BOSTON — IF a photograph, painting, or sculpture tells a story, could a necklace, as art, do the same?
The Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston demonstrates that it can. The current exhibition, ``The Telling of Stories: Jewelry and Fiber,'' is a show of works by 12 artists who tell tales through jewelry and nonfunctional fiber. Here, pins, necklaces, and other decorative pieces are displayed alongside embroidery and tapestry works to illustrate the possibility of narrative through art mediums not typically associated with storytelling.
Take artist Theodora Elston, for example. Her framed embroidery on painted silk hints at personal rebuilding after the devastation of the Oakland, Calif., fires. ``Cycle of Change'' is a collage that shows a few flames overpowered by a house frame, part of a saw and hammer, nails, tacks, a fence, a photo of flowers, and birds.
Elizabeth Chenoweth Palmer's jewelry confronts child abuse, using metals and found objects in a childlike manner. ``Read and Sleep, I'll Figure it Out Tomorrow'' serves as a small candleholder attached to a tiny bed with a book on it. The pin entitled ``Getting on Down the Road'' shows a figure following an arrow away from a road map, outlined in a face.
Personal experience often defines an artist's work, and with these artists, that aspect is not watered down. Naturally, some have paid more attention to technique than to story or vice versa, but the results force the viewer to not only look at the art and consider the meanings or musings beyond decoration, but also to learn what caused their creators to make them. Then the works are that much more accessible.
The traditional responsibility of crafts is to engage the user in a direct relationship with the object, its physicality, function, and beauty,'' writes Gale Brown, curator of the exhibit. ``The roles of jewelry and wall work, specifically, may be simply to adorn and enhance the body and environment. Narrative craft addresses the broader responsibilities which art takes on - it involves the viewer/wearer in the dialogue the maker wishes to provoke.'' Ms. Brown is a Philadelphia writer and private crafts dealer.
Some pieces here are whimsical and humorous, such as Rhonda Shikanai's animated mythical beasts - made out of sterling silver accented with stones and moveable parts. One plants bulbs in the garden, another simply comes ``Home for Lunch.''
Lee Malerich's applique-and-stitch collages serve as vibrant journal entries for life events. She takes political and personal stances such as ``I Am the Face of Pro-Choice America'' and ``Act Out Your Id'' (1994). It is up to the viewer to extract certain visual elements within such collages and consider their meanings.
Enid Kaplan has created pendants that can be worn alone or included in sculptures. ``Clearing (Lclaircie) Amulet'' was inspired by her experience of being lost for 24 hours in the northern Sumatran jungle with little food and water. The necklace represents faith and hope; the quartz stands for strength and spiritual communication, while the aquamarine stands for inner calm and banishing fear, she explains.
Leaping into the past, Keith LoBue arranges elements inside pocket watches, boxes, frames, and other containers to create intriguing mysteries. Using text from old newspapers as well as tiny objects - such as a sea horse, a crab, wire, an old photo - the viewer is entreated to look and wonder what stories they represent. A brooch might contain an old photo or image covered with sand or glitter and have newspaper text such as ``What Katie Heard'' lodged inside.
``Strung together by the human urge to classify and decipher, objects that are arranged in these fabricated environments seem to deny their isolation,'' LoBue writes. ``They somehow unite with each other to form their own stories, completely divorced from their natural origins....''