying the force of the hammer.
Several of the ecclesiastical works in the exhibit deviate from Eid’s sensuous curving line. Perched atop a brass tripod, Balance and Balance II are angular, cone-shaped Pewter cups for Elijah. Although particularly appropriate for a religious offering, drinking from a triangle might be a challenge. Other objects combine straight lines with curving shapes. The sterling seder plate wins II is rounded and edged with a kind of shirring. A somewhat looser version of the tightly gathered edge also undulates at the upper rim of a curving, asymmetrical silver vase.
The exhibition was mounted in wall cases and freestanding vitrines among the tables of a small white-walled dining room near the museum’s retail shop. Photographs of the artist at work with explanatory labels added to the viewer’s experience of the works’ conception and development. In a statement, Eid explained that though she “enjoys stretching limits of convention for utilitarian objects”; the objects must function well. Like Matisse, she hopes her work will find a home in someone’s living or working space and “offer a moment’s respite from the hectic world.”
Eid is currently exploring repoussé combined with patination and an engaging series of her design experiments on small copper disks is mounted at the end of the exhibit. It will be interesting to see how future works incorporate these new ideas that seem to indicate a growing interest in surface.
Jane Port is a writer living in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
American Masters of Hollowware in the Late 20th Century
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia
April 5 – June 15, 1997
by Jim Buonaccorsi and LeeAnn Mitchell
Upon being asked to write about the exhibition without having seen the work, we both had the stereotypical response that this was going to be a strictly formal exhibition. Upon entering the Martha and Eugene Odum Gallery within the Georgia Museum of Art we were delighted to find a variety of images infused with not only exemplary craft but with thought provoking conceptual avenues for viewers to traverse. American Masters of Hollowware in the Late 20th Century is a powerful exhibition that addresses the wide range of approaches being taken in contemporary hollowware. Co-curated by Deborah Landon and Gary Noffke, the exhibition includes the work of Chunghi Choo, Marilyn da Silva, Fred Fenster, Phillip Fike, Marvin Jensen, Curtis LaFollette, John Marshall, Kurt Matzdorf, Gary Noffke, Lisa Norton, David Pimentel, John Prip, Elliot Pujol, Heikki Seppä, and Helen Shirk.
The work ranges from the conceptual to the formal, utilizing both traditional and non-traditional techniques in the manipulation of materials that range from silver, gold, copper, and pewter to steel, collage, and colored pencil. This eclecticism sets the pace for the exhibition. Only a few objects focus on the strictly functional, with the majority of the works focusing on form, surface, and the conceptual/historical idea of function. On the label’s media line for Heikki Seppä’s Delphinium, 1982, appears “sterling silver with tessellation.” What a perfect word to describe the careful juxtaposition of elements, in this case artists, that the curators formed into a coherent exhibition. Landon and Noffke did an exceptional job of exposing the audience to a plethora of ideas, styles, and techniques. Gary Noffke acted initially as a curator without considering his own work for the exhibition. He posed the question to himself, “who would I want to show with?” This self-absorbed position provided the perfect approach. (Gary’s work was added at the request of the director.) While it was not possible to include all of the people that have brought attention to the world of hollowware, Noffke and Landon wanted to produce an exhibition that “covered a number of people that have made major contributions to the field.” They succeeded.
The exhibition is full of contrast. Elliot Pujols luscious copper and gold leaf bowls play nicely against Curtis LaFollette’s construct approach to tea sets. Marilyn da Silva’s subtle tonality offsets Helen Shirk’s exploration of vibrant colors. But the notion of contrast is most apparent in the work of Lisa Norton and Phillip Fike. Norton’s Something to Talk About, 1982, is a tongue and cheek comment on the field of hollowware. Stamped and engraved on both sides of a beautiful and functional steel bucket is the following: “Something to think about / Real solid / Yet full of empty rhetoric/ A criterion is a standard against which other things are measured/They were necessities they have become luxuries / And ever since everything has been ok.” Set behind the steel bucket is a photographic collage of a Styrofoam cup with the words Dictating Equipment. The point is made.
