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Biennial 'Transitions' exhibit blends metal art, organic forms

| Friday, April 13, 2012, 3:07 p.m.

With works by 33 internationally recognized craft artists, the exhibit "Transformation 8: Contemporary Works in Small Metals" at Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District showcases the best in contemporary jewelry and small metal sculpture at the moment -- not just in Pittsburgh, but anywhere.

This year, the biennial exhibition attracted the largest number of international artists ever. More than 130 highly skilled craft artists from around the globe applied for the first round alone. All are vying for the Society for Contemporary Craft's $5,000 Elizabeth R. Raphael Founder's Prize, and of course, the recognition that follows.

Begun in 1997, the biennial Transformation series of exhibits "seeks to identify the strongest work in a certain media area," says Kate Lydon, the society's director of exhibitions. "This particular series is small metals, which means we have jewelry as well as small sculptural pieces that you can see throughout the gallery."

For this exhibit, the jurors were Lydon, Bruce Pepich, executive director at the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin, and jeweler Natalya Pinchuk of Pittsburgh. Raphael's daughters Alex, Cathy and the late Margaret Raphael also were jurors. Margaret Raphael died on Dec. 19, and the exhibit is dedicated to her.

"We selected (Pepich and Pinchuk) because Pepich brought a curative viewpoint and a distinguished career of 37 years with RAM, and Pinchuk brought an arts perspective as an international metalsmith and was very knowledgeable about the craftsmanship of these objects," Lydon says. "Both of their points of view informed the jurying process greatly."

In early February, Raphael Prize-winner Meghan Patrice Riley traveled to Pittsburgh from her New York City studio to attend the opening reception and accept the $5,000 prize, which is a purchase prize for her winning piece, "Interstitial." It is now part of the society's permanent collection.

A necklace based on a geometrically inspired line drawing, "Interstitial" seems to "come alive" when donned, Lydon says.

"The beauty of this piece is when you put it on, it transforms from a two-dimensional drawing to a voluminous neck piece with all this motion," Lydon says. "It's a fitting piece that aligns itself nicely with the exhibition's overriding theme, which is transformation -- interstitial refers to the place in between two moments."

That's saying a lot, considering Riley draws inspiration from her background in mathematics and geometry. Born in Anaheim, Calif., she studied economics and fine art in Toulouse, France, before completing her bachelor of arts degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2002. To create her independent line of geometrically inspired pieces she joined a collective art studio in San Francisco's emerging Mission District, where she held open studios and art shows before relocating to New York.

The second place winner was Mari Ishikawa, a Japanese artist living in Munich, who took home a $1,000 award for her piece "Parallel World."

Based on a photograph of a forest floor she took at night, this brooch made of silver and Japanese Kodo paper has an ethereal quality thanks to a delicate mesh of subdued colors and organic forms. It's on display among three similarly styled jewelry pieces by the artist. "You can see they're very organic," Lydon says. "This is very much art jewelry, very structured in the direction of small metals."

Honorable mentions went to Robert Ebendorf and Daniel DiCaprio. Ebendorf, who lives and works in Greenville, N.C., where he is a professor of art at East Carolina University, shows four brooches made from found metal, such as his "King of the Road" piece, which ingeniously combines a crushed Coke can with a tiny skull bejeweled with rubies, garnets and diamonds.

DiCaprio, who was once Ebendorf's student, lives in Richmond, Va. His "Colony Necklace" is one of his two works on display that ingeniously combines exotic woods with tiny spikes of silver.

About the necklace, made of ebony and silver, Lydon says, "It's a really nice example of an artist working with metal in combination with another material. The interesting part about this work is that it is primarily wood. DiCaprio's process includes drilling many, tiny holes in the wood, and delicately hammering minute pieces of metal flush with the surface to create an overall pattern and shimmer.

"I think this is probably more (indicative of) the direction of things," she says. "Many artists today are working with mixed materials. Here's an example of an artist who is doing really organic work with wood and incorporating metal."

Each of these four artists were allowed to include additional pieces because they were recognized with awards, but everyone else is represented by only one piece in the exhibit. Among the remaining artists' works, there are some real standouts for their ingenious use of metal combined with other materials.

For example, Sandra Enterline of San Francisco combined slices of diamonds with oxidized sterling silver, palladium and white gold to create "Diamond Window," a necklace that harkens to the crushed-glass granules of a broken plate-glass window.

In similar fashion, but using real architectural castoffs, Carolina Hornauer Olivares of Vina del Mar, Chile, has combined fragments she found after the Chilean earthquake of Feb. 27, 2010, to form "From Ornament to Plain No. 8," a brooch made of pieces of wood and other tiny architectural remnants.

And of all things unusual, Emanuella Deyanova Ramjuly of Amsterdam displays a ring made from rolled and cast silver and the bristles of two paintbrushes, one of which is made from koala hair. Titled "How to Wear a Famous Painter," it is one size fits all, allowing the wearer to place it on any finger, because it is held in place by the pressure of the bristles.

Lydon says that this might be one of the most unusual Transformation exhibits thus far. "I think that this show is really interesting in that each of the artists in the show has a really appealing and thoughtful way that they've approached the (use of) metal."

Additional Information:

'Transformation 8: Contemporary Works in Small Metals'

When: Through June 30. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.

Admission: Free

Where: Society for Contemporary Craft, 2100 Smallman St., Strip District

Details: 412-261-7003 or website

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