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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Practical Art

Presenting visual art is a challenge. Just as daunting are the obstacles in selling it so that creators and buyers can locate each other. Taking a slightly different approach on how to showcase art, and in this case arts and crafts, one Phoenician concern has found a way to do so that achieves a balance between retail space and fine art gallery.
Practical Art is one of those places that has a slightly different identity among Valley art venues. Instead of becoming strictly a fine arts space, or simply a brick and mortar store, the approach here is a mixture that manages to provide enough space for visual art to be appreciated, while at the same time proving an ample showcase for crafts that have a much more aesthetic angle than your standard arts-and-crafts outlet.
Much of why Practical Art has this identity comes from the source of its inception. Founded in 2007 by the late Jane Reddin, an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and former partner with a local law firm, Reddin’s vision was to provide an art space that would make available unique handcrafted useable items. The template for Practical Art would be the Arts and Crafts movement of the early part of the 20th Century. As others have kept her vision alive, Reddin passed way earlier this year after battling leukemia, there is ample evidence that the guiding vision has been sustained.
During times when technology advances the most rapidly, movements are often started that find direction from the past. Originating in the U.K. The Arts and Crafts movement began around 1860 and continued until about 1910. It was a design philosophy championed and lead by artist and writer William Morris and the architect Charles Voysey. It was inspired by John Ruskin and Augustus Pugin in reaction the state of the decorative arts at the time as well as a direct reaction against industrialization.
The movement viewed the notion of mass production as a vehicle for producing lower quality creations. The philosophical roots of the movement were based on the idea of arts and crafts going back to earlier time periods for inspiration. It encouraged a return to past movements and time periods, including medieval art and even folk styles. Much of this was deeply rooted in a romanticized perspective that was decidedly anti-industrialization. Ironically enough, it was roughly during this period that the avant garde in art was making its way from the theoretical into reality.
The Arts and Crafts movement was international in scope, and the United States was not immune to its influence. Gustav Stickley’s magazine, The Craftsman personified the arts and crafts movement here and also initiated the “craftsman style.” The impact would be long lasting.
Flashing forward to the present, Practical Art was formed with ideas taken from the Arts and Crafts movement, but with a bit of a nod to the world of fine art—which is what distinguishes it from strictly craft- and folk-art based concerns.
With everything handmade by more than 75 local Arizona artisans, the store carries more than 2,000 functional works. The range of mediums includes, glass, ceramic, metal, fiber and wood. Such things as salad bowls, jewelry, scarves, blankets, fiber creations, handcrafted furniture, soap, cards and literally anything useful for a kitchen that is handcrafted can be found here.
What is conspicuously absent are works that were made by machine and then hand altered. You will also notice the lack of anything with a coyote, Kokopelli and the like. The look here is not directed at Southwestern imagery or work that demonstrates a particular connection to a specific geographic area. The range of what is displayed does show a clear direction and a specific objective. In short, what you see is clearly delineated and aimed at a sort of generalized almost homogenized aesthetic that by it shear decisiveness creates certain uniformity to what is seen. It also automatically creates a look and an identifiable branding of product.
In keeping with the Arts and Crafts ideology, the works on display follow that aesthetic. Although created in contemporary times, the practical art pieces are not of the avant garde. Cutting edge functional art is not part of the program. Interestingly enough, one wall space is dedicated to fine art.
Showing work that has a connection to the natural world, but one foot firmly planted in fine art, Jay Hardin was featured in December of 2011. Originally from Arkansas, but educated in Arizona, Hardin presented several photographs presented in dark-bordered frames. Several works bring to mind Neil Jenney, but with a more rustic more look that is less minimally based than Jenney. In terms of situating themselves with the more practically based creations, Hardin’s work was seamlessly integrated with the many objects on display.
In addition to the works on display, Practical Art also holds classes. For children ages 7 and up, they provide instruction in watercolor, printmaking, knitting, frame making and similar offerings. Class sizes are kept to 10 students maximum and priced at $25 per session. There are also adult programs, workshops and meeting groups. Coupled with that, the space, located on Central Avenue, just north of Camelback Road, can be rented for events.
Another distinguishing feature of Practical Art is that it is open seven days a week. While many art spaces are only open during the First Friday of the month, or select days of the week, here you can peruse art and crafts throughout the week in an environment that displays local creative talent.

Practical Art
5070 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85012
Phone: 602-264-1414
www.practical-art.com

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