THE ART OF CRAFTS

BY BILL THOMPSON

“It is such a tactile medium,” says Lady’s Island artist Kathy Oda, whose kaleidoscopic, jewel-toned creations celebrate the seductiveness of glass. “You look at it and you want to feel it, to see if it actually is that shape or an optical illusion. Glass draws you in—blown, fused or stained. When someone at an art show wants to reach out and touch my work, that’s the highest compliment.”

There is a reason that crafts have been revered through the ages. And there is no finer testament to it than the juried 16th annual South Carolina Palmetto Hands Fine Crafts Competition and Exhibition, star attraction of the North Charleston Arts Festival (May 3 – 7) at the Charleston Area Convention Center.

Presented by the City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Department (CAD), the exhibition is a showcase of the work of fine craft artists in clay, glass, metal, wood, fiber and mixed media, displayed in a space distinct from the painting and photography open competitions.

“We knew there were many fine crafts artists across the state who didn’t have a platform to show their work,” says Ann Simmons, deputy director of the Cultural Arts Department. “Ours is the state’s only exhibition dedicated to fine crafts, and we’ve always used the Arts Festival as the springboard for these sorts of things.”

Simmons will be succeeded as organizer this year by Maggie Jordan, CAD visual arts coordinator.

Entries are pre-juried, this year by Michael W. Haga, associate dean at the College of Charleston School of the Arts.

Cash prizes totaling $6,500 await competition winners, but as many as 20 individual works will be selected following the show to join the South Carolina State Museum’s Traveling Exhibits Program (June 2017 – April 2018). Simmons notes that the City of North Charleston also purchases two to four pieces from the exhibition each year for its permanent arts collection at City Hall.

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“Palmetto Hands has always been a great experience for me,” says metal sculptor Matt Wilson of Charleston. “I’ve been doing this show for years, so it’s been fun to grow on this platform. Shows like Palmetto Hands validate me as an artist, and I feel the Traveling Exhibits aspect of it is unique, a great way to help make a name for yourself locally.”

Palmetto Hands embraces traditional and contemporary impulses. The level of creativity and execution rivals that of anywhere, a caliber of work exemplified by last year’s Best of Show award winner, Tom Boozer.

For Oda, it is not only the tactile quality of her art that mesmerizes, or its refracted but harmonious hues. It’s the sense of motion. “When creating my pieces, I start out with large sheets of glass and cut them into smaller shards. The final piece, after it’s fired in the kiln, looks like the sky or water—moving. It took a lot of experiment to get to that point. I’m always looking for movement,” she says.

Wilson, who studied drawing and painting at Winthrop University, turned to metal sculpture and welding but retained his fascination with nature. Many of his most striking pieces are of gracefully stylized animals, especially avian life. “I saw it as a challenge to take something cold and hard and turn it into something lifelike and organic,” he says. “I like using negative space as a major part of the piece to keep it from being too hard and rigid.”

Rigidity is the last thing one encounters at Palmetto Hands, a show as fluid and unbound as a bird in flight.

Bill Thompson writes about the arts, film and books.