North Carolina, the Tar Heel State. Population, 5,511,000; size, 52,586 square miles. Terrain varies from coastal plain and tidewater to mountain, the Blue Ridge. Artists, at least 13 -- with no discernible link except geography -- exhibiting together at Foundry-Gallery, 2121 P st. NW. e

The "13 from North Carolina" work in a variety of media, and as though they are a mini-sample of what the state has to offer, the range is from superb to banal. One of these artists, however, stands far above the others, and if he were exhibiting alone, there would still be reason enough to see the show. He is sculptor Howard Keller, and he works with great strength and innovation in wood, marble and steel. His sculptors are built on fantasy worlds that defy expectation.

"'Elbeckian Boots,' Anti-Gallery Icon-Deesgusting" plays with the age-old prohibition against touching art work. It's a marvelous wooden totem, with the tops of a pair of boots, holding handfuls of nails, attached to the sides. The sculpture is topped off with a huge sausage-shaped hunk of wood, with dozens of nails protruding. A hammer is attached on a long chain, and it's there to be used. The art viewer becomes the art participant, expected to pick up the hammer and "nail it please," as the lettering indicates.

Keller's other pieces are not participatory, but equally intriguing. In "Currituck Cloud," the expected airiness of a saucy cloud is given unexpected weight. It is blockily carved out of thick marble slabs and supported by three steel plates, again poised on a wood pedestal. The subject is at odds with the material, and the tension is invigorating. In each of the four pieces Keller exhibits, he demonstrates a superb craftsmanship as well as a sense of irony and challenge.

Others worthy of note in the exhibition include Louise Z. Francke, for her brutal lithographs; William McAllister, for his photographs that deal with the play of various surfaces against one another; Kim Irwin, for her elaborate quitted wall hangings. The exhibition is on view through Jan. 31.

Janice Goodman's playground is paper, and her subject is illusion. Her pencil drawings, exhibited at the Georgetown Art Gallery, 2611 P St. NW, all deal with a similar basis composition. A horizontal moulding runs across the paper, the flatness of the wall broken my skeins of thin rope that run wildly, defying gravity, up and down in an almost caligraphic manner. But the play is not simply from the rope, but from its shadow against the wall, as in the particularly energetic "Linear Rhythms."

In "Corner Dialogue," the right angle of two walls coming together is a deeper field for the play of the rope and shadow. And in "Hanging Forms," the rope dangles seemingly unattached in the shallow space in front of the wall. In several of Goodman's smaller works, the rope is the only subject, but in both cases these very focused interior landscapes have a charm and vulnerability that is winning. The exhibition is on view through Jan. 31.

The controlled environment is Janet Sand-Cook's purview, at Gallery 10, 1549 Connecticut Ave. NW, in an exhibition called "the in-between space." That in-between space is in between a wild variety of Saad-Cook's sculpture, lines in space that are wrapped and bound as though some mad nurse weat amok with a roll of gauze.

Entering the second-floor gallery from a stairway, the viewer is confronted by a wall of softly wrapped fabric that hangs in space. From then on, any progression through the two other rooms of the gallery is controlled by the placement of the work. The sense of procession, of seeing the total environment in the order in which Sand-Cook it to be seen is particularly important. Although there are a variety of elements exhibited, they work together as one huge piece, sprawling and winding down from the ceiling, across the floor, up the walls. The exhibition is on view through Jan. 31.