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Animal attractions change craft fair into a virtual zoo


Fans of the American Craft Council's annual craft fair in Baltimore know the popular event will be packed with people. But when this year's show opens Friday, the artists' booths will also be packed with animals -- figuratively speaking.

Animal images will be everywhere -- on platters and bowls, on puzzles and furniture, on purses and sweaters, belt buckles and bird houses and earrings and just sitting around as themselves, carved out of wood or molded in ceramic.

"I've always done animals," says Kelly Torche, a ceramics artist from Kingston, N.Y., "because I was a biology major before I was a ceramics major." But she also believes that animal imagery is becoming more prevalent in the art world because more and more people are getting into environmental issues. People are getting more involved with nature."

Among objects Ms. Torche will be displaying are wide, shallow bowls with interior designs of fish, or a luna moth and flowers. Ms. Torche says that among her customers for a teapot covered with luna moths was novelist Stephen King, who saw it in a catalog.

"I use insects, and sometimes tigers . . . and lizards and snakes and all sorts of creepy crawly things," Ms. Torche says. "I use a lot of fish images, because in ancient cultures the fish was the symbol for plenty and long life, and that's something I want to convey in my art."

Several artists who work in animal images say they like the ancient connection between animals and art. Pamela Morin of Beacon, N.Y., who makes painted wood objects, says, "I take my images mostly from folk art." Animals, she says, are "universal folk art images -- they're archetypes."

Ms. Morin said all of her objects have some kind of animal on them. A recent example is a playful chair in which two penguins flank a triangular seat. "It's happy work," Ms. Morin says. "People like to come and spin yarns in my booth. It seems to set off a series of memories."

Memories of growing up in Maine inspire Melissa Greene of Deer Isle, Maine, whose ceramic works include a vessel depicting bears and blueberries. "My dad was a storyteller type . . . he told us we couldn't pick blueberries without leaving something for the bears." So she and her sister stocked up on gumdrops and hurled them into the woods to appease the bears.

"About half of my designs are animals," Ms. Greene says, "and most of my animals are bears. I do animals that are around me, that I grew up with -- loons and moose and fish."

She thinks animals appeal to the child in all of us. "Animals bring out this childish quality in people -- you're allowed to play."

"I think people need humor in their lives, desperately," says Jacki Crawford of Doylestown, Pa., who creates whimsical wooden objects that often incorporate animals that can be detached and worn as jewelry -- a cat with a movable arm sits on a painted box labeled "Cat fish for sale." "I think there's a real need in people's lives to connect with the things around them," she says.

Some people who frequent craft shows have specific connections in mind. "We have people that collect certain animals," says Jane Carpenter of East Hampton, N.Y., who with her husband and partner, Edward Heiple, creates jewelry and bird houses. "Sometimes they're very unusual animals, like goats or giraffes. They'll say, do you have a giraffe? And if you do, it

just makes their day."

Some of their birdhouses are one-of-a-kind objects, but others are based on Audubon Society specifications. "We read everything we could find on birdhouses," Ms. Carpenter says.

The Carpenter-Heiple animals are usually depicted whimsically; other artists take their images straight from nature.

"We only do animals," says Faith Allenby of South Killington, Conn., who, with her partner Robert Kauffman, will be showing carved wooden animals. "They're all realistic; people can recognize what they are. We do domestic animals -- cats and dogs -- we do a rhino, pandas, horses, a giraffe, a zebra . . "

But some of the carvings have whimsical juxtapositions: One depicts a cat with a mouse riding on its back and a bird cage with a canary under it.

Among the more unusual objects based on animal images are the intricate wooden puzzles made by Norma Jean and Tim Rollet of Middlebury, Vt. "People love animals," Ms. Rollet says. One of the puzzles, called "Back to School," consists of 12 fish, linked together in a diamond shape, each of which is a puzzle itself. Another is called "Turtles in Tutus," and is made of linked turtles in "Swan Lake" garb. Ms. Rollet designs and cuts out the puzzles by herself -- it can take a day to cut all the pieces for a puzzle like "Back to School," which has 275 pieces. Mr. Rollet finishes the backs "like fine furniture" and each puzzle goes into a special, hand-made box.

"Through the years I have seen the animal motif come and go," says JoAnn Brown, director of American Craft Enterprises, the marketing division of the craft council. "Some years it's really very strong. It's interesting because it's across all media, and it's artists from Washington state to Maine to Florida -- as though it was a conspiracy."

She said she has watched animal images move into every medium -- wooden objects and jewelry, ceramics and clothing.

Artists and animals are a natural combination, she says. "For artists, the animal is very primitive, very basic. And the animal form is appealing to artists. Animals are very much a part of all out lives. It's just very basic, and very appealing."

The 1993 American Craft Council's Craft Fair Baltimore fills both the Convention Center and Festival Hall in the Inner Harbor. More than 600 artists will be represented. It will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6; children under 12 are free. For more information, call (410) 962-1122.

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