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Traditional, recognizable and pretty

Pastels and wood turning at American Art Company

‚ÄúContemplating Conservation‚ÄĚ pastel by LaDonna Kruger. Photo courtesy American Art

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Two big shows are running simultaneously at American Art Company, "Women in Wood" and the "32nd NW Pastel Society International Exhibit." As if that were not enough, they are also showing some excellent fiber art, including some terrific work by local favorite Jill Nordfors Clark.

"Women in Wood" features wood pieces by 13 women woodworkers from around the country, including turned wood, bent and carved wood and more.

The pastel show is precisely what you might expect from a pastel invitational, highly traditional work executed with admirable skill. Landscapes abound, along with a few portraits and a smattering of abstracts. The exhibition is all about color, light and texture. The colors are predominantly in the warm spectrum and glow like sunlight on a field of flowers, of which there are many examples in this show. Take, for instance, the dappled light in Mary McInnis' "Shadow Spread," a forest scene of light through leaves casting shadows on a dirt path, or the blinding sunlight in Lynda Lindner's "Unschooling," a picture of two children wading in the surf. Or the subdued light of Deborah Henderson's "Departure," a painting of ducks taking flight from a pond depicted in subtle shades of gray. Or the scorching hot purple, pink and orange of LaDonna Kruger's "Contemplating Conservation," a picture of crowds standing by a body of water (there's an ominous quality to this, as if the people are marching lemming-like to their execution).

Texture becomes a driving force in some, such as the velvety softness of Janice Wall's "River of Dreams," depicting sunlight through heavy clouds on a mountain stream, or the gritty texture of Kathryn Fehlig's landscape "Hillside of Rabbit Brush," which looks like the artist coated the paper with gesso or some kind of gel and gouged it with a fork, let it dry and then painted over it with chalky pastel colors. Or Eve Miller's "Marsh Textures," which looks like it was painted though the mesh of chicken wire.

The wood pieces include a lot of abstract work, many pieces inspired by animals and seed pods, and a lot that seem to have been inspired by Northwest Indian art. There are also a lot of intricately carved miniature sculptures that are fascinating in their detail, such as Tania Radda's intricate and colorful "Leaf Tea," a carved teapot with sensual tendrils growing out of it. And there are a lot of pots, some that look like ceramics and some that look like glass, but all of which are made from wood. 

One of my favorite pieces in the wood show is "Quadrant" by Merryll Saylan, an iconic wall-hanging, target-like sculpture with soft and subtle color modulations. Another favorite is Kristin Le Vier's "Talisman for the Home," two bent wooden spoons with little green snakes winding around them. This one is funky and clever, and its simple forms are lovely.

Co-curator Betty Scarpino is represented with some fine works, including "Eggs & Crate," a carved white egg with curvilinear forms like a yin-yang symbol in a nest of shredded paper inside a wooden box. She did this one in collaboration with Dixie Biggs.

If you like your art traditional, recognizable and pretty, these shows at American Art Company might be exactly what you're looking for. 

"NW PASTEL SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL EXHIBIT," 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, through June 16, "WOMEN IN WOOD," through July 7, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327, americanartco.com


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