Nancy Neumann Press ties it all togetherIt is as if we are...

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

September 25, 1994|By Stephanie Shapiro

Nancy Neumann Press ties it all together

It is as if we are all connected, looped and knotted together by an infinite, invisible skein.

This thought occurred to independent craft curator Nancy Neumann Press as she was shaping "Knots and Nets: Universal Connections," an exhibition of knotted and netted objects that finds a common thread among ancient and contemporary artisans from around the world.

"No matter where on the planet, cultures have been moved by a universal spirit to create something with their hands that took the form of the knot," says Mrs. Press, who lives in Mount Washington.

In its current incarnation, "Knots and Nets," at the Ellipse Arts Center in Arlington, Va., through Oct. 29, features the work of 24 contemporary American fiber artists.

There is, for example, Joanne Segal Brandford's nylon and polyester knotted net that appears to float in the gallery space. And Tim Harding's mystical "Shroud Series," made of slashed and frayed silk. And Pat Hickman's "Separate Worlds, Joined" an oval of stiff black and white knotted netting, mended together as an expression of hope.

Mrs. Press originally assembled the fiber show as a guest curator at Cornell University's art gallery in 1988. At that time, it included knots and nets made by folk cultures for "survival and livelihood as well as for ceremony, celebration and ritual."

Before Mrs. Press took "Knots and Nets" to West Africa and South Africa, she revised it to focus on the similarities between the bead and knot work of Africans and Native Americans.

"I just could not escape the fact that there is a more powerful force [at work] here than just coincidence," she says.

For more information about the show, call (703) 516-4466.

As a senior engineer for the Bendix Corporation, George H. Elder Jr. designed national defense systems: nerve gas test equipment, steering gear for cruisers and carriers, the control system for an aircraft launching system.

As a retired engineer, Mr. Elder, 76, has turned his design talents to a much different arena. He's creating a user-friendly world for the disabled.

For a quadriplegic nun at Villa Julie College, he designed a switchboard apparatus that allows her to operate the school's telephone system with her tongue.

For four Dundalk Community College students with reading disabilities, Mr. Elder fashioned an automatic reading guide operated with a push button.

For a restaurant employee with poor muscle coordination, he developed a device attached to a butcher block that allowed her to slice vegetables and fruit according to specifications.

Ask Mr. Elder about the process of designing such remarkable gadgets and he says, matter-of-factly, "I generally go interview the person, try to understand their problem, then try to come up with a solution."

Even as a young boy on his family's Baltimore County farm, Mr. Elder savored engineering challenges. He remembers his first invention: a pedal boat, fashioned from a bicycle frame and a round paddle. He pedaled the contraption around a stream that he'd damned himself.

Since 1989, Mr. Elder has designed equipment for clients of Alliance Inc., a Dundalk-based non-profit group that trains and places disabled people. He works in the basement of his Bolton Hill townhouse, where he and his wife, Barbara, run a bed-and-breakfast.

Athough business is booming for industrial designers who are devising mechanical solutions for those with physical limitations, Elder hasn't sought to cash in. He receives a minimal salary for his efforts and leaves mass marketing to others.

"I don't care about patents," he says. "I had a couple and all I did was spend money."

Stephanie Shapiro

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