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Logan Square Artists Blur the Line Between Art and Craft in 'Craft/Work'

By Erica Demarest | September 27, 2013 9:03am
 Logan Square artists Nora Renick-Rinehart and Rachel Wallis launched a Kickstarter to fund Craft/Work, a  lecture and workshop series that will culminate in a gallery show early next year.
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LOGAN SQUARE — As a kid, Rachel Wallis was surrounded by drawing and painting.

“My mom and sister are both very talented visual artists," said Wallis, 32, "and that’s not something I was ever particularly good at."

When Wallis discovered crafting — things like embroidery, bookmaking and linoleum block printing — she found her niche.

"I realized that I loved collage and making furniture, and that there was this whole outlet for my creativity that did not involve being able to draw something that looks like the thing you’re trying to draw," Wallis said.

Like many crafters, she started to sell her projects — and had no idea how to price them.

“It became really hard for me to think about what they were worth," said Wallis, who works as a communications and event manager.

"If it’s a thing," Wallis explained, "then its value has to do with the materials and time it took to make it. But if it’s art, then it’s valued on this whole other level that I can’t even conceive of. I was struggling with this line of: Is it art, or is it craft?”

Wallis and fellow artist Nora Renick-Rinehart want to address that question in "Craft/Work," a lecture and workshop series that will culminate in a gallery show early next year.

The pair launched a $3,500 Kickstarter campaign this week to fund the project, which will be housed in Beauty and Brawn, 3501 W. Fullerton Ave.

“There’s no right answer to why or what or how to distinguish between art and craft," said Renick-Rinehart, 28. "We’re just trying to open the doors a little bit."

Renick-Rinehart studied fibers and works as a textile instructor at Lillstreet Art Center, 4401 N. Ravenswood Ave.

She said the fibers field has only existed for about 15 years, and it still carries the historical stigma of "being women’s crafts and minority crafts" — something that only exists for function or hobby.

“The world of art has been such a boys club and such a concept club for so long that I think people don’t readily associate themselves with that," Renick-Rinehart said. "But there’s no reason that they shouldn’t.”

"Craft/Work" kicks off in early October with a call for submissions for the gallery show. A launch party is slated for November 10, and biweekly workshops start on Jan. 7.

Art created during the workshops — which will be free if the Kickstarter goal is met — will be displayed during the "Craft/Work" gallery show, which opens on April 12.

Wallis — whose latest work includes prints of lesser-known saints (think: the patron saint of hospital administrators) — said she hopes "Craft/Work" can spark dialogue among crafters.

"There are thousands of part-time crafters in Chicago working right now, and they’re mostly women," Wallis said. "Relatively few of them would think of themselves as artists."