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Artists conjure up wild ‘Creatures’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 12, 2015

 Denise Walker’s colorful feather and lampwork glass beaded birds, “Wanna Dance” and “Lolly,” received an honorable mention, as well as a lot of smiles from Grosse Pointe Art Center visitors.

Denise Walker’s colorful feather and lampwork glass beaded birds, “Wanna Dance” and “Lolly,” received an honorable mention, as well as a lot of smiles from Grosse Pointe Art Center visitors.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Michigan residents have been terrorized by the polar vortex for the last two winters, but no one has ever seen this elusive menace. Until now, that is.


For “Creatures: Real or Imagined,” the new Grosse Pointe Art Center show, artist Scott Brown, of Grosse Pointe Woods, created a fittingly foul-faced monster who looks more than a little like the angry cousin of the Abominable Snowman of animated holiday movie fame.


Brown’s acrylic-on-canvas paint-ing is on the fanciful end of the spectrum for “Creatures,” which features everything from butterflies and pastoral scenes of cows and horses to wildly imaginative beings that range from fun to fierce.


Juror Catherine Peet selected 57 of the 104 entries submitted by 61 artists for this show, which features work by 44 different artists. “Creatures” opened with a public reception Feb. 27 and runs through March 21.


“She had her work cut out for her,” GPAC Executive Director Coleen Downey said. “She had some wonderful things (to consider for inclusion).”


Alice Allhof, of St. Clair Shores, won Best of Show for her pastel and charcoal drawing, “I Spy,” which features a somewhat abstracted bird foraging for a meal from among a series of smaller, fanciful insects that sprang from the creative mind of the artist.


“There’s all kinds of little things happening,” said Allhof of her piece, which bears close inspection to appreciate all the details.


“I work a lot in charcoal,” she said. “I just relate to it. I manipulate it. There’s some pastels (in this piece). … I like to incorporate the surface of papers, erase into it to get those subtleties.”


Grosse Pointe Park artist Jack Frakes earned second place for his “Junkyard Porcupine,” a clay sculpture with found metal for the animal’s spikes.


Tudi Harwood, of Grosse Pointe Farms, merges realistic details with fantasy in her third-place-winning oil painting “A Plucky Roomer.” It stars a chicken — the free-ranging Chicken Jane, owned by a friend in Cincinnati — who is “free ranging” in a room in an imagined Scottish tower castle, said the artist. “A Plucky Roomer” was actually painted over what had been a portrait of a figure on a sofa.


“All of the red you see underneath is another painting coming through,” Harwood said.


She said this painting is a tribute to her late neighbor and friend, Nancy Kolberg, who had been the head of design for J.L. Hudson Company in Detroit and had dedicated her retirement years to painting and graphic design. Harwood said that when Kolberg died in 2013, her husband asked Harwood to help him dismantle Kolberg’s home studio, and he gave her many of his late wife’s painting supplies and inspirational prompts.


“She just had wonderful (paint) colors — colors I’d never even heard of,” Harwood said.


Those paints were used in this image, along with her friend’s sense of whimsy.


“It’s a real creature in an imagined setting,” Harwood said.


With everything from paintings and photographs to jewelry, fiber arts and sculptural metal, “Creatures” includes as wide a range of media as it does imagery.


“Not all (of our shows) draw such a wide variety of mediums,” Downey said.


And many veteran GPAC artists experimented with a different medium. Downey said it was interesting to see them “step out of their comfort zone.”


One such artist was Lori Zurvalec, of Grosse Pointe City. Zurvalec is known more for her paintings and drawings, but inspired by the show’s title and theme, she tried her hand at a 3-D piece. The result was “Bird Bug Monster,” a wool, fleece and brass stuffed creature that could have stepped out of a Maurice Sendak book. She said she felted some of the wool herself.


One of the honorable-mention winners said his piece has been in the works for the past couple of years. Jim Conley, of Detroit, was about to submit the mixed media 3-D piece “Rendezvous” to the last show that was similar to “Creatures” at GPAC, “Where the Wild Things Art,” about two years ago. But on the day those works were due, he said he “realized it was wrong.” He eventually recognized that what was missing was the crystal that’s now the centerpiece of his almost futuristic work, in which tiny integrated circuits are cast as “bugs” marching steadily toward the crystal, which Conley said he also realized needed to glow, as it does now.


Darren Dundee, of Clinton Township, was inspired by a production at PuppetART Detroit Puppet Theater and received an honorable mention for his “The Firebird: A Russian Folktale,” a bright red sculptural bird made of found objects that’s accompanied by a copy of the book.


“I’ve always enjoyed doing things from found pieces,” Dundee said. “I thought it would be a challenge to create a firebird from found objects.”


Components include a brass vase from India and stained glass paint, which the artist said he used “to give it that glow.”


Other honorees include honorable-mention winners Nicole Richards, of St. Clair Shores, and Denise B. Walker, of Troy.


GPAC is located at 17118 Kercheval in the Village. Its normal business hours are noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information, call (313) 881-3454, email gpaa@grossepointeartcenter.org or visit www.grossepointeartcenter.org.