2017-05-25 / News

Local artist’s work is taking off

Craig Crawford’s undersea pieces are being displayed at T.F. Green Airport
BY RYAN GIBBS


ABOVE: Jamestown ceramicist Craig Crawford, who is one of three Rhode Islanders featured in the “Object of Affection” summer exhibit, working in her East Greenwich studio. ABOVE: Jamestown ceramicist Craig Crawford, who is one of three Rhode Islanders featured in the “Object of Affection” summer exhibit, working in her East Greenwich studio. As they arrive from overseas or depart the nation’s smallest state, thousands of travelers who scamper through T.F. Green Airport this summer will discover the undersea depictions of a Jamestown ceramicist.

Craig Crawford is one of three Rhode Island artists whose work was selected for the “Object of Affection” exhibit. The work, unveiled May 17 in the airport’s Green Space gallery, will hang through Labor Day.

Although Crawford was thrilled by her inclusion, it came as a bit of a shock. That’s because the airport traditionally has chosen large, framed pieces for the gallery. Unlike her ceramic tiles, those are easier to install, she said.

“I was kind of surprised that they picked mine,” Crawford said.


RIGHT: Her “Gulf Stream” installation in the gallery at T.F. Green in Warwick. RIGHT: Her “Gulf Stream” installation in the gallery at T.F. Green in Warwick. The gallery, which is co-sponsored by the state arts council and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, is financed through a 1987 law that allocates 1 percent of public construction costs to purchase artwork. For the T.F. Green display, a jury of three judges convenes annually to whittle dozens of artists down to a few finalists. Upwards of 200 Rhode Islanders apply each year in hopes of gracing the walls of the state’s only major airport.

According to exhibit coordinator Molly Dickinson, the jury thought Crawford work was particularly unique. The judges felt her tiles would create “interesting combinations” with the traditional work that routinely hangs in the gallery.

“It was different,” Dickinson said. “It separated itself.”

Of Crawford’s three submissions, the largest is titled “Gulf Stream.” The installation is sea creatures silkscreened onto plates then mounted onto a large board. “It’s all sea scenes,” she said. “They’re all individual pieces, but they relate to one another as one large piece.”

Aside from “Gulf Stream,” Crawford’s section includes 3-D depictions of sharks, manta rays and flounder mounted on the wall. They are displayed to make it seem like the creatures are interacting with one another, akin to schools of fish. Compared to her typical process, it’s outside of the box for Crawford.

“If you’ve ever seen starlings in the sky, there’s tons of these little birds and they make wild shapes as they move,” she said. “I wanted it to have that motion in it.”

Crawford’s third submission is a display of ceramic tiles. Unlike the other two pieces, this installation wasn’t specifically created for the show.

Crawford elected the nautical theme to reflect the importance of ocean life in Rhode Island. Also, she wanted to balance the work displayed by her gallery cohorts, Mary Chatowsky Jameson and Sherie Harkins. Chatowsky, who lives across the bay in Newport, creates collages using pressed seaweed. Harkins, who hails from Providence, paints everyday items like ice cubes and fruit but in a hyper-realistic style.

Crawford learned about the exhibit shortly into the new year. With the airport gallery specifically in mind, she began working on her undersea submissions. The council gives artists enough time to create site-specific work.

“It just sounded like a fun thing to do,” she said.

The tiles on display are indicative of Crawford’s daily work. At her East Greenwich studio, she makes tiles, dinnerware, and tabletop decorations. She has, however, started expanding her repertoire to include fine arts.

A native of Florida, Crawford graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in textile design in 1981. She worked in textiles for a decade before switching to ceramics in the early 1990s, eventually opening a tile business in New York.

“A lot companies were closing in textiles, and a lot of jobs were going overseas,” she said. “I thought it was a good time to move to Rhode Island.”

Although she moved to Jamestown in 1995, it wasn’t until six years ago that she opened Wanderlust

Ceramics in the former General Fittings mill. There, Crawford creates her ceramic dishes and candle sconces using slump molds, which are concave in design. After firing them in a kiln, she silkscreens engravings and hand-drawn patterns onto the surface. The finished products are sold on her website and in stores nationwide.

The T.F. Green gallery is located where the skywalk connects with the main building. Work is installed across both floors of the terminal. By examining her work, Crawford hopes travelers from across the globe will understand and appreciate why it’s called the Ocean State.

“There’s so much shoreline here,” she said. “There’s not a huge message, but the environment and the ocean is a topic of concern these days.”

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