Thursday, November 17, 2011

High Art from the Highlands - Scottish artists at the PMA Craft Show

Scotland was in Philadelphia last weekend, in the person of 25 extraordinary artists at the Philadelphia Museum Craft Show. Each year the PMA Craft Show highlights the finest  work of a particular country - this year it was Scotland, and what a rich showing these northern folk put on. I didn't get to talk to all of them, unfortunately, but I'll point out a few that stopped me in my tracks. I'm always on the lookout for drawing, even if I'm not aware of it, so Claire Heminsley's booth drew me in like a magnet. I felt like I'd found a long-lost sister when I saw her loose line drawings and saw her tribute to her artist dad who taught her about drawing (my father did the same - we used to go out sketching together.) Much of Claire's work involves fabric - printing her drawings on practical items like aprons or tea towels, as well as on multimedia work that combines stitching, typography, printing, and found objects. Her marriage of the ordinary with the ethereal adds up to a wonderful sense of serious fun. See more at   Across the aisle, Stacey Bentley was drawing too, this time in metal jewelry. Stacey is one of those delightful, well-groomed women whose appearance belies the tough reality of the process behind their work - industrial enamels, twisted and soldered metals, multiple firings - her work has a kind of brawny industrial feel in miniature, with an effect that mixes delicacy and grit. Stacey calls it an 'urban aesthetic' and cites influence from what she observes in her travels. See more at  Fabric is the medium for Jilli Blackwood. Her extravaganzas, some wearable, some decorative, shout excitement across the room, but also pull you in close to examine her marvelous, infinitely adventurous play with cloth, embroidery, stitching, color, and texture. Process and imagination for Jilli, as with most of these artists, are tightly interwoven. She talks of color and hand dying as the entry point for developing her ideas and bringing in the unique personality that marks each piece. She described one piece as based on elephants she observed while creating costumes for the Commonwealth Games in India - it made sense as she pointed out sinuous lines that recall an elephant's flexible trunk and the grey green texture of cloth that stands for an elephant's tough hide - from there, in, on, and around those concrete images, she wove her magic to conjure up a whole visual narrative of association through stitch and color. See more at   Carla Edwards resin jewelry matches Jilli's work for color but is a world apart in texture. Her softly bright pendants, earrings, and brooches, inspired by natural shapes and forms, have a smooth, inviting visual and tactile feel. See more at 
The haunting charm of Karen Akester's small evocative figures is still vivid in my mind - her work was one of the most memorable experiences of the entire show (which, of course, also included much fabulous work by American artists - see my posts from other years about this great Crafts Show.) Karen, educated at Edinburgh's School of the Arts and working there in one of several art communities supported with private and government funds (from what I heard from these artists, the US could learn a lot from Scotland about supporting the arts) was not only delightful to talk with, but an artist whose work rises to that rare place of brilliance in conception and craftsmanship. She creates with glass and metal, sometimes together, sometimes separately, but her figures always add up to more than the sum of their parts. Using vintage photographs of schoolchildren as her starting point, she makes small standing figures, a bit woebegone and melancholy, that quietly spill out an intense sense of dark whimsical mystery. It's impossible not to want to know more - or to start telling yourself their stories, which are surely full of guilty mischief, punishments involving bed without supper - or worse. See more at
These artists were all so warm, friendly, interesting and gifted. If only my MacGregor ancestors had been better behaved in the 18th century - if they hadn't been run out of the country as outlaws I might still be there working and hanging out with them. 
For more information about Scotland's Craft Artists in general and these artists in particular go to