Something to Talk About proves the perfect opposite to Phillip Fike’s Bowl, 1990. The bowl, formed and cast of fine silver and fine gold, is a gleeful exploration of a day at the pond. On the rim of the vessel is an array of silver frogs enjoying the day; a couple with a gold baby frog in hand, one frog reading, one frog playing a rune, and a pair of frogs playing patty cake as a wise old gold owl watches the proceedings from his perch in a silver tree. The bottom of the bowl has a fish piercing the bowl with a gold sports net resting gently above the imaginary water that Fike makes us see through his masterful use of metal. Fike, who presented the Ann Orr Morris Memorial lecture in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition, spoke of his history with metal and his life’s work, “I do know that I vibrated early with metalwork, it was happy from day one and has stayed that way ever since.” It becomes obvious from spending time with American Masters of Hollowware in the Late 20th Century that the artists in the exhibition affirm Fike’s belief.
Jim Buonaccorsi and LeeAnn Mitchell are writers who live in Farmington, Georgia.
Society For Midwest Metalsmiths At the Table
St. Louis Artists’ Guild
St. Louis, Missouri
November 24, 1996 – January 8, 1997
by Noel Leicht
At the Table, an exhibition of metalwork sponsored by the Society for Midwest Metalsmiths, was held during the holiday season at the St. Louis Artists’ Guild. The forty-six pieces chosen by juror Chuck Evans, Professor of Jewelry and Metalsmithing at Iowa State University for the Society’s first show constituted a large and diverse selection of work from artists practicing in the heartland. Typical of most guild shows, the craftspersonship of the work varied greatly, reflecting a wide range of skill levels among participating members’ entries.
Objects ranged from the expected tableware utensils and vessels to a variety of pieces that stretched the imagination. These included items that could be worn or displayed on a table and objects depicting images of edibles. The makers of these objects intentionally defied boundaries and sought innovative methods to create unusual and provocative pieces.
Several of the artists chose to bring humor to the table with creations that reached beyond the functional to the narrative. Both entries from Melinda Hodge were worthy of applause and appreciative smiles. Her pewter, red brass, and steel Chinese Carryout is a lifesize carton of fortune cookies; in the cynical Product of USA, she fabricated a half-opened sardine can filled with cast toy soldiers. The rolled married metals lid depicts the American flag with crosses in place of the stars and makes a strong antiwar statement.
Handsomely designed and beautifully executed for functional use was the Pivotal Salad Serving Set by Gina Westergard. Each serving utensil contains a curved hinged flap cleverly placed to enhance the size of the scoops and to prevent small ingredients from falling out the sides. Sleek and elegant, the design could hold its own with contemporary flatware displayed in galleries or design boutiques on New York City’s Madison Avenue.
Notable among the functional pieces was Dayne Sislen’s Mind Your Manners meat fork, reminiscent of a Victorian gadget used to push meat off the tines of a fork. The complicated apparatus connected a riveted spring device to a bean-shaped trigger integrated into a married metal pistol grip handle. This utensil needed to be manipulated in order for one to fully appreciate its playfulness and its craftspersonship.
Sculptural spoons were represented by Susan Bostwich’s bean handled Relics of a Summer Garden which incorporated tiny sweet-pea-shaped scoops. Lin Stanionis’s sensuous clitoral-like teaspoons were subtly highlighted by micarta and lacquered handles. Ellie Kaufman brought whimsy to the table with her stork-in-a-birdhouse handled sugar spoon with a hinged door. Sarah Perkins showed off her zdeptness in enameling with three entries that featured flowing cobalt blue and white patterns on elegantly simple shaped spoons and vessels. Overall, the spoon entries exhibited the greatest diversity in materials and theme interpretation.
The most unique vessels were Lee Peck’s highly patterned camel and palm tree bowls fabricated from copper and white and black nickel. The elaborate designs were densely arranged and highlighted by the rich contrast created by liver of sulfur patinas. Louise Rawl’s A Closer Look at the Moon aluminum bowl was stunning in its elegant simplicity; while Paulette Meyers’s Spiritress Eternal: power Vessel combined a variety of more complicated techniques (kumboo, stone setting, patination, raising, and stretching) to achieve a totally different kind of elegance and simplicity. Helen Blythel-Hart’s Stegasaurus Cream and Sugar Set added, a whimsical touch to the hollowware entries in the exhibition; Razine Wenneker’s woven wire vessel illustrated how basketry techniques can be integrated into the metalworking vocabulary.
