Hand Crafted at The BlackRock Center
By F. Lennox Campello
The BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown is just far enough from the capital region so as to not “officially” be part of the DMV. It is nonetheless a key member of the cultural tapestry of the Mid-Atlantic region and one can always count with a strong exhibition program in its beautiful galleries.
Through April 15 there’s a fascinating group show curated by Rula Jones, the current gallery director. Titled “HAND CRAFTED”, the show is described as “a group exhibition that explores the role of craftsmanship in contemporary art and across a variety of media including wool, ceramic, glass, paper, fiber, porcelain, etc.”
This group exhibition features over 55 multimedia works by 23 artists from the Mid-Atlantic region.
If you are a constant reader, then you know that I am a strong proponent of craftsmanship in the visual arts – there’s no substitute for developing the skill to draw, paint, etch, sculpt, etc. And there’s no shortcut – it is all practice, learning from errors, learning how to use your errors, and learning when to stop.
The exhibition’s curator Rula Jones notes that, “Concept and craftsmanship, the latter defined as strong knowledge of material manipulation, have occasionally been oppositional in modern and contemporary art. However, these works show high levels of artistry and skill, while also presenting very strong purpose and theory. Artists in this exhibition use materials often associated with craft and elevate them through contemporary concerns. The works on view address a variety of both universal and contemporary issues including loss, identity, the environment, humanity and nature through a variety of media including ceramic, glass, fiber, wool, silk, beads, paper, porcelain etc. This exhibition celebrates the diversity of theory, process and materiality in contemporary art, suggesting that the boundary between craft and fine art remains as elusive as ever.”
My favorites from this very strong show spanned quite a range of media and subject matter – perhaps evidence of Ms. Jones’ “diversity of theory” proposal.
For starters, I was immediately drawn to the unusual coloring and positioning of “Impostrophe” by Shana Khonstamm. This attractive sculpture is made of hand-dyed wool and wire, and manages to store within it that elusive quality of a beautiful oddity in the sense of the way the colors help to deliver a surreal message which is then compounded by the physical structure of the upside down head.
Erwin Timmers has been a “green artist” since even before the term was coined a couple of decades ago. The Dutch-born artist and one of the founders of the Washington Glass School, is part of that school’s influential triumvirate (Timmers, Tim Tate, and Michael Janis), perhaps the three leading artists on the planet who dragged the “craft” of glass and shoved it inside the pristine white walls of “fine arts” galleries – they’re the Stieglitzes of the glass world! For this show Timmers flexes some of his better-known glass series, such as the sculptural pieces made by casting rubber band shapes into glass, or discarded plastic bottles, repurposed in glass with environmental warnings.
In “Stepping Off” by Patricia de Poel Wilberg, we are treated to an artist delivering a gorgeous work employing three separate and demanding skills and media: painting, enameling, and glass-making. The artist pulls it all together, and her mastery of these media is a perfect example of what the curator means in her earlier statement.
Another multimedia master is Felisa Federman, who for decades has been refining her art processes to deliver work that intrigues the viewer and pulls them in with a resonance elicited by the careful layering of the diverse media used to create the works.
I also liked Kanika Sircar’s intelligent and elegant stoneware, and Sookkyung Park’s impossibly beautiful origami sculptures.
Artists included in the exhibition are: Lisa Battle, Helen Blumen, Karin Birch, Mei Mei Chang, Ceci Cole McInturff, Linda Colsh, Barbara Joann Combs, Andrea Finch, Felisa Federman, Sarah J. Hull, Noelani Jones, Shana Kohnstamm, Rebecca Murtaugh, Phyllis Mayes, Mitchell Noah, Sara Parent-Ramos, Sookkyung Park, Margaret Polcawich, Paulette Privott, Allan Rosenbaum, Kanika Sircar, Erwin Timmers, and Patricia de Poel Wilberg. The exhibition runs through April 15, 2022.