By Myles Ludwig
A visit to the shows on offer at the Palm Beach Convention Center is like a visit to two different worlds.
On the ground floor is the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art and Antique Show, an exhibition of the sumptuous. It is slightly intimidating in a hushed, softly carpeted atmosphere of serious, almost secret spaces where foreign languages seem to be the rule.
On the other hand, upstairs where the Fine Crafts Show is mounted, the mood is breezy, more village market or Middle Eastern souk where goods spill out for touching, trying on and buying and meeting the makers and listening to them talk about their wares. Though the floor is hard underfoot and the chairs rickety, it’s a lot more fun.
My first thought after perusing the aisles was that women’s wearables and jewelry prevailed, but there was just enough variety in these and other crafts to hold my attention on a sunny afternoon stroll.
I was particularly taken with Itay Noy’s quietly elegant timepieces. They are as understated as their Israeli maker, who teaches the traditional painstaking craft at the Bezalel Academy of art and design. Noy is one of the very few independent watchmakers — only 30 or so — in the world of battery-powered short-term trends. His limited-edition analog collector’s pieces are meant to last a lifetime.
Each is a little narrative about the nature of time itself, like the one on which daytime sun shifts to moon in the face of his “part time” piece or the face that foregoes the traditional hands, supplanting them with circles of subtly changing tones to mark the passing moments. Noy’s prize-winning work can be found in museum and design collections in Amsterdam, Israel and the U.S.
Just around the corner was the colorful ceramic and often comical bestiary of Ahrong Kim, a fresh young Korean artist who trained at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work is witty, ranging from clever cups and whimsical miniature teapots clad in the traditional Korean colors she saw in her seamstress grandmother’s shop to complex, but small statuaries which pair the anthropomorphic and the abstract.
She describes these table-top sculptures as a way of expressing her darker emotions in an appealing manner. As dark as they may be inside, there is something loveable, even cuddly about them.
The intricate basketry of Kari Lonning intertwines her expertise in weaving and ceramics to fashion wistfully colored containers that have the delicacy of baskets, but the durability of clay thrown pots. She coats the rattan reed fiber with a heated wax resin that insures their stability even while they maintain the illusion of fragility.
She has also developed a surprising technique she refers to jokingly as her “hairy” weaving, which enables layered projectiles of the reed to stick out like porcupine quills, providing the otherwise smooth surface with dimensional texture and a sense of movement.
Speaking of layers and movement, we found the corner of floaty fashions brought down from Toronto by Canadian designer Annie Thompson crowded with women of all ages and sizes busily trying on one piece after another, sometimes more than one at a time. She barely had a moment to spare, but she let me know that her design philosophy was anti-trend, flattering and comfortable. The work was also functional with capacious pockets, interesting mixtures of fabrics and clever details like self-adjustable lengths.
“My pieces,” she said, “are designed to make the wearer feel like the best version of herself – spirited, free, striking,” much like Thompson herself.
The swirl of ornate hand-painted coats, cloaks and kimonos of Starr Hagenbring caught my eye. These dramatic coverings called to mind the silk and satin extravagances of European court fashions of centuries past, celestial ceilings and stained glass windows accented by the riotous psychedelia of the 1960s. They are wearable paintings that freely twirled and swung open in unexpected reveals and panels captivating in color and detail, a kind of gumbo of fashion and art from the New Orleans-based maker.
And just as I left, I was drawn to the whispery wirework adornments of Maryland’s Beverly Tadeu that seemed like sketches spun more from air than metal.
Both shows are worth your time.
The Palm Beach Jewelry, Art and Antique Show runs through Jan. 21. For hours, see www.palmbeachshow.com. The Palm Beach Fine Craft Show continues through Sunday. For hours, see www.palmbeachfinecraft.com.