“Field of Vision” at Racine Art Museum

The Racine Art Museum (RAM) is known for its collection of crafts–beautiful, hand-crafted objects with utilitarian function.“Field of Vision: Artists Explore Place ” organized by RAM’s new curator, Lena Vigna, marks an expansion of the museum’s focus on craft  to include “fine art” inspired by craft traditions such as weaving, quilling, ivory carving, ceramics and paper-making.

“Field of Vision: Artists Explore Place” is an interesting title. Here, “field of vision” means all the senses and their many ways of perceiving. It implies that the environment surrounds us like a “field” that constantly shifts, blurs, and comes back into focus, as we move though “place.”  It’s not easy to offer a quick critical overview of this show because there are so many beautiful and thoughtful works included in here.

There are no landscape paintings in “Field of Vision,” but rather abstracted, stylized references to nature and the land. For example, working with copper, iron and waxed linen, Mary Giles‘s amazing coil baskets suggest effects of light at different moments of the day.

Mary Giles, Early Light, waxed linen, iron and copper, 2006.

Ceramicist and paper-maker Rebecca Hutchinson mixes branches, handmade paper and fired droplets of clay to form a dramatic installation that hangs from the ceiling of the gallery and spans the  length of one of its walls. Suggesting an idea about nature, or an abstracted memory of something once seen, Hutchinson’s Connected Bloom reminded me of a lamplight tour of a cave that I once took, where I learned about exotic plants that live and grow where there is no light. Night blooming flowers were Hutchinson’s inspiration for Connected Bloom.

Hutchinson, Connected Bloom (detail), 2011.

Rebecca Hutchinson, Connected Bloom, clay and handmade paper, 2011. Detail, RAM installation. Photo by Jessica Zalewski.

Colombian artist Olga de Amaral’s tapestries are fields of color woven out of linen, paint, and sometimes gold leaf. Standing before her large swaths of shimmering blue or warm yellow, we are transported to expansive horizons of light-filled skies. One of De Amaral’s tapestries spreads out across the wall like a topographical map or a bird’s eye view of irregular tracts of cultivated land.

Olga de Amaral tapestry.

Lauren Fensterstock’s works introduced me to the art of  paper quilling, a traditional craft technique that uses coiled strips of paper associated with “gentile ladies” since the eighteenth century. Because she uses only black paper to cut, quill and sculpt, Fensterstock’s works have a funereal feel. Her tangled blossoms of cut paper flowers resting on beds of crushed charcoal make me think of an earth scorched by atomic incineration or intricate Victorian wreaths made of the hair of the dead.

Lauren Fensterstock, A Third Nature no 1, 2007, paper and charcoal under glass.

Of the group, Beverly Penn’s cast bronze wall sculptures of flowering common yard weeds comes closest to the literal representation of nature in this show. Here weeds are woven into elegant swirling patterns reminiscent of decorative rococo interiors.  Penn’s uncanny casts of these fragile flowers calls attention to the beauty of the banal and the maligned.  It suggests that we reconsider the artificial nature of the mono-culture gardens we commonly call “lawns.”

Beverly Penn, Topo I, 2007, Bronze, detail.

Jolynn Kroystosek, Untitled, wax and wood, 2007. Currently on view at Racine Art Museum.

Jolynn Kroystosek, Untitled, wax and wood, 2007. Currently on view at Racine Art Museum.

The highlight of “Field of Vision” is Jolynn Kroystosek’s beautiful carved-wax floral wall plaques. Like Penn’s bronzed weeds, Kroystosek’s wax carvings call to mind the interiors of aristocratic homes and speak of a history of women’s traditional crafts such as flower arranging, still life painting, and carving small miniatures from ivory. Kroystosek’s fragile carvings remind me of vanitas paintings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries where blooming flowers represent the idea of memento mori just as the bloom of a flower fades, so too life on earth is fleeting.  In these early Dutch still life paintings, a flower meant the same thing as a skull, representing the inevitability of death.

It seems appropriate that vanitas imagery abounds in “Field of Vision” considering the global environmental crisis that we face.

About Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is the director of galleries and curator of exhibitions at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. She writes the blog "Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes" about visual art in her community.

4 Responses to “Field of Vision” at Racine Art Museum

  1. Kathleen Labyourn says:

    This work is absolutely stunning! It reveals a deep connection contemporary creative women have with their counterparts of the past. By creating pieces which require hours of shredding, sewing and sculpting a contemporary woman is momentarily participating in the stillness and repetition of activity experienced by their creative sisters from another era. Making a woman’s experience and understanding of “time” a much more fluid process in comparision to the segmented “everything in its box” experience of time of men.

    • Kathleen, It is so great that you pick up on how most of the work in the show is by women. In fact there is some very nice jewelry work by Harold O’Connor that I didn’t mention in my post. But most of the work is by women and speaks to women’s traditions. Stillness and repetition are very much part of the show. It feels quiet but rich. The smell of beeswax is there too. The tempo of the show is slow and rich.

      • Patricia, I’m so glad to hear you mention the smell of beeswax in the exhibit. Somehow, that extra sensory detail just made the entire thing come together in my head. I went back to re-read the article with a new perspective. Sometimes, galleries are so sterile that they take the life out of the work. I’m glad that the natural quality of some of the media for this show remained, especially with pieces as achingly handmade as these.

      • Amanda, You are reminding me to keep all my senses in mind as a viewer/perceiver!

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