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The Tabletop: A Place With Special Meaning

“Tabletop” installation view
“Tabletop” installation view

“Tabletop” looks a little different this year.

That’s because the exhibit, open through July 3, isn’t only ceramics: glass, fiber, and wood and metal furniture are included this time for an all-media celebration of the table.

Why the table? What’s so special about the art we use there, like a bowl, a tumbler, or a table runner? We asked the exhibit’s jurors — McKenzie Smith for ceramics, Kate Lydon for everything else — to share their thoughts on functional art.

Side Table by George Tkabladze, Best in Show for Functional Art Forms
Side Table by George Tkabladze, Best in Show for Functional Art Forms
Pitcher by Diane Kenney, Best in Show for Functional Ceramics
Pitcher by Diane Kenney, Best in Show for Functional Ceramics
Moon Spirits by Barbara Freeman Warden
Moon Spirits by Barbara Freeman Warden (Equal Merit Award)

In functional art, what sets a successful piece apart?

Kate Lydon: Whether functional or sculptural, key elements — high quality craftsmanship, use of material, balance and form — are key to the success of the work. If the intent of the work is function, the object should be well designed and function perfectly.

McKenzie Smith: What sets a successful piece apart is that it is thoughtful in the way it’s made, in both the form, and relationship to the decoration.

What stood out in the Best in Show piece you selected?

MS: The best of show in ceramics went to Diane Kenney because her Pitcher was beautiful, and showing her mastery of form, surface, and function.

KL: The artist’s craftsmanship, execution and knowledge of woodworking.

By McKenzie Smith
Quote and artwork: juror McKenzie Smith

What’s your relationship with functional art?

KL: I am engaged by functional art because of the role it has played in the history of decorative arts and more recently in the contemporary craft movement. What is most engaging for me is art that encourages dialogue and an exchange of ideas. For example, a quilt that moves beyond its intended use as a bed covering and is recognized as a piece of art that shares personal narrative or history.

MS: I have been a functional potter for over 30 years. Function is what we do. It is on our minds always, and the pots we make serve the table in daily use.

Cup Caddy, porcelain and pine, by Kate Fisher (Equal Merit Award)
Cup Caddy, porcelain and pine, by Kate Fisher (Equal Merit Award)

Is there a particular tabletop form or object that holds special meaning for you?

MS: A table set for dinner is a wonderful sight and still holds special meaning for me. Food, family, and friends all play a part in this romance and it is one that is shared worldwide.

KL: Over the years I have gathered together an extensive collection of handmade mugs. I begin each day by selecting a cup — porcelain or wood fired, colorfully glazed or bearing beautiful markings from its firing. Each mug has a unique fit in my hand and offers an engaging dialogue with its artist maker.

“Tabletop” is on view through Sunday, July 3. 

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The League's 2019 nationally juried Tabletop exhibit features a functional ceramic, metal, and functional wares – perfect for wedding gift or an update to your own collection. The 50 juried pieces in the exhibit include metal utensils, wood and ceramic bowls, beautiful serving platters, ornate vases, practical but beautiful mugs, and even a small few tables!
The piece,  The Mage, is the first piece featured in The Art League Gallery by Bev Ryan student, Begoña Lathbury, who won an honorable mention in the April Mixed Media show for her mixed media piece. Lathbury won her membership in the Student/Faculty show, and it was her first time entering! We chatted with Lathbury about her progression from student to exhibitor and about her eye-catching piece: 

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