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The Inspired Hand VI—Maine Crafts Association Members Exhibit

Atrium Art Gallery, USM Lewiston –Auburn College: January 17—March 15, 2014

LEWISTON — The sixth biennial exhibit of the Maine Crafts Association at USM-LAC’s Atrium Art Gallery featuring the work of 57 MCA members, is now open and waiting to fill its visitors with wonder and appreciation. Juried by Carl Little—art critic, essayist, poet, and crafts expert — the work displayed here covers the spectrum of art forms with prints, sculpture, photography, jewelry, ceramics, and textiles—and the media that make them up— fiber, glass, wood, metal, ceramic, and more. In fact, it even exceeds the conventions of that media, carrying on into grass, twigs, branches, beach stone, dead vines, re-claimed books, even on (may the wet dirt be praised!)—into mud. But more of that later . . .

Art, like all the rest of life, is filled with mysteries—some big and some small. This exhibit carries that concept throughout all of the work on display. Jeanne Seronde Perkins’ large collage “Aftermath,” like another collage she has here, carries bits of those smaller mysteries throughout its being, from its title on into its substance. A large rectangle filled with small squares, each with its own deep but bright color. Some of those little squares seem relatively empty, but for the subtle shadings of their colors. Others—most, in fact, have some little ‘signal’ I might call it—within them, and many of these carry what seems to be a tiny piece of birch bark, and nothing else. Others—a very—few have thick but linear shapes that suggest the beginnings of ancient Asian characters—I wondered about this and then I found one that is filled with minute Chinese characters. What all this means, I cannot say. But it draws me in; it invites, it creates a deeper form of curiosity, a complexity of mysteries.

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On the wall next to “Aftermath” hangs Diane Langley’s 19-by- 28 inch “Garden of Delights.” Rising from wool and linen in a traditional hooked rug technique, a dark blue background filled with yellow, green, red and orange figures suggesting flowers, with here and there smaller entities suggesting biological cells. All of it abstract, its colors and imagery suggesting to me a view of living things in the depth of a tropical sea.

Around the corner, above a gently sloping walkway from the entrance, hang four small linoleum block prints with water colors of peaceful and full moments in nature by Holly Berry. Next to them are three large photos of water reflections by Cheryl Daigle, “Farrington Pond, Summer Sky,” “Tree Reflections,” and “Farrington Pond: Migrations,” each of which presents its own —  different —profound moment of water and light.

In a nearby display case sits Jeffrey Oliver Clapp’s shining work in aluminum, “Temple Urn,” with a bird’s eye maple lid; “Singing Bowl with African Blackwood Mallet,” and “Taylor’s Bell,” looking like an elongated and narrow medieval helmet that just might fit the elongated and narrow head of Don Quixote. There is an extra “hidden meaning” in this work— all the aluminum here came from abandoned oxygen tanks salvaged from the heights of Mt. Everest. The artist’s notebook in the gallery describes his fascinating story.

Nearby sits Roxanna Brophy’s “Two Masts,” a profile of a sailing ship made from driftwood, worn in places to near disintegration, its base also driftwood, with two tide-blackened sea-stones supporting the ship itself, its sails represented by strands of green rope suggesting seaweed.

Here and there throughout the gallery are wondrous small works in a wide variety of media—including jewelry, such as Maggie Bokor’s “Rain Floating Pearl Pendant,” made from sterling silver and freshwater pearl; Sarah Koelbl’s sea pottery and silver wire “Selkie Song,” and Stephani Briggs’ beautiful crowned and winged “Ember in the Night” pendant of gold, tourmaline and quartz. There is stoneware, as seen in Barbara Walch’s “Tea Set,” and porcelain work—Marian Baker’s “Twin Cups,” among others.

There is much more here to review than the space I have to cover it. But there is beauty, hard work and a continuously changing mental process of discovery behind every piece. And behind that is the individual natural evolution of each and every element that goes into these works—from that sea-worn wood and blackened stones in Brophy’s “Two Masts,” the wool and linen in Langley’s “Garden of Delights” to each peculiarity in the gold, tourmaline and quartz in Briggs’ “Ember in the Night.”

Mystery in all—from the mini-mystery of each artist’s process; the deeper mysteries in the history behind all these arts and crafts that came down to give us our contemporary ways with them, and those deepest mysteries that brought us their elements and the world from which they rise.

And now for the two largest—and most mysterious—of the pieces within this exhibit: First is Katherine Cobey’s “Figures of Speech”—four full-sized, grey, seemingly female abstract figures, each of them tall, slender and otherwise undeveloped; each hand-carved from its own cedar tree trunk—three standing in a triangle facing each other as though in conversation, one sitting and facing outward away from the others. A long, winding, handspun, hand-knit Romney wool shawl covers them all, draped from the shoulders of each and almost touching the floor before reaching the next. The head of one is tilted slightly back, its ‘face’ a totally flat surface. The faces of the others are chiseled but without features. “Figures of Speech”—what is the title telling us? Why is the one sitting remote and facing away from the others? Why this nearly uniform grey—not just in the wood, but in the shawl itself? You are invited to go through your own ruminations here, and you could do so for hours….

Last—Susan Mills’ “Shape Shifter” is—to your reviewer at least—the tallest, the most tangled, the most mysterious piece of the exhibit; the most beautifully strange in its ingredients—dead branches, twigs, vines, a few leaves and other detritus from the forest floor, mud, peat moss, stone, iron and bottomed by old books painted black—nearly eight feet tall, hollow, almost cone-shaped, its body entirely composed of thickly tangled branches and vines, with a bit of mud, moss, etc., thrown in. Above its open abdomen is a small antelope-like head of tangled vines, its antlers sweeping fully back from itself; within the abdomen’s opening a small, antlered, deer-like head made mostly from branches; and near the very top of the figure another, larger, antelope head peering down and a bit sideways. All around its base stand or sprawl the black books from which it rises. A “shaman-shape,” Mills calls it, “shifting for purposes of spiritual travels in other realms.” On the wall behind it is another piece by Mills: a “Flying Carpet for Lower World Shamanic Journeys.”

When you have done the complete rounds of this exhibit, save Mills for the end. First look at “Flying Carpet.” Then, when you see “Shape Shifter,” stand there, let it take you in, absorb yourself in its mystery, and when you’re at last ready to leave, say ‘Hello’ for me.

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