Standing in a class all their own were Mike Gleason’s elaborately fabricated tower constructions, Sensorama and Empty Reliquary. These labor intensive objects with their layers of materials and plethora of planes and rivets created visual feasts for the eyes that reflected the personality of a very detail oriented craftsperson.
Debbie LaFara showed off with an elegant sterling evening bag, Dutch Dinner, hung by a sixty inch fine silver hand woven chain. The cigarette box like construction featured neat side button latches to close the bag. LaFara’s Round Table Discussion bracelet of reticulated silver hollow forms set with a variety of precious stones illustrated her tedious craftspersonship and eye for fashion design.
The show, thoughtfully although densely displayed, garnered enthusiastic comments from St. Louis viewers delighted by the uniqueness of the items they saw. Exhibiting this work in a facility known mainly for its painting and drawing shows introduced metalsmithing to a new audience, many of whom got a first time view of not only the skill of area craftspeople, but also the playfulness and thoughtfulness these artists express.
Noel Leicht is a St. Louis based metalsmith and writer.
Design 1885-1945: The Arts of Reform and Persuasion/Selections from the Wolfsonian
Seattle Art Museum
October 24, 1996 – January 21, 1997
Carnegie Museum of Art
February 22 – May 18, 1997
by Matthew Kangas
The point of view that this massive exhibition of decorative and design objects from the period 1885-1945 offers is definitely contextual. How did handmade and mass-produced objects made of wood, glass, cloth, ceramic, and metals – not to mention plastic and fiberglass – express prevailing or nascent ideologies and cultures?
Sidestepping aesthetic analyses, curator Wendy Kaplan and her team for Design 1885-1945: The Arts of Reform and Persuasion/Selections from the Wolfsonian undertook a vast culling process, choosing 280 paintings, sculptures, furniture, ceramics, metalwork, and posters out of the 60,000 American and European artifacts in storage at the Wolfsonian Foundation Research Center in Miami Beach, Florida. The results are impressive and as reliable a profile of mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth-century design as we are likely to see for a long time.
Given the extravagant results of Mitchell Wolfson Jr.’s collectormania, Kaplan’s approach was shrewd and built upon the adept organizational skills demonstrated in an earlier project, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ The Art That is Life: The Arts and Crafts Movement in America.
Sticking to metals alone for the purposes of this review, Design 1885-1945 is nearly an embarrassment of riches. With the survey distributed into three separate categories (Confronting Modernity Celebrating Modernity and Manipulating Modernity), Kaplan and Company demonstrate how central objects wrought of silver, gold, steel, aluminum, nickel, copper, bronze, brass, and iron were to furnishing domestic and public environments and how, in an age of changing ideologies and taste, the very choice of metals was expressive of class, power, and politics.
For example, after Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, the League of Nations imposed strict economic sanctions on Italy. All of a sudden, aluminum (which could be produced with all Italian resources) became a crucial, politically correct building material for the fascist-state industries’ use. In 1938, Gio Ponti designed the corporate headquarters of Montecatini, the nation’s largest producer of aluminum, and included beautiful desks of aluminum and Fiberglas.
Within the various sections, Kaplan sets out to show how both private and public spheres of design reflected the anxieties and subsequent embrace of new styles and ideas about the changing worlds of Western Europe and the United States. From ornate, elite gold-and-silver centerpieces made for the Prince of Belgium to severe tableware on board the Art Deco S’S. Normandie, the show itself is like an ocean cruise through history: calm, rocky, luxurious, and sick inducing. America’s role as the eventual hometown for modern design is evident, too, considering both the size of the market and the fact that it became the eventual haven for European designers in exile.
Among the most striking and intricately worked items are the silver-electroplated-on-iron ceremonial doors, Allegories of Art and Industry, c. 1925, designed by Oscar Bach and the wrought-iron gate made the same year by Alessandro Mazucotelli. The absence of Philadelphia metalsmith and architectural gate designer Samuel Yellin is regrettable.
