Catherine Jozwik
Visual Art

Home Is Where the Art Is

MOWA exhibit offers a treasure trove of imaginative, artful home furnishings.

By - Apr 10th, 2019 12:55 pm
Chloe Darke silverware. Photo courtesy of MOWA.

Chloe Darke silverware. Photo courtesy of MOWA.

Can home furnishings be great art?

Handmade for Home:The Craft of Contemporary Design, the Museum of Wisconsin Art’s current exhibit through May 19, makes a very good case for this notion. Combining rustic and synthetic materials with a mix of traditional techniques, function, and sleek craftsmanship, the exhibit features furniture, silverware, bath towels, shower curtains, and other home goods created by esteemed Wisconsin artisans and designers.

In addition to Charles Radtke, Tom Loeser, Jeffrey Clancy, Patrick Burke, and Dona Look, the exhibit also showcases a piece by newcomer to the art world, MIAD senior Maggie Jo Sanderson, and silver utensils created by UW-Madison graduate student Chloe Darke.

The pieces in the exhibit run the gamut from relatively minimalistic to ornate, with wood being the dominant medium. Sanderson’s wedge-shaped wooden desk, with thin, tapered legs, has a top that opens. Algoma-based artisan Dona Look uses local birch bark and silk threads to create her stunning, neutral-hued baskets, which have exhibited in the White House Collection of American Crafts.

Michael Route’s glass-topped coffee table, with circular black iron legs, would add a refined, sophisticated element to any living room.

“The Manitowoc Cabinet,” a collaboration between Randy Sahli, Julie Gunderson, David Carpenter and Patrick Burke, illustrates the talent of four woodworkers, with art-deco woodcarving, trompe l’oeil painted front panels, and meticulous construction, including pull-out drawers and a polished interior.

Several artists use unlikely mediums to create innovative designs. Textile artist Emily Graf’s wool rug is made out of hundreds of round pieces meant to mimic stone. Clancy’s reptilian and prehistoric-inspired pewter dinnerware (from the 2014 exhibit “Enduring Decadence) is complete with claws, scales, and flower petals meant to resemble ancient plants. These contrast with his classic, unadorned metal candleholders. Kohlberg furniture maker Jim Rose’s cabinet, made out of recycled and painted steel, echoes American quilt patterns.

Many artisans represented in the Handmade for Home exhibit are also local business owners.

The geometric, retro-inspired wallpaper of Elizabeth and Michael Rees, owners of Chasing Paper, a removable wallpaper company in Milwaukee, provides a lively backdrop for the exhibit.

Father and son Brandon and Dave Jacoby, who own Jacoby Custom Cues in Nekoosa, create finely-crafted pool cues with intricate designs. MOWA has exhibited a handful of these cues, vintage 1983 to 2017.

Ryan Tretow (owner of Tretow design firm) has designed a small, light-colored wood chair, with a natural leather seat, that is simple yet sophisticated, ideal for office furniture. Cathy and Mario Costantini, owners of Milwaukee furniture shop La Lune, have on display a large round wooden table and matching chairs, with tree branches as legs—reminiscent of furniture found in a cabin in Wisconsin’s North Woods.

Several pieces, among them Sturgeon Bay artists Wence and Sandra Martinez’s Mexican-inspired maize and brown textile and printed glassware, and Radke’s elegant “Stepped Cabinet #2” (2014, walnut, sassafras, pink ivory, Gabon ebony and copper) echo the artists’ cultural backgrounds and personal lives. For example, Radtke, who has experienced hearing loss, has pasted medical notes inside the cabinet and has drawn what appears to be hearing aid symbols (and possibly sound waves) in pencil or ink on the back of the cabinet.

The MOWA’s first level highlights the whimsical, futuristic, and architecturally-inspired designs of Kelly Frederick Mizer and Reginald Baylor, with bath towels and shower curtains on display. Mizer’s fanciful wolves and poodles add a lighthearted touch to bathroom décor. Baylor’s cubed basketballs and watermelons play with African-American stereotypes, while his colorful houses, modeled after Milwaukee homes, give the exhibit an element of local pride.

Museum visitors have the opportunity to take a bit of the Handmade for Home exhibit with them. Items bearing Baylor and Mizer’s designs, like cards, towels, lampshades and shower curtains, can also be found in the MOWA gift shop.

Handmade for Home Gallery

Handmade for Home:The Craft of Contemporary Design, on display at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, 205 Veterans Ave., West Bend, WI, through May 19.

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