By Richard Campbell
The venerable Society of Arts and Crafts gallery in the Seaport District is such a manageable showcase of recent arts, and so accessible to Seaport travelers with its free admission and friendly gallery talks, it’s a hidden gem in plain sight. Shows running through the summer are The Cover Up featuring fabric works of Donna Rhea Marder, Infinite Vibration, sculptural and wall pieces of by Niho Kozuru, and Artist in Residence Wood Quilts by Laura Petrovich-Cheney.
I attended Donna Rhea Marder’s presentation on her work which was one of those rare moments when a visual artist reveals a quirky sense of humor that approaches a respectable entertainment value all by itself. Her descriptions of how she arrived at various techniques using primitive sewing machines and other tools, and tales about how she acquired silk from her father’s ties, mother’s old pants, and from a variety of sources, revealed resourceful creativity. She started out with a small showing of paper objects she made over time that resemble “real” objects but are not to be used like them- among them a paper basket and paper dress that served as sculptural objects made of recycled paper.
Although these gave an indication of her quirky style, they would not have prepared one for the large scale, serious wall installations in the main gallery. With bright colors obtained from silks and cottons woven in elaborate patterns and sewed together, these were the kind of works that you see in museums. One work in particular made out of her father’s ties revealed tiny patterns of her handwork that glittered in gold thread above the larger patterns. She speaks of identities of people who were the source of the materials, and reveals the relationships that clothes have to the way people think about themselves. The pieces stand alone without her descriptions, but knowing the background gives them extra meaning.
In the entrance gallery stand a series of tall glass-looking polymer sculptures by Niho Kozuru, like totem poles, they have a sturdiness that belies their fragility. In bright colors shapes appear stacked and assembled in a manner that reminds one of either futuristic architecture or charming centerpiece figures. The abstractness is not cold though, as they can remind the viewer of sci-fi settings, or ornaments, depending upon the way the light hits them, or how close or far away you look at them. Some are more garish or playful, depending upon the artist’s intent, or the viewer’s frame of mind. The wall art looked ready for the set of Devil Wear’s Prada, or some spiffy Boston Ad Agency- having a pristine color and shape appeal. There are other works that are more traditional looking, revealing the ability of the artist to create in a variety of styles. Coming from a family background of ceramists in Japan, and having studied at Parsons School of Design, Niho is based in Boston.
The Artist in Residence, Laura Petrovich-Cheney has her miniature studio sent up at the rear of the main gallery, allowing patrons to see her works in progress. These are also art works that used reclaimed materials and are called wooden quilts. The materials that these are made from are obtained often from reclaimed objects from storms or natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. Meant to “resonate themes of feminism, environment, and social narrative” they resemble geometric quilts that New Englanders will immediately recognize. I don’t quite feel the detailed emotions or ideas her descriptions invest in these constructs, though Petrovich-Cheney is informed by multiple degrees in the arts from literature to fashion design to studio arts, and multiple prestigious awards, that puts her in a special category of accomplishment. All of these works and more are on display at the Society of Arts and Crafts, 100 Pier 4, Suite 200. For more information see their website at: https://www.societyofcrafts.org/. This is a cool break off the hot streets of the Seaport. Be sure to patronize their gallery shop for fine arts gifts that are strikingly unique.