Other treasures from high style to worker’s style include a Gorham Tea Caddy with Lid, 1881, with hammered depressions, a chased silver platter by Englishman Gilbert Marks made in 1896, and a simple Colonial Revival coffee service by Porter George Blanchard, 1935, along with a Burlington Zephyr toy train set of aluminum, 1934. An 1889 French sculpture, The Glory of Iron, by Waagen depicts two ironworkers atop the base of the Eiffel Tower under construction. The French were so eager to celebrate the tower as a symbol of modernity, they literally couldn’t wait for it to be completed before creating expensive souvenirs.
With such a catchall approach, any objections of tasteful versus tacky are avoided yet it is impossible not to carp a bit about how ugly the late nineteenth-century German and Belgian pieces often were before Modernity really prevailed, or how terrifying and revolting the results of Nazi and Fascist-sponsored propaganda decorative arts efforts were. Viewers really gulp when seeing porcelain figures of Hitler Youth created by concentration camp labor, or even some of the 1939 New York World’s Fair creations of steel and aluminum.
Toward the end of the exhibition, there is a sense that by 1945 the idealistic utopianism of early modern design had become corrupted by politics and commercialism. Still, considering what came after World War II – the triumphant American cultural of consensus in the bland 1950s – Design 1885-1945 has a poignant, nostalgic flavor to it, so distant in time does that period now seem. Next up, the Wolfsonian plans a survey of the following period, 1945-1975. I can hardly wait to see an Albert Paley necklace next to a piece of Kenneth Jay Lane jewelry that Jackie O. once (might have) worn. Now there’s cultural context!
Matthew Kangas, art critic and independent curator, wrote the recent Expressions in Wood: Masterworks from the Wornick Collection (Oakland Museum and University of Washington Press).
Illuminated Vessels Metal Work by Agnes Chwae
Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
December 3 – 30, 1996
by Katherine K. Rogers
“‘Tis a gift to be simple,” the Shaker hymn proclaims, and the poetic simplicity of Agnes Chwae’s hollowware work truly is a gift. Far from simplistic, though, these copper pewter, and silver bowls and candleholders honor the artist’s reverence for nature and her artistic ancestry.
Chwae describes herself as a “cultural surfer,” but I prefer the metaphor a “cultural fisher.” Casting her net deeply into the sea of time, she lifts it into the present moment, laden with ancient artifacts and natural treasures. Reinterpreting these offerings in a contemporary context, Chwae crosses the centuries in ways that reveal her respect for process as well as theme. There is about these works a quality of quiet discovery – as of pausing in wonder at a sparkling brook or brushing the sand from some shard of the past.
Chwae’s delicate Wetland sculpture conveys this sense of found offering most directly. Here rusty reedlike fingers of forged and hammered wire raise a tiny bowl, like a gift from the earth: a miniature sacred font. Literally buried and unearthed in its process of creation, the bowl was treated with a sawdust Patina to produce a roughened, aged effect.
More contemporary in style, the pewter Riverbed offers a kind of transcendentalist ode to earth and water. Three cast stones support and gently protrude through a curved, satin-finished plate incised with thin lines dancing like ripples on a pond. Lit from above, this pond plate casts shadows pierced by strands of light, repeating the stippled line dance in reverse.
Water-worn rocks in a New Foundland riverbed inspired Chwae to create Roch and Water, as well as the Riverbed piece. In this visual haiku, the artist has molded a cast rock into a pewter double-bowl construction. The interior of this breath-taking vessel glimmers like sunlight on streaming water. Encasing this inner world, the bowl’s exterior records the rough texture of the stone Chwae pounded against its surface wall.
Chwae is frequently inspired by excursions into nature, including bird-watching trips with her husband, but visits to other cultures and an interest in history and anthropology also inform her work. The metal dots adorning the rim of Aziyade, for example, and the bowl’s undulating rusty-green surface recall Byzantine jewelry and the weathered walls and domes Chwae found so fascinating on a recent trip to Turkey. Titled after Pierre Loti’s tale of a harem girl’s forbidden romance with a French naval officer, Chwae’s Aziyade evokes the exotic atmosphere of an evening in old Istanbul.
