American Craft Exposition Show Report

Taking place each August in Evanston, Illinois, the American Craft Exposition (ACE) features the exhibition and sale of fine quality American crafts, while raising funds to support research at the NorthShore University Health System. Read Michael Scarborough's first hand account of attending and participating in this year's show.
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My wife, Diane, and I were pleased to exhibit at last month's American Craft Exposition in Evanston, IL. It was our first opportunity to attend this much- vaunted show, considered by many to be among the best. Many of the top fine craft artists in America were there providing a rich and rewarding opportunity to speak with and share ideas, techniques and motivations with those who work in other media.

I particularly enjoyed speaking with Lynn Pollard, a weaver who is now taking the art of indigo-dyed paper beyond the distant horizons seen in her work. The sense of serenity with which she is able to imbue her work is, simply put, almost magical. Another standout was jeweler Ashley Buchanan. Her ability to precisely and beautifully pierce metal could easily rival that of anyone currently working in wood. I think she is an artist from whom anyone could learn a lot regardless of the medium.

A broad spectrum of wood art was presented from pure "fine craft" to pure "fine art". Indeed, the exhibition gave me an opportunity to, yet again, try and define these two terms more clearly in my own head. And, as always seems to be the case, there is that colorful grey area ---- call it a collision of the two, or an interface --- that defies definition.

The work of five CWA members in particular has remained with me since the show.

Mike Shuler and John Beaver can always be depended upon to exhibit extremely well-designed and exquisitely well-crafted pieces of work. Not having seen Mike's work in person prior to the show, I found it a revelation to experience the beauty that is released by its luminosity and its translucent, almost holographic effect. John and I made our debuts as emerging artists at the Philly show in 2011, and it has been inspiring to watch him grow. The wave continues to be his muse, but, not content to merely repeat it, he is exploring and further developing this iconic form in his work. And, in his use of more sculptural forms, John is pushing the boundaries of what is traditionally thought of as turned wood art.

Standing in front of Koji Tanaka's booth had the same effect on me as listening to waves spill softly onto a beach or hearing birds sing in an otherwise quiet forest ... or having a really good session with a shrink: my pulse rate immediately dropped and my blood pressure decreased. Koji-san epitomizes my definition of a wood artist: a well-developed and finely-honed skill set, coupled with a sharp and focused mind's eye, firmly coupled to a sensitive kokoro (mind and heart --- to the Japanese they are one and the same). There is a voice in his work that is not always present in that of other fine craftspeople, despite their astonishing crafting ability. I once visited the Philadelphia Furniture Show with a friend who, at the time, was the vice-president of the Getty Museum. At the end of the day she said, "I see a lot of really fine craftsmanship, but I don't see a lot of design and I see no art." I am confident that she would find all three in Koji's work.

I'm certain that she would also find all three elements in looking at the work of Norm Sartorious. The splendor with which he is able to cloak his art spoons never fails to disappoint me. Perhaps it is the deftness with which he couples a gnarly and weathered piece of wood with a fresh and crisply-carved spoon form. But, whatever alchemy he is using, his work has that all-too-rare ability to seem vintage while, at the same time, fresh.

The new kid on the block is Kyle Hawke, who made his debut at the 2014 ACC Baltimore show. He and his charming wife, Jenny, are a welcome addition to the scene. He comes from a rich and diverse background of making, including pieces such as an archery bow and a musical instrument. His work, ranging from wall installations to sculptural animal forms, is imbued with a sense of lightness and, at times, whimsy. A family of giraffes that appeared to be running freely and happily across the Serengeti Plain proved to be not only my favorite, but also that of a collector who snapped them up the first day. For now, his work is primarily created by carving and bending and, in some cases, a combination of the two. One senses, however, that Kyle will not be limited by a stringent set of crafting techniques, but will be willing to push his skill set, and, as a result, his artistry, as he continues to grow.

Here's hoping that more of these young artists, as well as older artists finding new things to say through their work, will join the ranks of the CWA members who have a deep appreciation for wood art and craftsmanship. I came away from this show with the same feeling that I have had at others, namely that wood art in general, and indeed, CWA itself, can only grow as new visions are put into and fresh statements are brought out of this magical medium by artists willing to explore beyond boundaries.
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by Michael Scarborough