Hand-blown glass will sparkle, mixed metals will shimmer in sculptural furniture or on walls, and fiber art will take functional or visionary form when 190 artists selected by jury convene at the 2008 Washington Craft Show.
Accomplished artists from Maryland, Virginia and the District will join others from all parts of the country at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, presenting new work in 11 different media. Together they represent a cross-section of creative energy in the contemporary craft field. Here is a preview of four of the 18 selected from this region to exhibit and sell their inspired studio arts.
Jim Syvertsen, Wood-Turner
Jim Syvertsen stands at his lathe in Chesapeake, Virginia. Wood chips fly as he applies a high-speed-steel gouge to a section of gnarly burl. The rough wood begins to take form.
“It’s exciting to simultaneously destroy and create while you are turning a piece of wood and seeing what develops,” he says. From the shape, exterior topography and type of burl, he generally knows what to expect.
The thin-walled, hollow forms he creates reveal richly figured patterns and varied colors. The pleasing round shapes, he says, are intended “to highlight the simple beauty of wood without embellishment.”
While Syvertsen favors exotic woods—varieties of Australian eucalyptus burl, Honduras rosewood, snakewood from Suriname—he also uses domestic woods such as black ash burl from Minnesota, which grows in swamps, and maple burl from Oregon.
After the burl is rough-turned and hollowed, the piece is seasoned for several months in a low-temperature kiln to prevent any movement after the piece is finished. It is reshaped and re-hollowed to final form with walls often measuring just one-eighth or three-sixteenths of an inch. The top, fitted with an epoxied insert, receives a slender, custom-turned finial designed to complement the vessel’s curving profile.
Syvertsen started turning wood full time when he retired after 20 years in the Navy. He enjoys the change of command in his current lifestyle and says, “What I’m doing now is dictated only by the piece of wood and me, working together.”
Xiaosheng Bi, Painted Porcelain
Seated at a worktable in his studio in Derwood, Maryland, Xiaosheng Bi picks up a calligraphy brush and sweeps it across a delicate porcelain bowl. “Brushwork is really easy for me,” says the potter, who was raised in China. “Before I was in art school, I used a brush.”
Bi, 42, started learning calligraphy at age seven. He became so accomplished that he was among only 13 out of 3,000 applicants chosen to attend one of the country’s most prestigious art schools, Qinghua University in Beijing, where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ceramic art.
Bi adapts Chinese characters and natural forms in fluid painting. His bold, dynamic brushwork on refined translucent cups, bowls and vases sets up a central contrast in his art. He explains the contradiction in two of his favorite subjects: “Lotus blossoms grow in mud, but they are beautiful and clean. Bamboo is soft, but when the wind comes, it never breaks. Inside it is hollow, symbolizing more to learn.”
Bi first hand-turns his fine Chinese porcelain pieces on a wheel, then carves the dry clay bodies down to a refined one-eighth inch or less in thickness. He paints many layers using natural sulphates that turn to rich greens, cobalts and coppery hues that seep like watercolors into the unglazed porcelain. Colors can change capriciously, however, in the 2,300-degree kiln. “There’s a lot of surprise,” says Bi. “Sometimes all 40 pieces in the kiln may be gone. If I can get 10 pieces really good, I am really happy.”
Faith Wilson, Floor Cloths
“It’s hard to get people’s minds wrapped around the idea of walking on art,” says Faith Wilson, who paints floor cloths that look a lot like her hanging art and often end up on the wall.
Both share an intuitive, spontaneous charm. A self-taught artist who started out as a weaver, Wilson paints floor cloths using acrylics mixed with glazes for a translucent quality. She may add pastels and charcoals, wax resist or old sepia photos found in junk stores—“whatever you’re not supposed to do,” she jokes. “I use different materials to add depth and texture to the work.”
She takes extra steps to be sure the floor cloths won’t deteriorate—waterproofing the back with exterior latex paint, using fixative over charcoal and pastels and sealing the surface with three coats of acrylic urethane.
In Wilson’s imagery, recurring motifs float and mutate to reflect changes in her life. Birds appear as sinister crows during a somber period or as gracefully flying forms portrayed in warm pastels during rosier times. Black rectangles resemble ominous cemetery stones, dancing stepping stones, open doorways or windows in free fall.
“A lot of times I have no idea what will come out,” says Wilson, who works from her studio in Chestertown, Maryland. His finished pieces reveal rich colors and patterns. He says the shapes are intended “to highlight the simple beauty of wood without embellishment.” “Someone told me that open windows and doorways are Quaker symbols. These are cultural threads that we all share. I hope, if anything, they are a snapshot of a moment in time, a connection to the universe.”
Rob Glebe, Metal Vessels
In Rob Glebe’s world, colorful dragonflies intertwine, grass blades arch and abstract shapes overlap in airy metal spheres that seem to drift above kaleidoscopic shadow patterns thrown on the surface below.
Glebe is fastidious about balancing the design and structure of his vessels. “It may be part of my training as a tool maker—I’m always looking for imperfections and symmetry,” says the artist, who began crafting his metal vessels full time three years ago. His earlier career operating a yacht service involved outfitting boats with technical precision.
For 20 years, Glebe and his wife have collected pottery from Southwestern Indian pueblos, baskets from the rain forests of Panama and pieces by contemporary artists at craft shows. “It’s the vessel shapes with geometry and texture that we admire most,” he says.
In the workshop behind his Chestertown, Maryland, home, Glebe creates vessels of cold-rolled steel, the sheet metal used in cars. He makes separate design elements—identical but often varying in scale—with a plasma cutter, similar to those used in auto-body shops for cutting metal. Pieces are then welded together, bent over a wood form and sandblasted to soften the edges. Color is applied with metal stains, chemical patinas or hand-painted finishes.
His largest piece, a five-foot-tall, vase-shaped form, required more than 200 sail-like elements, loosely woven together. That dramatic work led to a commission for a hanging sculpture.
“I like the challenge of doing new things,” says Glebe. “I have so many ideas.”
Writer Tina Coplan is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
The Washington Craft Show will take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center from November 7 to 9. Hours are Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.;
Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.craftsamericashows.com or call 800-832-7813.
Art Studio Home Artists
Xiaosheng Bi, Derwood, MD; 240-472-5204; www.xiaoshengbi.com
Rob Glebe, Chestertown, MD; 410-778-0756; www.robglebedesign.com
Jim Syvertsen, Chesapeake, VA; 757-816-5622; www.jimsyvertsen.com
Faith Wilson, Chestertown, MD; 410-708-4652; www.faithwilsonart.com
Xiaosheng Bi began studying calligraphy at the age of seven.
He now creates fine Chinese porcelain pieces defined by bold,
dynamic brushwork. His portfolio includes Bamboo Grove.
Faith Wilson paints floor cloths using acrylics mixed with glazes
for a translucent quality. “I use different materials to add depth
and texture to the work,” she says. Her works include a 2.5-by-4.5-foot
cloth that is part of a production series.
Rob Glebe’s metal vessels are finished with colored metal stains,
chemical patinas and lacquers.