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At the Florida Craftsmen Gallery, necklaces collar your world

T. PETERSBURG — Heart's desire. That's what jewelry is all about. And for many people we know, it's also what chocolate's all about. Pairing these tangible manifestations of fantasy and taste makes for an artful combination in "Necklust and the Chocolatier," a new exhibition at Florida Craftsmen Gallery with sculptural necklaces and chocolate sculptures by bakers and chefs. Most of the chocolate left after the opening reception, alas, but an homage to Emiko Oye's LEGOS jewelry remains, crafted by Cafe Ponte pastry chef Cathleen Ryan.

The show's name alone is enticing; it could be the title of a short story by Guy de Maupassant, the popular 19th century Frenchman. In fact, it also has a narrative component of poems, essays and stories, based on the title, by bay area writers. They're displayed on gallery walls painted (of course) chocolate brown.

A few of the 100 necklaces are conventionally beautiful: Sana Doumet's silver discs in Seeds of Love that seem as thin as tissue paper, Becky Thatcher's choker of delicate twigs wrought from gold and set with tourmaline and Kathleen Brughelli's freshwater pearls punctuated by a carved quartz crystal and lovely silver and moonstone clasp are good examples. Some only seem conventional. Tanja Friedrichs' Play! looks like strands of black pearls and onyx with small silver caps at each end point. Give them a twist and you see they're strung on elastic and can be formed in all manner of configurations. Since they're made from hermatite beads, they're affordable at $175 per strand. In fact, most of the necklaces are priced in the three-figure range with a few going into four figures, topping out at close to $10,000.

Most of the necklaces make far more dramatic statements and would require a high level of self-confidence on the part of the wearer. But what an entrance one could make and what opening conversational gambits they would provide.

Oversize neck pieces by Courtney Starrett in cast silicone rubber do not encourage air kisses, let alone nuzzling; those by Barbara June Lang in knitted felt wool do. Giovanna Imperia's Klingon Collar of pleated fabric is a hybrid of designer Mariano Fortuny and Star Wars' Padme, soft and slightly sinister. All have come-hither quality, and the suggestion that assistance might be required to remove them at some later, intimate moment.

Jae Sun Won's spiky sterling silver and fiber-optic wires encircle the neck like a solar system, with ends extending beyond the shoulder. I thought it among the most elegant in the group. It and Clipped, made from straightened out paper clips by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin, should come with caution signs.

A few are wacky — a lighter side of conceptualism — such as Emiko Oye's LEGOS (a big black number great for the bride of Darth Vader), Anna Brumbaugh's leaves stamped from circuit boards, Peggy Gordon Sturman's vintage dice and dominos crocheted with masses of red beads, Uli Rapp's rubber ovals screen-printed with stylized diamonds and pearls and, the exhibition's signature piece by Bonnie Lallky-Seibert, silver molded into candy cup shapes, strung on a silver cord with a "chocolate" bonbon of carved walnut perched in the central cup.

The more-is-more school of jewelry design is represented mostly by elaborate beading and cloisonne rather than precious gems. Eva Walsh weaves dragons into a beaded neckplate — pretty from the front — then adds the surprise of "counterweights" of bead-filled plastic bags attached to cording that drapes down the back. Donna Craig's assemblage of found-looking elements calls to mind forays into our mothers' or grandmothers' jewelry boxes. Jamie Cloud Eakin's See the Sea wins the prize for most conspicuous bead consumption, a baroque bib in marine colors formed as a tide washing ashore, inlaid with cloisonne fish. Rich!

Functionality is really stretched to the limit by Elise Kendrot, who makes little metal books with text and images from the Peter Rabbit stories. They hang from chains that would probably either break or cause severe muscle damage if actually worn.

At the other end of the spectrum is Sabine Lang's minimalist clear plastic "stones," strung into a collar with transparent line. It's evanescent, like a field of blown bubbles that will soon burst.

They are secondary enhancements, but the texts written by locals are charming additions. Peter Meinke's sonnet and Patricia Callan's triolet are witty seductions written in classic verse forms that are lighthearted as an eclair. Georgia Zee's short-short story about revenge wrought from chocolate and peanut allergies is hilarious.

In every sense, this is an exhibition to make you smile.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at

lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

PREVIEW

Necklust and the Chocolatier

At the Florida Craftsmen Gallery, 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through May 10. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Free. (727) 821-7391 or www.floridacraftsmen.net.

. REVIEW

Necklust and

the Chocolatier

At the Florida Craftsmen Gallery, 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through May 10. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Free. (727) 821-7391 or www.floridacraftsmen.net.

At the Florida Craftsmen Gallery, necklaces collar your world 03/16/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 16, 2008 4:32pm]

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