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From Slovenia, Handmade Objects to Treasure

August 10, 2000|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Handblown goblets in jewel tones with delicately sculptured stems stand next to imposing chunky glass vases. Large bowls, ladles and boxes in natural woods contrast with highly polished wooden bowls. Molds for butter and gingerbread are carved with floral patterns as intricate as lacework.

The richness of handmade objects for use in everyday life is the compelling motif of a show titled "Treasures of Slovenia: Traditional and Contemporary Craft and Design," on view through Sept. 3 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum.

And while the 2 million people who live in the Republic of Slovenia doubtless have many activities in addition to creating beautiful crafts, this show demonstrates both a strong crafts tradition and how it can be translated into sophisticated modern objects.

Never heard of Slovenia?

It nestles between Austria and Italy, a former part of the kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and later Yugoslavia. Slovenia declared its independence in 1991. The result is a young nation with a 1,000-year-old heritage that has focused on developing all aspects of its culture.

"The quality of design stands out," said Joan de Bruin, director of the Craft and Folk Art Museum. "What's important about Slovenia is the support given in the country to folk artisans. As a result, their traditions are passed on."

The diversity of the country's handicrafts is, in part, a result of its geographic position at the "European ring," the junction of Adriatic Europe, Alpine Europe and the central European plains.

With more than 400 objects from 100 artists, the show is organized by source materials including straws and fibers, clay, beeswax, metals, glass, leather, paper and wood.

Some of the objects on display are unique to the country, such as the decorated eggs drilled with thousands of tiny holes into embroidery patterns, and exquisite painted panels that decorate boxy, man-made beehives. While very few craftsmen today make straw chandeliers, which are traditionally associated with harvest festivals, wicker-weaving seems to be thriving and baskets come in all shapes and sizes including bottle covers.

The crafts are exhibited in free-standing plexiglass cases, which seem to be self-lighted--thanks to low-voltage spiral coils. Blown-up photographs of the countryside and supporting video materials enhance the visitor's feeling of having dropped in on a very pleasant place. "This is our first show from outside the country, but we hope to have more international shows," said De Bruin. "We feel it gives people a chance to see craft and design they might not ever have the opportunity to see, unless they travel a great deal."

*

* For Craft and Folk Art Museum information: (323) 937-4230.

* Connie Koenenn can be reached at connie.koenenn@latimes.com.

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