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-At first glance, the "Utah '89 Crafts" exhibition at the Salt Lake Art Center appears sparse. After all, the Main Gallery is one of the largest exhibition areas in the state. And it practically devours the 58 works by 44 Utah craftspeople were juried into the show.

The 58 entries are a far cry from the 300 originally submitted for this show. But guest juror Mildred Constantine, a New York art historian, was looking for more than skill, technique and material."I always look forward to a dialogue between the objects viewed and myself." she said. "I expect an object to `speak' to me. . . "

Apparently four-fifths of the entries never "spoke" to her. They ended up in the reject pile.

One craftsman who came to pick up one of his rejected pieces said, "One could have easily made a beautiful exhibit out of the rejects." He added that many craftspeople felt that the juror was quite brutal in her jurying.

A closer look at the exhibition reveals that despite the criticism, the fact remains that Constantine has put together a highly cohesive show. And it's definitely a statement of her philosophy.

"I search for the subtleties - not necessarily grand statements," Constantine wrote in her juror's statement. "I search for what issues are being explored, for the heretofore unimagined images, not for surface, but for form and content. It is the abstract, the real, the figurative, the unexpected juxtapositions; it is the wit, humor and irony; all these are the characteristics upon which judgment is based."

To be among the 58 pieces is an award in and of itself. But both the juror and the Visual Arts Committee of the Utah Arts Council chose a few of the crafts for special recognition.

Constantine selected works by nine artists to receive the juror's choice awards. They include two quilts by Charlotte Warr Andersen; a ceramic sculpture by Karen Barkley; a koa wood sculpture by Robert Bliss; a ceramic coffee service by Kerri Buxton; a stoneware sculpture by David Cox; a trio of small pewter sculptures by Jacques Cuypers; a weaving by Carmen Jones; a raku-fired vessel by Stan Roberts; and a clay vessel by James Robertson.

After carefully reviewing the juror's recommendations, members of the Utah Arts Council's Visual Arts Committee chose the winners of the purchase and cash awards. They selected three from the juror's lists to receive purchase awards - Buxton, Cuypers and Roberts. Ceramics by Larry Elsner and Catherine Kuzminski were also winners of purchase awards. The committee gave cash awards to Charlotte Warr Andersen, Robert Bliss and David Cox.

-This is the first year Jacques Cuypers has entered the annual statewide exhibition. So he was surprised to get all three of his entries in the show. And winning a purchase award was icing on the cake.

Cuypers said that he has been sculpting knights and soldiers "from scratch" for about two years now. Using plasteline and metal, he models them by hand. He then has them cast in pewter by Amwest Casting of Midvale.

His small figures are unusual - helmets can be taken off, arms moved and swords removed from scabbards.

The artist carefully hand paints each sculpture using lacquer-base paints. Then he finishes his work by painting it with a transparent, glossy lacquer.

He says he has usually has 100 sculptures made in each edition, but the number depends on how well the mold holds up. He signs and numbers each sculpture.

-Another winner, ceramist Kerri Buxton, won a purchase award for her entry - an elegant, graceful coffee service.

"I didn't make it specifically for the show," she said. "I made it for myself. I was surprised when it won a purchase award, because I was going to keep it."

Buxton said that when she was creating this work, she wanted to make something more difficult and complex than previous pieces.

She pointed out that everything in this service has been individually done and then joined together.

She likes this technique. "It doesn't look overworked. And it maintains some of the life of the building process."

The smooth, flowing surface is occasionally punctuated with clusters of small objects resembling flowers or barnacles. Buxton puts them there as references. She said she doesn't want to end up with a "dead" piece.

But ceramics is not the only art medium in which this full-time artist works. She says she is involved in printmaking and metalsmithing.

"For me, I feel that I keep sharp if I involve myself in other facets of art as well," she said.

Two Utah galleries handle Buxton's work - the Utah Designer Craftsman Gallery and Park City's Wasatch Trading Company. Also, a number of galleries on the East Coast sell her work.

-Over the years, Stan Roberts has been an active participant in this annual statewide crafts show. Sometimes his works have been accepted; other times, rejected. But he said that that's the risk an artist has to take.

Roberts admitted he was surprised when he heard that his raku-fired "Vessel I" won a purchase award.

"I felt good that the juror understood what I was trying to do with the piece - focusing on the silhouette of the pot." Fortuitously, when the show was installed, his vessel was set on a pedestal at eye level so viewers could see the silhouette.

The potter said he has been working with raku firing for about 25 years. He also makes raku jewelry.

A full-time artist, Roberts has seven outlets in Utah, including Basils, Kimball Art Center and Utah Designer Craftsmen Gallery. "Plus I have pottery accounts in Sedona, Arizona, and in a new gallery of American crafts in Orlando's Walt Disney World," he said.

-The Utah '89 Crafts exhibition will remain at the Salt Lake Art Center, 20 S. West Temple (328-4201) through January 26. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.