Art Beat: Finding community, connection at ‘Fall River Makes! Part II’

Oct 12, 2022 | Arts & Culture, Community, Press

Don Wilkinson, Contributing Writer
A dozen visual artists and artisans who share space in the Smokestack Studios in Fall River’s historic Metacomet Mill are currently exhibiting their work and wares in the Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallery at BCC.

Despite a wide variety of disciplines and the fact that the work ranges from the whimsical to the solemn, and from the utilitarian to the contemplative, it is the thoughtfulness and high quality inherent in everything displayed in “Fall River Makes! Part ll / Another Look at the Work of the Artists and Makers from Smokestack Studios” that brings it true cohesiveness.

Established in 2007, Smokestack Studios provides a sense of artistic community in the Spindle City. Grimshaw-Gudewicz gallery director Kathleen Hancock has referred to the Smokestack artists as a collaborative, but not necessarily because the artists and makers are working together in a literal sense.

Father David and son Gabriel Richardson often have worked on furniture projects together, being the exception that makes the rule. However, none of their work together is on display. To Hancock’s point regarding collaboration, it is more about the creators bouncing ideas off each other. Proximity inspires and challenges. The elder Richardson displays a number of works that reside in a space that traverses the functional and the pictorial, as in “Rain,” a beautifully crafted cherry entry table, on which a series of thin, dark lines dance across its face, slanted just ever so much, implying a heavy precipitation. It is displayed under a wall mounted panel of the same name and similar effect. The younger Richardson, an accomplished woodworker and printmaker, presents a series of playful wooden shapes, including “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” Deep viridian in hue, the purposely cartoonish cutout suggests elements of a human form in profile- a head, a raised arm, a protruding chest, and two upper thighs. Or maybe, it’s just a bunny rabbit.

Brooks Saltonstall works with 3D printing filament and, as she describes it, “its possible companions” which include paint, cardboard, wax and more. Particularly intriguing is “Untitled B,” a gray, Barbie doll-sized melting park bench, covered with life-size flies. There is something slightly apocalyptic about it, in this era of global warming and pestilence. Mark Bokelman displays a “Side Chair,” constructed of figured maple with an elegant back and curved legs. The cushioned seat is upholstered with silk, boldly patterned with bright botanical elements against an infinite black backdrop. And Bokelman’s “Drinks Cabinet” is handsome enough to make a teetotaler reconsider. Made from 3/16” diamond plate steel, Gail Fredell’s “Rocking Chair” is crisp, sharp and perfectly configured for maximum viewing enjoyment. But it may be a celebration of the notion of form over function, as it seems to defy one’s expectation of comfort. But having not actually sat on the rocker (as is customary in most museum/gallery settings), I may be wrong.

“Seeking Vastness (Matrix) #1-6” is a series of small geometric abstract paintings by Wes Sanders. The half-dozen works are stacked two high and three across. Each contains a grid of 25 small squares, and two or three colors — black and blue, or pink, red and green, for example. Each painting works alone but much of the joy of it comes from their relationship to each other.

I will note some of the other works with the exhibition that were particularly striking before I move onto the one piece that particularly moved me.

The appropriately named bladesmith Joyce Kutty’s “Knife Series,” smartly displayed under glass, were exquisitely designed and crafted, but the true knowing of a knife is in the cutting. Wu Hanyen’s “Lachi Pull Up Bar” was positioned in a corner and perfectly illuminated, the cast shadows magnifying the grace of the craftsmanship.

The show is rounded out by outstanding work by Peter Lutz, Christine Kim and Tyler Inman.

And then there was Isabel Mattia. She presented works about nature and birth and motherhood, and her media included video, textile work and photography and all of those works are worthy of consideration and contemplation. But it was “The Tiny Book of Enormous Loss” that brought tears to my eyes. A book, the size of a pocket notebook, sat on a shelf. A needle was in a sheath on the cover of the book and that needle was tethered to it by a thread that wrapped around. Mattia left instructions to the willing. She wrote, “This book is a collection of tiny bits of enormous loss, generously donated by people like you. Participants donate a piece of their loss by piercing a tiny hole in a page of this tiny book. The result is a precious and priceless collection of heavy emptiness.” I unwrapped the thread, I unsheathed the needle, I found a page, and I pierced it. Last November, my wife Elizabeth and I lost our son in a tragic automobile accident. We feel deep loss every day. I gave Mattia an iota of it.

I am preserving the anonymity of the someone who left a message in the gallery guest book, but this is the gist of what it said: “I lost someone…and that book made me feel seen…I am not alone.”

There are many holes on those pages.

Thank you, Isabel.

“Fall River Makes! Part ll / Another Look at the Work of the Artists and Makers of Smokestack Studios” is on display at the Grimshaw-Gudewicz Gallery at BCC, 777 Elsbree St., Fall River, MA