Delicacy and refinement are the first aspects of Anastasia Seremetis' paperworks to catch one's attention. The gallery of the Athenaeum in Alexandria, where they are on view, seems transformed into a quiet, contemplative retreat. But it does not take long in the high-ceilinged room to realize that, as in a Zen garden, a certain underlying mettle gives strength to the Seremetis ensemble.

In the catalogue the artist, who resides in the Washington area but who was born in Greece, recalls how, four years ago, she was stimulated to begin this series while reading a long historical and autobiographical poem by Odysseus Elytis, a Greek poet (and 1979 Nobel laureate). Certain verbal images in the poem suggested definite, though primarily abstract, visual counterparts to Seremetis; her inspiration was to give final form to these images in the process of making paper by hand.

Seremetis must have hands as steady as a surgeon's. Her ability to manipulate tiny grains of dyed pulp onto a single layer of gauze (mounted, in the end, on sheets of white-white cardboard and simply framed in white-painted wood) seems effortless but uncannily sure. It is a great pleasure to examine from close up the textural subtleties of these works, with their limited palette ranging from evanescent blues and soft earth tones to deep blacks and violent reds.

Presented as a "narrative sequence," the works are divided, like the poem, into three sections. Each work is titled by the passage that inspired it. Occasionally there is a brilliant clarity in the relationship between the words and the visual image -- two equally weighted, dark, irregular oval forms, for instance, transcribe the question, "What is Good; What is Evil?" But Seremitis' images don't have the same progressive impact as the poem. The theme she comes back to time and again is change, passage, transformation, and she demonstrates outstanding inventiveness and subtlety in exploring the visual and emotional possibilities of this basic idea. The work as a whole is aptly titled "Vita" (Life).

The show closes Thursday. The Athenaeum is located at 201 Prince St., Alexandria.