A tour of the crafts fair Preview: A walk through the Convention Center impresses curator of Renwick gallery.

February 22, 1997|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

"One thing I look for in artists is integrity, and character," says Kenneth Trapp. "An artist who has found his or her voice. Not loud, booming work, but people who know what they're doing."

He is making his way, slowly, from booth to booth in the American Craft Council Craft Fair at the Convention Center yesterday morning, and wondering how he is going to shepherd two dozen people through aisles so crowded it's difficult for two or three to stay together.

He's just left WillowWeave, a booth of wool rugs made by Patricia Burling of Monroe, Conn. "They're simple but gorgeous," he says, picking out one called "Gridlock," a pattern in red, black and white. "Imagine how that could activate a room, through its design, color and texture."

Trapp, curator-in-chief of the Renwick Gallery, the craft and design department of Washington's National Museum of American Art, was in Baltimore to give two guided tours of highlights of the show yesterday afternoon. In preparation, he spent the morning on a personal tour looking for inspiration -- and finding it almost everywhere.

Proceeding through the almost endless sea of more than 750 crafts people from across the country, he found something to admire at every hand. But certain preferences became evident along the way -- for solid design, good use of materials and classic elegance over the glitzy or outlandish.

"I think about the functionality of a work," he says. "There is no reason a work can't be serviceable and attractive and pleasurable at the same time."

Stopping at the ceramics in earth tones -- deep reds and greens and browns -- by Ellen Shankin of Floyd, Va., he picks one up and runs his fingers lovingly along its inside curve. "This is elegant work," he says. "You want to feel the surface. It would be delightful living with this and feeling the proportions, the heft, the glaze -- it's subtle and understated."

The black and white high-fire porcelains of California-based Leslie Thompson impress him similarly. Thompson, influenced by Native American art, including basket and pottery forms, has adapted those forms and decorated them with hard-edged, geometric forms. "There's nothing more elegant than black and white," says Trapp. "These are handsome forms with dynamic, architectonic design and textured surfaces that feel great."

But humor caught his eye, too -- the humor of Doug Anderson of San Francisco, whose ceramic "Medical center" chess set featured hospital personnel and patients as chess pieces. "Most significant things are said with humor," he says. "This is a funny, wonderful piece."

He found humor, too, in the works of woodturner Peter Exton of Oneonta, N.Y., whose "Table Melt" is of curly maple and padauk wood with droopy shapes that make it look as if the whole thing is about to liquefy in the heat. The same artist's "Down in the Current" is a table whose flame birch top has an undulating grain that looks like water. At one end, Exton has placed four black cylinders that look like the smokestacks of an ocean liner sinking.

The imaginative use of materials caught Trapp's eye, too, as with the curving ironwork forms of blacksmith Robert Crecelius of Farmington, Mo. -- and especially his "Firefly," a three-light candelabrum that stands on the floor.

"There is a revival of forged metal, and this work is typical of it," Trapp says. "It's art-nouveau-inspired, but definitely 20th century forms that people use today. I like the elegance and boldness of that, and although we know metal is hard, there is a fluidity to it."

Nearby, the multicolored, unusually shaped vessels of Peter and Lisa Ridabock of Tiverton, R.I., take glass in an original direction. "This pushes the edges of the properties of glass, of pattern and color," Trapp says. "To me, glass is the medium that is most dependent on the environment around it to understand it -- meaning light, which is an integral element of the final artistic statement."

As he makes his way through the show, it becomes obvious that Trapp regards his time at the craft fair as valuable for his own enlightenment. "This offers a curator a golden opportunity," he says, "to see in a short time a concentrated number of superb artists. Imagine visiting all these studios -- and they're from all over the country, too."

Craft Fair

What: 21st Annual American Craft Council Craft Fair, Baltimore

Where: Baltimore Convention Center, Pratt and Sharp streets

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow

Admission: $8, two-day pass $14, children under 12 free

$ Call: (410) 962-1122

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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