Blurred Definitions: Portland Open Studios artists at Museum of Contemporary Craft

by Bonnie Meltzer
Portland Open Studios artists at Museum of Contemporary Craft
Showcase in the Lab, 2nd floor
September 14 – October 23
724 NW Davis

Artists will be at the museum from 6:00 to 8:00 on First Thursday, May 7
Admission free during First Thursday

Final Demonstrations
October 23, 1:00 – 4:00
Glass: Carli Schultz Kruse and Kat Hargis

view of the full case


Portland Open Studios is open to artists of all visual art disciplines
In the call to Portland Open Studios artists for this exhibit there were only two restrictions.  The obvious one was that it had to fit in the case but the second was more ambiguous. The work had to be craft. That might seem straightforward as well until you see that Portland Open Studios artists have stretched and pulled the definition of craft.  They have blurred the definitions even within their chosen craft as well. It used to be that craft meant a beautiful functional object.  Yes, there are those items in the case but ….  There is an unreadable book, its pages shredded and sewn; a clay quilt; a giant bead that would cause the wearer a trip to the chiropractor if worn; an unwearable wooden dress with crocheted wire; a bowl that is not a container but a slowly revolving landscape; and a piece of sculpture that has a surprising opening devise that reveals a space for storage.

There is a national annual exhibition that might help define craft a bit.  It is called “SOFA”, sculptural objects and functional art. Gwen Jones adds this definition, “Craft is art at work”.

Gwen and her husband Kenneth Forcier of Gracewood Design fit that definition very well.  If their stencil painted floor cloths were hung on a wall would they be paintings and not craft? Is it their functionality that makes them craft?  The stencils can be used more than once to create editions (like printmaking) or used in different configurations and combination to make a whole new design.  Does that change the art/ craft balance? Because they are floor cloths and not just paintings they need more technical prowess to make them withstand footsteps and heavy tables. In any case they are also well crafted.

Sewn Clay by Carolyn Drake

Carolyn Drake’s thoughts give insight into the subject in general and specifically to her own work.  “Each craft has traditional associations that accompany it; in ceramics, for instance, vessels nourish, sustain, store, keep things safe.  They imply longevity and are a measure of plenty.  Sewing and quilting bring to mind comfort, security, making-do, warmth, family, and tradition (among other things).  What I am currently utterly fascinated with is what happens when you mesh crafts, and therefore mesh associations. The familiar turns strange, and the associations can become complicated and destabilized”. You can see what happens when you combine media when Carolyn Drake sews clay.  At one of the museum demonstrations at the museum she brought leather hard clay sheets which were perforated with hundreds of holes. A conversation with the visitors to the museum revealed all the technical problems so many holes can cause.  She solved the problem of glaze which would fill the holes during firing necessitating labor intensive reopening them.  Instead of glaze she uses oxides rubbed onto the body of the clay and different kinds of firing methods to obtain color.  The piece in the showcase is made of many small clay pieces sewn together.  In subsequent work she is making larger slabs with a carved block pattern replicating the quilt blocks. Technically, she isn’t sewing to connect her pieces of clay “fabric”  she is embroidering on one bigger piece of clay .

Cat Hargis and Christine Zachery

Cat Hargis and Christine Zachery

When one mixes two different media the attachment of the two takes thought from the inception of the design. Cat Hargis’s combines semiprecious gems and other stones onto her kiln-formed glass platters as a kind of jewelry for glass. Attaching the gems and stones create some of the same kinds of issues Carolyn faces. She has to drill holes in the glass to accommodate the “necklaces” before the final firing. If she does it later she can’t achieve the textures she wants on the final piece. It is no surprise that she once was a jeweler.

Christine Zachery applied to Portland Open Studios as a painter so I was surprised when her mosaic was entered into the MOCC exhibit.  The thing that makes this piece so successful is that she has made the technique of mosaic fit to her work rather than the other way around. Look closely, this is no normal grout filled mosaic. She says, “My method was not to try to do anything new but simply to enrich the surface”.  She may have done both. She develops her  composition as an oil painting and then applies a loose collage of glass pieces over it.  Silver leaf under the glass adds to the sparkle. The painting shows through, in various levels of transparency,  the clear or monochromatic glass. Previous to making these hybrid mosaic paintings she had been adding metal shavings, ground glass and glass pieces directly onto the paint surface. ”Later, I realized that I could go deeper by having an underpainting which shows through the surface”.

Amy Maule

Amy Maule

Although Amy Maule’s work is clay she works in contrasts. The elegant, sleek, smooth white teapot sits atop a pair of chunky, sturdy and textured toddler legs. “I combine tight, wheel-thrown pieces with loose, organic, coil-built pieces to emphasize the difference between the two methods of construction.”

The exhibit and the demonstrations at the museum can help YOU define craft for yourself but it is only a sliver of what each artist does.  To get the whole picture visit the studios of these artists (and others) to see everything– Not only the techniques but all that surrounds an artist at work. The tools, materials, and, of course, many pieces of artwork in various stages of doneness. Factors that influences artists — the article pinned up on the wall; the collections of objects artists use for inspiration; the gardens surrounding the studios are what you can expect.  At the museum see the breadth of Portland Open Studios with artworks of many artists in a pristine environment. During Portland Open Studios you get the depth of each artist.
See it all and continue the conversation.

Tour Guides to Portland Open Studios can be purchased at the Museum shop.

These artists have work in the exhibition. A”*”  indicates additional article about the artist on this blog.

Mary Bennett *
Debra Carus
Carolyn Drake
Sylvia Emard
Greg Hanson
Barbara Gilbert
Gracewood Design-Gwen Jones & Ken Forcier
Cat Hargis
Jeanne Henry
Laurene Howell
Thomas Hughes *
Carli Schultz Kruse
Amy Maule
Robert MC Williams *
Bonnie Meltzer *
Carole Opie
Careen Stoll
Marcy Stone
Christine Zachery

Comments are closed.

10: Announcement11: art process12: Artist highlight13: awards2: Blogroll14: Event15: Exhibit9: Featured16: Info17: media18: Portland City Hall30: returning vets19: scholarship recipient20: testimonials1: Uncategorized29: Vietnam