Folk artist

Harriet Kittay is a contemporary artist who often takes inspiration from the folk art of 18th- and 19th-century America, especially its quilts, weathervanes, and portraits.

''I have spent a lot of time in New England, and I have always loved folk art ,'' Ms. Kittay explains.''I have wanted somehow to translate the feeling of that period and its charming objects into 20th-century terms. So I have reworked those familiar and simple themes in metals - one quarter-inch-thick stainless steel, aluminum, and bronze. The result is my own modern version of folk art quilts and sculpture, done in my own flat, geometric style.''

Quilts made by women in rural America were conceived, she says, through the utmost simplification of design elements, simplified to the point of abstraction. She has abstracted the patterns still further, through a minimum use of line, in her pieces called ''Star of Bethlehem,'' ''Log Cabin,'' ''Alphabet,'' ''Bird of Fantasy,'' ''Carolina Lily,'' and ''Wildflower.''

Her pieces range in price from $2,000 to $8,500. They have been purchased for homes, hotels, and offices, as well as for corporate collections. Some are free-standing; others hang against a wall.

Ms. Kittay works in a studio on the ground floor of her Manhattan apartment, where she does all her sketching and makes the preliminary models for sculptures. She then goes with the maquette, or model, to one of the three foundries with which she works, and the process of fabrication begins.

She selects the metals that are to be combined in a piece and does much overseeing as the pieces of the pattern are cut by the craftsmen, then filed and fitted against a supporting wooden core. ''This is the most tedious part of the work. It takes much time and must be done painstakingly,'' she says. It also explains why each Kittay piece requires several months to execute, from inception to finished art form.

Why did she choose metal as a medium? ''I first worked in clay and then bronze with the lost-wax process,'' she explains. ''Then I began to experiment - and discovered that I liked the look and the feel of smooth, flat surfaces of sheet metal. This stepped me into an approach that was fresh and new and quite different from what anyone else was doing.''

The work of this artist is represented in New York by the Sutton Gallery, 29 West 57th Street. Her work has been shown in galleries and museums here and abroad since the early 1970s. It will be exhibited at the Eva Cohon Gallery in Highland Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, July 9-30; at the Ruth Vered Gallery, Easthampton, N.Y., July 6-30; and at the Charlton Gallery in San Antonio, Sept. 23-Oct. 15.

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