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BUFFALO STATE College, recognized throughout the region for its fine program of design, has mounted a show at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center titled "Craft Art From Western New York 1996" that will run through Nov. 3.

Works by graduates and faculty are included here.

The show is not to be confused with the larger and somewhat more varied "Western New York Craft Show," which also has been hosted by the Burchfield.

My first impression upon entering the gallery in which the exhibit is mounted was that it is oddly monochromatic. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising, because contemporary crafts tend to employ natural materials such as grapevines, wood and terra cotta and earth-toned dies, glazes and paint. But there was a tonal sameness to the show that was as austere in its minimalism as it was elegant in its variations.

There were the usual weird teapots -- one was Bill Birchow's cute little patent red and punning, "I'm a Little 'T' Pot ('shirt and stout')." The body of the pot is a T-shirt with big turquoise dots centered with those loud and phony "diamonds." Get it?

Another was the more conventional and convoluted "Green Tea" by Christy Carlson, wonderfully glazed in a "dying" green, with twisted organic-looking handle and snout. These things tend to have snouts rather than spouts.

One of my favorite items was the alarmingly crispy corset that Nikki C. Pierce fashioned from pig intestines. (Don't touch!) Perhaps a comment on critical tripe?

There are also a number of arcane and mysterious items I would call "conceptual craft."

These include Cynthia Printup-Harms elegant nestlike construction made of red osier, wild grapevine and wild ivory. Very suggestive of abandoned nature or an empty vessel, womblike, something to climb into. It recalled woodlands so vividly that I could have curled up next to it and waited for the hobbits.

The marvelous ceramic work of Gail McCarthy is on display here as well. Her "Luster Vessel" Nos. 70 and 71 knocked me out with their lustrous crackled surfaces derived from her fascinating combination of glazes of silver nitrate, cobalt and platinum chloride. The first time I saw her work, many years ago, I knelt on the floor for what seemed like hours to contemplate the way that light infused her astonishing translucent porcelain. She is a priestess of light.

Sylvia Rosen, the center's craft art patron and a former faculty member, exhibited two of her lovely porcelain pots -- "Covered Jar," a perfect white acorn you will want to hold and stroke (don't touch!), and the celadon-tinted "Vase With Sprigged Decoration," which I want to own and love until it's filled with my ashes, which I promise will be fragrant and colorful.

There is much more, of course. The jewelry was exhibited in a rather contrived manner, I thought.

The best (to my peculiar taste, of course) is Paul F. Hauth's cunning little hand-crafted silvery reliquary within which rests a tiny bat skull. I'd wear it. I like this guy.

Also in the eerie little stunner department is Lisa Brown's "Boys." She has taken two of those photographs from medical texts of, in this case, a boy with muscular dystrophy (blacked-out eyes and genitals) and produced them in wool needlepoint on an 8-by-8 1/2 -inch canvas. Sad and beautiful, this piece transforms the mundane into art, craft and cultural comment.

There are a few works produced beautifully in wood, others that take their inspiration from the drain and gas mounts, and still others that resemble ceremonial objects fresh from the archaeological dig.

Most are not "crafts" in the conventional sense at all, which is to say, they are not homespun (although they may look it) and are not, strictly speaking, "useful" unless we consider their ability to lift and refresh the spirit. Hence the term "craft art," which most of these lovely items certainly are.

Craft Art From Western New York 1996

Biennial exhibition of regional work.

Through Nov. 3 in the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State College, 1300 Elmwood Ave. (878-6011).

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