CIA's ThinkCraft: Fresh Takes crafts a new appreciation for modern makers

If the word “craft” brings to mind Pinterest projects or hot glue guns, you’re not alone.

“For people who don’t know that much about the art world, they have a notion of Michael’s or Hobby Lobby, or going to outdoor craft fairs,” says Jessica Calderwood, a 2001 Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) alumna.

Jessica CalderwoodEnter “ThinkCraft: Fresh Takes," an exhibition running at CIA's Reinberger Gallery through next Friday, December 14, that aims to broaden that perspective. Featuring 12 high-profile CIA alumni from around the country, the exhibition explores the contemporary definition of “craft” and its evolving influence on an array of traditional disciplines—from jewelry making to metalwork to enameling to glass artistry to ceramics.

“This show is really didactic in terms of talking about what craft is right now and how people are thinking about it,” adds Calderwood. “It covers a broad range of generations and hits a really diverse perspective of what craft is.”

ThinkCraft: Fresh Takes is a vibrant part of CIA’s broader “ThinkCraft” theme designated for the 2018-2019 school year. Other elements include a three-day symposium held earlier this fall, a wide lineup of visiting artists and designers, and a planned high school teacher residency for next summer.

Meet four of the show's featured artists and get their "take" on the show's captivating contents.

Pamela Argentieri

Much of Pamela Argentieri’s work lives at the intersection of traditional and modern—melding the arts of metalsmithing and silversmithing with 3D modeling and printing.

“I would describe what I do as a hybrid of new design technologies and traditional techniques,” says Argentieri, a lifelong Cleveland resident and 1987 CIA graduate. “Combining these [elements] is really interesting to me.”

For her participation in ThinkCraft: Fresh Takes, Argentieri decided to take a bit of a departure and turn her focus to politics. “It’s not something I really do with my work, but I’ve been so affected by the politics in our country that I felt it was a good time to comment on it,” says Argentieri. “I started writing and came up with words that reflected how I was feeling: distraction and disorder.”

To translate those themes, Argentieri created leather jewelry featuring traditional cloisonné charms. To create the pieces, Argentieri did laser-cutting on all of the leather at think[box] and 3D printed the other elements at her own studio. “I was able to model the heavy bezels and buckles in Rhino, print them in wax, and cast them in sterling silver,” says Argentieri. “All of the silver elements are 3D printed.”

The final product includes four neckpieces and three bracelets now on display at the exhibition. “I feel it’s really important to make work that reflects our times,” says Argentieri, who recently made custom cufflinks for Elton John when he performed in Cleveland. “This has been a great opportunity to do something really different and challenge myself to try some new materials and techniques.

Kirk Lang

The term “constellations” likely evokes images like Aquarius or Cassiopeia, but Kirk Lang prefers to derive inspiration from stars not quite as well-known.

“I do a lot of research when I’m making my work, and I’d been reading a book that detailed a series of constellations in the Southern Hemisphere,” explains Lang, a 2002 CIA graduate who now resides in Seattle. “Constellations are typically thought of as being related to mythology or animals, but these were named after inventions of the 17th century—things like a furnace or a compass.”

Enter “Pictor Major” and “Pictor Minor,” Lang’s two works on display at ThinkCraft: Fresh Takes. Both project the same image of a painter’s easel using shadow and light, and according to Lang, the two are “meant to be complements, like Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. It has a meta-quality to it, where everything is interconnected.”

Both pieces were originally made a few years ago for a biennial exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum, and Lang is thrilled that they are now on display at CIA’s Reinberger Gallery.

“I loved my time at CIA—I was able to find a medium that really spoke to me,” says Lang of his focus on jewelry and metals. “In a way, it felt like a golden period for me.”

Kari Russell-Pool

With works titled “It Takes a Village” and “Simple Lines and Coloring Books,” it doesn’t take much imagination to deduce that much of Kari Russell-Pool’s work revolves around a common theme: parenting.

Grace by Kari Russell-Pool“Grace,” Russell-Pool’s installation in ThinkCraft: Fresh Takes, follows suit.

“The piece is really about the particular pain of parenting teenagers,” shares Russell-Pool, a 1990 graduate and glass artist whose studio is based in MidTown. “In talking with Nikki [Woods], who curated the show, it was interesting to hear her take because she felt like the title was dark. To me, it was about redemption and having made it through.”

The “Grace” series consists of 17 glass birdcages arranged along the curved wall that forms the entryway to Reinberger Gallery. Meant to be metaphors for parenthood, the birdcages are a recurring staple in Russell-Pool’s work, along with quilts and teapots.

Russell-Pool designed the installation as an interactive experience, with different perspectives depending on one’s visual reference point. “As you move around, your view of the pieces really changes,” says Russell-Pool. “My perspective on parenthood has changed so much, so it’s meant to be analogous to what happens in life.”

Jessica Calderwood

During her time as a CIA student, Jessica Calderwood fell in love with the craft of enameling, which she calls “very esoteric and special. It’s a really transformative material.”

So it’s even more meaningful for the 2001 graduate to return to CIA as part of the ThinkCraft: Fresh Takes exhibition, which displays four of her sculptures. The common thread? “All of the work uses craft materials that at one point or another have been dominated by women,” explains Calderwood. “That’s the unifying theme for this series.”

Protrusion by Jessica CalderwoodAccording to Calderwood, the sculptures take fragments of the female form and combine them with floral elements. Cases in point: “Protrusion,” which features a ceramic replica of Calderwood’s nose amid polymer clay buds, and “Propagation, Part Two,” which places large floral balls atop porcelain-cast legs. The other two pieces are 8” mini-sculptures cast from Barbie doll parts.

Though Calderwood now resides in Indiana, where she teaches metals at Ball State University, the Euclid native says that both CIA and Cleveland itself have shaped her artistic approach.

“[My time in Cleveland] was hugely influential, but I didn’t realize it at the time,” shares Calderwood. “Because of its industrial past, the city of Cleveland has an amazing history with fabrication and metalwork, and that feeds into the artistic practice of its institutions.”

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. Along with her work at FreshWater, she is the editor-of-chief of Edible Cleveland and a contributing editor for Destination Cleveland. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes for Creative Groove, Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
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