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Art that crystallizes the past

David Chatt's "1982"Sienna Patti

LENOX — David Chatt’s “1982,” a boom box encased in translucent sewn glass beads, has cassette tapes inside. The artist doesn’t disclose what the music is. As a young gay man in 1982, Chatt uncovered his identity and found his tribe at dance clubs. The music he listened to evoked the possibilities of his future.

Then AIDS came. The boom box wrapped in beads enshrines a moment filled with hope and loss. The music itself is, perhaps, too tender to reveal.

Chatt’s show “Scout’s Box,” at the design and jewelry gallery Sienna Patti Contemporary, is titled after the opening scene in the 1962 film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Scout, the narrator, opens a cigar box filled with personal treasures. What’s inside — a pocket watch, marbles, string — reveals something of Scout.


A collection always reflects the soul of the collector. In this show, Chatt wraps objects from his youth in beads: toy soldiers, a brownie camera perched atop its yellow Kodak box, a magnifying glass. Together, these curiosities kindle associations, unfurling a story of a boy, or a time. Or is it a story of ourselves?

David Chatt's “Artillery Necklace.”Sienna Patti

The beadwork moves “Scout’s Box” from kindling to blaze. It’s delicate, obsessive work, and Chatt, a Seattle artist, is a master. Covering his keepsakes in beads, he at once crystallizes and masks the feelings and memories they hold.

“If She Knew You Were Coming…” celebrates the artist’s late mother, a creative cook who welcomed many to her table. It’s a tableau: mixer and bowl, three eggs, a cookbook, a timer, all coated in white glass beads. Chatt’s mother was an artist of food and relationship, and this piece distills that warmth into one moment, one artwork.

David Chatt's “If She Knew You Were Coming…”Sienna Patti

The smaller pieces are jewelry. “Artillery Necklace” features toy soldiers encased in red beads, aiming their rifles outward. A whimsical yet pointed fashion statement, the piece wryly laments our cultural conditioning around war and violence.


Memories are fluid. Write them down or embody them in sculptures, and fixed stand-ins risk replacing the past’s evanescence and emotional tug. Enrobing his memories in beads, Chatt offers them to us for the treasure boxes of our own imaginations, but he also keeps them to himself. The mystery remains.


At Sienna Patti Contemporary, 80 Main St., Lenox, through July 11. 413-637-8386, www.siennapatti.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.