Smithsonian Craft Show 2015
The history of contemporary craft, dating from the mid-twentieth century, early on included the craft show. Part of a post-World War II renaissance of our cultural and artistic life, these shows served as a conduit for the rediscovery and reminder of the critical role artisans have played in the nation’s development and to its material and spiritual progress. The Smithsonian Craft Show has been an important participant in this history. Since 1983 and located in the nation’s capital, it has hosted one of the nation’s best shows, where each spring it celebrates the creative spirit of America. Held at the National Building Museum, some one hundred twenty artists gather to present their handmade crafts, demonstrating with each piece the strong and enduring currents of innovation and creation native to this country. In 2015 the Smithsonian Craft Show sponsors its thirty-third annual event and its commitment to selecting the very best in craft is once more reaffirmed and validated by the talented artists who showcase their works. Here are some of them.
Mingling classical formality with contemporary design, Mina Norton’s coats and jackets beautifully enhance the female form. Her forte while refined is also very spirited, strengthening and deepening over her career. With a fine art training background initially in Iran, her native country, Norton’s prior instruction extended to the study of design in London, before she moved to the United States and settled in New York City where she makes her home. Her art is also her business and it is important to Norton that each customer receives something unique; so in large measure her garments are improvisational one-of-a-kind productions. Her palette stems from a temperate black or gray, but then suddenly, wonderful color shifts in ochre, moss, teal, and burgundy enliven the overall atmosphere.
Claudia Grau hails from Los Angeles. In the late 1970s at twenty-one she started her own company Grau Design and since that time has maintained an independent profile in L.A.’s fashion scene. Her work attracts performers like Cher, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler. Early on, her deconstructed and collaged clothing caught public attention and today she stills uses primarily recycled materials in bright eye-catching simple forms suitable for different sizes. An energetic entrepreneur, Grau has had shops on trendy L.A. streets, from Melrose to Sunset Boulevard where her own eclectic clothing is currently featured along with other artisans specializing in the handmade.
First known for the application of beads to painted surfaces for additional decoration, Betsy Youngquist went on to challenge herself even further with beaded sculptures. This format has moved her into a singular niche in which to explore the intricacies of beaded embellishment. No one on the art scene is quite like her. Youngquist’s works take on an in-your-face assertive presence no matter the height, width or girth of her imaginative creatures. Fanciful, enchantingly strange even, the surfaces are mosaically bejeweled with beads and found objects resulting in figures born of magical worlds, far beyond our comprehension. A resident of Illinois, she is one of many this year who are previous entrants in the Smithsonian Craft Show. Youngquist has also exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, VIDA Museum in Borgholm, Sweden, and the International Doll Show in Kiev, Ukraine.
Working with his son Shawn in the studio and on the show circuit, Horace Thomas is an award-winning leather artisan from Belton, Texas. Together they make handsomely crafted bags, belts, backpacks, and briefcases. Thomas’s work is not only of high quality, but also shows a sophisticated design sense that takes leather construction to a more intriguing level, such as with his more unusual pyramidal shapes. An asymmetrical bag, looking like a building in a state of collapse, is a clever trompe l’oeil. Thomas, who has been working for over three decades, is joined at the craft show by other dedicated leather artists, Mary Ellen Sisulak, Molly Grant and Libby Lane. The beauty and detailing in their work is far preferable to branded names like Fendi and Gucci.
From Missouri, Michael Bauermeister’s domestic adornments harken from the land, its color, rhythms and patterns, and he is endlessly inspired by its variety and possibilities. He says, “Wood has become my voice and my language. Over years spent making things both useful and useless out of wood, the physical work of sawing, carving, turning, and polishing has become my contemplation. The real effort is in figuring out what to make next.” To push himself into the creative realm of making his sculptural wooden vessels and wall panels, Bauermeister initially draws from the tools and processes learned from years spent as a furniture maker. His training as a sculptor brings forth his carving, shaping, painting, and finishing skills. Adding to the result is what he calls the “traditional and not so traditional lathe techniques” from wood-turning that he also uses to shape his vessels.
While Lucrezia Bieler calls Tallahassee, Florida, home, she brings an essential universal quality to her paper art (Scherenschnitte) that transcends any state, region or country. Her exquisite paper artistry, characterized by the extraordinary precision it takes to execute the pieces, is breathtaking anytime anywhere it is seen. The process, she states is “like woodcutting or sculpting, in that you start with a blank resource and create the art by simply cutting parts of it away.” Bieler’s works are from a single sheet of paper utilizing a pair of small scissors and profoundly dramatic in their intrinsic delicacy. The black and white paper cuttings heighten the visual effect in a counterpoint of light versus dark.
