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California craft artists start a museum

The growing trend toward viewing crafts as fine art recevies impetus from the new California Crafts Museum established here recently. The distinction between object created to be functional and those designed merly to be exhibited is growing dimmer, especialy here in California, which has long provided a climate for artistic freedom. The Crafts Museum plans to give them equal billing.

"There really needs to be another word to describe craft art," says Jeanne Low of of Los Altos Hills, director of the museum.

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Besides breaking down the distinction between the two schools of thought, Mrs. Low aims to bring to the gallery exhibitis that will share with the public the wholem experience iof artists, their development, highlights, changes, and processes. So the first group of exhibits,one artist at a time, is aptly labeled "Progressions."

Somewhat reminiscent of retrospectives, this new concept appels to the spectator because, as Mrs. Low says, "almost everyone has tried to make something out of material."

The idea for the museum began to take form in 1978, when 18 people with a similar goal set about to establish the project. With a bare minimum of financing (each member contributed $10), they set about looking for a suitable spot for the museum somewhere around San Francisco, since they planned on Bay Area-wide scope.

Soon the city-owned Palo Alto Cultural Center heard of their endeavor. It offered the group a choice gallery in the handsome rambling contemporary building for a meager sum.

Early this year the Progressions series of exhibits began, spearheaded by Jeanne Low. She was a natural choice to head the museum. As a young girl in her native New Hampshire, a love of art led her first into jewelry. A period of study in Florence, Italy, exposed her to a multitude of crafts-with- art-status, as varied as carving and bookbinding.

Back in the United States, she zeroed in on textile arts, and is now well known for her basketry and creative stitchery -- and the forming of the Crafts Museum. She will hastily tell you it was all a team effort, but most of her colleagues credit her with "crystallizing" the idea.

Currently on view in the Progressions series is the dyedfiver art of Marian Clayden. clayden, a former painter from England, takes functional items like Iranian donkey straps, for example, and turns them into art pieces. The dying, discharging (controlled bleaching), overdying, and hand painting process she uses results in a colorful "tower."

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Clayden, whose credits include many one-person shows, being textile designer for the musical "Hair," and editorial comment in various publications, travels extensively. Time spent in Australia taught her dyeing techniques. A year in Iran and lately Japan helped from her unbounded sense of color.

"I fly on color," Marian says in her mellow voice with a bit of British clip to it.

In fact, the most exciting piece in her collection resembles an explosion of color on pure silk. This piece, called "Environment," is 7-foot-high strips of 42-inch-wide colored silk joined together into one huge wall-size spread. Shades of orange, amber, gold beige, and apricot edge off into tans and browns. The silk hangs from a steel rod shaped into undulating curves forming an alcove. It's a dramatic work to walk into, touch, look up to, or even sway with if there's the slightest breeze.

Her exquisite dyed silk pieces are contrasted tactilely by her all hangins of cotton roving. The ropes, which she makes and dyes, are hung from rods in such a way that the many colors compose designs, generally geometric.

The next exhibit of this nonprofit organization, funded by donations, will be "Toys, Amusements, and Fancies," directed toward gift giving. Although the museum is not a salesroom, some of the artists do make sales after hours. A board member Caryl Hansen, reports the museum is soon to launch a membership drive to help meet expenses and further the crafts as a fine-arts idea.

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