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Instruments of his imagination

Artist Brian Ransom molds clay into vessels, with moving, sometimes haunting, results.

Published September 21, 2006

[Times photos: Atoyia Deans]
Double Nest of Pot Flutes IV is part of Brian Ransom’s “Harmonic Resonances” exhibit at the Florida Craftsmen Gallery in St. Petersburg.
“I back into visual imagery through sound,” he says when asked which takes precedence: form or function.

Brian Ransom is a potter/musician who crafts instruments from clay. They look very primitive but create a range of complex sounds. Some are exhibited at Fla. Craftsmen and he will perfom on them Friday 9/14.

Ceramic Recurved Horn, one of Ransom’s instruments.

Tapestry, front, is woven metal, and Spinal, rear, is made of thorns. Both works are by Monica Naugle.


A pipe dream may be the easiest way to describe Brian Ransom's work at Florida Craftsmen Gallery.

For years, he has imagined sound and found ways to create it with clay vessels resonating like otherworldly chambers.

This is age old, not new age, music.

Many of Ransom's instruments look strange and ancient, sometimes ungainly. Then he tips one, called a whistling water vessel, producing a haunting keen that he modulates by cupping his hands over openings in the clay.

A small orb with a spout, which he named a pot flute, emanates with a surprisingly deep sound that he can play in any range of major or minor chords.

A kalimba, based on the African thumb piano with small metal "pedals," takes your ears and mind to primitive times and places. He used it, he says, for music he composed for a Smithsonian documentary.

Ransom, an art professor at Eckerd College, is both sculptor and musician. Ask him if form or function takes precedence and he says, "I back into visual imagery through sound."

He has esoteric explanations about how everything functions, with resonant waves, microtones and such. I say just close your eyes and be transported.

The caveat is that many of the instruments need human intervention. Seeing them, without the artist there to perform, is an incomplete experience, though some are hooked up to resonating machines that produce sound automatically.

Ransom also has an installation at the Studio@620 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, of dozens of his ceramic bells, in many shapes and sizes.

* * *

Florida Craftsmen has works by Monica Naugle and Holly Anne Mitchell in a smaller gallery.

Naugle's use of a loom to weave seemingly intractable materials continues to impress. A basket may look as if it's made of fibers; look closer and it's a tangle of steel cords. Spinal, a dense, free-form forest of thorns, poses questions such as: How does she get it from place to place without impaling herself on it? That may seem a pedestrian concern but it leads to all kinds of associations. Think of sharp words - prickly, thorny, spiky - and think of all the ways they can be used. Just like those museum signs that tell you Do Not Touch, so this work suggests, Don't Go There.

Mitchell's paper jewelry is fresh and fun. Artfully rolled and folded strips are joined with wire and sometimes studded with little gemstones for bracelets, necklaces, pines, even cuff links. Each is themed so a dramatic Katrina neck piece contains readable fragments from that hurricane's newspaper coverage, for example. Wear it and expect close readings.

* * *

Florida Craftsmen Gallery will open a satellite gallery in Palm Beach Oct. 4, executive director Maria Emelia said. It will partner with the Lighthouse Center for the Arts in setting up a retail space on the east coast. Florida Craftsmen is a statewide organization of fine craftsmen, and Emelia said it made sense to have a presence on the other side of the state, which is where most of the artists being represented will be from.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or

If you go

"Brian Ransom: Harmonic Resonances," "Spun Metal: Monica Naugle" and "Paper Jewels: Holly Anne Mitchell" are at Florida Craftsmen Gallery, 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through Oct. 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Free admission. 727 821-7391.

[Last modified September 20, 2006, 09:47:13]

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