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Artists Sally Prangley Rooney (left) and Robyn Krutch admire their “Holiday Magic” creations at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts exhibit. The exhibit runs Dec. 7 through Jan. 6. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Artists Sally Prangley Rooney (left) and Robyn Krutch admire their “Holiday Magic” creations at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts exhibit. The exhibit runs Dec. 7 through Jan. 6.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

It’s a critter Christmas at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts.

The seasonal spirit that brings out the child in the most Scrooge-like adult has artists looking to the animal kingdom for inspiration in “Holiday Magic with Kathe Fraga and Friends.”

“I walk through the holiday show to get to my office, and it always makes me smile,” BAC gallery director Janice Shaw said. “These eight artists are adept at capturing the joy of the season in tangible form – and they do so with consummate technique and craft.”

On gallery stands and walls, teddy bears jostle oversize tiger jigsaw puzzles, while pearl-encrusted kittens cast beady eyes at paper mache lions with feather boas for manes.

In addition to the animated animals, there is magic in other forms – from Danna Watson’s tiny fairies to Solia Hermes’ metal-framed mirror ringed with hands.

Displayed beside Hermes’ flower-adorned metal table are the wooden pull-toy boats and full-size animal wagons of her artist father, Kent Van Slyke.

Sally Prangley Rooney has built small-scale deluxe houses that might have been crafted for Kathe Fraga’s canines, who hang in neo-16th century royal portraits, complete with capped velvet sleeves and starched ruffs.

Among the show’s more thought-provoking pieces are Robyn Krutch’s cast concrete heads, wrapped around with birds or frogs.

“It’s an androgynous face,” Krutch said. “Who’s kissing whom? Who’s turning into what? This is one where the viewer gets to decide.”

Exhibitor Jim Watson doesn’t call himself an artist, but he has nonetheless lavished many hours on each of his teddy bears, some of the show’s most delightful fare.

“I’m really concerned that these will all sell out right away,” Shaw said, “and that people will be disappointed that he didn’t make more.

Watson’s bears are as individual as their enigmatic names.

“Lucify’s” russet fur – made from a vintage mohair couch – is perfectly offset by wine-tinted paws. “Dylan Thomas” is white fur with green felt, and “Rizzo” has a small head and an overdeveloped upper torso.

Watson’s teddy bears were “born” in 1984 because Watson, who is a carpenter, didn’t have a workshop at his home to make wooden toys.

His wife taught him to sew to make his daughter a Christmas gift. In following years, the bears became family members – and a vehicle for communicating with his daughter, Brynn.

“She and I would make up scenarios about each bear, and pass notes back and forth for weeks,” Watson said. “It’s often easier for a father to speak to daughter like that – and vice versa.”

Watson’s bears proved popular with non-family members, and the annual bear-making became part of Watson’s Christmas.

Half of the profit from this year’s sales will go to the Alive shelter for battered women, Watson said.

That’s the way he merges his art with the true spirit of Christmas.

Although the exhibit looks wonderfully spontaneous, the event was planned many months in advance, like other shows on the BAC roster.

And, with so many works to coordinate and fit into the space, it has taken hours to curate and hang.

“Janice and I started planning it last December over lunch,” Fraga said. “We made a list of artists whose works would be compatible. I wanted to put the show together because many of these artists are really my friends – it’s not just a show title.”

Frogs, birds, alligators, cows and dogs run the gamut of materials but steer clear of the costly; with most pieces between $15 and $60, the show is priced not to pinch pocketbooks.

Shaw notes that finding items under the tree that are not mass-produced can be a special thrill.

“If people are out on a gift-giving quest,” Shaw said, “they really should look for something unique and handmade by a local artist.”

Just as the winter solstice – the dark end of the year – is offset by festivals featuring light, candles, bright ornaments and color, grey Bainbridge skies are balanced by a quick circuit of the BAC gallery space.

“We need to find all the joy we can,” Shaw said, “to bring this particular year to a close.”

* * * * *

“Holiday Magic with Kathe Fraga and Friends” runs Dec. 7-Jan. 6 at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts. The gallery also features “Holiday Clay” and Laurie Lyall’s jewelry for the holiday season. Call 842-3132.

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