Night and Twilight Glyph, two pewter and silver bowls, borrow the twilight motif of a half-closed eye, recorded in the Codex Mendoza, a sixteenth century Aztec painted manuscript. In regal homage to the evening sky, Chwae has perched her satiny Twilight bowl on a crownlike stand, encircled at its base with the sleepy-eyed glyphs. Two pairs of the half-closed eye shapes also rest dreamily on the edge of Night. The bowl’s interior shimmers like a full moon within the darker, planished exterior, highlighted to suggest a starlit sky.
Chwae’s copper Codex Mendoza bowl blends Aztec and Chinese design motifs. Like the opening in a Chinese medallion, the disk at the bowl’s base suggests an entry into heaven. Round and rectangular spirals, worked in deep relief, whirl around the bowl’s rusty-patinated sides, conjuring visions of Aztec empires and spin, ning galaxies.
A native of South Korea, Chwae moved to Wisconsin at the age of ten. Straddling two cultures, Chwae says she does not fully identify with either, but considers herself an observer of both. In her copper American Toad bowl, she mixes East and West with wry humor. Here tadpole shapes and the American toad’s webbed footprints track across the earthy interior of another double-bowl construction. Echoing traditional Chinese vessel shapes, the inner bowl is layered with blue and brown patinas, while the darkly mottled exterior was treated with a sawdust patina. Imbedded in this murky realm, the fossil-like imprints suggest a trek through time – and mud as well.
Chwae’s pewter vessel, in the form of a Korean rice washing bowl, is modeled after a fourteenth century wooden rice washing bowl which she saw at the Korean Folklore Museum on a trip to Seoul. As clean and simple as a Bauhaus piece, the bowl’s design incorporates an outer ridge, originally devised as a handle, while the parallel lines incised inside were meant to help in hulling rice.
Perhaps it is the blend of physical, emotional, intellectual, and intuitive awareness that makes these works so satisfying; and Chwae’s elegant Four Elements piece expresses this sense of wholeness most succinctly. Widening dramatically from its narrow base, the blue-green patinated bowl seems to float like a lotus upon still water. Four raised indentations in the rim mark the four directions, while four groups of linear markings, chased into the sides, make direct reference to Oriental philosophy and mysticism. Associated with the I Ching and depicted on the South Korean flag, these markings represent heaven and earth, fire and water. They remind us of the importance of balancing opposites and finding the unity underlying all duality.
With a spirit of quiet fire and natural flow, Agnes Chwae has blessed us with works of harmony and grace. Simple, but not easy – gifts to be grateful for whenever they are brought forth.
Katherine Rogers is a painter and free-lance writer who resides near Madison in Waunakee, Wisconsin.
Aaron Faber Gallery
New York, New York
December 5, 1996 – January 4, 1997
Review by Marjorie Simon
The more time spent with Rebekah Laskin’s fifty new enameled pieces the better, for they don’t give up their secrets easily. Exquisite craftsmanship and mechanics are the foundations on which Laskin builds her signature concerns of form (the exquisite edge), surface (etched and then enameled), dead-on color choices, and a pervading sense of mystery. But whereas her last big collection projected a dark vision spiraling to a place from which escape seemed unlikely, this one is sunnier, more like a richly textured dream than a nightmare.
More than a third of the pieces are earrings of bold, crude shapes in precious materials. They are all about jewelry. One might be tempted to pass by the few circular cloisonné pendants with their motif of pure design; however, lacking the intensity of the others, they provide a sort of visual resting place so that one can draw breath before continuing on with the brooches that form the backbone of the collection.
One group of long pins appears related to Laskin’s arrowhead, or knife-blade forms of the 1980s. Seen as silhouettes’ they look like parapets, but as negative space they become narrow spaces, interstices between buildings where the sun enters only at the solstice. All of the pins are topped with stones that perfectly complete their composition. But by using the pedestrian onyx and turquoise, for example, Laskin insures that they have the same concurrent nobility as the enamel. A few are raised up on little stalks like a crustacean’s eyes; others sit flush with the edge of the form. One pair of marquis-shaped blue agates sits atop an undulating figure, as if Picasso visited the harem and drew a veil of velvet over the women.
