The Fabric Workshop: A Philadelphia Treasure


 

I recently had the opportunity to see an exhibit at the new home of the Fabric Workshop and Museum .  It’s a roomy, comfortable space that takes up several buildings on Arch Street in Philadelphia.   You no longer have to climb flights of stairs to get to the exhibits and it’s conveniently located on across the street from the Philadelphia Convention Center.

The current exhibit, New American Voices II showcases the work of  four invitational artists-in-residence: Bill Smith, Jiha Moon, Robert Pruitt and Jim Drain.    New American Voices II was definitely not the visual version of a string quartet; it was the work of four soloists, each of whom chose different media and themes to express a unique point of view.   The FMW  tries to showcase artists from across the United States with varied backgrounds and perspectives and encourages them to work with materials they might not have used before.  From what I saw the FMW accomplished its mission and it looks like the artists enjoyed the process.  The exhibition had so much to offer that I can only hit the highlights  in this post.  To get the full flavor, you must see it for yourself.

 

South Korean-born Jiha Moon’s mixed media wall pieces combine collage, sewing, painting, and screen printing with an Asian color aesthetic.   She makes  plentiful  use of Asian and American popular culture symbols and much of her work reminds me of traditional Asian embroidery, not because of any needlework she might usem, but because the designs are expansive and flowing.  Much of her work consists of fanciful pieces that incorporate images from folklore and advertising , but she showed her serious side in a work that appeared to explore the tensions between North and South Korea.     The piece below, which is a little different from the others, features pin cushions, ribbons and beads.

                                       

Jiha Moon

Jim Drain’s huge (and I mean XXXXXL) colorful  machine-knitted dolmen sleeve sweaters remind me of  the big suit David Byrne wears in Stop Making Sense, and fantastic Noh costumes.  I suppose they could be worn, but they were displayed on stands that let the viewer examine every nuance of the designs.  A two-dimensional picture cannot convey the surprises that jump out as you circle the sweaters.  The colors shift and there are lots of subtle details and embellishments.   At first, the color choices appear to be mostly random but on further examination, you realize that every skein and thread works with everything else in the sweater.  Nothing is there that doesn’t belong.

 

Jim Drain

What fascinated me most about Robert Pruitt’s work was his use of period cameras to photograph members of a fictional African-American family to depict ancestors from years past like you’d see in a family album.  Now that’s attention to detail and real dedication.  For me the most powerful photograph was one of a young woman wearing a grass skirt and what appears to be a European colonial officer’s dress uniform jacket.  The golden shoulder cord is replaced by rope that appeared to be a noose.   Pruitt also uses  traditional African symbols and imagery pulled from contemporary urban America.   I found his work  disturbing and compelling.

Robert Pruitt

Bill Smith’s mechanical sculptures meld engineering and art in a way that any fan of Jules Verne or Nicola Tesla would admire, but his inclusion of organic objects like Emu eggs and feathers along with organic looking plastic forms that resemble jellyfish or brain synapses takes his work out of the realm of Steampunk into another world that seems really strange (or is it strangely real?)  Along with Emu eggs, he takes water, magnets,  quirky copper wire, electronics and computers to fashion  several interactive contraptions that manage to look organic, old-fashioned and futuristic all at once.    When walked up to one sculpture,  the Emu egg started to spin, the wires started to sway and the room  filled with a low humming sound.  Then projectors started flashing images onto the white walls of the gallery.  Amazing.   Here’s a video of a similar device he designed and built.

New American Voices II runs until the Spring.  Admission is only $3.00 but you can  donate more if you like.    Treat yourself to this exhibit and the ones planned for the future.  We are so lucky to have a venue like the FMW in Philadelphia.  Let’s support it.

For more pictures of the artists’ work, press here, here, here, and here.

Real Steampunk

     The Steampunk  genre (or more correctly, sub-genre) encompasses moviesclothingartfiction,  jewelrysculpture and more.  It draws heavily from old fashioned technology and appeals to those of  us  interested in technology, fantasy, and exploring mixing materials from different times and places. 

     I never really thought about why Steampunk is called Steampunk (as opposed to Technopunk for example) until I visited the Treadgar Iron Works in Richmond Virginia.  Tredgar churned out ammunition for the Confederacy during the Civil War, but also manufactured steam locomotives and other new inventions of the Industrial Revolution.   The  perfection of the steam engine changed everything and took large parts of the Western World from an Agrarian to an Industrial Economy.  Hey-sometimes it takes me a long time to see the obvious, and then I see it everywhere.

     Here are some pictures I took of the old machinery at Tredgar.

