Catholic art contest attracts quality work


Catholic art contest attracts quality work
By Mary Thomas
November 14, 2012

Craft on PBS

“Craft in America: Crossroads” debuts on WQED at 9 p.m. Friday featuring a fiber artist who finds inspiration in brain function, another who draws on the liminal zone between San Diego and Tijuana, and a trio of potters steeped in the legendary Hamada-Leach tradition.

The hour flies by quickly as the program takes viewers to the artists’ environments, watches over their shoulders as they create, and talks with them about what makes them tick.

The “Craft in America” series is as beautifully crafted as the work it examines, capturing the unique essence of individual artists, balancing between information and narrative to do so.

Tanya Aguiniga is a Rhode Island School of Design graduate whose sophisticated furniture design and fanciful installations, supported by an international, web-based jewelry business, are well represented. But the camera also visits her parents in their Tijuana, Mexico, home, and travels across the border as she did daily to attend elementary school near her American-born grandmother’s house in San Diego. She and her father would leave Tijuana at 3:30 or 4 a.m. so that he could get to work on time. She’d arrive at her grandmother’s at 5:30 “and then just wait for people to wake up.”

Filmed as she creates the installation “Crossing the Line” in a Los Angeles museum, Ms. Aguiniga says one of the first things that comes to mind when considering the piece is that the line is the border and it is artificial. Her work straddles functional and non-functional, craft and fine art, the traditional and modern. “I think it’s a very frontier sensibility. … My explorations in color and texture probably come from the Mexican side of me and the more minimalist aesthetic comes from the U.S. side of me.”

Next up are three Midwestern potters, Clary Illian, Jeff Oestreich and Warren MacKenzie, the latter of whom is represented in Carnegie Museum of Art collections. At different times in the 1950s and ’60s, each apprenticed with the famed Bernard Leach in St. Ives, England, at the pottery established by the Brit and Japanese national treasure Shoji Hamada. Of particular interest are archival film clips from 1952 and later of both men, who taught aesthetics simultaneously with life philosophy (including a humility that fits their profession as potters and not ceramists).

The East-West coming together of Hamada and Leach exemplified a “new sense of what the human race could evolve into … how everybody gains when we’re open to The Other,” says Gail Kendall, potter and professor emeritus, University of Nebraska.

Finally, Berkeley resident Lia Cook shares the path that took her from a year in Sweden to learn traditional weaving to a residency at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where she worked with Greg Siegle, associate professor of psychiatry. They observed people looking at her large-scale weavings of human faces and mapped, on a computer, brain response to that stimuli.

The artwork resultant from that residency was exhibited at the Society for Contemporary Craft, Strip District, where Ms. Cook and Mr. Siegle spoke in 2011. The society traveled the exhibition to three locations, including the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, which appears in the program.

“What I’ve been impressed with is the similarities between art and science,” Mr. Siegle said of the project. “Both are creative efforts. Where the artist goes in to answer a question using one medium, the scientist goes in using a different tool box. The processes unfold similarly. You plan, you analyze or, in this case, create, you step back, look at what you’ve done, modify, and go do it again, until you’re happy that what you’ve uncovered is some essence of truth.”

Three crossroads — cross-border, cross-culture, cross-discipline — illustrate a universal language: Art.

The series continues next fall with “Craft in America: Forge,” and in December, when “Craft in America: Holiday” visits Christian, pagan, Hispanic and African-American traditions.