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Crafting ideas 

UALR exhibit challenges the idea that form follows function.

'NAFTA MAN': Mark Newport's knitted suit.
  • 'NAFTA MAN': Mark Newport's knitted suit.

Sometimes a teapot doesn't find its highest calling in life as a vessel for tea. When that happens, the crafter's message has upended the standard that form follows function, which is why the name of the current exhibit at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock asks “Or Does It?”

Brad Cushman and Nathan Larson pulled together the work for the contemporary craft show to illustrate the wide variety of paths students in UALR's Applied Design program might take. “Students need to see what's going on in the craft world,” Cushman said. The potters, metalworkers, weavers, woodworkers and fabric designers chosen for “Form Follows Function,” on exhibit through Dec. 10 in Gallery I in the Fine Arts Center, “are pushing the notion of what craft is.”

Such a craftsperson is Lia Cook, who uses a digital loom to weave fine cotton threads into large wall-hangings that have an abstract appearance up close; from a distance, however, an image appears on the fabric, such as a profile of a child (“Binary Traces”) or two hands (“Presence Absence Light Touch”). Tom Loeser's flowing boat forms, simple contours created with ribs of white oak and spruce, bend and dip as if conforming to water. His “2D or Not 2D” is a silkscreen and woodblock pattern on heavy paper — itself a work of art — that can be transformed into a small cabinet.

Myra Mimlitsch-Gray's “Brat Pans” are bratwurst-shaped cast iron skillets that turn into the Xs and Ys of DNA code (a brat's, perhaps) when hung in a series from the wall. Nagakura Kenichi's “First Step” woven bamboo form recalls dancer Martha Graham in her sweeping skirts. Mark Newport's whole body sweater “Nafta Man” has a torso knit in red, white and blue, legs in the more south-of-the-border combination of green, red and yellow. There are fanciful teapots that look like insects (Gerard Justin Ferrari), silver teapots built around folding rulers (Jack Da Silva), ceramic teapots that are simply beautiful ceramic teapots (Judith Duff).

William Bastas' iron brackets, featuring leaves and flowers and tendrils and fern frond flourishes, depart the least from the functional. Wendy Maruyama's “You're a Sap, Mr. Jap” tarpaper wall with a tiny (perhaps 1-by-2-inch) inset video screen departs the most. It is a conceptual piece; running on the video, set at a child's eye level, are anti-Japanese cartoons (like “Tokio Jokio”) from the 1940s, their characters buck-toothed and stupid, that were still being aired when Maruyama was a child in the 1950s. They were the first Japanese imagery she'd ever seen on television.

Helping Cushman and Larson choose the artists for the show were furniture design professor Mia Hall, adjunct art professor David Clements and ceramist Steve Driver.

 

In a clever juxtaposition, Cushman chose Beauvais Lyon's lithographs “The Association of Creative Zoology,” depicting supposed exhibits from the Scopes Trial taken from the Hokes Archives, creatures that combine fins, feathers and fur, for the exhibit in Gallery II. The elaborate hoax, the creation of the University of Tennessee professor of printmaking and which includes far more than what is on the walls at UALR, includes really very beautiful lithos of very creepy hybrids (hooved fish can make you shudder). The exhibit runs through Nov. 20; you can see a video on the show at www.ualr.edu/tv under the “Shorts” link.

Finding a parking space in front of the Fine Arts Center is easiest on the weekends (10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday), but during the week visitors can usually park in the larger outlying lots on 28th Street without getting a ticket from campus police.

 

A sculpture by internationally acclaimed artist James Turrell has been erected on the grounds of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, currently under construction in Bentonville. The museum has not released a photograph of the sculpture, which will open to the public when the walking trail on which it's located does. The sculpture is a “skyscape,” a round structure with an oculus that defines a section of sky.

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