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philly craft show profile diane hendricks and bill skrips.

updated sun 16 nov 03


Frank Gaydos on sat 15 nov 03

Showing the art of their craft

By Art Carey
Inquirer Staff Writer

Artists see with different eyes and enable us to see differently, too.

They see the uncommon in the commonplace and, applying skill and genius, =
can transform the mundane into the sublime.

The work of some of the best craft artists in the nation is on display =
now through Sunday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show at the =
Convention Center. Among the 195 craft artists whose work was deemed =
worthy (from more than 1,500 applicants) are Diane Hendricks and Bill =

Neither has ever met the other, but they are alike in several ways.

Both are 51 and making their debuts at the craft show. Both are =
sculptors by training who use wood as their primary medium.

Both are "junkies" - dumpster divers, hoarders and scavengers who create =
and adorn their art with refuse and "found objects." Both imbue their =
work with a wink and a chuckle.

And both compel us to regard anew the manufactured detritus of =
industrial civilization, to appreciate the beauty of the functional and =
utilitarian when it is arrayed in an unusual way.


Bill Skrips is proud of his blue-collar roots. His father was a =
carpenter, and as a boy, while his dad was cutting lumber, Skrips would =
bang stuff together from the scrap wood that tumbled to the ground.

In a high school art class, he was given a chunk of soapstone and =
discovered that creating in three dimensions was his metier. "It's like =
rolling out of bed for me," Skrips says. "I think and breathe in 3-D."

In the '70s, he attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where =
he majored in sculpture. He worked primarily in stone, which made him =
feel hopelessly outre compared with the avant-garde conceptual artists. =
Laments Skrips: "I felt moored in the past."

For 26 years, he tried to swim in the New York art scene, living and =
working in a SoHo loft. He doggie-paddled enough to eat but never quite =
found his niche. "I couldn't wrap my brain around what conceptual art is =
supposed to be. It was more about the language of art than emotion, it =
was more about thought than process. And I'm from a blue-collar family, =
where work is about process, first and foremost."

Ten years ago, Skrips moved to an 18th-century farmhouse on the =
outskirts of Blairstown in northern New Jersey. In rural Warren County, =
still steeped in its Moravian heritage, he fell in love again with =
American folk art - and found his calling.

Most of his work is figurative. It features puppetlike characters carved =
from soft pine and colored with latex paint or a mixture of pigment and =
wax called encaustic that is richly opaque. Many of them are set in =
stagelike boxes, and the entire tableau is crafted from found objects - =
keys, eye hooks, buttons, curtain rings, pulleys, fishing sinkers, =
forks, spoons, wrenches, old doll heads, etc.

Skrips prizes what he calls "tortured tin," and the titles of his pieces =
are often spelled out in letters cut from old license plates. "I'm a =
flea-market junkie," he says. "But recycling for me is not a political =
statement. It's my art."

Skrips' figures are adorable and whimsical, but they often illustrate =
macabre themes. Doll Hospital depicts a battered doll in a wheelchair - =
a puckish nightmare.

"I love dark stuff," says Skrips, a fan of vintage horror films. =
"There's a creepiness to it."

Most pieces begin as an object, rarely as a sketch. "And as I combine it =
with others, the object goes through a change that leads to other =
changes. The elements will sit around the studio and magically come =
together. Certain pieces just gravitate to each other."

The process can take months. But his work has a deceptively primitive, =
slapdash quality Skrips is proud of and strives to achieve. It is the =
source of his art's power, he says, its energy and spontaneity.

He sometimes dismantles a piece dozens of times. "I really like to cut. =
I'm not afraid to murder my own creations."

Those that survive and make it into a buyer's home, he hopes, will cause =
people to pause, muse, smile and laugh.

At the minimum, "I hope it opens your eyes," he says. "I hope it makes =
you look again at something you might otherwise ignore."


Diane Hendricks loves the sound of birdsong when she tends to her =
gardens in the evening. So eight years ago, when a neighbor cleared 19 =
acres, felling many dead trees that served as habitat for Hendricks' =
avian friends, she was dismayed.

Hendricks responded by knocking together several birdhouses out of scrap =
plywood and hanging them around her property. But to the eye of this =
former sculpture major at Kutztown University, they were much too plain.

So she began ornamenting them with junk from around the house, leftover =
hardware from the continuing reconstruction and expansion of the cabin =
she and her husband inhabit in a woodsy enclave outside the Lehigh =
Valley town of Macungie.

Soon, Georgian birdhouses enhanced with a few shiny trinkets grew into =
baroque mansions as opulent and encrusted with gingerbread as a =
wedding-cake castle in Bavaria.

Hendricks begins with scrap wood; she collects weathered lumber and old =
barn boards. She uses very little paint to decorate her birdhouses; =
instead, she mixes and matches different kinds of wood to achieve =
different textures and colors.

Then comes the fun and artistic part: the application of plumbing parts, =
electrical parts, door and sash hardware, oarlocks, fishing reels, =
doorbells, coat hooks, kitchen gadgets, mouse and rat traps, gears, =
casters, funnels, toilet floats, jack stands, spark plugs... anything =
and everything.

"When my husband does a tune-up, he comes in with the old car parts and =
asks, 'Need anything?' " says Hendricks. The only stuff she buys is =
scrap corner molding, for roof ridges.

Many of her Birdabodes are built around a theme: golf, gardening, =
fishing, boating, cars. Only a former car gal (as a teen, she =
street-raced a '63 Galaxy 390 with a four-barrel carb in Harrisburg) =
could appreciate the aesthetic charm of a radiator fan clutch. A =
kitchen-theme birdhouse, No Grater Love, is fashioned around a rusty =
cheese grater.

She haunts flea markets and auctions and looks forward to trash day. =
(She and her husband are mail carriers, and score finds while serving =
their routes, Hendricks says.)

The process goes like this: Hendricks lays out the sides of a birdhouse =
on a workbench and begins covering it, piecing items together like a =
puzzle, rearranging them to form an eye-arresting collage. Months may go =
by before the "gorgeous clutter" tickles her.

The design of each side must work, and all four sides must work as a =
whole. And the stuff on opposing sides must counterbalance, so the =
birdhouse doesn't hang cockeyed.

Hendricks calls her birdhouses (price: $300 to $1,300) "functional =
sculpture." They are, indeed, designed to house birds. The wood is =
treated with linseed oil, the metal clear-coated.

She has researched where to locate the entrance hole and how big it =
should be for different types of birds. (Generally, she makes the hole =
no larger than 11/2 inches, to keep out pesky starlings.) Wrens are =
"very opportunistic," she has noticed, caring only about a roof over =
their heads. Chickadees, by contrast, are much more curious and seem to =
appreciate the magnificence of their abode.

Only about a third of her birdhouses make it outdoors, she estimates. =
Most buyers hang them indoors as objets d'art. This defeats the purpose, =
she admits ruefully, but there are compensating satisfactions.

"I'm taking stuff that would have been buried in a landfill and giving =
it new life. And I get a lot of pleasure when someone sees one of my =
birdhouses and says, 'What a hoot!' "
Contact staff writer Art Carey at 215-854-4588 or =

=A9 2003 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights =
Frank Gaydos

"Good design is not about form following function. It is 'function with =
cultural content.'"
-Carl Magnusson, Design Director, Knoll =20