Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show 2018 Volume 40.5

 
MARINA TERAUDS

MARINA TERAUDS

 

The five jurors for the 42nd annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show had their work cut out for them, selecting 195 artists from a total of 876 applications. Per tradition, the show has a number of special add-ons, including the guest artist program, which this year features a cohort of twenty-six craft artists from Germany. As the show gets under way at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a bounty of beauty and technical expertise awaits those who pass through its doors.

Once again the PMA Craft Show shines a light on some of the best and brightest in American art and craft in a dozen different categories. Fine art etcher Marina Terauds’s paper pieces stand out for their exquisite detail and precise lines, whether it’s a custom-made ex libris or a drawing of Queen Anne’s lace.

A Latvian by birth, Terauds studied graphic art at the Art Academy of Latvia and art pedagogy at the University of Latvia. After completing her studies she taught art and art history and worked as an artist-animator at the RIJA film studio in Riga. She currently lives in North Branch, Michigan.

LINDSAY LOCATELLI

Terauds uses original hand-cut copperplate intaglio prints and handmade paper as a basis for her three-dimensional compositions. She is a fantasist, a maker of inventive assemblages that sometimes bring to mind the work of Joseph Cornell. In one recent piece, a dress form is decorated with all manner of evocative imagery: a vintage clock, a mirror-holding bird-woman, an iguana, mushrooms, and butterflies.

Another newcomer is Lindsay Locatelli from Denver, one of fourteen “emerging” artists selected for the 2018 edition. The Philadelphia show has been at the top of her list for a while and she is excited to be going to the big dance to exhibit her contemporary art jewelry.

Locatelli works primarily in handcarved polymer clay and fabricated silver. She is drawn to creating organic and “intuitive textures” and applying bright colors, as witness a pair of spiky hoop earrings of polymer clay accented with eighteen karat lemon gold leaf. She loves the clay because she can sculpt it while it’s soft and carve it once it has hardened. She also likes the fact that it takes paint and other finishes well, “allowing,” in her words, “for the medium to mimic lots of other textures and materials.”

Diane Harty, a fiber artist from Frisco, Colorado, will be making her second trip to Philly, with some of her straw hats in various shapes and sizes ready for display, as well as chenille and felt headwear for colder weather. She employs about a dozen different kinds of braid in her hats, each one lending itself to a certain hat style. Harty recently obtained a few rolls of buntal, a fine white fiber produced in the Philippines from the leaves of the talipot palm. She has used the fiber to create cocktail hats. 

DIANE HARTY

Harty likes to approach each piece as sculpture; “I think it is a proper description,” she explains, “because I do not use any form or blocks to make the hats.” Instead, she shapes each hat as she is stitching it from the strand of braid. However, calling her pieces “sewn straw braid hats” is not quite accurate, she notes, although it suffices to describe functional work that “always has a touch of fun and interest.”

Another fiber artist, Deborah Cross from Freedom, California, has been to the Philadelphia show off and on over the past twenty years. She always looks forward to the enthusiastic reception given the artists and the high level of appreciation shown by the people who visit her booth. 

To achieve her complex designs Cross hand dyes and overlays pieces and appliqués silk fabrics. Her husband and partner, Gordon Heinel, helps with weaving and dyeing. The pair won the Ornament Magazine Prize for Excellence in Art to Wear at the 2013 show. 

This year Cross will be showing her newest limited edition wearables. She loves working in silk and wool, with houndstooth among her favorite fabrics. Indeed, she considers black and white to be “the most flattering fabric to wear.” On each of her new pieces she has airbrushed a gradation of black to striking effect. Some of the pieces also feature a stenciled discharge paste design. 

DEBORAH CROSS

Another couple in artistic cahoots, Nancy McCormick and Paul Monfredo have made around seven trips to Philadelphia over the years, bearing with them the fruits of their studio on Mount Desert Island on the coast of Maine. McCormick looks forward to seeing the work of fellow artists and admires the way the museum’s Women’s Committee organizes the show.

McCormick and Monfredo have been collaborating on decorative mirrors going on thirty years, inspired by images from the natural world, illuminated books, art history, and architecture. Their joint practice entails many steps, from building the frame to applying tempera paint. Monfredo handcrafts the panels from basswood, poplar and other woods, then applies several layers of hand-mixed clay, called “bole,” which he sands and polishes before applying gold leaf. McCormick creates the ornamental designs and paints them using tiny brushes. Elegant trees and stylized fish appear in several new pieces.   

Ani Kasten, a ceramist from Shafer, Minnesota, has been a prize-winner in previous PMA Craft Shows, including Best in Contemporary Clay in 2009 and Best in Show in 2016. Using wheel-throwing and hand-building techniques, she creates one-of-a-kind and small gatherings of sculptural vessels that, in her words, “explore the meeting point between natural and man-made worlds.”

PAUL MONFREDO & NANCY MCCORMICK

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ANI KASTEN

Kasten’s pieces often have a weathered look as if they had been discovered at an archaeological site. This appearance of what she calls “organic deterioration” evokes “the cycle of life, death, decay.” She embraces a minimal aesthetic she first encountered as a student of British ceramist Rupert Spira in 2000. The Nantucket-born artist has never lost her sense of the inherent earthiness of her medium, from her years in Nepal developing a stoneware production facility to the studios she established in Oakland, California, Mount Rainier, Maryland, and the St. Croix River Valley northeast of Minneapolis, where she works today.

Another jeweler, