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Archive for Sunday, October 23, 2005

Kansan specializes in whimsical artwork

October 23, 2005

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— With a few cutting tools and his fingers, Eric Abraham turns a handful of moist, white clay into a winged pig.

In a few days - after painting and three trips to the kiln - it will join dozens of other bright, cheery porcelain figures in his Flying Pig Studio & Gallery.

He sticks the figure onto an elaborate clay mirror frame adorned with clouds and other figures.

And they're all for sale, ranging in price from $35 for hanging animal figurines to $7,000 for a sink and mirror set. Most pieces are priced between $100 and $200.

He's developed a "nouveau rococo" art style that Abraham interprets as a "new version of 18th-century art" incorporating fun and fantastical scenes. Many of his figures are based on fairy tales, such as his Humpty Dumpty goblet.

He has made everything from bolo ties to a 6-foot tall, 12-foot-long dragon out of porcelain.

"You name it. I've probably done it or attempted it," he said.

Abraham creates bathroom sink and mirror sets from clay. They take several months to make and cost $7,000.

In Kansas City, Mo., Abraham pieces in the window of the Hallar Gallery have turned heads.

"I can't tell you how many people walk in and say, 'Is that an Eric Abraham?' said Robin Hallar, owner of the art gallery. "I've sold several of his pieces."

The appeal of Abraham's work, Hallar said, is its whimsy.

"It makes people smile. It permits them to see a part of their past."

Beyond that, Hallar said, is the quality of his work.

She's drawn to his wonderfully lustrous porcelain, and she said his pieces "are exquisitely done."

A frog prince is the subject of a wedding cake topper created by Abraham.

Abraham, born in Harlem in New York City, has ties to Kansas City. He studied sculpture and painting at the Kansas City Art Institute and worked for a couple of years as an artist for Hallmark Cards.

He later moved to New Mexico, received a master's in fine art degree from the University of Nebraska and taught art in public schools and colleges. He moved to Kansas from Denver, settling first in Wabaunsee and, last year, in Lucas, art-rich for a tiny town.

He lives and works downtown in a former car-dealership building. With 6,000 square feet, he has room to grow and allow other artists to exhibit.

"I've had nice sales," said Abraham, 68.

He attracts customers who knew him during his 17 years of working in Denver and, more recently, in an old schoolhouse at Wabaunsee.

The Lucas gallery is more innocuous, with no distinct architectural style, so Abraham is having fun decorating the exterior with porcelain window treatments.

He's excited about the artistic community in Lucas that is building around the legacy of S.P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden and Florence Deeble's backyard art. Deeble's house and yard is maintained by the Grassroots Art Museum, which features other "primitive" or folk artists who used whatever was handy - stones, limestone, broken glass, wood, paint, pull-tab rings - to make decorative objects.

Dinsmoor used concrete to create his folk-art masterpiece around his house and mausoleum.

"I think we're used to different and unusual people," he said. "It's been pretty fantastic."

Abraham is a good fit, said Rosslyn Schultz, director of the Grassroots Art Center, the hub of arts evolution in Lucas.

"Eric is quite eccentric himself, but he's easy to work with and very creative," she said.

With bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts, Abraham said he doesn't fit in as a grass-roots artist, but art's mainstream hasn't embraced him either.

"I get rejected," Abraham said.

But in Lucas, he added, "I'm not really an outsider here."

He has won publicity for the town and himself. This fall or early winter, cable television channel HGTV will air a story on Abraham's gallery during the program "ReZoned." A television crew collected footage and did interviews in Lucas in August.

Abraham fills a void in Lucas, said Doug Brant, owner of Brant's Meat Market, the Flying Pig Gallery's downtown neighbor.

"He fits a different niche that we've never had before," Brant said.

Abraham's customers are "people with money," he said. "It's a little different clientele."

The gallery appealed to Patricia Feil, of Menominee, Mich., who stopped in recently. She was born and reared on a farm south of Lucas.

"I think it's neat," she said. "It's been a long time since we've had an art center like this in our area."

Abraham said he sells art to people from all walks of life, and he said nothing goes to waste.

In Kansas City, pieces more flawless were part of a new show opening at the Hallar Gallery. Abraham was a featured artist at the show that ran through Oct. 8.

"He's been wonderfully received," Hallar said.

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