Holly Tornheim, like Michael Bauermeister, Janel Jacobson, Norm Sartorius, Mike Shuler, and Archie Smith, is another experienced entrant in the wood category. Tornheim has exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, American Craft Council Baltimore and San Francisco shows as well as at the Fuller Craft Museum and Wharton Esherick Museum. Residing in Nevada City, California, Tornheim is self-taught and for many years worked as a finish carpenter and has built and carved custom wood doors. Exceedingly graceful and fluid, her wood sculptures evince particularly naturalistic and tactile auras that beckon the beholder to touch and explore their surfaces.
Other categories in the Smithsonian Craft Show include ceramics, basketry and furniture. From a large pool of twenty-eight, Marvin Blackmore, Bennett Bean, Sandra Byers, Fong Choo, and Melissa Greene show exciting and original ceramics. Among the far smaller group of basketmakers, there is no overlooking the superb skills of Debora Muhl and Mary Jackson, who both utilize sweet grass to very different ends. Christine Adcock chooses from a multiplicity of materials—including cottonwood, eucalyptus bark, torrey pine needles, and jacaranda seed pods. Stephen Zeh stays within the state of Maine where he lives and concentrates on the formal beauty that the Maine brown ash casts over his medium.
John Cameron, from Massachusetts, makes elegant cabinets and other fine furniture on commission in his one-person shop in East Gloucester. Cameron began his career in 1984 as a boat builder’s apprentice, a solid foundation leading to the quality and strength of his work today. He expresses deep regard for wood and work when he says, “Each piece of stock is carefully chosen and sometimes resawn, exposing its best face. Boards are often from the same tree, providing a unity of color and hue.” In addition, all of his handles, pulls and hinges are also made in the shop and are vital components to the totality of his furniture.
With thirty-four artists representing jewelry, it is one of the more formidable of mediums from which to collect. There are many superlative artists like Namu Cho, Steven Ford and David Forlano, Valerie Hector, Reiko Ishiyama, John Iversen, Ken Loeber and Dona Look, Gustav Reyes, Myung Urso, and Roberta and David Williamson.
Born in Saarlouis, Germany, jeweler Klaus Spies first learned about the art of goldsmithing in Mexico during his travels. His home is now in the mountains of North Carolina where he has a studio and showroom in Asheville’s downtown. Spies utilizes many of the traditional goldsmithing techniques—chasing, fabrication, wax carving, casting—but translates them into collections for a more modern audience. Spies favors complex surfaces with matte, brushed or hammered finishes and he prefers sterling silver and eighteen karat gold, adding stunning gemstones, like rutilated quartz, to bring sparkle to his jewelry.
Donald Friedlich makes luminescent jewelry in glass and gold and his beautiful artwork has been sought after by museums throughout the world. His jewelry resides in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Schmuckmuseum, Pforzheim, Germany; and Corning Museum of Glass, New York, just to name a few. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Friedlich in 2003 was the first jeweler to be named Artist-in-Residence at The Studio of the Corning Museum of Glass. His awards have been many and among them is recipient of the Ornament Magazine Award for
Excellence at the 2012 Smithsonian Craft Show.
Glass artist Raj Kommineni, from Massachusetts, focuses on vessels, sculptures, marbles, and paperweights. In 2003, after graduating from the University of Massachusetts, he established Kommineni Art Glass for the sole production of his small objects. His work is published in The Encyclopedia of Modern Marbles, Spheres & Orbs by Mark Block and Glass Line. Other glass artists at this year’s show include Brian Becher, Matthew Fine, Carrie Gustafson, Michael Schunke and Josie Gluck, Fred Kaemmer, Amber Marshall, Joyce Roessler, and Boyd Sugiki.
Decorative fiber is a difficult practice and until recently not well recognized, but New Mexico artist Mical Aloni creates astonishing embroidered wall pieces. Visually hypnotic, her work seemingly draws from dreamscapes that remain well hidden from our daily life experiences. She learned embroidery as a young girl living on an agricultural kibbutz in Israel, where girls were expected to sew and make traditional embroidery. Vicki Essig, Leah Evans, Meg Little, Wence Martinez, and Claudia Mills are also artists in this category.
Part of the importance of shows like the Smithsonian is the degree to which artists still honor their historical antecedents. Even though the contemporary craft movement places a high value on self-expression and individuality, it also references the long ancient tradition of the handcrafted object. It is an artform that transmits itself directly and immediately, with an inherent simplicity and purity inherent to its grounding in functionality. To attend the Smithsonian Craft Show is to share in the vital connections made between the hand, the heart and the mind. The handmade art found here is beautiful not despite its usefulness but because of it.