As home to Vessels: All the Eyes Can Hold, Kennedy Heights Arts Center is a vessel itself, brimming with nearly 100 works representing 57 artists.
Co-curator Lynn Conaway saw to it that this wouldn’t be a show of only stoneware pots, which is an easy place to go when the theme is “vessels,” so she asked artists to think outside the bowl.
Conaway and Carole Staples, her fellow curator and fiber artist, found six definitions of the word for inspiration. In addition to being a utensil for holding something, a vessel can be a watercraft, an aircraft, a part of anatomy, a botanical duct or a person infused with a spiritual quality.
Vessels represents the center’s first national call to artists since its founding 10 years ago. Using ceramics, metals, fiber, wood, paint and other media, 350 entries captured all the varied and creative interpretations of the theme — instead of just bowls and pictures of boats, entrants thought about spiritual vessels and nature, too. It took five hours to decide who was in, Staples says.
It’s a testament to the exhibit’s diversity that a signature work isn’t a container but a painted quilt. Cris Fee’s “Some Days Are Like That” hangs above a short essay by Betsy Black, a friend of the arts center.
Fee, of Lebanon, created a cubist pattern that radiates from an eye. Ripples of thread and vivid blues and greens evoke water. The waves are alternately overwhelming and soothing.
A vessel implies transport, Black writes, and that action can be a ship traveling an ocean or an arm lifting a glass. A vessel doesn’t reach its potential until it’s used, she continues.
It gives shape to the shapeless. “You yourself are a vessel filled with sight,” she concludes.
This is an exhibit to explore twice, to discover what the eyes couldn’t hold the first time. “You have to take it in,” Staples says. “You see more and more.”
There’s layer upon layer of meaning and texture, Conaway agrees.
Vessels elevates everyday objects found in nature and around the house. Silverton resident Tom Kinsel, a member of the center’s Arts Guild, achieves this with two photographs. “Life in a Bubble,” a reflection of trees on a soap bubble, is at once simple and complex, fragile and powerful. “Bargain Basins,” taken at Northside’s Building Value salvage shop, is aesthetically less beautiful but equally thoughtful.
“It’s a graveyard of sinks,” Kinsel says. Underscoring Black’s observation about a vessel’s potential, he muses, “It’s like each is waiting for the right owner to come along.”
Bobbins, bottle caps and cable ties — all junk-drawer items for containing stuff — find their way into fine-art baskets woven by California artist Emily Dvorin. Guild member Elaine McGue brings goblets and a carafe out of the shadows in her painterly photo titled “In the Shadows.” And at the exhibit’s opening, bowls didn’t just sit, they sang, as former WVXU personality Ron Esposito made music with mallets struck against crystal cylinders.
The middle gallery is a place to think about the human body as a vessel, the vessels inside it and the vessels that contain it. “Folklore,” a tapestry by local artist Nancy Gamon, is an unexpected take on the exhibit’s theme, presenting a totem pole focusing on the nourishment we receive from one another’s minds. “Grandma’s Pearls” is a late grandmother’s jewelry, dress and shoes enclosed in a plastic garment bag. An Alice in Wonderland collection from New School Montessori teacher Robin Hartmann includes shoes as teacups.
“Hey, if it can contain something, it’s a vessel,” Staples says. “That’s the beauty of the show. It’s so far-reaching.”
The front gallery is dedicated to a nautical theme, with model ships and, yes, some photos of boats. A surprise is a blue-ringed octopus by Fairfield glass artist Steve Meyer. Its body embraces a jar.
“Norb and his Bottle” was started the day Meyer’s father-in-law, Norb, suffered a stroke, and it was completed on the day he died nine months later. Meyer was inspired after seeing the venomous sea creature on TV. The former financial planner took an analytical approach. “This is where I want to get to,” he says of the process, “and I have to figure how to get there.”
Patience paid off. The octopus looks and feels real, with bumpy “skin” and smooth suction cups. So raise a bottle to “Norb,” Meyer and the other artists. Vessels is an exhibit to behold.
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