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In Rainy New York, Umbrella Art Exhibit Cheers Visitors

September 7, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ Outside, on yet another day when New York felt like Seattle, people ran with newspapers over their heads to fend off a summer shower. But inside a Manhattan museum, others pondered a rain of umbrellas.

From the ceiling of the American Craft Museum, about 30 artful umbrellas are suspended in the air, a seeming snapshot of a free-fall down a three- story-high stairwell. All that’s missing is Mary Poppins.

The exhibit has lured in many during a season that demanded a good umbrella: More than 28 inches of rain fell from April to July, double the norm.

″I do think the timing’s been wonderful,″ museum director Janet Kardon said. ″But when it’s raining outside, it’s quite cheery in here.″

″A Rain of Talent: Umbrella Art,″ was created by painters, sculptors, architects and ceramicists who were given white umbrellas and instructions to do as they pleased.

Most painted whimsical designs. But one artist fused an umbrella with a kindergarten chair, another hung strands of string inside the frame to create an image of an umbrella that lets in rain, and a third painted long knives and daggers for a creation called ″Acid Rain.″

A fourth artist robbed her umbrella of its function: it’s all frame, no cloth. And yet another, from Texas, made an inside-out umbrella that looked as if it had been through a tornado.

Many visitors said they now will look differently at umbrellas - and rain.

″Most people think depressing things about the rain. But this is bright and wonderful, almost childlike,″ said Sasha Bergmann of Santa Barbara, Calif. ″This makes me want to go home and paint my umbrella and then never use it.″

Adriana de Freitas, of Rio de Janeiro, said the show was ″like a crazy rainy day. They had a lot of fun with it.″

The show, at the museum until Sept. 24, will be at a University of Chicago gallery early next year and then may tour the country, said Richard Siegesmund, director of The Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia, which organized it.

The Fabric Workshop asked Patterson Sims, curator of modern art and associate director for art and exhibitions at the Seattle Art Museum, to create an exhibition. ″Living in Seattle, you are real conscious of the necessity of having an umbrella, and you want umbrellas to be as cheerful as possible,″ said Sims, who doesn’t own one.

″It’s a form of denial,″ he said. ″I just get a little wet.″

Umbrellas are ″an object that we often review in mundane fashion,″ Siegesmund said. ″But if you think about it, umbrellas can become an object of startling beauty and demand consideration as an art object.″

But most of the exhibits can still do the job for which they were designed.

Edward Henderson, from Stony Point, N.Y., took apart a small schoolroom chair to create a sort of umbrella-chair, one of the few exhibits not hanging from the ceiling. It could serve as a child’s all-weather reading spot.

″I wanted to make something that would be much more than just an umbrella,″ said Henderson, a painter and sculptor. ″I wanted to embellish it. It’s very common to put paint on it. So you just stretch it. You can’t take it that seriously, but then I take my art very seriously.″

Claire Zeisler, a fiber artist from Chicago, didn’t take her assignment seriously at all. She said ″helpers″ at her studio thought of putting long strands of string inside her umbrella. ″It doesn’t mean anything, you know. Except that it’s fun. Maybe they’re trying to upgrade umbrellas.″

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