 

     The first museum exhibition of Steampunk design will take place at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University later this year.   This is appropriate in so many ways.  Be sure to check out the blog devoted to the exhibit.

Amulets, Talismans, Polymer and Wire

There are two new books that will enhance the library of anyone creative.  Both  show you how to elevate non precious material into art imbued with special meaning.

The first one is  Amulets and Talismans by Robert DancikI took Dancik’s class on cold connections last year  and put the book on pre-order as soon as I could.  I was not disappointed.  The book is crammed with information on cold connections techniques,  and full of ideas on how to take ordinary objects and showcase them in original, one of a kind pieces of jewelry that  tell a story that could be about the wearer, maker or materials themselves.

If you are a tool junky like me, you will relish Dancik’s ideas for making custom tools.  He shows a nifty little jump ring cutting gizmo you can make yourself.  I made one.  There are no directions, but one look at it is all you need. (If Truman Capote had met me when he first came to New York, his book would have been entitled Breakfast at Harbor Freight.)

The next gotta have it book is Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay + Wire Jewelry by Ronna Sarvas Weltman.

Weltman’s  designs have an inimitable   primitive sophistication that’s fresh and inspiring.  Her projects and instructions will stoke your creativity and have might change the way you think  about polymer clay and wire.

This time last year

My New Old Work Bench

Ever since I took the classes with Susan Lenart Kazmer and Jane Wynn, I have been inspired to get back into metal work. I was Jonsing for a Jeweler’s bench but my workspace is small and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. So I took scrap lumber, made made a work surface, and bolted it to the top of an old desk. I even attached a pegboard and shelf. Finally, my bench pin is in the right position for sawing. Here is a picture of the new old bench and a piece in progress.

Appointment in Damascus (Maryland)

I’m off to Polymer Clay Express at The Artway Studio to take a class in Creating Objects and Elements in Jewelry with Susan Lenart Kazmer. If you’re not familiar with Kazmer, she wrote  Making Connections A Handbook of Cold Joins for Jewelers and Mixed-Media Artists.
slk

I’ll let you know about the class in a later post.   In the meantime, check out Kazmer’s Blog  and her on-line store, Objects and Elements where you can buy her remarkable book, supplies, and watch her great instructional videos.

Dancik with the Stars

 
 

 Dancik was Riveting

 

I mentioned last week that I took a two day class called Forming Lasting and Meaningful Attachments with Robert Dancik and sponsored by the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild. We learned all about cold connections in jewelry making including riveting, tabbing, gluing, fold forming, and fastening with miniature hardware. We also learned about different types of resins, epoxies, alternative art materials, and how to use them.

Want to learn more about cold connections? Some of my favorite books on this topic are Wrap, Stitch, Fold & Rivet by Mary Hettmansperger, Making Metal Jewelry by Joanna Gollberg, Making Connections by Susan Lenart Kazmer and a book on the Godfather of cold connections, Alexander Calder, Calder Jewelry by Mark Rosenthal.

And here’s a good illustrated article on how to make rivets by Patty Fleishman.

To see more pictures from the Dancik class, go to the Philly Area Guild’s Flickr site.

Some Web Sites I Like

For interesting takes on Metalsmithing and Metal Jewelry,  check out the work of David Paul Bacharach, Barbara Briggs and Connie Fox’s wonderful site, Jatayu

To learn to make just about anything, check out Instructables and the Ready Made Magazine web site.

No matter what kind of art you’re into, you’re sure to find something that interests you on Wet Canvas.

Happy Surfing!

Ancient Patinas

     Here are some new  twists on  polymer clay surface techniques I have been working on.   You can see some earlier incarnations in the Keepsake Memory Book I demonstrated on HGTV, and my work in Ellen Marshall’s Polymer Clay Surface Design Recipes. More to come.

Arlene Groch: Polyaddict

 Let Arlene Groch’s story be a warning to all of you. “My totally out of control addiction to polymer clay had such an innocent birth in September, 2004”, she recalled. “I bought some clay and a couple of books to share an activity with my 8 year old grandson. He was mildly interested; I was hooked. Within a month I had decided to give up my 30 year career as a trial attorney so I could devote most of my time to playing with clay and attending workshops and classes. I set myself a one year goal of learning enough to be able to begin to develop my own style.”  To see more of Arlene’s one of a kind Mezuzah cases and jewelry, go to her site,PolyGemDesigns.

Polydelphia this Weekend

I can’t wait. There’s still room for walk in registrants. Check out the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild’s Website. In the meantime, here is my entry for the 3 1/2 in square tile challenge.