By Myles Ludwig
The well-curated Palm Beach Contemporary show in the cavernous Expo Center at the Florida Fairgrounds was a compact exhibition of mostly fine crafts.
It was a diverse representation of work and if there was a unifying theme to be found in this tidy collection, it was one of transformation.
Here the unexpected achieved form and the unpolished achieved a jaunty gloss in the hands of craftspeople like the intriguing plated paper jewelry of Francesca Vitali; the almost-ceramic quality of the super-polished exotic wood vessels of Steven Potts, and the clever, non-clichéd metal work in Jim Cohen’s Judaica collection.
Vitali, an Italian native, and a Rochester, N.Y.-based maker, begins with narrow, sometimes tiny paper strips she cuts from magazines, yellow pages, books, pages of poetry and weaves these fragments of daily life simply into refreshing, repurposed pieces of jewelry that range from cufflinks to necklaces. They take their unusual twists and turns of color from the medium itself. Then she coats them with an acrylic for staying power. Some pieces are wedded to a wire foundation which enables them to be kinetic and flexibly shaped and each one is a little surprise.
Steven Potts of Creative Wood Sculpture in Georgia fashions classically shaped vessels from exotic woods he turns and polishes until each finds a gleaming glass-like finish. Shaped from burls or rare, near-extinct reclaimed wood he sources around the globe, each piece is a living work and retains the exciting natural coloring and character of the medium, yet it’s hard to believe we are looking at a form of something so solid. He combines his singular woodwork with his childhood passion for minerals, topping the vessels with fanciful forms that embrace a jewel-like mineral for a bit of complimentary and unexpected extra spice.
I found myself taken with Jim Cohen’s precise metalwork in silver and copper and particularly with this Santa Fe’s artist’s refreshingly understated Judaica collection of Hanukkah menorahs, compass-like, topless spinning dreidels and sliced, shiny Kiddush cups that are anything but traditional, yet maintain a sacred, thoughtful feeling rarely seen in these too-often over-decorated ritual objects.
The wood and often copper-clad boat shapes of Sharon Matusiak and Robin Washburn of Wolf Creek Studio in Marion, lll., are meant to represent the mythic journey of life and though you can’t sail them, each is a repository of sorts, some for hand-carved flowers. There are jejune wall pieces as well that have a certain kind of tenderness.
Bongsang Cho’s jewelry is so light as to seem transparent, yet this Korean artist based in Raleigh, N.C., combines traditional techniques and contemporary technology to carefully spin subtle pieces of silver, amethyst, gold and diamonds in shapes reflecting both natural forms and urban architecture.
The bespoke cutlery of Phil Feinberg has a Zen-like quality and outstanding examples of form and function.
Craft shows tend to be comfortable and you get a chance to talk with the people who actually make the work and that can be inspiring. These are the kind of people who often sell their work through Etsy.com. And last weekend at the Fairgrounds, there was the added draw of a rodeo if you stuck around long enough.