Exhibit of sculptures, installation art evokes laughs, thought

Kurt Shaw
| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 8:42 p.m.

The Three Rivers Arts Festival wraps up in a few days, but there's still plenty of time to see and experience much of it, if you haven't yet had the opportunity.

Though most folks bee-line for the food vendors and Artists Market in and around Gateway Center, keep in mind there's plenty to see throughout the Cultural District. And that extends all the way up to the 900 block of Liberty Avenue, where the exhibit “Confluence: New Works” is on display on the second floor of 937 Liberty Ave.

A sculpture and installation-art exhibit, it features the work of nearly two dozen members of the Society of Sculptors. Established in 1935, the society has been an active arts organization in the Pittsburgh area for 78 years. And as active as the group is, so too are its members. Especially in this exhibit, in which nearly each artist has at least two works on display.

For example, Bloomfield-based sculptor Ashley J. Hickey has two pieces on display, side by side — “In Our Hands” and “From the Woods.” One is based on the life cycle of a leaf, and the other is presenting a colorful moss sphere in a pair of plaster-cast hands.

“I use molds of real hands and place natural objects in them to display a relationship between people and nature,” Hickey says. “Every person's hand has different character and personality, and depending on the gesture, they can portray a lot of emotion. To counter that feeling, I use a bright white gypsum for the material to present how humans sometimes have a cold relationship with nature, regardless of how beautiful and delicate it really is.”

Also working with the human form is Cydra Vaux of Squirrel Hill whose terra-cotta sculptures of a female “Pope Joan” are sure to be an attention grabber. A self-described feminist and a Unitarian Universalist, Vaux says, “I find myself drawn to many different religions and am interested in how they feel about women. When I learned there might have once been a woman pope, I became fascinated and have since made four sculptures of Pope Joan.”

Joan was elected pope in 853 and held that office for two years. However, Vaux says, “when people found out she was a woman, because she gave birth, they stoned her and her baby boy to death.”

“With my sculpture ‘Pope Joan Revisioned,' I like to imagine what would have happened if women were allowed to be popes: Joan and her son would live,” Vaux says. “With my piece ‘Four Pope Joans' (which features four versions of a pregnant Pop Joan standing back to back), I am celebrating women's unique ability to give life.

“It wasn't that long ago when women had to quit work when they became pregnant, and today, many cultures see women as unclean during certain times,” Vaux says. “Pregnancy is also a metaphor for bringing new and creative ideas into the world. In my own work, I often feel like I am ‘pregnant' with ideas and possibilities that grow inside of me until they are born in the form of my terra-cotta sculptures.”

Also having a socio-political bent is the work of Scot Calvert of Harmony. His two pieces, “Feeder 1: Prestige” and “Feeder 2: Fleeced,” deal with the idea of consumption. “Feeder 1” looks like an animal or, more specifically, a sheep, and “Feeder 2” is literally an animal feeder filled with fleece and television sets.

“ ‘Feeder 1: Prestige' relates itself to over-consuming, conspicuous consumption, and status,” Calvert says. “ ‘Feeder 2: Fleeced' deals with human consumption of the mass media via conglomerates, by poking fun at both liberal and conservative news who tend to just feed the people the ideologies of the conglomerate, which in turn the watcher tends to accept.”

More lighthearted in nature is “Visions in the Night” by Chelsey Albert of South Fayette Township. A wall-hung piece featuring three female figures surrounded by moss, Albert says of it, “I was inspired by the complexity of love both in its beauty and wonder.”

As for including the moss, she says, “I enjoy combining organic material both with my figures and in my work. I connect the natural and wild world with the small subtle beautiful moments that we encounter in our everyday lives.”

Some of the artists were inspired by other art exhibits, such as Tricia Milford of California, Pa., who found inspiration for the “All That Jazz” dolls she made for this show from making pincushions earlier in the year for the Fiberart International 2013, on now through Aug. 18 at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the Society for Contemporary Craft.

“I wanted to do something playful and fun,” Milford says. “These dolls have a very whimsical perspective and are very playful. They each have a distinct personality and story. I think that they probably reflect some aspect of my own personality or are a kind of self-portrait.

“What I wanted to express is less about the outward appearance as about how I respond to life and how I feel about what is going on around me. Or, at the very least, how I would like to feel as I wake up to each new day.”

Like Milford, Lisa Platt of Highland Park also made works of the humorous type. Two mosaic-tile works — “Three Fishes” and “Happy Cat II” — are “simple representations of my love for fish and cats,” Platt says. “My subject matter goes anywhere from aquatic to people to country to homes to towns and always with an element of nature. I'm very widely diverse in my subject matter.”

The remaining works on display are just as compelling for a variety of reasons, making this exhibit a must stop on this last day of the festival.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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