Gallery aids three craft makers in art journeys

By Larissa Gula

“Bridge 11”

Lia Cook, Mariko Kusumoto, Anne Drew… “Bridge 11”

Lia Cook, Mariko Kusumoto, Anne Drew Potter

Society for Contemporary Craft Main Gallery

2100 Smallman St.



One local gallery is trying to help artists who stand on the bridge between obscurity and fame.

The Society for Contemporary Craft on Smallman Street is one of the only museums dedicated entirely to crafts in the Steel City. They display what the center calls “craft media,” which encompasses almost all arts except paintings and photography and is made with materials such as clay, wood, fiber, glass and metals, said Kati Fishbein, exhibitions coordinator for the SCC.

“We really try to show craft artists from around the world who are technically skilled,” Fishbein said.

The Bridge Exhibition Series, now in its 11th installment, began in 1988 and takes place every two years at the gallery and features artists throughout the nation. The exhibitions display the works of people in the middle of their career.

“They may not be very well-known, but they’re past the emerging stage,” Fishbein said. “They have a solid background and body of work. So these shows celebrate artists in the middle of their career.”

This year’s Bridge exhibit features about 30 to 40 pieces created by three artists invited to the exhibition by the SCC.

One of the three craftmakers is 34-year-old Anne Drew Potter, an artist who began working with ceramics as a young child.

Potter has a figurative installation on display composed of 16 sculpted ceramic figures. Most of the figures seem to be talking at the same time in one circle, while another figure sits alone to the side.

The piece is meant to deal with the idea of individual versus group identity, Potter said.

“The art is representational,” she said. “There’s recognizable imagery and they look human. But they’re ambiguous, too. You can’t tell what gender or age or race they may be. So the people are both recognizable and not recognizable.”

This sort of distortion in image as well as the theme of isolation versus inclusion are attributes of most of Potter’s work, the artist said.

“It goes down to my interpretation of how we deal with the identity of self and how we rely on ourselves, but we also rely a lot on group dialogue and conversation of the outside world to try to structure our understanding,” she said. “We need to have a sense of belonging, but we need to have a self of selfness from our own bodies. So individual versus group identity is just an inherent tension.”

While Potter is looking for viewers to interpret her message, 68-year-old Lia Cook is looking to get feedback.

“I just want a response,” Cook said about her artwork. “I’m listening. I’m very interested in hearing from people.”

Cook mostly works with fibers and weaves artwork out of the material. Bridge 11 features a series of woven canvases of various sizes that resemble photographic faces. Some images are clearer than others, but they are all the result of a combination of modern looms run by computers and Cook’s ability to create and alter the images in Photoshop.

Cook has worked with various art techniques since the 1970s. She originally dabbled in painting, sculpting and photography before discovering an interest in weaving after a trip to Mexico. Over the years, she has found that the human touch is a subject appeals to her.

“I’m really interested in the hand,” Cook said. “There’s a lot of things about hand-made now [in our culture], but what about the hand itself? What does the evidence of the hand -made bring to our experience?”

With this in mind, Cook creates pieces that have “depth” and pieces that people want to touch, she said. There’s no agenda behind her works beyond curiosity for the responses people will have.

“Everything is more personal,” she said. “I’m not interested in telling anyone a story. I’m interested in people’s associations with their own personal stories.”

The final artist, Mariko Kusumoto, has a number of smaller pieces made from various metals and woods on display at the SCC gallery. Kusumoto’s style employs traditional Japanese forms and adds in  Western influences, which leads to the creation of objects such as small teapots or Japanese doll displays with Western images or symbols. Many of her collapsible pieces are similar to a pop-up books — if examined closely, more and more components of the pieces become visible. One of the pieces, a box shaped like a house, opens to expose numerous carvings of imagess such as people and birds.

Cook feels that the way  the gallery is set up — leaving a lot of room between the pieces —  helps display the three different artists’ work well.

“You can walk around,” she said. “There’s space. You can see things from multiple angles and engage in them.”

All of the pieces contribute to the idea of promoting and respecting craftsmanship, Fishbein said.

“There’s a definite technique that needs to be mastered,” she said, speaking about the art mediums found in the SCC and the Bridge 11 exhibit specifically. “There’s a more homely background to it, such as the fibers and weaving. These are all mediums that, in the history of art, have not been welcomed into the world of fine art. They’re considered more part of the craft world.”