Not your typical arts and crafts

There's more to Pittsburgh's Strip District than great restaurants, shops and nightlife. Visitors can take a break from the bustle of the street vendors to visit the recently expanded Society for Contemporary Craft.
The society is in the former fruit and auction building at the end of a produce terminal on 2100 Smallman Street. The organization recently doubled the gallery and educational space. It includes an artist in residence studio and storage facilities.
Visitors can stroll through 14,000 square feet of galleries and admire the work of cutting edge artists as well as pick up one of a kind gifts at the expanded store. Typically, the exhibitions are thought-provoking pieces, not works normally found at summer art and crafts fairs. Each artist is chosen for cutting-edge concepts in a particular medium.
Beginnings: In 1971 Betty Raphael founded the organization under the name The Store for Arts and Crafts and People Made Things. Today the society is recognized as a nonprofit contemporary craft organization. It has presented more than 100 exhibitions and outreach programs. A satellite facility is at One Mellon Center in downtown Pittsburgh.
The society "looks for a compelling idea, or a new voice or a concept not previously exhibited. We hope to move viewers beyond familiar frames of reference to challenge them and at the same time raise the standards of excellence in the field," explained Janet McCall, executive director.
The exhibitions are supported by catalogs, artist presentations, workshops, gallery talks, lectures and studio tours. Most art shown is for sale.
Current exhibits: Two artists, Leonard Urso and Martha Posner will exhibit works through August 18. Urso is a two- and three-dimensional sculptor whose art will also be shown at the One Mellon Center Satellite.
He worked with the theme & quot;Being Human Being," forming large structures from sheets of copper into figurative forms.
Posner's exhibibiton is titled & quot;Making Myth: Recent Works by Martha Posner. & quot; The eastern Pennsylvania sculptor's pieces include six large scale works from her & quot;Garment Series. & quot; These are a series of misshapen, oversize garments that contemplate the relationship of nature, aesthetics and cultural connections.
The garments, constructed on framework made of rusty fence wire, barbed wire and chicken wire, are made of fleece hair, feathers, fiber and wax. These are not the typical choice from the store rack.
Reflecting the Society's desire to incorporate multi-cultural themes, Posner's art is inspired by African, American Indian and Mexican cultures.
Classes: In addition to exhibition space, a new 4000-square-foot education center will conduct summer sessions beginning June 18. More than 40 classes and workshops for adults will be offered in book arts, fiber, metal and wood.
The classes were developed around three themes: The Urban Experience, Art and the Environment and the Artist and Process.
Course selections include Introduction to Japanese Woodworking, The Art of Shibori, How to Make a Silver Ring and Artists in the Garden. Weekend workshops are also offered. Additional classes and workshops for children, family groups and teachers will be held in the fall.
It's hard to pass by the expanded store without wanting to make a purchase. The store sells hand-crafted jewelry, purses, tableware, ceramics and furniture made by more than 300 artists. Prices range from $10 to thousands of dollars.

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