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Terra Incognita: Dabb, Kettering Dimit, Fisher, Hanansen and Sager Lynch at the Gallery at Penn College
An absolutely splendid exhibit featuring five innovative American mosaic artists is currently on view at the Gallery at Penn College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Terra Incognita showcases multiple works from JeanAnn Dabb, Karen Kettering Dimit, Cynthia Fisher, Yulia Hanansen and Rachel Sager Lynch.
We say Terra Incognita is splendid because professionally mounted, thoughtfully curated and artistically deep exhibits of contemporary mosaic artists in the US are woefully few and far between.
Here is a facility perfectly equipped to bring out the elements that make mosaics such a viscerally engaging art medium. The architecture is elegant and the floorplan wonderfully open. Visitors have the opportunity to engage with work from every angle and distance.
We are especially appreciative of the lighting design which does such great justice to the painstaking care each artist has taken in selecting the individual tessera that fulfill their artistic visions.
In Terra Incognita, hidden geological treasures beckon . . .
. . . gold seduces . . .
. . . copper divides . . .
. . . and glass creates galaxies.
Most important, with a total of 56 works, this collection gives viewers the opportunity to really get to know each artist in a meaningful manner. The contemporary mosaic community in the US is now at a maturation point where many artists do have cohesive, intriguing bodies of work that warrant and demand this kind of exhibition. We are so happy to see that dynamic at work here.
When asked why the Gallery at Penn College decided to devote their resources to mounting the exhibit, they responded:
Our exhibition committee reviews up to eighty entries each year. In the review process, the artwork must speak for itself. When the works were delivered our initial reactions were confirmed – the use of color, intricate details, designs and ideas were even more impressive in person.
Our hope is that the Gallery’s foray into contemporary mosaic will be noticed by others in the mainstream art community. They have indeed done a splendid job of showcasing extraordinary talent in the medium and the result is an exciting, revelatory exhibit that any art lover would enjoy. To the Gallery’s Exhibition Committee and Staff, we say Bravo!
And, Grazie Mille to artist Karen Kettering Dimit who, we are told, is responsible for the exhibit. It was her personal initiative in selecting the artists and presenting a proposal to the Committee that is responsible for Terra Incognita.
Now, let’s talk about the work in the work. The term terra incognita or unknown land was first used in 1611 by cartographers to designate areas on their maps not yet explored by human beings. These artists took great liberties with their material, creating extravagant and often delightfully imaginative representations of the physical world that thrilled 17th and 18th century map readers. The term terra incognita conjured up visions of an exciting unknown full of danger, beauty and startling discoveries. The five artists showcased here make discoveries of their own that are no less exciting – exploring the worlds around them, above them, and within them with visually arresting results.
An art academic and historian at the University of Mary Washington “by day”, JeanAnn Dabb is an artist and avid rockhound “by night”. One of the few academics in this country who teaches courses in the history and appreciation of the art form at the university level, Dabb brings her deep knowledge of the traditions of mosaic to her passion for the geology and history of the American West in her lush, abstract compositions.
For this exhibition I include works that reference the geological riches that lie beneath the surface of the earth; some discovered with hand tools and minimal effort, others revealed as a result of industrial methods and arduous labor. – JeanAnn Dabb
Even the detritus found at long abandoned mining sites can be repurposed for new life beyond their original purpose.
There is so much history to be learned and geology to be explored in Dabb’s mosaics that we came away with a newfound appreciation and curiosity about her beloved American West. Who knew a cupel was a ceramic form used to assay precious metals? Beyond the obvious references to be taken from her materials, we very much appreciate Dabb’s use of rhythm in her compositions. That sublime sense of movement or andamento – is at the core of classical mosaic. To see it applied with such elegance to these materials is a joy.
Karen Kettering Dimit
Kettering Dimit is showing two bodies of work at Penn – the Subway Goddess Pageant and NYC Water Towers. Both series show her prowess at selecting subject matter with universal appeal and her vivid, arresting use of a seemingly endless palette of materials. We’re going to focus on her Goddesses here and save the Water Towers series for a stand-alone article on MAN later this year.
