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Steiner's works turn everyday objects into art

Steiner's works turn everyday objects into art

Miniature dioramas on display at Albany Institute
Steiner's works turn everyday objects into art
Joan Steiner's miniature dioramas are created from household items and edible treats.
Photographer: Photo provided

Don't forget the Albany Institute of History & Art when the children are on their holiday vacation.
The museum’s Egyptian mummies have fascinated generations of kids.

And, with families in mind, the museum is currently showing “I Spy with My Little Eye: Joan Steiner’s Look-Alikes,” 10 miniature dioramas made from everyday objects and edible treats.

"We’ve also developed a self-guided looking game/scavenger hunt for visitors of all ages to enjoy as they find the dioramas, which are positioned in various locations throughout the museum, rather than in one single gallery,” says AIHA curator Diane Shewchuk.

For many years, Steiner painstakingly created the three-dimensional artworks, which were then photographed for her popular “Look-Alikes” series of books.

Steiner lived close to the Capital Region, in the Hudson Valley, where she had a home in Claverack and a studio in Hudson.

Readers may remember a Steiner exhibit at the Albany International Airport Gallery in 2001 and in 2007 at the New York State Museum.

Steiner died in 2010 at age 66 after a long battle with cancer.

Fifteen years ago, when I talked to her by phone, she told me how she hated gum but had to chew a big wad of the stuff for a diorama that featured a cement truck made from metal shoehorn glued to a plastic mustard bottle. In her land of make-believe, the soft, stretchy gum would be the concrete oozing out of the truck.

As kids turn the pages of her books, they discover fences made of pretzels, chair cushions fashioned from Fig Newtons, lamps trimmed with tiny gold safety pins and a bed crafted from crayons and pasta.
“They like to call out what they see,” Steiner told me.

Creating a miniature world where everything looks like something else sounds like fun, but it was hard work and there was intense deadline pressure, the award-winning author-illustrator said.

“It's very time-consuming . . . and sometimes I get stuck.”

She told me that her studio was stacked high with white cardboard file boxes of materials.
“I'm really organized. I've got huge collection of stuff. But when I'm in the middle of it, it's cluttered. Everything that might work, I spread out on the table.”

When Steiner couldn’t find the perfect object, she browsed local hardware stores, party stores, thrift stores and art supply stores.

“The fun is when I think up a funny look-alike, like a black lace garter belt that looks like a stained window in a cathedral,” Steiner said.

When a diorama was finished, Steiner placed it gently in her car and traveled to a photography studio.
“I Spy with My Little Eye” continues through Jan. 29.

Want to learn more about Joan Steiner’s creative process?

Check out a five-minute video on YouTube called “Joan Steiner's Look-Alikes: A Film by Stephen Blauweiss.”

Thaw catalog
The Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown has released a new comprehensive catalog of its Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art titled “Art of the North American Indians: The Thaw Collection at Fenimore Art Museum.”

The catalog expands on the first edition originally published in 2000 and is being released in advance of a major exhibit of the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that opens on May 8, 2017.

The 520-page edition features over 830 photographs of the collection, including more than  100 new images of Native artworks that have entered the collection since 2000.

The catalog costs $60 and is available at the museum and in its online store at FenimoreArtMuseum.org.

Art at the airport
If you find yourself at Albany International Airport during the holidays, spend some quiet time in the third-floor art gallery.

In the exhibit “Staying Power,” 11 artists reflect on their commitment to their practice through recognition and obscurity, doubt and devotion, breakthrough and failure.

The artists are: Benigna Chilla, Susan Spencer Crowe, Jeanne Flanagan, Walter Hatke, Paul Katz, Bruno LaVerdiere, Edward Mayer, Margo Mensing, Thom O'Connor, Harry Orlyk and Barbara Takenaga.
“Staying Power” runs through Monday, Jan. 2.

Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, [email protected] or on Twitter @bjorngazette.

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