Over hundreds or thousands of years, cultures across the globe have developed their own ways of working with basic materials such as clay, fiber, and metal. This global nature of craft is brought to light in a new exhibition at the Penland Gallery, which presents a brilliant exploration of traditional Japanese metalworking as it is practiced today. The show, titled Tradition of Excellence: Japanese Techniques in Contemporary Metal Arts, runs through November 17.
Featuring work by twenty-two Japanese and seven American artists, the exhibition was curated by metalsmith Hiroko Yamada, a jeweler and teacher who divides her time between Wisconsin and Japan. All of the artists make work based in historical techniques and approaches: some of them adhere strictly to tradition, while others reinvent or reinterpret it through contemporary practice. Among the artists are three who have received the highest honor in being designated as Japanese Living Treasures. Also part of the exhibition are three artists who live at or near Penland: Marvin Jensen, a longtime Mitchell County resident and former Penland employee; Seth Gould, a recent Penland resident artist; and Andrew Meers, a current Penland resident artist.
Curator Hiroko Yamada has taught at Penland School regularly since 2005. Over the past five years, she has helped organize several exhibitions and workshops aimed at introducing Japanese metal work to Western audiences and metalsmiths. “My mission,” she says, “is to bring together artistic skills and knowledge that will help both Japanese and American artists grow in their work and achieve new levels of excellence.”
What is hard to convey about this show is the astonishing level of excellence displayed by this work—in technique, design, and sheer artistry. The exhibition includes vessels, jewelry, and small sculpture. All of the work could be called decorative, with each piece creating its own special kind of beauty. Although few people who see this exhibition will arrive familiar with terms such as shakudo, kinkeshi, or mokume-gane, it’s unlikely that anyone will leave unmoved by this display of the incredible work that can be made by artisans committed to the highest levels of craft.
Also currently on view at the Penland Gallery is a small show of glass work by Shane Fero and photographs by Deb Stoner. Around the building are outdoor sculptures by ceramic artist Catherine White and steel sculptors Daniel T. Beck and Hoss Haley and an interactive mixed-media installation by Jeff Goodman.
The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM and Sunday, Noon-5:00 PM; it is closed on Mondays.