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Trio of exhibits make an impression in Shadyside

| Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, 9:25 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
'Deconstructed Mustered Up Quilts From Kentucky' by Colleen Toutant Merrill in the exhibit, Construct, at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Wednesday Nov. 26, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
'Day-Rain I' by Hong Hong in the exhibit, Construct, at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Wednesday Nov. 26, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
'Op illusion' by Chris Bergman in the exhibit, Illusions, at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Wednesday Nov. 26, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
'My Father's Garden' by Leslie Kaplan in the exhibit, Illusions, at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Wednesday Nov. 26, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
'For The Love of Black Cowboys' by C. McCray Bethea in the exhibit, Storytellers: Truth Be Told! at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Wednesday Nov. 26, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
'JuJu Woman' by Kathlyn J. Avila in the exhibit, Storytellers: Truth Be Told! at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Wednesday Nov. 26, 2014.

Three group exhibits by Pittsburgh-area artist guilds fill both floors of gallery space at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside.

The Craftsmen Guild of Pittsburgh, the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh and Women of Visions have each mounted massive group exhibits of works by their members.

Craftsmen's Guild

Featuring 46 pieces by 33 members of the Craftsmen's Guild of Pittsburgh, “Illusions” is the most varied of the three exhibits. The show includes a rich use of materials — whether fabric, handmade paper, glass, clay, wood or collage — along with traditional and nontraditional approaches to subject matter.

For this exhibit, the artists were asked to employ metaphors or symbolic imagery to illustrate dream states or personal visions that dare to challenge the boundaries of reality.

For example, Chris Bergman created a jacket, “OP Illusion,” with the intent of implying the optical illusion of movement. And indeed, the diagonal lines draw the eye, just as the flowing yarns over the completed patchwork add a sense of movement.

On the front of the jacket, slashes of fabric and abstract quilting give it depth. In addition, Bergman juxtaposed vibrant complementary colors and black-and-white prints to create a sense of vibration.

Leslie Kaplan created a glass and copper-wire necklace titled “My Father's Garden.” Glass vegetables, including a yellow crookneck summer squash, a carrot, a beet, tomatoes, cabbage and lettuce leaves are all strung through organically shaped copper wire to create an homage to her much beloved father, who was an avid gardener.

Fiberarts Guild

Featuring works using fiber and fiber techniques, “Construct” includes 57 works by members of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh.

With a variety of mediums and applications, the resulting display is a vast array of visual forms. These pieces, when presented together, begin a new conversation about the current state of fiber art.

For example, some works are pulsating with vibrant, fun, jazzy hues, such as Patricia Kennedy-Zafred's quilt “Sunset Across Burma,” while others, are ethereal, quiet and light as air, such as “Day — Rain I,” a massive dyed piece by Hong Hong made of Kozo fibers that look every bit as ethereal as the title implies.

Most interesting is “Deconstructed Mustered Up Quilts From Kentucky” by Colleen Toutant Merrill, which looks like a large bolt of fabric, but is actually dozens of quilt squares sewn together contiguously and rolled up. Obviously culled from a collection, the squares make a statement about the value of the handmade verses manufactured on contemporary society.

Women of Visions

Finally, the exhibit “Storytellers: Truth Be Told” by members of Women of Visions features works inspired by the art and stories from today's African Diaspora.

In West Africa, the “griot” ( GREE-Oh) or storyteller of the tribe, perpetuates the oral traditions and history of a village through praise-singing, poetry and other vocal-art forms. Critical passages are added by every generation, then passed on from griot to griot. The recounting may include important rulings from kings and queens, battles of legendary warriors or even political satire. In this exhibit, the griot tradition expands, visualized through modern eyes.

Perhaps the first piece visitors will come to sums this idea up best. “JuJu Woman,” a figurative ceramic sculpture by Kathlyn J. Avila, was inspired by the stories of “conjurers, healers and fixers” she heard on her travels through Africa, South America and the Caribbean Islands.

With her arms outstretched, Avila's conjurer proves that a simple gesture, an adornment or earthly tools of the trade speak volumes.

A gesture of a different sort can be seen in the assemblage piece “Wild, Wild West” by C. McCray Bethea. Here, the artist has ingeniously cobbled together the head of a steer from found objects and pieces of furniture. An archer's bow, perched atop the bulky bull head makes for a perfect set of horns. Beneath, Bethea has string-framed pictures of black cowboys from real life and fictional stories, including Hollywood films.

They range from Bill Pickett (1870-1932), a legendary cowboy from Taylor, Texas, of black and Indian descent, to Will Smith, who starred in the contemporary Western film “Wild, Wild West.”

Those are just a few of the works on view. Add in Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' Holiday Shop, which features art and crafts from more than 200 regional artists, and that makes for a whole lot of art to see in one place.

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

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