Honoring the Past, Celebrating The Present, at the Washington Craft Show

22 Sep

‘Honoring the Past, Celebrating The Present’ Juried Event Features 190 of the Nation’s Most Accomplished Craft Artists

Artists often are inspired by nature, and many find motivation in the world around them. Paying tribute to the past and honoring one’s heritage are also important to many artisans, who sometimes spend years conducting research in order to create artwork that combines historical techniques with contemporary forms.

Valeri Timofeev

Such is the case with many of the artists who will exhibit their work at the 23rd annual Washington Craft Show, including Latvian-born jeweler Valeri Timofeev (b. 1941), who is considered the modern day master of a technique known as “plique à jour,” a French phrase which means “light of day,” or “open to light.”

First popular with the public in the late 19th century, and perhaps best known by the eggs of Carl Fabergé, plique à jour is a technique in which translucent enamels are fused to span a network of gold, silver or copper wire, with no metal backing under the glazed areas.

The technique produces small expanses of clear enamel in this network of metal. When light shines through the enamel it produces an effect similar to that of a stained-glass window.

Timofeev, who now makes his home in East Stroudsburg, PA, was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1941. He moved to Moscow in 1967 to study jewelry and was drawn to enameling because of its color, transmission of light and compatibility with metal.  His work caught the attention of the Soviet Artists Union, which invited him to become a member.

Intrigued by history, the artist set out to learn the techniques of Russian masters, whose applied-art workshops of the early 20th-century were nearly destroyed during the Bolshevik Revolution.  He found that many technical secrets had been lost after 1917, as traditional art was diminished and replaced with newer styles.

Timofeev spent many hours in Russian museums studying the enamel work of Carl Fabergé, Pavel Ovchinnikov and other Russian masters, and researched their work in many old books, which he found in the basements of libraries and old bookstores. Once he felt he had a firm grasp of their techniques, he developed his own contemporary style.

In November 1992, Timofeev was one of three artists invited to exhibit his plique à jour work in Moscow, at an event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Fabergé firm.

The Russians asked him to serve as a consultant on jewelry for the Armory Chamber in the Kremlin, one of the country’s most important museums.  Today, you will find Timofeev’s work in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Museum and other museums around the world.

Other artists you will meet at the Washington Craft Show whose work pays tribute to the past include:

  • Cliff Lee (b. 1951), a ceramic artist who makes his home in Stevens, PA. Lee gave up a promising career as a neurosurgeon at the age of 27,when he went on sabbatical and studied ceramics at James Madison University, eventually earning his MFA.  Influenced by his work as a surgeon, his pottery mimics natural forms, including flowers, gourds, leaves and other natural shapes. Through 17 years of research, Lee taught himself how to reproduce a glaze called Imperial Yellow, whose secret had been lost for centuries. As the story goes, ceramists in ancient China who failed to render the glaze perfectly were beheaded! Lee was not under such intense pressure, for which we are all thankful. His work is now found in museums around the country, including the Smithsonian, as well as in the White House Collection of Arts and Crafts, and he sells his glazes to potters in China.

  • Mary Jackson (b. 1945), a basket maker who lives and works in Charleston, SC. Jackson weaves sweetgrass baskets, following a tradition that was passed down from her ancestors. This tradition originated in West Africa, and was brought to this country by slaves.  Her baskets are represented in many collections including the American Craft Museum, White House Collection of Arts and Crafts, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and others. She was recognized in 2008 as one of 25 MacArthur Fellows, and received a “Genius Grant” – a fellowship given to creative individuals distinguished by their efforts to push the boundaries of their respective fields.

These are but a few of the gifted artists who will exhibit their work at the 23rd annual Washington Craft Show November 19-21 at the Washington Convention Center.  In all, 190 artists will be on hand, eager to meet new people and talk about their work.

Will you be attending the Craft Show?

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