A second group of pins, square also topped with stones, recalls a western mesa; one is even shaded from pink to purple as if silhouetted in lengthening rays of the setting sun. Based on dozens of drawings of a large piece of fallen slate grounded by its own gravity and solidity these compositions are like collages, with lines and elements, layers of meaning, and layers of glass.
Beginning with a deeply etched surface for texture, Laskin lays down color stoning some off, working back into it as it takes on its own identity ending with a sensual underfired surface embellished with runic threads and chips of color. The result is a barely contained composition suggesting etched concrete or steel, as organic as an old can or weathered shard of metal, its surface distressed. All the pins have a whiff of antiquity this series looks old; one piece suggested the fractures of frost on a winter window, or a fern fossil trapped in eons of slate.
Because Laskin imbues each piece with the critical element of struggle, the refined and edited version we see reflects its tenuous journey into life. Because of her love of process, we are invited to share an intimate space with a mature artist reflecting on the mystery of life.
Marjorie Simon is a metalsmith, teacher, and writer who resides in Highland Park, New Jersey.
Karen Gilbert Material For Reasoning
Susan Cummins Gallery
Mill Valley, California
May 5 – 31, 1997
by Charlene M. Modena
With The Silvered Chasm, 1926, Magritte introduced a mysterious, iconic device into his painting. This was the grelot, a spherical harness bell with a slit opening that went on to become a recurrent theme. The first time I saw it in The Voice of the Air, 1928, I was startled when, for a second, I could hear the sound a group of grelot made as they floated through space, so strong was their presence.
I mention this because I had a similar experience while looking at Karen Gilbert’s work on display at Susan Cummins Gallery. I know this is a presumptuous comparison, but there is an auditory aliveness to Gilbert’s work that momentarily translates the forms to sound. Dark patinas, glyph-like detailing, rich textures, and sensuous shapes all create visual music. Wonderfully alchemical and hermetic, the work shown includes pendants, necklaces, bracelets, and brooches.
Delicate, textured, blown glass teardrops, cones, and tubes become vessels filled with minuscule shards. In combination with sterling silver and rusted steel the hand blown glass has become a signature of Karen Gilbert’s work. The new work, which includes two necklaces with pendants, the interchangeable, three chain Accessible, and the spherical container/pendant Grand Opening join metal and glass in a fresh and compelling way. Also new are the spikey, rhythmical, glass cones of the necklace Delay, and, the curiously seductive Old Accurance, a large brooch of sinuous glass, with a sterling dome surrounded by spicules of horse hair.
The new work continues to exhibit a lucid examination of conceptual, visual, and structural strength, as well as the disciplined eye of the designer. The result is an ability to create work which succeeds in being both contemporary and magically ritualistic.
None of these qualities sacrifice wearability as Gilbert sees the body as the appropriate and elegant holder of her ideas. To honor this, I was told, she wears her jewelry around her studio before sending it out to galleries; a mixture of ritual and quality control.
Karen Gilbert is an intelligent artist whose work is the product of thought and insight before production. Her work will not stand still, because once the forms and ideas become too easy or too mechanical she will change and move on.
Charlene M. Modena is a writer who lives in Muir Beach, California.
A/K/A: 92 Ann Parkin, Marjorie Simon, and Susan Sloan
Works on paper by Allison Howard-Levy
March 1 – 31
by J. Susan Isaacs
A recent exhibition at the OXOXO Gallery in Baltimore demonstrates the sophisticated metalwork of the three jewelers that make up the group called A/K/A: 92; a fourth member displayed color etchings. Ann Parkin, Marjorie Simon, Susan Sloan, and Allison Howard-Levy, have exhibited together since meeting while studying under Bob Ebendorf at the 92nd Street Y in New York City an organization long known for its commitment to the arts, especially metalwork.
