Given its venue — the Society for Contemporary Craft — and the résumé of its juror, you'd guess that the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh's 101st Annual would have a pronounced craft component. And you'd guess right.
Still, as juried by Chicago-based artist and educator Fo Wilson (known for her furniture-based work), this showcase for some three dozen area artists boasts both accomplished craft pieces and work firmly in the "fine art" camp.
The craft standouts include Robert Bishop's beautiful, mostly oaken "Keepsake Box No. 96," and Ceil Sturdevant's lovely, porcelain "Water Dragon Tea Set."
Even more prevalent, and more striking, are nontraditional craft-based work. Passle Helminksi's hung fiber sculptures kinetically suggest antediluvian sea arachnids wearing designer sweaters. Chuck Johnson's "Trailer" is a miniature gothic church on a two-wheeled wagon, its unglazed ceramic palette complementing the beautiful lines and subtle surrealism. And Patty Gallagher's "Please Print Clearly" is a witty mixed-media work: a "modern tribal ritual dance costume" mostly made from paper tags block-printed with vintage illustrations, like children's alphabet cards.
Other work has a homey, crafty feel, though sometimes belying a pointed message. In "Out of the Drawer, ‘Lest We Forget'," for instance, Tina W. Brewer fills the drawers of her great-great aunt's side table with miniature reproductions of minstrel-song sheet music ("Mammy's Goodnight Lullaby") that perpetrated lasting racial stereotypes. And Gayle Marie Weitz's "Humanimal #8: Sheepish" is an anti-wool tract in the shape of a charming anthropomorphized sculpture whose torso is a sort of armoire.
Still, much of this show is quite distant from craft, from Joan Iversen Goswell's delicate paper sculpture "Stick Book" to Nellie Lou Slagle's lively mixed-media abstracts, "Thoughts" and "Outside In." Benjy Blanco gets in your face with "Lachesis Muta," a 35-foot-long snake made from shards of cherry wood, all jagged edges and reptilian grace; Daniel Bolick's "100 People I Know" is all about faces, a tile work of 4-square-inch paintings, each erupting with personality. (Now you know them, too.)
The Annual also includes this novel feature: three big display cases labeled "Sources," exhibiting items that inspired participating artists. The materials range from art textbooks and jazz CDs to family photos, from animal skulls to circuit boards. It's a nice touch that itself suggests the scope of this show.
ASSOCIATED ARTISTS OF PITTSBURGH 101ST ANNUAL continues through Jan. 14. Society for Contemporary Craft, 2100 Smallman St., Strip District. 412-261-7003 or contemporarycraft.org