Crafting Narratives: Philadelphia Emerges as a “Craft Capital” City

“Crafting Narratives” exhibit, Art in City Hall, Gallery Rm. 116, Philadelphia PA. Photo courtesy of CraftNOWPhl and Creative Philadelphia, Oct. 2019.

Last Thursday evening, Creative Philadelphia opened Crafting Narratives at the Art Gallery in City Hall – a group exhibition juried by noted gallerist/curator Bruce Hoffmann, depicting handmade works that demonstrate a narrative approach to making. Thirty-four Philadelphia metro-area artists are exhibiting one-of-a-kind pieces that use narrative to capture/interpret events and processes that explore interconnectedness and storytelling through the handmade items they create. Part of CraftNOW Philadelphia, this exhibition is one of several embodied into the fabric of our nation’s sixth-largest city – proving that all events this fall point to Philadelphia as a “Craft Capital” city.

Dominique Ellis, ceramic installation

Dominique Ellis, “Yield” (detail) Ceramic installation: clay bowls, ceramic tiles, wood, 2018. Photo: P. Sullivan

Multi-disciplinary artist Dominique Ellis uses interactive and socially-engaging means in Yield to draw her narrative ideas with purposely-placed Moroccan-style Zellige tiles and beautifully crafted, ornate ceramic bowls evenly distributed around a geometrically-cut wooden base. Ellis spent time as a Fulbright student scholar to Egypt, plus an additional two years as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer to the Moroccan Ministry of Handicrafts. This clearly shows an impact on Ellis’ artistic practice, as she seeks to explore how the influence of Moroccan craft traditions has impacted the genre of ceramics as a whole. During the opening last Thursday evening, Ellis encouraged gallery visitors to sit in corners of the Yield installation and explore their own personal variations of a game and/or compilation of tiles. In its vibrant social media coverage of Crafting Narratives, Creative Philadelphia shared images over its Instagram feed of the gallery participants interacting with the tiles and playfully making their own artistic patterns.

P.Sullivan: “Portrait of Woman in Twelve-sided Frame,” (left, front/back view.) “Cityscape Widget,” (right, front/detail view.) Chased/repousse silver/copper, digital photos on archival paper, Plexiglass, brass, 3in. x 2 in. x .375 in. Photo: P. Sullivan

Portrait of Woman in Twelve-sided Frame is my continuing exploration of how images of vanity pervade all kinds of social media – Facebook profile photos, Instagram feeds, WhatsApp or even smartphone texting between friends. I initially started my probe into how use of technology and handheld digital photography consumes our personal lives when I created my “Widget Locket No. 5: Homage to Vanity” one-of-a-kind jewelry piece in 2014. Fast-forward five years later, and I’m encountering similar reactions in this new piece that I’m merely looking for a quick “Look at me!” grab. What I’m asking of the viewer instead is to burrow down into the psyche of the woman that is pictured in the dark, “Gothic-esque” interior of this petite widget sculpture. To provide more context for my work: in 2015, writer and University of Pennsylvania Richard L. Fisher Professor of English Emerita Wendy Steiner wrote about my “Selfie” Widget Locket No. 5 in Metalsmith Magazine’s Exhibition in Print, vol. 35, No. 4. Steiner writes: “Every new electronic device links us more effortlessly to vast networks of users; yet somehow our isolation only increases.” Cityscape Widget: Homage to New Beginnings, Pt. II is a tribute to social media feeds (such as Instagram) dedicated to current images of ever-evolving city landscapes. My petite vessel uses a digital photo I captured to remark on this dichotomy of the two varying styles of living in essentially any city – anywhere – undergoing architectural changes. The tree branch of leafy foliage that is a unifying factor in my interior Widget image hangs in upper-center of my hand-fabricated copper piece.

Amy Orr, “Endless Stream,” (installation view.) Upcycled plastic, wire, wood. Photo: P. Sullivan

Fiber artist and educator Amy Orr manipulates her upcycled and found object materials in such a masterful way, one can only conclude that these materials were meant to be elevated to a finer caliber of craft and function than its original, pre-cast-off purpose of useful consumer products. Endless Stream, a play on what could be the local recycling vernacular of “single-stream recycling” in the metro area, incorporates bottle caps, twisted steel wire, discarded party favors and even a meteorology temperature gauge into a quilt of a monochromatic chair “slipcover.” While one spots an occasional highlight or pop of color emerging on the seat, the “pearly” pure white of this sculpture elevates these recycled material cast-off objects into what appears now as a noble piece of furniture – almost fit for a royal. Orr is noted as one of the founders along with curator Bruce Hoffmann of Philadelphia’s city-wide FiberPhiladelphia 2012 celebration, where worldwide audiences were introduced to an international array of active fiber artists exhibiting in galleries and alternative spaces throughout Philadelphia.

Crafting Narratives, a juried group exhibition part of Creative Philadelphia’s Art in City Hall initiative, is carefully and creatively installed in both Gallery Rm. 116 and two glass display cases on the first floor outside the gallery by City Hall Exhibition Manager, Tu Huynh and his gallery staff. Exhibit is open daily Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm through December 31st, 2019, located at 1400 J.F.K. Boulevard inside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s historic City Hall building.

6 thoughts on “Crafting Narratives: Philadelphia Emerges as a “Craft Capital” City

    • Neil, I’d thrilled if you’re able to get down to City Hall and see all the fantastic work. Good thing is this show is up through New Year’s Eve. I had a blast recently myself enjoying a coffee at the outdoor cafes in Dillworth Park, adjacent, before dropping off my artwork! Just another very cool thing our home city has to offer. Have a wonderful weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

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