It may well be that for the first time in its 93 years, the Toledo Area Artists’ Exhibition has awarded Best of Show for a teapot.
Sterling silver, mind you, and priced at $35,000.
The apex of the local art scene, the TAA exhibition opened Friday at the Toledo Museum of Art with a total of $8,150 awarded to 20 of the 277 artists who entered this, the largest local contest. It’s a smaller show than usual, with 66 pieces selected out of the pool of 757 submitted, but it’s infused with new vigor because the museum has committed to run it, largely taking the reins from a group of volunteers.
Best of Show ($1,000) and First Award ($500): Thomas Muir, for Twin Risers.
A solo show at the museum and First Award ($500): Leslie Adams, for Senzione: Self Portrait.
Second awards ($300): Paul Geiger, Sandra Heard, and Camille Isaacs.
Third awards ($200): Samantha Guy, Ronald Jacomini, Spencer Cunningham, Thomas Marino.
Additional awards ranging from $200 to $500: Seder Burns, Debra Buchanan, Robin Schultes, Thomas Muir, Tim Gaewsky, Nicholas Althoff, Nadine Saylor, Leslie Adams, Penny Gentieu, Jan Thomas, Marcelle Dupay, Janet Ballweg.
Two big winners emerged, both respected local masters: Tom Muir and Leslie Adams.
Muir nabbed three prizes totalling $1,750 for his swan-necked Twin Risers. Its teapot suggests a torso set on a stair-step from which a cylinder rises. The tiny hinges for the compound-curved lid required five attempts to build. Muir, who loves tea implements, water, and birds, crafted the 14½-inch-tall sterling silver piece over two years while nursing severe tendonitis.
Muir heads jewelry and metalsmithing at Bowling Green State University and lives in Perrysburg. In 2009, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ohio Designer Craftsmen, and in 2008, he won first place in the TAA show for a piece named as only an artist or rock band could: Intimate Symmetry with Dog-Sucking Louse. It’s a tea strainer, inspired by what Muir saw when he looked under a microscope at his veterinarian’s office and viewed the lice that were feasting on his dogs.
His work is owned by the Smithsonian Institution, the White House Collection of American Crafts, the National Museum of American Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2005, he was named a distinguished professor of the arts at BGSU.
A key player
Leslie Adams used charcoal pencils to draw herself (and MRIs of her brain) and won $800 and another prize with no cash but lots of cachet: a solo exhibition at the museum in 2012. Her portrait commands the most prominent spot in the 4,500-square-foot Canaday Gallery, flanked on either side by a portrait of a woman, and facing a trio of male images across the room.
Adams has herself at the easel; behind her are back-lit brain-scan images taken after she’d had a slight stroke. In front, a table holds her eyeglasses. A handmade box created by her mentor, Diana Attie, is embedded with cast fingertips.
The frame was time-intensive for Adams. Made of wood and painted with silver, she carved it with symbols, including the Italian phrase that inspired her, which translates to "Man paints with his brains and not with his hands."
Adams won a 1995 TAA for an earlier self-portrait and has been in the show 14 times over the last 18 years. She’s a key player in the Toledo Federation of Art Societies, the show’s organizer before the museum took over. She works out of a downtown studio but has spent much of the past few years in Columbus painting official portraits of Ohio statesmen, including former governors Ted Strickland and Bob Taft, both of which hang in the Statehouse. She’s won best portfolio twice from the Portrait Society of America, and in 2009, she was a semifinalist in the Smithsonian’s Boochever portrait contest.
In 1990, she won the grand prize in the first International Drawing Competition sponsored by the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, which included a scholarship for a master’s degree at the New York Academy of Art.
The overall show
The show was judged by Brian Kennedy and Amy Gilman, the museum’s director and associate director, respectively, who devoted two days to examining the 757 images submitted online — a challenge, they said, because it’s tough to grasp scale and dimension from a picture.
"At the end of the jurying process, we stopped looking at them on the wall and printed out reproductions and laid them out. We wanted a range of media and of artists at different places in their careers and with different approaches," said Gilman. At that point they looked for work that seemed to fit with the overall show. It is, after all, a mirror of our region, reflecting through metal, portrait, photography, and painting, our ideas, personalities, and times.
For Kennedy, who’s been in Toledo a scant year, it was a first exposure to most area artists.
These 66 pieces are, by and large, conservative and tasteful, like the museum. A look at the entrants shows a lack of ethnic diversity. Kennedy asks: Do local artists reflect their museum’s holdings or do a museum’s holdings influence what the local artists create?
The museum affirmed its commitment to the show as well as the local arts scene by taking over most of the contest’s organizing this year, along with publishing an online catalogue at its site, and offering a juicy carrot to entice top artists: a solo exhibition awarded to an established artist every other year.
Among other pieces not to be missed are:
● The life-sized dress with train, made over untold hours from thousands of buttons by Samantha Guy. She’s the only one to have two pieces in the show. Her other: a little old typewriter with hand-written poetry spilling out of the roller. Take a moment to read the keyboard.
● A surreal black deer with red leaf-ears, flameworked glass by Robin Schultes.
● Penny Gentieu’s photo of an autumnal moment in Wildwood Preserve Metropark, pigmented iridescently.
● Broken pencils on the floor spelling out # Sculpture Fail by Anthony Fontana (note the name on his specially made pencils).
● Michael McWhorter’s Grillan, (a colorful car’s grill).
● Finger Lickin’ Revenge, Mary Gaynier’s paper cutting in which the chicken gets the last laugh.
● The best photo of an RV lot ever by Seder Burns.
● The intense colors of Michael Wallace’s green bowl, missing a piece but full of cherries.
● Duane Bastian’s Reflections of India.