A/K/A: 92 convenes regularly to offer support and plan exhibitions. They frequently invite regional craft artists to join them in order to stimulate ideas and maintain a high level of professional exchange. The OXOXO exhibition can be examined both as a representation of a group aesthetic and as individual expressions.
Though the term craftspersonship is often overused, it accurately describes this body of work. Although their individual approaches differ dramatically, their excellence and sophistication in technique and design draw the four together as a group. Howard-Levy’s color etchings recall jewelry designs, so while she does not exhibit metalwork, her forms and color relate quite well to the work of the other three artists.
All of the metal artists engage the viewer aesthetically and intrigue the viewer intellectually. Certainly the most powerful level of response, the one most sought by each artist, is that of emotion. The viewer should want to study, hold, and ultimately wear each piece. Even more compelling with this body of work is understanding how the artist fabricated each piece.
Ann Parkin creates jewelry objects – earrings, pendants, and pins-constructed completely of sterling. Of the three jewelers, her work is the simplest in design and the most contained. Small in scale, her pieces depend in part for their completeness on their relationship to the wearer. Parkin’s shapes are reductive, her surfaces a contrast of smooth outer shell and articulated inner planes. Her work is intimately connected to modernist ideas of good design: bold, simple compositions expressed through a sparse contemporary language.
While Parkin’s forms are reductive and connected to geometry, the artist also contrasts textures, building up interior surfaces with articulations of thin curving linear patterns. These designs connect to the organic spirals of nature and the artist recounts in a statement that she finds her imagery in nuclear physics where visual records show tracks left by subatomic particles as they pass through bubble and cloud chambers. Parkin looks to craft as a vehicle to symbolize the visual metaphors of society and believes that art can be an expression of the underlying patterns of the natural order, closely connecting art and science.
Marjorie Simon’s pieces also depend upon an interest in contrast. However, she achieves this not through a single material and color, as in the case of Parkin, but through an amalgam of textures, mixing different materials and hues. Simon concentrates her efforts on brooches and pendants that allude to objects from the past, specifically, articles of ritual and magic. She uses silver, gold, copper enamel, found objects, and semiprecious stones to create wearable objects that are at once modern and antique. Her brooches refer in their designs to ritual staffs of pre-industrial societies and to decorative objects of the ancient world, such as hand mirrors from ancient Rome. Their irregular forms and contrasting materials, especially the sometimes partially unfinished semiprecious stones, contribute to the connections to a long ago past when myth was given as equal importance as rational thought.
In several of the hand-mirror pieces, Simon creates textures in the handles through roll printing and creates the mirrorlike element from an irregularly shaped, semiprecious material like garnet or chalcopyrite. The shapes are organic, sensuously curving and joining to form a united whole. Her pendants refer to ancient some are even shaped like a bird’s head – a symbol found in many ancient images and writings.
Susan Sloan works in epoxy in a style that indicates an understanding of paint and pigments as well as metals. She layers the epoxy, incorporating pigments, gold leaf, and tissue papers onto organic forms, with the final piece often resembling abstract, color, field paintings. Sloan adds semiprecious stones and metals as well, creating an abstract collage/assemblage. It is not surprising to learn that she was first trained in two-dimensional art. The epoxy shapes cover a sterling support, with additional attachments of silver and other metals as well as semiprecious stones. The backs are finished elegantly and in one instance a cutout on the back reveals the beauty of a shell from that side as well.
Sloan’s pieces are somewhat large (brooches measuring 3 x 2¼”) yet unexpectedly light in weight. She applies the epoxy resin in layers allowing each to cure before the next is added. The epoxy gives the artist the luxury of working on a larger scale. Her work, like that of the previous two artists, also connects to nature. The irregular outlines of her pieces recall the forms of the earth, while the colors range from earth tones to the greens of the forest and the blues of the sky and sea.
Although there are obvious stylistic differences between the three jewelers, their interest in sophisticated compositions and excellent craftsmanship connect them and their work. A/K/A: 92 represents three very distinct voices each of which demonstrates a high degree of technical knowledge and competency as well as a unique and aesthetic point of view.
J. Susan Isaacs is an Assistant Professor of Art History at Towson State University in Baltimore, Maryland.