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Pittsburgh Center exhibits: The four corners of art

| Wednesday, June 20, 2012, 5:42 p.m.
“Tree of Shakti” by Priscilla Pfanstiel Robinson and Laura DeFazio, courtesy the artists.
'Heritage' by Trevor King at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Friday June 15, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
'395 thomas Road' by Lauren Strahl at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Friday June 15, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
'What's the Frackin' Problem?' by Cynthia Richards at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Friday June 15, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
'Drill' by Alan Byrne at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Friday June 15, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
'Exit' by Susan Winicour at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Friday June 15, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
'Reflecting Mirrors' by Jane Ogren at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Friday June 15, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
'Lying on the Floor of the Pittsburgh Children's Museum Looiking at the Ceiling' by Lorrie Faith Cranor at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Friday June 15, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

Currently, four group exhibits by Pittsburgh-area artists guilds fill both floors of gallery space at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside, giving viewers the opportunity to see and experience a whole lot of art in one magnificent place.

Founded in 1945 by a dedicated group of artists and civic leaders, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts was originally named as the Arts and Crafts Center of Pittsburgh.

According to its website, the center was organized to take possession of the mansion of industrialist Charles D. Marshall “to provide a public place where the people of Pittsburgh could enjoy participating in the arts.”

Erected in 1911 at the corner of Shady and Fifth avenues in the East End of Pittsburgh, the Marshall home was donated to the city and leased to the center for $1 per year. In 1946, the center expanded its footprint when the next-door mansion of another Pittsburgh industrialist, A.M. Scaife, also was donated to the city and leased to the center for the same $1. That same year, the city designated the land surrounding both mansions as Mellon Park.

Originally, the principal purpose of the center was to provide a home for the various and diverse Pittsburgh artist guilds that existed at the time. Many of those same guilds still keep their offices there. And occasionally they show their works in large group exhibits, as is the case currently in which four of them — Pittsburgh Print Group, Pittsburgh Society of Artists, Pittsburgh Society of Sculptors and Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh — have each mounted works by their members.

The oldest among them, Pittsburgh Society of Sculptors, was founded in 1935. Its exhibition “Recreation/Renewal/Rebirth” begins outside on the grounds in front of the Scaife house, where the trunk of a tree has been wrapped in red thread. It's an installation piece titled “Tree of Shakti” by Priscilla Pfanstiel Robinson and Laura DeFazio.

The initial idea for this project was conceived by Robinson on a trip to India in October 2011. During the trip, she visited the Khamakhya Temple, a complex of temples dedicated to the different forms of the Mother Goddess, the Creator and Destroyer.

Within the enclosed grounds of the temple stands a tree, with a thick band of red string tied around it. Pfanstiel learned that the act of wrapping a string around this tree, and tying the knot, is considered symbolically to complete a prayer. At the temple, this ritual is reserved for men. Her overwhelming desire to tie a string around this tree had great impact on her, triggering a profound personal experience in recognizing the need for empowerment for women around the world. This experience led to her conception of this project.

Upon returning home, Pfanstiel, DeFazio and a few friends spent many hours wrapping the tree at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts with threads, in prayer and meditation. So far, they've completed approximately 24 miles of prayer.

The remainder of the exhibit is located in the galleries on the first floor of the Marshall building where other works such as “Grass Wedge” by Pati Beachley and “What's The Frackin' Problem” by Cynthia Richards tell there own tales of environmental concerns. And then there is “395 Thomas Road” by Lauren Strahl, which is an environment all its own. It's a re-creation of a room in a house out of soft sculptures made of sewn and stuffed fabric that replicates everything from a kitchen table to a refrigerator filled with food.

Affiliated with the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts since 1963, over the years the Fiberarts Guild has evolved with into an organization seeking to build an audience for contemporary fiber art, and they continue that tradition with their current exhibit, “Lenses and Filters: A View Through the Needle's Eye.”

Among the works on display, a small quilt by Lorrie Faith Cranor titled “Lying on the Floor of the Pittsburgh Children's Museum Looking at the Ceiling” is a real standout. At first, it looks like a simple abstract design, but upon reading the title, the image becomes obvious. Other works on display, like Mary Towner's “Pleased to Meet You” and Jane Ogren's “Reflecting Mirrors” bring a more light-hearted approach to what fiber art is and can be.

Completely the opposite, in the Pittsburgh Print Group show, “2012: End of Time,” addresses the end of the world. As abstract as this idea is, so is much of the work in this show. For example, ”Accumulation #2” by Emily Dunn and “Time and Time Again” by Elaine Morris are purely abstract pieces that can be judged on their own merits, while “Anada Tandava 2 – Vishnu” by Sharon Wilcox is a semi-abstract work that most will read as a planetary view of the potential problem

Finally, Pittsburgh Society of Artists tackles more contemporary environmental and pressing issues in “TONE IT UP!” Here, paintings like “War” by Paul McMillan and “Drill” by Alan Byrne are very direct in addressing the world's problems, while other pieces, like “Listen” and abstract painting by Kara Ruth Snyder, are more ambiguous.

With such a large amount of art to peruse, it would be wise to plan a long visit.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media.

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