BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
After touring "The Artful Table" at Florida Craftsmen Gallery, I want to have a dinner party and I don't care what I serve. I'm more interested in what everything is served on.
That's the kind of inspiration delivered at this new exhibition that opens Friday. Curator Elizabeth Kozlowski pulled together a small store's worth of functional items created by several dozen craftsmen who are mostly from the bay area. These are not the fantasy-fueled designer tablescapes you see at charity benefits, which are fun to look at but impractical to use. Here, six tables are set with a variety of pieces that look as if they were collected over time by people who know what they like.
"The Artful Table" is another in a series Florida Craftsmen has organized over several years to demonstrate how easily we can integrate fine craft into our everyday lives. I love almost everything here and could live with it all, depending on my mood. DiFilippo and Kent's earthy, pecky cypress table sets the stage for Jennifer Lachtara's plates swirled with a feathery garnish. Eric Folsom's curvy brass flatware and Sarah Butz's dyed silk napkins lighten up the solidness of Naomi Mostkoff's earthenware teapot.
Richard Chill Cott and Scott Sweetin's gorgeous red lacquered table could steal the show paired with pedestrian accessories. But Virginia Spalter's beautiful fused glass plates in soft green with a lipstick smear of red, set atop Robin Bowman's dramatic black painted place mats imprinted with a gingko leaf that matches the metal inlay of Kate Hamilton's napkin rings, only enhance the drama.
At another station, David Bradford's table and benches have feminine curves and bow inlays that complement the sweet, putty-colored plates sprinkled with tiny turquoise and orange dots. I fell hard for Chris Miller's mugs with handles fashioned as long-tailed mice. And was almost as charmed by Tammy Marinuzzi's witty handbuilt terra-cotta salt and pepper shakers shaped like crazy little critters.
I most especially covet Dion Flannery's lacy glass crackle plates in sorbet colors; Stephen Heywood's stoneware server with its little drawer to hold the accompanying spoon; Caleb Zouhary's individual lidded stoneware casseroles; and Bruce Marsh's elegant room divider, a lushly painted landscape on a three-panel screen that could make every meal a picnic. Even the "chandeliers" hold up their end of the creative bargain. Frank Strunk III, C. Wade Brickhouse and Steve Schramek shade overhead bulbs with metal, paper and glass to unusual effect.
Most surprising are the prices. For about the same amount that you would spend on good mass-produced furniture and tableware, you can, in many cases, get something handmade.
This is the best kind of fine craft, with beauty and utilitarianism in perfect balance. I regret not being able to mention every artisan represented in this show; visit the gallery and find your own favorites. Hopefully purchase them. Then go home and open up a can of soup, make a PB&J or order a pizza. It won't matter. You'll dine in splendor.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.