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Needle and thread unify an exhibition of quilts, sculpture and sewing machines in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG

“Threading the Needle" pretty much sums up the spirit of a three-person exhibition at Florida Craftsmen Gallery and, as the title suggests, showcases fine craft fashioned from needle and thread. Along with quilting and crocheting, it adds sculpture employing needles and thread as a nod to the process of crafting. It also, probably unintentionally, asks us to consider the ongoing discussion about the difference between craft and art.

The quilts by Amy Vigilante are straightforward and lovely with interesting juxtapositions of color and pattern that make bold graphic statements. The standout is a bright mix of Marimekko fabrics that use primary red, blue and yellow with secondary shots of green and orange thrown in. It belongs on the white wall of a sunny beach house. Two others use Speedo bathing suits sewn into a blue background (referencing water, we assume).

Maybe I'm missing something, but pretty and clever as they are, do they, as the news release claims, "explore issues of aging, skin, body issues and vulnerability"?

That's my sometimes grouse about the shadowy line between art and craft. Craft shouldn't need heavy meaning to be taken seriously; it's about form and function merged at a high level, with form sometimes superseding function.

But aesthetic inflation is a temptation.

And it's easy to overstate things that use traditional craft materials and method but aspire to a conceptual statement, which is what Pip Brant does in Blood Veil. She has created an enormous, red, head-shaped armature overlaid with crocheted doilies to evoke the self-effacement expected of women for centuries. It's a timely piece with Middle Eastern women's head coverings being much in the news. "Subversive" was one descriptive word applied to Blood Veil, but that's way too strong for a work that seems more a paean to resilience and the nostalgic loveliness of an old craft. In her artist's statement, she compared the act of crocheting (or knitting or sewing) as "old school Valium" that provided "a mental escape from the harsh realities of life."

Really?

I loved her rugs much more, crocheted with thick wool yarn into palm trees, and more palm trees, small ones crocheted from white thread, held up by black threads like puppets and mounted on a box that gyrates to produce the effect of a wind blowing through them. (Unfortunately, on the day I was there the mechanical element was not functioning well and the trees didn't have the intended movement.)

Duane Brant's sculptures stand firmly in the DMZ dividing craft and art. Atop beautifully made wooden pedestals fashioned to simulate musical instruments sit vintage sewing machines. If you are of a certain age — as am I — they will bring back a lot of memories. A pink Singer Atlas, turquoise and ivory Fleetwood and green Necchi are among the gems. The oldest of the group looks to be a black Wilcox and Gibbs model, utterly basic with the arm connecting the needle to the motor in a graceful arch.

They're grouped as an interactive installation titled Sew Organ. When you hit the machines' foot pedals, their needles go up and down. The whirring noise of the motors is amplified through sound holes cut into the pedestals. It's more percussion than organ but great fun as a group activity.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

Threading the Needle

The exhibition is at Florida Craftsmen Gallery, 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through Aug. 20. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Free. floridacraftsmen.

net or (727) 821-7391.

Needle and thread unify an exhibition of quilts, sculpture and sewing machines in St. Petersburg 06/26/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 24, 2010 5:40pm]

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