Individual Goddesses from Kettering Dimit’s Pageant have been shown in a number of exhibits since she began the series in 2008 and several of the works have won prestigious art awards. The sculptures are delightful, thought-provoking, and just plain smart. All of these works are based on ancient female goddesses and archetypes which Kettering Dimit has equated with the “goddesses” of today. Double and sometimes triple-meanings abound in the artist’s selection of imagery and materials found in a consistent format. Both Kettering’s creations and their inspirations are perched on pedestals that easily call to mind the tacky trophies so coveted by certain toddlers, “tweens” and, for that matter, women of all ages.
I contrast historical and art-historical references with modern elements to express a collective sense of who we are. – Karen Kettering Dimit
Cycladic idols, almost all of women, have been found in the tombs of the cycladic islands of Greece (2800 – 2000 BCE). The contemporary goddess is “tattooed” with ancient and modern symbols with contradictory meanings: For instance, nail tattoos of current and past loves – the past ones crossed out.
In this detail photo, we see Kettering Dimit’s inclusion of peacock imagery – also a popular motif for modern tattoos.
. . . the peacock, an ancient symbol for christ and the idea of rebirth as seen in the mosaics of the 11th century cathedral on Torcello, but also the symbol for pride and vanity as seen in illustrations for the Seven Deadly Sins.
An instant crowd-favorite wherever she goes, Miss Kali 2010 is easily identified as the epitome of modern day consumerism. Second, third and fourth looks, however, reveal Kettering Dimit’s deeper intentions for the viewer.
In the West, this Hindu goddess has become a poster child for women awakening to their strengths. Replacing her traditional sword, severed head, bowl of blood and hand gesture of reassurance are a hair dryer, coffee cup, smart phone and designer purse. The current trend of skull imagery – devoid of deeper meaning adorns her . . . but her warrior attitude is shining through the bling!
New England-based artist Cynthia Fisher is familiar to MAN readers as one of the eight artists selected for our 2011 Exhibition in Print. At that time, Jurors Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings said of her work:
(Fisher) seems to be trying to find a new pictorial language for our current moment. There is something particularly interesting in seeing her achieve pictorial depth and complexity without using traditionally sumptuous materials.
In her mosaics, Fisher recreates the colors, textures and geometry of the “woods and wilds” of Western Massachusetts. An avid bike-rider, Fisher often combines the twin vantage points of the pavement below her – with its fractal fissures – with imagery from the natural world around her.
Ah, summer. The focus of this mosaic originated in a mountain bike ride through a field when Purple Clover, Deptford Pinks, Fireweed along with early Goldenrod were blooming, and of course the tangle of summer green. – Cynthia Fisher
Our winter in New England had been lacking in snow when I started this mosaic, which gave me a chance to appreciate how much green is still out there at this time of year. Greens were cool, with the majority in lichens and evergreens and the occasional mountain laurel that though deciduous, remains green year-round.
Fisher has developed an entirely unique and very interesting artistic voice in the past few years. You can’t see one of her works without knowing exactly who the maker is. She is a definite original within the contemporary mosaic community in the US.
Having just closed her one-woman show Cosmic Powers Earthly Flowers in Cooperstown, NY (covered on MAN here), Hanansen is showing 13 works at Penn including her tour de force Jupiter: Great Red Spot seen above. In a previous post on MAN we wrote:
Stained glass as a medium is favored by many American mosaicists and Hanansen has been at the forefront of finding new ways to exploit the material for years now. She was one of the first to employ a technique called “layered” mosaic where cut pieces are adhered on top of base layer of stained glass mosaic. In an article profiling Hanansen in the 2010 edition of Mosaic Art NOW the magazine, writer Paul Anater described Hananen’s style in this way: “Her approach to mosaic is that of a painter and she likens her placement of glass to brush strokes.”
