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Helen Hamada and Kardash Onnig exhibit their work in Millbrook

by Carola Lott
Mon Nov 14th, 2016

Portrait Vessel made by a contemporary artisan

Work by Helen Hamada and her husband, Kardash Onnig, can be seen at both Arrowsmith Forge in Mabbettsville as well as at the Arts & Science building at the Millbrook School.

Helen Hamada’s photographs of Fletcher Coddington’s machine tools – some of them dating back to the first World War when they were used to make bullets and weapons – are stunning. When Hamada first visited Coddington’s workshop on Route 44 she says, “I fell in love with the machine tools that serve as an extension of his hands to bend steel and iron into various shapes and sizes… I was captivated by their ‘individual personalities’ and knew instantly that I wanted to photograph them.” 

Hamada has printed her photographs on satin finished aluminum plate which imparts a subtle gleam to the images that evokes the metal of the objects themselves. Hamada proves that an artist can transform something prosaic that many people might overlook into an object of considerable beauty.

Included in the exhibition are several of Kardash Onnig’ s “portrait vessels” originally conceived as cremation urns and later used to store grains or dried herbs and as serving bowls for soups and stews.  The lids of these vessels are representational portraits created from original carvings by local artists. Each portrait conveys the personality or mood of its subject—people or animals, artists and artisans, even the symbolic portrayal of places, cultures and mythologies.

Several of these round clay sculptures call to mind ancient gods or perhaps the death masks of kings.  One of these pieces depicts Adam and Eve their bodies imprisoned in the coils of two dragon-like serpents.  The effect of these pieces is disturbing. 

More of Onnig’s work can be seen at the Millbrook School’s Hamilton Math and Science Center in an exhibition entitled “Lifeline.” In his artist’s statement Onnig says, “We communicate through our senses also using ethereal vehicles such as intuition, instinct and emotion.  All forms of human communication involve energy transference.”

Onnig once believed that two dimensional mediums are limited to linear messages. In the 70’s he began exploring the third dimension.  His breakthrough came when he snapped a branch and knew exactly where it would break by “sensing the stress point of its lifeline.” In studying world cultural traditions Onnig has concluded that four is the common symbol for life force creation and existence. In addition he incorporates the four disciplines of art, science, philosophy and spirituality into all elements of his work. 

Some of Onnig’s drawings seem to be random sketches. Others suggest natural forms - leaves or the human body for example. One must assume that, as Onnig puts it, they represent “the fundamental ways that individual particles interact with each other and [are] a model to further explore how humanity can benefit from a complete, multi-dimensional transference of energy.”