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BY DESIGN : The Art of Crafts : To Some It's Just a Hobby, but to Professionals It's Creative License


'Tis the season when holiday bazaars bombard every town with their unique, handmade creations.

But since the '70s, when every mom dabbled in decoupage and macrame, the term craft has taken a few downturns into a realm that has less to do with talent or skill and more to do with hot glue guns and following manual instructions.

Fortunately, some artists aren't letting the true meaning of craft become extinct. Friday and Saturday, 38 such craftspeople will display their work at the Artistic License Fair at Estancia Park in Costa Mesa.

Most of the artisans had been a part of the illustrious Denwar Craft Fair, an annual forum that for 28 years drew 5,000 patrons each year. But when founders Jo and Esther Dendel retired, its participants decided to continue the tradition in the form of the Artistic License Fair. Responsibility was given to Nancy Gary, a Corona weaver and jewelry artist who also represents other artists under the Artistic License name.

"The caliber of this show is very high," Gary says. "We look for a particular quality and professionalism. We don't take someone who would do it on the side as a hobby."

Jewelry, leather work and garments made of hand-dyed and hand-woven fabrics are among the fashionable finds, in addition to works of ceramic, paper, wood and handblown glass. "Many patrons who attend this fair collect works by these artists," Gary notes. "So there's a real eagerness and excitement for this fair."

Entrants, who come from throughout California and other states, are judged by a panel of eight veteran members. This weekend's exhibitors represent a range of styles reflecting age-old techniques and modern applications. Three local participants are Vesta Ward, Joanell Connolly and Georgia Allen.

Georgia Allen

Art glass and ceramics are usually linked more with accessorizing the home than a wardrobe. But what if it can do both? Filling that order is jewelry maker Georgia Allen of North Tustin, whose necklaces, pins and other pieces are considered art to display as well as art to wear.

Allen, who appeared at the Denwar Fair for eight years, assembles items she finds or fashions into collages of elements that include everything from shells to antique pewter buttons. But what distinguishes her work from other montage jewelry is her heavy use of clay pieces she shapes, imprints and glazes, and the pieces of colored glass--from discarded shards handblown by herself or by friends to pieces of broken wine bottles.

A necklace might connect iridescent purple glass, copper beads, antique Czech beads, amethyst, Mohave agate, pressed silver, ceramic balls and Dutch coins. Or a pin can feature mustard-colored glass from a wine bottle, antique brass buttons, granulated African beads and a tiny shell.

"I recycle," she says, wryly. "I see everything as a resource."

Allen, a former librarian, says she never fit in art classes because she was constantly going against prescribed or favored methods. "Glassmakers usually like the fluidity of glass. I prefer sharp edges, so I was considered the rebel of my class."

She has taken bits of information from classes and tips from friends and incorporated them into her unorthodox approach to design.

To maintain that sharp yet polished edge, Allen cooks glass shards at low heat in her kiln, which liquefies the glass just enough. Cracks and chips are left alone.

Some of her ceramic pendants and beads look like they're straight out of an archeological dig. She presses found objects and tidbits from nature and saturates them in rich color.

"I don't use any set principles of artistic design," says Allen, whose pins, barrettes, necklaces and earrings run from $20 to $120.

"It's totally seat of the pants. I just keep adding until it's finished. You can't take anything out without spoiling it or add anything without overdoing it."

Joanell Connolly

Inspiration doesn't always have a source. For Huntington Beach designer Joanell Connolly, it's been an "unexplained lifelong urge to always paint on silk."

The former social worker found teachers and supplies and did what she could do to pay for her "expensive silk habit." Today, her interest has become a full-time enterprise.

Her scarves, vests, earrings, ties and kimono-like gowns have attracted the attention of clients who share Connolly's affection for a vivid palette.

"I love the colors. That's why I enjoy playing with vintage Japanese kimonos or Guatemalan weaves," she says, referring to the piecework she occasionally focuses on when she needs a break from painting silk. "Working with those textiles actually inspires me to go back to silk."

There's a flow and movement to her patterns even when the yardage is laid out on the grand table in her family room-turned-studio. Gem tones bleed into each other or are splattered like raindrops on once-white silk. She applies "lots of big motion" when brushing on the dyes and uses wax blocks to create more specific designs. The result is couture-quality fabric.

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