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Richmond Gets Crafty: Visual Arts Center’s 45th Craft + Design Show

One of the works by Joseph Craig English that will be on display at the show. Image courtesy the artist.

Last month, the New York Times wrote that Richmond is “emerging as a new player on the Southern art and culinary scene.” Indeed, but why take a Noo Yawker’s word for it when you can slide on down I-95 and check it out yourself?

Next weekend, the Visual Art Center’s 45th Craft + Design Show kicks off under the rotunda at the Science Museum of Virginia. The building, once the Broad Street Station, is a work of art itself. Designed by John Russell Pope, the architect behind the National Archives building, the Jefferson Memorial, and the National Gallery of Art’s west building, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and alone worth the drive.

If you’ve ever been to the annual Smithsonian Craft Show, you’ll find that this one has a lot in common, except that Richmond’s show is 18 seasons wiser. There’ll be 75 superstar artists representing 17 states displaying works in fiber, glass, jewelry, mixed media, and wood. Says Karen Cauthen Miller, VAC’s special-events coordinator: “This show provides a unique opportunity to meet the artists, learn their stories, and collect their objects.” That intimacy is a major draw because half of the artists have never shown in Richmond. And lest you think it’s a fusty museum exhibit, a special partnership with Quirk Gallery (where Noah Scalin of Skull-A-Day fame displayed selections this summer) promises fun, youthful art at hang-it-in-the-kids’-rooms prices.

A first timer to the show, I got a sense of the scene by catching up with two Maryland artists who made the cut: Joseph Craig English, a printmaker/painter/sculptor from Washington Grove, and Eric Burris, a metalsmith/jeweler out of Silver Spring.

Washingtonian: Artists are coming from all over the country, but you’re based here. How has the Mid-Atlantic region influenced your aesthetic?
Eric Burris: “My materials are directly influenced by where I live and travel. I collect scraps of wood and sticks when I’m hiking with my dogs or walking to work. The interesting shapes and textures complement the main material in my jewelry, mokume gane [a metalsmithing technique born out of Japanese sword making]. Along with the wood, I’ve incorporated small sections of maps, usually showing the general location of where I found the wood. The pieces become personal stories documenting where I’ve been. With maps, my clientele has a chance to connect with that piece, especially if they recognize the area. Some of my favorite collecting places are Great Falls, Shenandaoah National Park, and along Sligo Creek.”

Washingtonian: You’re an arts-and-crafts-circuit veteran. What makes the VAC’s show special?
Joseph Craig English: “It’s relaxed and intimate. I feel like I have time to talk to my customers at a leisurely pace. Plus, the quality of the other participants is always superb. And because of the influence of Virginia Commonwealt University and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, I’d rate Richmond pretty high on the ‘art-savvy’ scale.”

Washingtonian: What’s next for you? Are you developing some new ideas?
Burris: “Right now, I’m experimenting with enameling on mokume gane. Enameling (fused glass on metal) can be applied to copper, fine silver, and fine gold. The mokume gane I make is comprised of fine silver and copper, so enamel adheres to the surface. I’m using transparents, so the organic mokume patterns are still visible through layers of color.”

Washingtonian: With the rise of farmers markets and locavorism, are people looking to keep purchases noncommercial and regional when it comes to art?
English: “The demand for my work seems to be steadily increasing. I’m getting many more opportunities to create murals in public settings like schools and libraries, and just this year I’ve been commissioned to create three portraits. I attribute a lot of that to my longevity in the business and the consistently high standards I set for my work. Also, customers know they’ll get great value for their money from me.”

Visual Art Center’s 45th Craft + Design Show, Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 W. Broad St., Richmond. Saturday 10 to 6, Sunday 11 to 5. Tickets are $10 for VisArts members, $12 general admission, or $15 for a weekend pass. For more information, call 804-353-0094.

Proceeds will benefit the educational and community programs of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond (formerly the Hand Workshop).

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