Display showcases skill, ingenuity of American craft movement leaders

When does a simple knot become nationally recognized art? When it's in the hands of Jane Sauer, a Santa Fe, N.M., fiber artist whose sculptures are the result of hundreds of thousands of carefully executed knots in waxed linen.

Sauer is one of 12 artists and organizations who will be honored for excellence and leadership in the contemporary craft movement by the American Craft Council. This is the first time in 22 years that the prestigious Aileen Osborn Webb Awards have been presented in Portland.

Adding to this artistic coup, the works of seven award-winners are on display until Nov. 10 at Portland's Contemporary Crafts Gallery.

Highlighting the show at Contemporary Crafts Gallery are the works of gold medal winners Don Reitz and Kay Sekimachi.

Reitz, an Arizona ceramist, creates pieces that are oversized and primitive in their execution. Raw edges, haphazard gashes and rough textures are hallmarks of the wood-fired sculptures.

In contrast, the works of San Francisco fiber artist Sekimachi are so delicate that they beg a closer look. Her collection includes a hanging sculpture crafted from white monofilament. Otherworldly and nearly weightless, the piece resembles a futuristic jellyfish.

Also on display is the intricate metalsmithing work of Texas artist Harlan Butt, who will be named a council fellow at the ceremony. The small receptacles he creates feature delicate enamel work and lids adorned with natural elements such as leaves and frogs. Poetic verbiage also is a frequently featured design element. Butt defines the sculptures as incense burners, but their beauty Ñ and price Ñ would make one think twice before using them as such.

Although the show's crafts are typically constructed of wood, ceramics, fiber, glass or metal, David Cohen, the executive director of Contemporary Crafts Gallery, notes that these materials are not used exclusively, and the results often defy categorization.

Portland wood turner and council member Dan Kvitka strives to define the importance of the show's objects within the art community: 'It's difficult to do, because crafts conjure up so many things, from Saturday Market to Dale Chihuly,' he says. 'But I think that (these) contemporary crafts are uniquely American, and certainly at the higher end of the arts spectrum.'

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