NYTimes.com Get Out: Weaving Art with Craft

Get Out: Weaving Art with Craft
November 5, 2009, 4:49 PM
By Larry Dell

It may be time to put the spat about craft vs. art to bed. Not about the differences that at least to my mind are fairly obvious: craft being utilitarian and for the most part single minded in its intention, and art having more expansive ambitions worthy of contemplation that may yield new discoveries at multiple viewings.

No, this spat is about the confusion that occurs when artists choose to incorporate a particular craft, its materials and techniques into their work. Some people, it seems, find it hard to see the forest for the trees.

A new local exhibition “Uncommon Threads,” at Seton Hall’s Walsh Gallery in South Orange, goes a long way to putting the craft/art distinction to rest. There’s no doubt about the intentions of the artists participating in this show. Their work is meant to engage the viewer in an open-ended dialogue that, like most serious art, provides many, many rewards.

Fiber, fabric and thread have figured prominently in recorded and prerecorded history as fashion, shelter and utilitarian objects for tens of thousands of years. By using them as a medium of expression, artists, always looking for new ways to increase the impact of their work, can tap into that broad collective experience.

That link to human experience, the touch, feel, personal history, the relationship we all have with fiber, fabric and thread, is clearly on display in the Walsh Gallery show. What’s interesting is the variety of ways the artists interpret that connection.

The exhibition includes work that runs the gamut from organic abstraction to figuration and includes individual pieces that are whimsical, political and architectonic.

Some of the artists, like Courtney Puckett, Karen Ciaramella and Doris Cacoilo incorporate construction techniques often traditionally associated with fabric, while others such as Megan Piontkowski, Katie Tuck and Ryan Higgins use fabric or fabric-like materials in the creation of flights of fancy all their own.

The surprise of the show is drawing in thread, “Everyday 1” by Katherine M. Webb. Elegantly crafted and dramatic, there’s a multi-level air of mystery about it.

Initially it appears to be a handsome and well-composed drawing by a talented draftsman, but closer inspection reveals it’s not a traditional drawing at all but a meticulously hand stitched work of embroidery.

Then the subject takes over. Is it a mother and daughter? Two sisters? Two friends? And why is one being carried? And what are they feeling? The blank faces offer no clue.

Go take a look and tell me what you think.

“Uncommon Threads”
Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University
400 South Orange Avenue
South Orange
Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Email brasilje@shu.edu
Curated by Jeanne Brasile and Howard Hunt