SOFA Chicago 2017 by Al Miotke

SOFA Chicago 2017 is now in the record books and it was another enjoyable show on Navy Pier in Chicago. It was a typical cold, cloudy, and rainy weekend but there was no competing Bears game or Cubs World Series parade to impact show attendance this year. My impression was that show attendance was equal or better than last year. Although the Wood galleries were busy, wood art sales were slow based on comments from a few gallery owners that I spoke to.

The AAW was in attendance for the first time since 2013 with an excellent booth managed by Tib Shaw. The Booth supported attending galleries with the theme of "Material Evidence." Attendance was very good each day in the booth with a lot of interest in the medium among visitors.

The major Galleries with a significant showing of wood art include Xylem, Kirsten Muenster, Adam Blaue, and Momentum. Xylem had the largest of the wood art booths with work from numerous artists including Robert Cutler, Pete Arenskov, Brad Sells, Kristin LeVier, J. Paul Fennell, William Moore, Merete Larsen, Pat Kramer, Melissa Engler, Graeme Priddle, Chris Weiland, David J. Marks, Derek Bencomo, Giles Gilson, Michael Foster, Vivien Grandouiller, Art Liestman, Andy DiPietro, and Michael Peterson.

Adam Blaue was showing work by Curt Theobald, Keith Holt, Joey Richardson, Cynthia Carden Gibson, Hans Wiessflog, Derek Weidman, and as expected a large exhibit of the works of Binh Pho including a few of his many collaborations.

Kirsten Muenster Projects had work by Todd Hoyer, Alain Mailland, Pascal Oudet, Ron Layport, Betty Scarpino, and Christian Burchard. Momentum represented the work of David Ellsworth.

The AAW also sponsored a panel discussion on Friday afternoon. Tib Shaw, AAW curator, summarized the panel discussion as follows:

"The panel, led by Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith, focused on how associations benefit the fields they represent and their members. Panelists were Betty Scarpino, artist and former editor of American Woodturner; Kimberly Winkle, artist, instructor, and associate professor at Tennessee Technological University, and Kristin LeVier, artist and Clark-Hulings fellow. Panelists described how being part of the AAW and other associations benefitted their work and careers, noting that the opportunity to exhibit and build resumes and having access to networking opportunities were key benefits, along with the sense of being part of a 'family' of makers. Speaking to the range of member ability that sets the AAW apart from many craft associations, they noted that the lack of inhibitions of hobbyists has led to interesting and inspiring innovations, but that they are also concerned that a focus on the needs of amateurs and hobbyists may decrease opportunities and offerings of interest to professionals. Two of the panelists expressed their belief that the field lacked rigorous critical writing, and their hope that the AAW journal would publish critical articles. All three focused on the need for opportunities for younger artists, and for younger artists to take advantage of the opportunities for network- and resume-building that already exist in associations."

Finally, The Chicago Woodturners hosted a woodturning demonstration booth again this year that had very high attendance. Hopefully supporting activities like this one will continue to raise awareness of wood art.