Juror Jean McLaughlin approached the pieces in “Materials: Hard & Soft” from the same perspective a lot of non-experts use to approach art.
That’s saying something, considering that McLaughlin is the director of the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.
“I look at the title of the work, then I look at the craftsmanship, and then I look for originality,” McLaughlin said. “I want to see evidence of a particular maker on the work.”
“Materials: Hard & Soft” is the flagship exhibit of the year for the Greater Denton Arts Council. The show is a national American craft contest, bringing the works of the best potters, quilters, metalsmiths, glass workers and weavers in the country to the Meadows Gallery.
Craft is the elevation of objects originally made for a function — such as teapots, quilts and furniture — to a purely decorative purpose. The title of the show, now in its 26th year, has been the same since its inception, and the show itself has become a challenge to craft artists — either to test the limits of their chosen material and medium, or to toss out their comfortable material altogether. Hence the weaving of wood and plastic, and the crafting of teapots out of fabric.
“I like the national focus. It’s an opportunity to see a wide variety of art,” McLaughlin said. “I like the titles. They offer a lens through which you can look at the field of craft.”
McLaughlin chose the show through a blind selection. She studied slides of the work submitted by artists.
“I didn’t want to have more than one piece by any artist, but since this was a blind jury process, I had to get the exhibition chair to help me make sure that the artists didn’t get more than one piece,” she said.
The idea was for McLaughlin to present as wide of a view as she could, given the submissions.
The result is a collection of works that stretch the imagination. Some pieces are clearly meant to make the viewer smile, like Carriage Dress, a silver bracelet by M. Annie Kilborn that covers much of the forearm, suggesting a bodice and ruffle of a gown all while mimicking a suit of armor. Then Michelle Startzman’s brooch, Obscurity, sits like a microscopic organism — maybe an amoeba dividing right there under a slide — with red, spongy-looking cells clustered in the center of a cool and dark dollop of amorphous metal.
Other pieces are a marvel of craftsmanship. Carole P. Kunstadt used a parish psalmody — a book of Psalms for group prayers — dated 1844 and 1849. Kunstadt removed pages from the book and sliced even, tiny strips into them. She sewed the strips together using a sewing machine, then interleaved the strips with fine tissue or gold leaf. In Sacred Poem XVIII, the feather-like pieces of tissue and text form an organic, book-shaped mass emerging from the center of the page.
“Materials: Hard & Soft” also includes pieces that show craftsmanship and a certain depth. Take, for instance, Chris Cunningham’s yoked ceramic teapots and cups in Cohabitation Series, Tea.
Pottery is domestic at heart, and Cunningham considers the way two separate things adapt when bonded. The spout of one teapot is covered, the other is open. Two drinkers might be able to drink from the yoked cups at the same time, and yet the real point is probably connected to the opening in each cup, which means each cup’s contents will mingle in the opposite vessel.
Over the years, “Materials: Hard & Soft” has celebrated simple pieces that say so much, but say it without excess.
“Hard and soft can mean so many different things,” McLaughlin said. “Hard choices, hard line, soft center or hard shell. There’s a wonderful amount of room for an artist to play with those ideas.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
MATERIALS: HARD & SOFT
• What: Greater Denton Arts Council’s national American craft competition and exhibition
• When: Exhibit runs through April 5. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
• Where: Meadows Gallery at the Center for the Visual Arts, 400 E. Hickory St.
• Details: Admission is free. For docent tours, call the council at 940-382-2787.