Pies in the sky

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Lucinda Breeding/DRC
California artist Carmen A. Tostado made her “Miro Painting Tunnel Book” out of Japanese cloth, basswood and printed coverstock. The piece is one of several artist books in “Materials: Hard & Soft,” at the Center for the Visual Arts in Denton.
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Fanciful, elegant pieces in exhibit of American Craft

Juror Judy Gordon fell in love with American Craft almost by accident — even though two of her siblings are artists.

“A friend of mine from the Evanston [Ill.] Hospital Auxiliary, of all things, asked me to co-chair a craft show the auxiliary hosted as a fundraiser,” said Gordon, an Austin transplant who selected the Greater Denton Arts Council’s flagship show, the 27th annual “Materials: Hard & Soft.”

“I said, ‘What do you mean, craft?’ I thought she meant macrame plant holders and that kind of thing.”

Gordon remembers declining the offer, but asked to learn more in preparation to serve as co-chairwoman of the next craft exhibit. She accompanied the friend to the American Craft Council Baltimore Show.

“I walked in and hadn’t gone very far before I stopped and said, ‘I’ll do it. Sign me up.’ I was on board from that moment,” Gordon said.

What she saw in Baltimore had nothing to do with painted T-shirts, simple wooden toys or products made with a wish and a hot glue gun. She saw art.

“Within the first five steps, I knew I was seeing something different,” Gordon said. “I’d been in convention centers before, but we’re not talking about tables and tents. The artists built their own walls, or rented their own walls. They mounted their work like they were in a tiny gallery.”

She was drawn to the ceramic plates and cups.

“It was something I’d seen before, of course, but never in one place, with the artist standing right there, waiting to talk to you about how they make these works of art,” she said.

That was about 30 years ago, and Gordon was eventually invited to join the board of the American Craft Council seven years after that. Now, she is on the board of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, which offers emergency grants and loans to artists whose livelihoods are threatened by an emergency, such as a studio fire, vandalism or health crisis.

As the sole juror of “Materials: Hard & Soft,” Gordon had to select from 550 submissions. She eventually picked 70 pieces, and a few artists dropped, leaving the Meadows Gallery still brimming with pottery, fiber art, glass, furniture, jewelry and wood.

Like the jurors before her, Gordon looked for artists who playfully or elegantly made typically hard items soft — for instance, a vessel made with tightly coiled threads — or used hard media to create an object that looks soft — such as what looks like a rumpled leather shammy cloth made out of sculpted wood.

“Being the only juror is a little exhilarating, and a little scary,” Gordon said. “I went through each media, considered the strength of the submissions and how good the pieces were. I looked at the skill and technique of the pieces rather than the scale.”

Gordon picked an exhibit that highlights the fun craft artists are having with fiber and paper. There are a number of artist books — one staged as an installation, others as objects that look like they’d unfold in your hands. This year, far fewer glass artists submitted work, but the quilters have gone gangbusters.

And at least one fiber artist has brought felt back in a no-holds-barred way, suspending three life-size pies from the gallery ceiling. There’s a touchable cherry-style pie, with felt lattice strips of pie crust curling around the pan. There’s a cloud-light meringue, tasty tufts of sugary topping begging your tongue to taste it. Finally, there’s an apple pie, capped with a crust that, though as pale as the other two, has to be buttery.

The exhibit opens Friday and runs through April 4 in the Meadows Gallery at the Center for the Visual Arts, 400 E. Hickory St. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free.

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