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The intriguing object lessons of Vine Arts Center's 'Piece Process'

"Behind every object there is a story of its creation." So begins the exhibition description for "Piece Process: Thought Becomes Form," now on view at the Vine Arts Center in Minneapolis. This display of art and craft aims to tell some of those stories, inviting the visitor deep inside the creative process of eight local artists -- some of whom work in metal, others in wood, paper, or ceramics; some make furniture or decorative craft, others sculptural pieces.

Here's the organizing conceit of the show: Finished artwork is displayed alongside the artists' preliminary sketches, templates, tools, and raw materials — the stuff which serves as the invisible infrastructure supporting each fully realized piece.

Woven throughout the displays are a variety of documentary materials elucidating the evolution of a given piece -- the happy accidents and messy fits and starts that inspire the creative process. These didactic materials are as inventive and polished, in many cases, as the finished artwork, including photographic records and video accounts of each work's making, short personal essays, and the snippets of poetry and prose that served as an artist's muse.

You can see images from the exhibition here.

While all of the work is accomplished, a few tableaux particularly stand out. Holly Murray's finished sculpture, "The One that Didn't Get Away," is itself a marvel of ingenuity and craftsmanship. Murray's fancifully designed fish is made of deconstructed and refashioned found objects (among them, a repurposed potato planter!), then mounted like a trophy from a weekend fishing trip. Murray documents the fish's fabrication in minute, utterly fascinating detail. Her elaborate chip-board templates, complete with intricately folded paper fins, and a specially made picture book illustrating the sculpture's creation, are almost as compelling as the finished piece.

There's a similarly rich vein of behind-the-scenes information in artisan Garrett Glaser's section of the exhibit. The centerpiece of Glaser's display is "Eridu," a finely crafted lattice table whose mode of construction and aesthetic design is inspired by Asian woodworking traditions. In a personal essay alongside the piece, Glaser writes, "When I was a small child, I was sure I would leave such a mark on the human race that I would be remembered forever. Forever. Forever and ever." He goes on to admit, "nothing lasts forever ... [but] I wanted to make furniture that does its job for hundreds of years." So he came to model his approach on that of classical Chinese craftsmen, many of whose pieces stood up to as many as 500 years of steady use.

In addition to short essays and sketches, Glaser includes exemplary models of key elements — complex joinery, clever handmade mechanisms that allow the piece to operate smoothly — precisely the sorts of things hidden from view once the work is fully constructed.

As you wander through the gallery, you'll also see inside the making of cleverly "folded" copper sconces fitted with elegant blown-glass cups; stately Arts and Crafts-style torcheres made for a local church; low-slung tables of metal and glass marked by an elegant (and deceptive) simplicity; a clean-lined dresser's evolution, documented in photographs, from tree to furniture; a wonderfully puzzling piece of apparently "woven" ceramic art; and a visually stunning, organic-looking sculptural collage comprised merely of paper and resin.

"Piece Process: Thought Becomes Form" will be on display at the Vine Arts Center through August 1. There will be a potluck dinner and artist show-and-tell Friday, July 17, from 6 to 8 p.m.

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