- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2001

The show took three years to produce, but local artist Sophia McCrocklin's debut at the Spectrum Gallery is the culmination of a lifetime of influences.

"Inhabited Places" opened Tuesday and runs through Feb. 18. The 25 fiber collages on display have their roots in the artist's love of fabric — quilts, clothing and sewing.

Ms. McCrocklin, 40, says these interests surfaced when she was a 3-year-old growing up in Louisville, Ky.

"I've always been interested in the arts," she says from her home in Northwest. "As a kid, I liked to cut up little pieces of paper and do things with them."

The desire to become an artist was curbed by her realization that making a living in the arts would be hard. Instead, she went to Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and majored in economics. Her near-second major (she was one course shy of completing it) was studio art; it became a "significant minor" for her.

She graduated from Smith in 1982. Afterward, she started making and selling her own clothing wholesale, a business she had trouble keeping afloat.

"It just kind of got away for me," Ms. McCrocklin says. "I didn't want to be a manufacturing business."

Her economics background led her to law school. She hoped to gain a high-paying job that could support her entry into the art world.

After she graduated from the University of Louisville in 1987 with a law degree, an arts-management fellowship with the National Endowment for the Arts led her to Washington. Later, she drafted legislation as a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency.

While at the EPA, Ms. McCrocklin married Bill Isaacson,, also a lawyer. When she became pregnant with their first child, she decided to leave her government job to pursue her art.

A few shared exhibits at Fiberworks, a gallery at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, led her to the Spectrum.

"My approach to painting is very different than most painters because I'm treating the canvas as fabric," she says. "I've never seen anybody work this way before."

Ms. McCrocklin starts with a blank canvas and explores the texture of the fabric by cutting it, painting it or covering it with other fabrics.

"Then I'll do a sketch of what I want," she says, "and then start cutting the pieces, then sew some of the pieces until I get a finished collage, and then I'll start the process of gluing it down."

On her "Dancing on the Acropolis," she estimates she used 1,000 pieces of fabric to create the four pillars that outline the ancient Greek structure. The mix of familiar places with vague locations, such as a riverbed, is an idea that intrigues her.

"I like playing off the two ideas," she says. "I find it quite helpful in building up ideas and letting them go more abstract."

"This Land Is Your Land," for example, uses separate fields of canvas to create the image of a window looking out on a hill set in an open field under a starry sky. The bottom of the canvas is ripped and fringed, and shredded pieces of canvas are scattered throughout the work.

Ms. McCrocklin's warm colors and relaxing images of streams, hills and flower beds are meant as a rebuke to the sensibilities of modern art.

"Unfortunately, what I think is happening in modern art is that things are unpleasant and ugly and not beautiful. They're very thought-provoking and shocking, but not beautiful," she says.

"This is something you could actually put in a place you live," she says of her work.

WHAT: "Inhabited Places" by Sophia McCrocklinWHERE: Spectrum Gallery, 1132 29th St. NW.WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 18.TICKETS: FreePHONE: 202/333-0954

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