ST. PETERSBURG — According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, the word “alchemy,” derived from a centuries-old Arabian phrase, refers to the dark mystery of the primordial or First Matter, or the “Khem.” Among the goals of classical alchemists was the transmutation of metal. Medieval alchemists believed the different elements were all composed of the same original substance in varying degrees of purity, with gold being the purest of all.
“The Art of Alchemy,” a juried exhibition of 75 original artworks, is currently on display through June 24 at at the Florida CraftArt Gallery, 501 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg.
The exhibition features 31 artists from California, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York. It is co-curated by Elizabeth Brincklow and Mary Childs, who bring their strong backgrounds, experiences and reputations as art leaders and visionaries to the show.
“Alchemy is the magical process of transforming or combining elements into something new and extraordinary,” explained Childs in a press release. “The essential artforms of ceramic, glass, fiber, metals, and wood have evolved with us to our present day, defining our culture and iterations as human beings.”
Brincklow adds, “Art is alchemy not only through its medium and technical aspects, but also in the biochemical reactions that it elicits from people who interact with it physiologically, neurologically, and psychologically. ‘The Alchemy of Art’ encompasses the creator, the fabrication, the object, and the viewer.”
Florida artists whose work is featured in the exhibition include Bobbie Baugh, DeLand; Chris Chomick and Peter Meder, St. Petersburg; Randal Colbath, St. Petersburg; Nikki Devereux, St. Petersburg; Melissa Fair, Tampa; Eric Folsom, Gulfport; Judy Freeman, Land O'Lakes; Peggy Gallaher, Lakeland; Donald Gialanella, St. Petersburg; Joan Libby Hawk, Sarasota; Anna Jonsdottir, Lutz; Leeann Kroetsch, Tampa; P.A. Kushner, Clearwater; Fahan McDonagh, St. Petersburg; Elizabeth Neily, Gulfport; Alice Pickett Lewis, Gulfport; Nick Reale, St. Petersburg; Alison Schaeffler-Murphy, St. Augustine; Robert Schott, St. Petersburg; and Barbara Williams, Ruskin. Out-of-state artists include James Allen, Odessa, New York; Mariel Bass, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Michael Boroniec, Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Erik and Martin Demaine, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Kiki Dufault, Great Barrington, Massachusetts; Eric Hilton, Odessa, New York; Peter Houk, Waltham, Massachusetts; Velda Newman, Nevada City, California; Cary Rapaport, Arlington, Massachusetts; Wayne Strattman, Great Barrington, Massachusetts; and Natalie Tyler, Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
The exhibition was judged by Christine Renc-Carter, the executive director of the Leepa-Rattner Museum in Tarpon Springs.
“It was a thrill to spend time judging the exhibition,” Renc-Carter said. “Many artists explored science, math, and technology through the various mediums of fine craft.”
Best of Show was awarded to James Allen and Eric Hilton for a glass sculpture “Tides of Time.” Hilton sculpted a glass panel with flowing forms and graceful curves that invite the viewer's gaze on a journey through the abstract landscape of the glass and the ever-changing imagery within. Behind the glass is a computer monitor on which Allen has created a dynamic panorama of moving images that wind through and around and insinuate themselves into the landscape of the glass. Like the seasons and the tides, these images never repeat themselves exactly but are constantly generated anew by custom software Allen developed explicitly for this piece.
First Place went to Natalie Tyler for a glass sculpture titled “Eagle’s Nest.”
“I am inspired by the cycles of life within nature, the birth, life, death and regeneration,” Tyler said. “Using glass and bronze, I capture ephemeral moments in time, and preserve the story for our future.”
Nick Reale received Second Place for a dynamic wooden chair titled “The Float.” He was inspired by a “tension table” that he saw, and designed a leg-free chair that is both scientific and magical.
Third Place was awarded to Erik and Martin Demaine for “Fire Curls,” an intricate sculpture folded from watercolor paper. Erik and Martin are a father-son math-art team. Martin started the first private hot-glass studio in Canada and has been called the father of Canadian glass. Since 2005, Martin has been an artist-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Erik is also at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as a professor in computer science. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. In these capacities, Erik and Martin work together in paper, glass, and other material. They use their exploration in sculpture to help visualize and understand unsolved problems in science, and their scientific abilities to inspire new art forms.
Honorable mentions were given to Chomick and Meder, Melissa Fair, Leeann Kroetsch, P.A. Kushner, and Wayne Strattman.
The Director’s Award for an art quilt titled “Saying the Magic Words” was given to Bobbi Baugh.
“I make storytelling the heart of my quilts because stories are magic,” Baugh said. “Given a glimpse, a story fragment, the viewer longs to enter the scene and know more. And then viewers insert their own experiences and emotions into the story.”
Upcoming programming for the exhibition includes a celebration of Pride and discussion of resources offered by Metro Health on Wednesday, June 14, at 6 p.m.; and a curators’ talk on Saturday, June 24, at 4 p.m.
The exhibition was made possible with sponsorship from Kathryn Howd and Edward Rucks, Jones & Dunn Legacy Group Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, and Duncan McClellan Gallery. The show runs through June 24, when the People’s Choice Award will be presented. People can vote for their favorite work of art in the Florida CraftArt Exhibition Gallery. Docent tours are available upon request. Florida CraftArt has published a book on the show with images and biographies of the artists. It is available on www.FloridaCraftArt.org.
Florida CraftArt is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.FloridaCraftArt.org or call 727-821-7391.