Collaboration Linking Metal and Clay by Jennifer Zarro
Art Matters April 2008

A wonderful collaborative exhibition of fiber and clay is taking place at the Crane Arts Building in conjunction with the city-wide 2008 Fiber Philadelphia International celebration. Clay artist Ruth Borgenicht and fiber sculptor Leslie Pontz have created innovative forms of clay and crocheted wire installed at the Crane building. The cavernous spaces, brick walls, and exposed freight elevator of the Crane are the perfect backdrop for this show, which celebrates the possibilities of fiber art, iron chains, steel wire, and sensual egg-shaped forms.

Borgenicht and Pontz are represented by Snyderman Works Gallery, where they met, and both have work in the International Fiber Biennial currently on view at Snyderman. Deciding to work together for their Crane installation was an easy thing considering that Borgenicht makes industrial looking chains out of clay and Pontz had been including industrial chains in her crocheted sculpture for years.

Pontz notes that the two artists have a “common spirit.” This spirit is reflected in the way that their sensibilities seem to meet at a middle ground. Borgenicht uses clay, an organic material, to produce her sculptures, yet her working method is mechanical in that she uses molds to make the clay into replicas of smooth eggs, iron chain links, and lead weights. Pontz, on the other hand employs steel wire, an industrial materials, yet crochets it into very organic sculptures.

Although the two artists originally intended to exhibit their work side by side, they quickly realized that they were meant to collaborate on each piece. Thus, Pontz’s steel wire “purses” get filled with egg shaped sculputures and outfitted with a “strap” of terra-cotta chain links. Smooth and spotted eggs also filled Pontz’s crocheted baskets. And at the bottom of what look like two left over urinals along the wall of the Crane building there are nests of clay chains, eggs, and small shiny crocheted forms.

The industrial space of the Crane Building serves these sculptures well even though the lighting for them isn’t perfect. There are two pieces that reflect the symbiotic relationship between the space and the work perfectly. One is a soft-looking ball of crocheted wire and colored thread suspended in the middle of a very long clay chain hanging from the ceiling. The second, also a hanging sculpture, is installed next to the lead weights of the elevator’s doors. The work culminates at the bottom with a lead weight ball of its own, albeit a clay one made to look like lead.

The colors of the sculptures also seem to communicate with the setting. Shades of grey and shiny silver, bright orange threads, and terra cotta are really beautiful here.

Pontz’s forms take on their color through the addition of thread crocheted together with the steel wire. In places, Pontz lets the threads hang loose from the piece which allows for contrast between the softness and unfinished quality of those threads and a more industrial and hard parts of the sculpture.

"Leaving the threads hanging take away the need for perfection” Pontz says, but also notes that everything is planned, right down to the length of each thread. “I love the freedom I get when I make those decisions,” she says.

It’s the contrasts in these works that makes them so interesting: clay made into industrial materials, silky threads paired with chains and wires, eggs resting in shiny wire baskets, soft and hard elements together. This show also seems to underscore juxtapositions between the industrial and the feminine (ponder eggs nesting among “iron” chains). Fantastic results can be found among contrasts.


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