Seven Contemporary American Metalsmiths

Chunghi Choo · Gary S. Griffin · William Harper · Mary Lee Hu · Lisa Norton · Sandra Jo Osip · William Underhill

An exhibition featuring more than 40 works by seven contemporary metalsmiths highlights artists whose pieces range from elegant vessels to sculptural parodies of utilitarian objects. Featuring works in steel, gold, copper, bronze and silver, the exhibition includes works by many widely recognized artists who have never shown in Kansas City. By organizing this exhibition, JCCC hopes to familiarize people with the rich diversity of expression in the metalsmithing field, said Bruce Hartman, director of the JCCC Gallery of Art.

“The field of metalsmithing is currently extremely diverse,” said Gary Griffin, one of the featured artists. “It encompasses people who are working from the hollowware tradition that deals with the vessel or an orientation toward volume, to those who are dealing with architectural or environmental situations.” Griffin’s own work in the JCCC exhibition reflects his interest in the American landscape, as well as high regard for historical examples of metalwork. His large-scale steel doors are a fanciful combination of stylized cattails, lightning bolts, and tadpoles; and in them, Griffin, presents an uncanny translation of naturalistic forms into hand-wrought steel.

Gary S. Griffin was born in 1945 in Wichita Falls, Texas. He graduated with a BFA in 1968 from the California State University, Long Beach, and an MFA in 1974 from the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is head of metalsmithing at Cranbrook Academy.

William Harper and Mary Lee Hu work in jewelry. Harper, widely acknowledged as a master of enameling, is represented in the show by a series of dazzling, richly colored brooches. According to Harper, “I draw from the intimacy of Persian miniatures and the complexity of their rugs, the power and magic of African assemblage sculpture, the delicacy of a Schwitters collage or cast-offs of a Cornell construction, and the unnerving achievement in gold and silver from countless past cultures.” By comparison with Harper’s works, the elegant chokers and bracelets by Hu appear almost classical. Generally executed only in gold, Hu’s work reflects her early interest in processes or techniques (such as interlacing) which are usually associated with textile production.

Florida artist William Harper was born in 1944 in Bucyrus, Ohio. He received a BA in 1966 and an MS in 1967 from Western Reserve University, Cleveland. Currently based in Seattle, Mary Lee Hu was born in 1943 in Lakewood, Ohio. She studied at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and in 1965 she received a BFA from Cranbrook Academy. In 1967 she earned an MFA from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Also included in the exhibition are the vessels of Chunghi Choo and William Underhill. Choo’s vases are characterized by a sensuousness and simplicity which she attributes to the sweeping movements of the brush in calligraphy. Underhill’s bronze vessels, however, are grounded in his preoccupation with architecture and its attendant emphasis upon the formal aspects of composition, mass and proportion.

Now based in Iowa, Chunghi Choo was born in Inchon, Korea, in 1938. She received a BFA in 1961 from Ewha Women's University, Seoul, Korea, and an MFA in 1965 from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. New York artist William Underhill was born in 1933 in Berkeley, California. He earned a BA in 1960 and an MA in 1961 from the University of California, Berkeley.

Finally, Lisa Norton and Sandra Osip are each represented by sculptural works. Norton’s pieces juxtapose oversized interpretations of common objects with blue prints and wall text. Osip created objects which blur the fine line between organic and inorganic forms. Osip states, “My father and I have been surrounded by the automobile factory and steel industry all of our lives, both where we lived and worked. I feel this industrial environment has been a direct influence in molding my sensitivities and in structuring my work as a metalsmith-sculptor.” 

New Mexico artist Lisa Norton was born in 1962 in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1985 she graduated with a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and in 1987 she earned an MFA from Cranbrook Academy. Sandra Jo Osip lives and works in New York. She was born in 1948 in Detroit, Michigan, and earned a BFA in 1972 from Wayne State University. In 1983 she completed an MFA from Cranbrook Academy.

We are deeply appreciative of the enthusiastic cooperation of all the artists included in the exhibition. In addition, we are indebted to Jack Lenor Larsen, New York City; The Franklin Parrasch Gallery, New York City; The Merrin Gallery, New York City; The Hill Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan; and The Garth Clark Gallery, New York City and Kansas City, for their respective assistance. Finally, we wish to acknowledge the generous support of the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Endowment for the Performing and Visual Arts.