'Dolls of the Silver Screen' do a dance at Joe Bar

Just in time for the city's huge film fest, Sara Lanzillotta's "Dolls of the Silver Screen" is up at the Joe Bar Café. For the past 10 years, Lanzillotta has been using sewing as an art form creating dolls, odd creatures and sculptural anomalies entirely out of fabric.

Her pieces are often dark, but include a deft touch of humor. Her work challenges our views on what was once considered a traditional craft as a new medium for fine art. Using fabric, fine stitching and a vivid imagination, she is part of a growing number of artists using what was once considered the domestic skills of a housewife to create works for gallery display.

Many will recall the groundbreaking exhibition "Sewn" at the Seattle Art Museum in May 2001, which featured Lanzillotta's work. The curator for that exhibit was Rock Hushka, now the chief curator for the Tacoma Art Museum. In a review for Fiber Arts Magazine, I observed:

"If P. T. Barnum wanted to become an artist, his work would look like Sara Lanzillotta's sculptures. S.D. Devout's Amazing Circus Sideshows, created in 2000-01, reveals a wall of individual shelves where all of the-doll-like sculptures of personalities such as a bearded lady, a strongman, and other denizens of the circus-appear to taunt us. When viewed as an installation, these dolls form a choir that melodically laughs at our pretensions and our conformity. Lanzillotta's Martyrs of the Cloth, created in 2000-01, give us a new look at iconography. Here are St. Lucy, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Agatha charmingly depicting their own stories. St. Lucy, patron saint of optometry, winsomely beckons to the viewer while holding her two eyeballs on a silver platter. Bible camp wasn't this much fun!"

For her current show, Lanzillotta chooses to focus on our passion for the silver screen and the stars who make films. Spanning from the silent film era of the 1920s to contemporary protagonists in current cinema, she presents unique fabric homage to the art and craft of screen acting. As you enter the café the sculptures seem to be dancing on the walls.

Right by the front door we meet "Beetle Juice," the dark and silly ghost played by Michael Keaton in the film by the same name. The small figure is poised on a tombstone comically mocking the viewer's phobias and pretensions concerning death. It is all here, the striped pajamas, the heavy black boots, the wild stringy hair giving the viewer the essential essence of the character.

Off in the distance stands Groucho Marx looking like the signature Al Hirschfield drawing rendered with fabric and needle. Carrie looks down from the mezzanine in her blood-stained dress while Sally Bowles from Cabaret and Betty Page seem to be kicking their way up the stairs. Mommy Dearest holds a wire hanger next to Louise Brooks while A Clockwork Orange occupies another wall.

Who could forget Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's?" She stands in an elegant dress sporting the longest cigarette holder ever created. Further down the wall is the innocent looking blonde from "The Bad Seed," complete with steel-toed shoes. All of the sculptures seem to want to leap off of their respective stands and into your imagination.

Willy Wonka stands as a tribute to the signature role played by Gene Wilder on another wall next to the female replicant from Blade Runner. In the corner by the large window is the lead character from "The Tin Drum." The small boy holds two drumsticks while seeming to march to a martial theme. The fine stitching on the hands, face, and shoes all demonstrate the amazing level of skill that Lanzillotta possesses.

Lanzillotta's work has been showcased in many galleries across the country. Many pieces can also be found under her company name Devout, in several local stores such as Bluebottle Art Gallery on Capitol Hill and Gargoyles Statuary in the University District and also on her Web site (www.DevoutDolls.com).

On Thursday, May 24, the 33rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival begins. I hope the festival goers pay attention to the art on the walls as they dash across the street from the Harvard Exit to grab a coffee. Some of film's truly greats are honored on the walls by a remarkable talent who is shattering the walls that divide art from craft.

"Dolls of the Silver Screen" runs through May 31. The Joe Bar Café is located at 810 E. Roy St. in the historic Loveless Building. The café is open Monday through Friday: 7:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. and weekends: 8:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. For more information call (206) 324-0407. Capitol Hill resident Steven Vroom writes about visual arts each month. He is the host of Art Radio Seattle, a weekly visual art news pod cast at www.vroom journal.com. He can be reached at editor@capitolhill times.com.

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