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From the Table to the Grave 

New works by artists-in-residence at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center

The Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo may have one of the most jaw-droppingly luxurious artist-in-residence programs in America since the demise of the National Endowment for the Arts and the restriction of funding for individual artists.

The perks include large, well-lit studios, materials, and cleaning services. There's no pay, but the artists are encouraged to teach classes to the community in their studios. There is no limit to an artist's stay (photographer John Suhay, for example, has been an artist-in-residence since the center opened 30 years ago). And the museum will frequently purchase their works, and occasionally offer them a place to show.

It's brain-boggling to think about the quality, and quantity, of work an artist might produce with this amount of freedom. And right now, through January 26, 2002, you can see for yourself as artists-in-residence John Suhay, ceramicist and sculptor Gary Skul, and woodworker Joe Kronwitter display their new works at the Center.


Blasting through space

Gary Skul, a native of Pueblo, has been at the SDCAC since 1993. A potter by trade since college at CSU in Fort Collins, and a ceramicist by passion, Skul is relishing every moment of his good fortune. "It's like I've died and gone to heaven but I'm not dead."

Though Skul does have a few pots on display, including a gorgeous series of stomach-shaped vessels with narrow necks and lustrous high-heat glazes, and a grouping of urns with an almost celadon finish, the emphasis of his show is on his abstract work with basic shapes.

For his wall pieces, Skul uses a low-fire, salt bisque technique that involves a kiln concoction of salt brine, straw, copper precipitate, dog food (yes, dog food: "It just works!"), as well as other organic materials, to prepare large quantities of irregularly shaped rectangular tiles with smoky, raku-like glazes.

Once the tiles are prepared, he begins assembling them like puzzle pieces in a frame, creating a textured surface of varying depths. "I like working with components, and the ability to pull things out," Skul said. "All the smallness becomes one piece -- small and large, real spatial."

While some of the pieces have deliberately raised texture, such as a circle, others are assembled at random and take on a kind of topographical relief, like maps of cities built on primordial form.

Long interested in Egyptology and the pyramid shape, Skul completes his survey of form with several cone/pyramid structures. One is assembled from black tiles, while the other is solid with a high-fire glaze. "It's all directional, like the Tower of Babel. You're trying to get to a higher spot."

An active experimentalist, Skul is always in the process of developing new techniques, and even "designed and fabricated the Cantanery arch, sprung arch and flat-roof kilns" at the Center.


Graveyard Folk

John Suhay has been the visual historian of Pueblo's ever-changing landscape and rich native culture since he began taking photographs 40 years ago. New works on exhibit in Pueblo, A Changing Face further this project, while he delves deeper into the Southwest with a series of photographs taken in graveyards from Lamar, Colorado to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Titled Cemetery Folk Art, this series takes a close and colorful look at the creative ways in which people remember their deceased loved ones.

Rusty metal leaves in an inlaid arch around a blue crucifix; a kitschy ceramic ice cream bucket at the base of a headstone; a cross of marbles in concrete; two candy canes making a heart frame around a ceramic Mary in a sky-blue cape; a plastic "Hold & Draw Poker" sign with a royal flush and plastic horses in front of a bouquet of silk cala lillies; a child's grave with Tonka toys and tulips.

The contrast between the somber gray headstones and the colorful adornments left by friends leaves a strong impression of the inextricable union between life and death.

Suhay's photographs are all testament to both the positive and negative forces behind any kind of creativity and change.


Cherry on top

Without taking himself too seriously, Joe Kronwitter is a serious craftsman of exquisitely elegant and simple furniture.

Working with wood for over 30 years, Kronwitter has refined his talent to a functional minimalism that's obviously in conversation with both Shaker and Swedish furniture.

Kronwitter's current cherry wood pieces aren't just functional, though. His bench and chairs, for example, show a subtle play on scale and weight with their disproportionately small backrests and exaggerated seats. Similarly, his pedestals' spindly legs seem almost unworthy of even the slightest weight.

The ability to create this kind of tension in the traditional arena of craft, and with so little adornment, demonstrates both a refined sensibility and a great sense of humor.

-- Noel Black

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