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By Erin Maguire, The Bulletin
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

JUST VISIT Opens At The Clay Studio March 6, 2009

Some people regret collecting knickknacks because they are tedious to dust. Others are inexplicably drawn to trinkets because they see in them artistic value. Clay artist Amy Santoferraro is the second type.

Ms. Santoferraro is attracted to the “dirty side of ceramics — the grandma-made kitsch and tchotchke aspects that get overlooked.” Her exhibit “Just Visit” documents fantasy interactions of old ladyish items that typically attract only thrift store and garage sale rummagers. It opens Friday at the Clay Studio at 139 N. 2nd St.

A collector by nature, Ms. Santoferraro works with found objects, playing with them, sorting them and transforming them into artwork. For years, she has eagerly collected ceramic and plastic figurines out of interest, but unlike other pieces in her life, she could not figure out how to organize them into something meaningful — until this exhibit.

Ms. Santoferraro sought out some of her mementos, others were given as gifts and some came into her life by “happenstance.” For instance a friend once showed her a picture of a plush dolphin carrying a suitcase and wearing a top hat that she stumbled upon at a thrift store. Ms. Santoferraro believes each object has a way of interacting with the others and has a story waiting to be created by its owner — they are all, however, “just visiting.”

Using animation and photography, Ms. Santoferraro documented the stories of her playthings, telling of their imaginary exchanges and imparting “cutesy” life lessons on viewers. On a recent trip cross-country, Ms. Santoferraro noticed abandoned fruit stands and empty billboards, which she also decided to include in her exhibit. She realized that they too had a story.

Reminiscent of a child’s picture book, 13 framed photographs of Ms. Santoferraro’s bric-a-brac collection line the walls of her display room. At the front of the room, a large projection screen emulating an empty billboard displays a five-minute looped video of her tchotchke stories. A four-minute music score of layered keyboard recordings by Stephen Kent loops with the video, falling in and out of time with the action of 7,000 fused pictures of animals dumped from a brown bag and set on a mission to meet friends, among other brief accounts.

Ms. Santoferraro is unsure how she will market the movie for sale, but a call to the makers of Baby Einstein or Baby Mozart might be a start. The playful circus-like music, with a somber organ that tones it down at times, coupled with toy interactions seems to fit the child video genre.

In the rear of the room, a display in the form of a fruit stand holds souvenirs for patrons. Ms. Santoferraro has wrapped the toys — animals, mostly — in paper that matches the background of her video exhibit. She wants people to buy the objects without knowing what they are getting in order to create their own found experiences.

“Keeping true to catch-and-release practices, it’s time to let go,” Ms. Santoferraro wrote about selling her treasures. “Some of these objects have been with me forever, some just a couple of weeks, but all of them have boasted some degree of promise or beauty to me. I ask that you blindly take them on, not knowing, but trusting that they will do something for you too.”

Explaining her exhibit to The Bulletin, Ms. Santoferraro said the message she hopes appreciators will get from it is, “to look at things differently; to look beyond what they are designed to do and what they can do for you in conjunction with each other. Cute, crass, plastic or cheap, together they can make something different than themselves.”

She said her make-believe stories convey the life lesson of “being patient and having fun instead of freaking out and waiting for things to go wrong.”

In addition to the opening reception tonight from 5 to 9, Ms. Santoferraro will have a gallery talk March 12 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and a “Popcorn, Movie, Fun Time” event on March 21.

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Erin Maguire can be reached at