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Art Facts: going into the family business


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Throughout much of history, plying the family trade has been de rigueur; seeking one's fortune outside those traditional confines is mostly a notion of the postagrarian era. Baby-boomers may have made rebellion against such an order almost mandatory, but 23-year-old Siena Scarff grew up in a warm and loving (and post baby boom) household, so there wasn't much need for rebellion, she says.

Of course, it's not as if the Scarffs were involved in something mundane and mercantile (plumbing supplies), politically incorrect (chemical processing), squeamishness-inducing (funeral direction), or just plain stultifying (actuarial science). Her father, Tom Scarff, enjoyed success as a sculptor in metal and neon; her mother was a photographer. Becoming a visual artist was almost a foregone conclusion.

As a student at Evanston Township High School, New York's Cooper Union and School of Visual Arts, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Scarff crafted humanoid figures in such mixed media as fabric, leather, and ceramic. Their long, skinny arms and legs are attached to wide, hollow torsos that feature small-paned windows revealing objects within. She calls these portraits of people's souls.

The family collaboration arose out of necessity. Because she didn't want her pieces confused with coffee-table bibelots, she designed them to be hung, like paintings, on the wall. Enter Tom Scarff, who fabricated various mounting devices for his daughter's figures.

Some of the mounts look like ordinary brackets executed with a little flourish, but at least one of them is larger and more complex than the piece it supports. In the collaboration entitled Zappa F.M. Station/ I (H)ear You, Tom Scarff's sweeping, cranelike armature of aluminum and halogen light is twice as large as the doll-like form it suspends.

The Scarffs will show their collaborative works at the first Sculpture, Objects, and Functional Art Exposition this weekend, directed by Mark Lyman, who originated the New Art Forms Exhibition for the Lakeside Group but bolted to form his own company, Expressions of Culture, Inc., last year. SOFA features work from 60 prominent dealers in metalwork, ceramics, fiber, wood, glass, and, as the title suggests, functional art. It runs 11 to 8 Friday and Saturday and 11 to 6 Sunday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, 301 E. North Water. Admission is $10 a day; a three-day pass costs $20. Call 654-0870 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.

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