By Sarah Wibell
The prestigious American Craft Council’s annual three-day show in Atlanta this year will feature two local artists: Kipley A. Meyer and Molly Lesnikowski. The March 15-17 show at the Cobb Galleria Centre will feature 230 exhibitors from around the country who have been selected by a jury comprised of current exhibitors and art professionals.
Founded in 1943, the ACC is the leading nonprofit organization focused on craft. In addition to Atlanta, annual shows are hosted in Baltimore, St. Paul, and San Francisco. The ACC asserts “these juried marketplaces provide an essential platform for professional artists to connect with the public.”
“The American Craft Council is the best national stage for artists – there’s no American Craft Council Plus or Deluxe,” Lesnikowski explained with a laugh. This year was her first time to apply for the show. “Kip started talking to me about this, and he goes to it, and I was like ‘I’m going to apply.’ So, I did and got accepted, so yay!”
For Meyer, this is his tenth year exhibiting his work: “I’ll drive all across the country (for shows). I’ll go up to Denver, Arizona, all across the mid-west and up north, way south toward Miami. I kind of go everywhere depending on which shows I get into and which ones I want to do. I think I did 15 last year. I’m shooting for that this year.
“You never really know. You can do a show five years in a row and then, all of a sudden because the jury changes, you don’t get into a show that you’ve done well at. I get in some shows I’ve never been to and don’t get into some that I’m familiar with, and that happens to everybody. You never know, because you’re being juried in.”
Meyer explained a show like this might receive 1200 or more applications which are reviewed and judged before selecting the best 200-250 artists: “The competition is fierce when you get to that level. I only apply to, basically, the top 10-15 shows in the country. Everybody brings their A-game. You’ve got a lot to compete with and a lot to impress the judges and juries with to get into the show.”
The jurors for this show liked both of their artistic styles. Lesnikowski is well-known locally for her painted floor cloths showcasing vibrant colors, unique designs, and imaginative themes. The artist frequently takes a small item like an old-fashioned cream cracker label, Turkish delight candy box, postage stamp, or an illustration from a vintage magazine like Gourmet and replicates them on a large scale.
“I have an artistic experience myself when I paint, but that’s me,” Lesnikowski shared. “I’m just doing it because I get enjoyment from it. I get the biggest kick out of these oversized things. I’m just sitting here entertaining myself (as I paint).”
Sculptor Claes Oldenburg’s oversized, everyday objects have influenced her own work. “His sculptures are very whimsical and out of scale,” Lesnikowski said. “He’s probably my favorite artist. I love challenging the sense of scale, and I love vintage. It’s just funny. It’s just whimsical.
“I’m clearly an artisan. To me, an artisan makes a product, and an artist, I guess, makes art. So you have that overlapping where some people think my work is art, but I think of it more as a product. I think floor cloth artists are considered artisans. It’s kind of subjective. A lot of people don’t want to put these mats on the floor…They think, ‘Art can’t be on the floor; art goes on the wall.’ It’s like the Buddhists who do the spiral paintings with sand on the ground and it’s not permanent. We tend to think of art as a noun, but to a lot of people, art is a verb.”
Circles and lines are a theme in Meyer’s woodwork. Using domestic hardwoods, Meyer first conceptualizes what he would like the piece to be and convey. A blackboard hanging on the back of a door in his studio is covered in words representing emotions or themes.
“Focus on connection, communication, and love is my main thing,” Meyer explained. “I want to be able to convey my thoughts and emotions with whomever my piece is present with…It’s all from my head; things I think about.”
Meyer used several words from the blackboard as an example: “Acknowledgments, gratitude, and thankfulness are principles and practices in life. We all are nothing without acknowledging what we’ve gained from everybody else. I’m grateful and thankful for all of the encounters in life – the good and the bad. But even the bad are going to be good at some point.”
Next, as his artist’s biography states, “the building process begins by choosing seasoned or kiln dried wood. The wood is then studied to understand what each piece can offer to the work. I look for flat stable boards, but will incorporate any knots, checks or crevices that I feel will enhance the overall message of the finished sculpture.” Those planks are then glued together, and the finished piece – coated in natural milk paint and wax – may surprise onlookers.
“Literally, 98 percent of people think it’s ceramic,” Meyer said. “It’s all wood. It starts out as boards – poplar – planks of wood glued on the edges to make three-foot squares, basically making a wood canvas that looks like a tabletop…. (The design) is based on ancient symbolism: circles and lines.”
While Meyer is used to taking his artwork to shows, Lesnikowski commented that outside of exhibiting at the Atlanta flower show years ago, “this is the first time that I’ve tried to make a statement with my work in the south.” She is also looking forward to meeting another floor cloth artist who has previously exhibited at the ACC show and who she hopes will be there this year.
Meeting fellow artists and collaborating with one’s peers is another benefit of exhibiting. “Every time I do a show, it’s like packing up, moving, and starting all over,” Meyer analogized. “It’s sort of like being part of a carnival or circus. You have to carry so much stuff and then, when you get there, you’re with all your fellow friends and artists, and it’s all really like a tribe in a lot of ways – the camaraderie that artists in general have with one another.”
And how does Meyer transport his large pieces of art? Remember the Simmon’s Funeral Home? Meyer pointed out the window of his studio to the large van in the driveway. “This was John Simmons’s flower van. I bought it when they closed, and he retired. I cart everything around in Simmons’s old funeral home van,” Meyer said with a laugh. “It is awesome.”
Both Lesnikowski’s 70 floor cloths and Meyer’s 15-16 wooden sculptures will be available for sale. Meyer estimates that 12-16K people attend the Atlanta show in a good year. The ACC website states, “Our attendees are a well-educated and design-savvy audience that appreciates and invests in craft.”
“I like to say there’s only one piece of work, and you never know where that one person is going to be who connects with it,” Meyer remarked. “Sometimes I might drive a piece around to six different shows before I find the right person. Sometimes it is the first show. You just never know. And there’s also forming connections with collectors and patrons in general. It’s life as an artist – it’s unpredictable. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.”
Tickets are $12 in advance, $13 at the door, $5 after 5 p.m. Friday only, and free for children 12 and younger. For more information, go to www.craftcouncil.org/atlanta.
To view Lesnikowski and Meyer’s work, go to www.mlesnikowskirugs.com and www.kipleyameryer.com.