Marbles, rusted washers, torn shoelaces — household items that MacGyver uses to defuse a bomb, but that in the hands of artist and Connecticut native Debi Pendell become art. Pendell’s new exhibition at the Small Space Gallery, titled “Encounters,” is an exploration into the hidden possibilities of the mundane.

“The work is also about really seeing and feeling the beauty, meaning and importance of the ordinary,” Pendell said. “What do we pass by everyday without even noticing? — My work incorporates easily passed-by bits and pieces of life into the practiced discipline of making art.”

Pendell could have found no better place to showcase her vision than at the Small Space Gallery. Located on the second floor of 70 Audubon St., the gallery is little more than a narrow corridor between two banks of cubicles. The space itself, much like the artwork displayed there, represents a junction of beauty and functionality.

The exhibition includes over 30 pieces which range in size from about the size of a block of stamps to pieces covering entire walls. The works are either on paper or stretched around a canvas. Pendell’s use of layering in her collages is superb, giving the pieces at once both a three-dimensional and a two-dimensional effect. The colors used are also varied, ranging from pastel browns, light purples and dark reds to bright yellows, greens and oranges.

What immediately grabs the audience’s attention, however, is the texture of her work. Because of the wide variety of materials used — wrapping paper, bags, letters, envelopes, pictures, rusty washers, crushed bottlecaps, used dryer sheets — and the large array of types of artistic media employed — paint, acrylic matte, fine pumice, crayon, pastel, stitching, lacing and writing — each of the pieces has a unique texture that the audience is tempted to touch for itself.

Pendell’s ability to masterfully weave opposites together is also apparent in the exhibit. Each one of her pieces is a juxtaposition of artistic expression upon everyday life; it is the skillful blending of the accidental with the intentional, the derivation of order from chaos, the integration of imagination and physicality.

“Just when you think you have seen the whole piece, there is something else that wasn’t noticeable before.” Pendell said. “One travels along a journey through confusion, trial and error, and discovery and encounters an elusive sense of a basic structure and meaning beneath it all.”

One of the pieces that exemplifies Pendell’s ability to transform life to art is one titled “They’re Treasure to Me.” The canvas of the work is a flattened cardboard box, complete with the shipping label and bar code. Layered on top of this rather unconventional foundation is a piece of tissue paper with ink writing. Off to the right of the tissue paper is affixed a rusted washer. Hanging from the left is a net filled with a flattened bottle cap, a rock and a marble. The back color is a dull brown, conveying a subtle sense of nostalgia. The washer appears like a pupil-less eyeball and the hanging net a large tear drop enveloping the contents within.

Pendell, who currently resides in New Haven, maintains two studios — one at Erector Square in New Haven and the other in Hartford. She is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University and Wesleyan University and is the 1999 recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship Grant from the Greater Hartford Arts Council. In addition to being in numerous museum and private collections, her work has also been displayed in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. “Encounters” will be at the Small Space Gallery until Jan. 31, 2002.