Four years ago, curator Andrea Pollan joined two friends honeymooning in Europe. During their travels to Florence, Bologna, Siena and Prague, Pollan admired the masterpieces of Leonardo and Michelangelo, but the colorful frescoes of coats of arms found in castles and palaces impressed her the most. "They made the most incredible visual and architectural statement," she says. The frescoes inspired a group exhibit, "Council Room: The Artist Heraldry Show," at the McLean Project for the Arts, where Pollan has been exhibitions director on and off since 1992.

In February, Pollan posted more than 300 letters to local artists inviting them to participate in the show by fashioning their own coat of arms, literally or in the abstract. She asked artists to consider their role in society and their ethnicity or background. About 80 responded.

As the entries trickled in, Pollan noticed that the works split into three categories. "Some artists really did a take on the idea of creating a crest, others kind of had works that looked somewhat heraldic and others created works with some kind of symbolic imagery in them," she says. Several of the works, like Rebecca Kamen's, arrived with stories attached: "Kamen's Crest" was carved to resemble a wooden postage stamp because she recently had moved into a former post office building. Hammerhead shapes adorn the work in homage to her father, who taught her how to use the tool. A rock (kamen in a dialect of Russian) sits at the center of the piece, held in place by a grid of bars. Other items in the show, such as the spare black undulating rectangle by Tazuko Ichikawa, are more abstract.

Pollan's instructions told artists they would have a two-foot-square space for their work. But she said nothing about how far out from the wall the work could extend. Jeff Spaulding made the most of this in "Arthur's Dream," which seems to jump out of its allotted space. One of the most abstract approaches in the exhibit, it protrudes from the wall, a white trunklike shape with a black tip. The title comes from the artist's musings on the dreams of King Arthur. The object turns out to be the sole of a high-heeled shoe. While he created the piece specifically for this show, it is the third shoe sculpture he has molded recently.

Around the bend from "Arthur's Dream" is Maria Karametou's "Epigraph," a small crest with an aura of mystery compounded by a Greek word carved into the center. "Being Greek and being American has informed my work a lot," she says. "I've always tried to bridge the two cultures." At the tip of the crest sits a ship, indicating the long-ago emigration of Karametou's family from Asia Minor to Greece and her own journey to America 20 years ago. "The burning heart [in the piece], that's me--I'm an intense person," she says. The two wings framing the crest represent a desire to "go higher and fly and materialize your dreams and aspirations." The word in the crest translates to "perseverance."

Arlington artist Andrea Uravitch took a studious approach to the show. Before creating "Uravitch Coat of Arms," she visited the library with her mother in her home town of Cleveland. "Every bit that happens on a coat of arms means something," Uravitch says. Her shield-shaped collage is made of photographs that represent pieces of her life. A photo of a hare embodies the Scottish word for Harris, Uravitch's mother's maiden name. An image of a cement plant in Cleveland is "symbolic of childhood memories." Uravitch and her husband share an interest in nature, and a picture of a lily pond dominates the center of the shield. Bits of fabric nod to Uravitch's beginnings as a fiber artist and a photo of the artist with a group of children represents her role as a teacher in the community. Although the work only took two weeks to design, the gestation period for ideas lasted much longer. After doing her library research, says Uravitch, she came up with most of the images by "waking up in the middle of the night and thinking of it."

"Council Room: The Artist Heraldry Show" at the McLean Project for the Arts, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean. Through July 10. 703-790-1953.

Arts Bit

Works from more than 30 emerging artists will be for sale for under $200 next Thursday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 505 Gallery, 505 Seventh St. NW. The sale is organized and sponsored by WPA/Corcoran. Artists were primarily selected from the WPA/Corcoran's ArtFile Slide Registry, where regional artists archive examples of their work for curators. . . . A slide show and discussion of Washington's outdoor murals will take place tomorrow night at A. Salon. The evening is sponsored by American Dreams & Associates Inc., a group that documents citywide murals, and the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

CAPTION: Trish Waters and son Will Nears, above, at the McLean Project for the Arts. On exhibit: coats of arms by Maria Karametou, left, Andrea Uravitch, below, and others.