As soon as one walks into the Ohio Craft Museum, it's easy to figure out the theme of its latest exhibition.
"Figure It: Forms of Human Expression" features works in a variety of media, including clay, glass, fiber and wood, that all focus on the human figure.
"The human figure as a subject for artists has always been interesting to me," said Gwen Heffner, an independent curator who put the exhibition together for the museum.
"When (the museum) asked me to put together another exhibition, I knew this was a theme I wanted to use," she said.
Every culture, going back to the earliest cave drawings, has used the human figure as a means of expression, she said.
"It's just something that's innate in us," Heffner said. "If you think about children, their first artistic expressions are stick figures that may be self-portraits or depictions of their parents or friends."
The "Figure It" exhibition includes artists whose use of the human form expresses everything from cultural histories and political views to autobiography, humor and memories.
"I did not include works where the human figure was simply drawn onto a surface," Heffner said. "All of these artists always use the human figure as the centerpiece of their work. The human form is the work."
Fifty-one works by 31 artists from across the United States are included in the exhibition.
Among those attending the opening reception Sunday, July 13, was New Mexico-based ceramic artist Max Lehman, whose piece Red Skeleton with Black Birds is made of clay, paint and wire.
While the piece may at first seem eerie, with a bird pecking out the skeleton's right eye and a worm poking out from the top of the skeleton's head, Lehman said the message he is conveying is meant to be more positive and lighthearted.
"It's not just about death per se, but about the need to take advantage of the time we have and life live to the fullest," he said. "The skeleton tells us death is coming someday, so enjoy life while you can.
"I've always lived a charmed life. I've had a very happy life," Lehman said. "So this skeleton is not about death; it's about the impermanence of life."
The piece is also a tribute to the late Alfonzo Castillo, a Mexican potter whose work often related to the Mexican Day of the Dead festival and to which Lehman points as a major influence on his own work.
Others included in the "Figure It" exhibition include California artist Calvin Ma, whose work reflects his childhood love of action figures to explore themes of social anxiety; and former University of Kentucky and pro basketball player LaVon Williams, whose wood sculptures depict figures in African-American cultural history, including a jazz musician and Negro League baseball legend "Cool Papa" Bell.
The exhibition also includes sculpture by Columbus-area clay artists Ashley Bevington, Juliellen Byrne and Janis Mars Wunderlich.
"Figure It: Forms of Artistic Expression" will be on display through Aug. 24 at the museum, 1665 W. Fifth Ave. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 1 to 4 p.m. weekends. Admission and parking are free.