The acceptance, and appreciation, of contemporary crafts have become increasingly more sophisticated in the United States. Decades ago the current level of public attention and sponsorship of craft activity would have been unimaginable; today that growth is almost beyond belief. Certain art galleries have assumed leadership; prominent collectors have bought works to a significant extent; museums are exhibiting recent pieces in a vast number of media, assisted by those collectors.
In March and April, it's all about fiber, as the city plays host to Fiber Philadelphia, an international fiber-art extravaganza with exhibitions, events, lectures, and activities at more than 40 venues throughout the region.
A star among these is the Eighth International Fiber Biennial show at Snyderman-Works Galleries, where it all began back in 1998.
This display of invited exhibitors is a fiber-art who's who, with several generations of leading fiber artists currently active in this country, as well as several from abroad. It's fair to say that Adela Akers, Marilyn R. Pappas, and Cynthia Schira enjoy pride of place here, having participated in the landmark 1969 Smithsonian Institution craft show "Objects USA," which traveled widely and came to Philadelphia.
Akers shows a linen weaving that harmonizes with lessons she mastered long ago after working with Peruvian Indians and Mexican villagers. Schira prefers nonweaving techniques, using here the fabric-embellishing method of embroidery on jacquard woven cloth. Especially appealing, meanwhile, is Pappas' portrayal on linen of a life-size Marilyn Monroe as she confronts an imposing goddess statue. What counts isn't whether Pappas used traditional or inventive craftsmanship, but the fact that her involvement with materials and techniques has been profound. Another resourceful and eye-catching work is Betsabee Romero's Encuentros en el Cruce featuring two carved rubber tires and two lively prints made from them on shawls, from Mexico.
Take a close look at the dozens of individual items outstanding for their quality or rarity as art. Snyderman has done an elegant job of pulling the various works together in these light-toned, neutral surroundings on the main floor, with brighter hues downstairs.
What we should experience in this fiber classic is a moment of awed and reverential tribute. It is not to be missed.
Abington Art Center's latest "Solo Series" show, a favorite venue for area artists seeking high-profile solo exhibitions, features three Philadelphians and one Yardley resident.
That last is Csilla Sadloch, who starts her oil paintings with photography, clinging to that link perhaps too much in portraits but breaking free in her landscape close-ups. Her best pieces (among them a cantankerous crow) tend to tremble on the edge of something more edgy and gothic, at times capturing a hallucinatory accuracy. Her large Hibiscus oil and her milkweed graphite drawings are superb - provocative explorations hop-skipping the border between floral and fantasy.
Emily Steinberg, a painter and graphic novelist, draws thumbnail cartoons, and she's on to something. Her sketch They Told Us All We Had to Do Was Go Shopping, for example, goes after modern life's unending sales pitch. Not derivative, her commentaries take a single composite shape. They may not be earthshaking in their depth or inventiveness, but they display finesse and skill.
Colleen McCubbin Stepanic's imagination as a painter darts from salvage and scrap to animation provided by shapes that burst forth and reconnect a fractured world. There's a critical superabundance of detail in her best works - namely the modern-day version of a vivid patchwork quilt, Crazy, and her four handsome paperworks hung as a unit - that's not yet skillfully subdued to the totality of design in her abrasively assertive, towering installation Cascade.
Meanwhile, Susie Forrester does her part to reshape attitudes about new uses of photography in an art context in "A Year and a Day: An Exploration With My iPhone." Ready for an updated narrative style?
Kip Deeds' solo "All Things Great and Small" at St. Joseph's University is a freewheeling skim of styles and media. It traces the rough-hewn look of a recent print series and the resonances Deeds further developed, collagelike, finding room for text and small portraits seen only at close range. This Newtown artist makes positive statements, believing that art, as much as science, is a serious means of discovery, and that its imaginative demands stimulate growth of both curiosity and knowledge.
Deeds is a young artist to watch. Just now he provides surprises mainly in method.