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Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009

Functional Art

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Allow art to serve as a form of cultural sustenance by feasting on two extraordinary exhibitions at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau. Both exhibits, "Quilt National" and "Craig Nutt: Wood Transformed," bring international artists to Wisconsin.

"Quilt National 2007," sponsored by the Dairy Barn in Athens, Ohio, is an international biennale that presents fine-art quilts by national and international artists from as far as Australia and Japan. The organization's mission is "to showcase and promote art quilts with innovation and originality."

The quilts in this exhibit require top and bottom layers stitched together with a filler fabric between them. Some artists use modern techniques, including digital sewing, laser-printed fabrics and photo transfers.

"Quilts are icons of their day. They reflect pop culture, technology and the concerns of the times," says Curatorial Assistant Kathryn Piffl. "They're tiny time capsules."

Current trends and issues are portrayed in vibrant hues on every quilt, fashioned by both men and women using hand, machine and free stitching to attach layers of cotton, organza, wool or even some unexpected recycled materials.

Along with the exhibition, the Woodson hosts a two-day workshop March 13-14 featuring international artist Paula Nadelstern. Renowned for her kaleidoscopic piecing techniques, she currently exhibits in a solo show at New York's American Museum of Folk Art. While Nadelstern's workshop requires a fee with registration, she lectures free of charge March 15 at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the fine art of contemporary quilts.

Scattered amid these brilliantly colored quilts, the Woodson's second exhibition is "Craig Nutt: Wood Transformed." This nationally recognized fine furniture artist builds chairs and benches in saturated tones embellished with vegetables inspired by Nutt's own gardens. Nutt's pieces integrate wit, imagination, the real and the fantastical with exquisite craftsmanship. In a chair titled Burning, fire-red chili-pepper legs and armrests enhance celery stalks used for the seat's back.

On view until March 29, both these exhibitions showcase the concept of combining function and art. And, as Piffl notes, each exhibit "provides a feast for the eyes."

Closer to home, Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery co-owner Faythe Levine presents the Milwaukee premiere of her feature-length film, Handmade Nation. The Landmark Oriental Theatre hosts the special event at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5. Limited editions of an exclusive movie poster will also be available for purchase.

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