Wayne Art Center's long-term commitment to continually improving its yearly juried international show of contemporary craft has paid off. "Craft Forms 2010," the 16th edition, is stunningly contemporary and filled with small masterpieces. The obvious energy of the younger artists strikes a hopeful note.
Jane C. Milosch, of the Smithsonian Institution's office of undersecretary for history, art, and culture, culled 911 entries and chose 95 works by 90 artists from 32 states, as well as Australia and South Korea. The states most represented are Pennsylvania, New York, California, Ohio, Texas, the Carolinas, and Colorado.
Immediately interesting is Sandblasted Artifact by wood-turner/sculptor Michael Brolly of Bethlehem, an artist of genuine vision. This piece took careful planning, as Brolly shrewdly downplays art as a vehicle for artistic self-expression, instead accenting machinery's role and giving the piece a more objective feeling. The subtlety of his approach, with its impulse to refine and to combine - bronze, glass, and sandblasted wood - is richly rewarding. This awesome piece, together with one by Richmond, Texas, artist Catherine Winkler Rayroud, I consider the show's prizewinning keystones.
Rayroud's Capitalism at Work is a stunning, detailed, and ornate cut-paper image that salutes the American way of business. Such work-intensive handcraft, familiar to this Texan from her native Switzerland, is enjoying a popular resurgence of interest in the United States. (Drexel University recently mounted a cut-paper solo show by a young Japanese artist, who gave a workshop for students through an interpreter.)
From the whimsical, imaginary world of Aram Moon, of West New York, N.J., comes the captivating, prizewinning Mr. X's Wonder Glasses. A true delight that flares into fantasy, it's a spidery contraption that expresses sheer fun.
There's an upbeat tempo in this year's winners' circle as a whole. In one example, Philadelphian Stacey Webber's The Craftsmen Series: Ladder, a tribute to the working-class hero, is a hollow-constructed stepladder made from more than 3,000 pennies. Other Philadelphia prizewinners are Hiroe Hanazono's tranquil porcelain Condiment Dishes-Bean and Shawn Spangler's soothing, hefty Covered Jar of thrown porcelain.
Meanwhile, Jesse Walp of Reading, also a winner, shows a dramatic wooden piece focusing on trees in bud, while Gretchen Romey-Tanzer of Orleans, Mass., balances color and linear abstraction with agility in finely handwoven cotton. A multimedia work by Elizabeth Mears of Fairfax Station, Va., simply and keenly permits a range of responses without demanding any. Rounding out the show's 10 prizewinners is Bostonian Lois Russell, whose superb patchwork is quiet, decorous, and easy on the eye.
As if 90 exhibitors weren't enough, Christopher Ries, a contemporary glass sculptor who works in blocks of clear lead crystal as artist in residence at Schott North America of Duryea, Pa., has a concurrent 19-piece solo show, "Glass & Light," at the center.
So physical and immediate are Richard Estell's landscape oil paintings, so fraught with impact and drama in his "Wild Nearby" show at Cerulean Arts Gallery, that any feeling of calm and repose they project is misleading.
Mostly panel paintings, they were done on site, their subjects often viewed by the Mount Airy artist at close range in the rugged Wissahickon Valley. There's implied motion and great intrinsic force released by their sensuous paint-handling and its underlying drawing. Estell's oils do challenge a conventional reading of pictorial landscape; I greatly admire the directness, conviction, and humane values expressed in subjects as old as human history.
Young Kang, a Korean-born North Wales artist, displays 100 mostly porcelain ceramic pitchers, bowls, vases, cups, and even an umbrella stand in her show "Timeless Vessels" at Lansdale's Water Gallery. Styles range from elegant, shell-like, plain-white vessels - reminders of the ancient Korean preference for white porcelain that distinguished it from China and Japan - to a colorful Mark Rothko-inspired tableware series. Especially attractive are vessels adorned with small 3-D frogs, suggesting warm traces of human and animal life. Beauty and simplicity reign here.