Tunqska was Hanansen’s first mosaic using her layered technique, although the subject matter – the mystery, power, and majesty of cosmic phenomena – is one that she has explored in various mediums for years
In 1908, a dramatic event of cosmic proportions occurred in Siberia. It is now believed that either a meteor or a comet exploded 600 meters above the vast Siberian landscape. Because the explosion took place above the ground, no crater was ever found. Instead, the evidence of the event was trees laid in a radial pattern pointing away from the epicenter. For visual inspiration, I only a small image of a hand-drawn map of the area that showed the local rivers, the density and the direction of the fallen trees. My mosaic shows the post-event regeneration of the land after this cataclysmic event, with greens symbolizing a recovery. – Yulia Hanansen
By 2011, Hanansen was incorporating hand-sculpted substrates to give additional dimension to her work. In Fabric of the Universe we can see the warp and weft of the subatomic particles that comprise well, everything.
This work is a representation of space and time with all the fundamental forces functioning as fibers. Reality and imagination are also part of the fabric of the universe. The 3D fabric is almost flat making it a 2D rendering of a higher dimension. There is also a play of micro and macro here, with each tesserae simultaneously representing a span of several light years and the structure of the subatomic world.
Rachel Sager Lynch
One of the most intriguing works in Terra Incognita is Rachel Sager Lynch’s Spyglass, a sculpture that literally turns the Viewer into Explorer.
Please accept your invitation to take on the role of explorer in this interactively abstract telescope. See what you can see . . . – Rachel Sager Lynch
Set right smack dab in the center of the 16 works that Sager Lynch has in the exhibit, a look through “Spyglass” reveals several new lands that the artist has imagined. Here is one view a look through the calipers, an essential tool for ancient mapmakers, provides.
Exploration has the potential to change the fabric of life. Today, we safely explore our own Terra Incognitas using computerized symbology that stems directly from the art and science of cartography. – Rachel Sager Lynch
In Here There Be Dragons, we see Sager Lynch’s musings about the unknown potential impacts of our collective head first dive into social media. Apocryphal Topography, on the other hand, is a meditation on a word within the context of mapping.
“Here Be Dragons” is another colorful cartographic term, although more rarely found in the old maps than “Terra Incognita.” It serves as a clear warning signal. Watch out! Are we fortunate to have been handed these new virtual worlds or will the unknown consequences of our searches change the very nature of what it means to be human.
The word a-poc-ry-phal; of doubtful authorship or authenticity, stems from biblical sources and refers directly to the apocryphal gospels which are uncanonical and rejected by church law. The particular meaning of this word fascinates me for its mythical, dubious nature, but also with its possibilities. Apocryphal does not mean untrue, more like unproven. I like to think an apocryphal map is a map of a place in time that could have happened. Whether it did or didn’t is not the point.
Sager Lynch used the theme of Terra Incognita as the inspiration for five of the works she is showing at Penn. Another six pieces on view are from her Mighty Marcellus series in which the mosaicist explores the contentious intersection of nature and industry that is currently a central issue in her beloved farmlands of western Pennsylvania. See several works from that series here on MAN.
The marvelous Terra Incognita runs now through August 26th. Getting to The Gallery at Penn College can be a bit of a schlep. The school is located in Williamsport, Pennsylvania; three hours northwest of Philadelphia, 85 miles north of Harrisburg and 60 miles northeast of State College. Happily, the Gallery has published a number of great photos on the web at an address you’ll find in Resources, below.
Kudos and thanks go out to Gallery Director Lenore G. Penfield, Gallery Assistant Penny Lutz, and Photographer Cindy D. Meixel at Penn College. Their vision, professionalism and new found love of contemporary mosaics made this article great fun to write. Additional huzzahs to the exhibiting artists (links in Resources) and especially Karen Kettering Dimit for getting the Terra Incognita ball rolling in the first place. Kettering Dimit tells us that she heard about the opportunity through the Society of American Mosaic Artist’s (SAMA) Andamento grapevine.
As we said at the beginning of this article, this exhibit sets a new bar for what contemporary mosaic exhibits in the US can and should look like. Curators, gallerists, dealers, and artists take note.
Enjoy – Nancie
- Gallery at Penn College Website Exhibit Photos
- Karen Kettering Dimit Website, Additional on MAN here
- Cynthia Fisher Website, Exhibition in Print 2011 Profile, Additional on MAN here
- Yulia Hanansen Website, Additional on MAN here
- Rachel Sager Lynch Website, Additional on MAN here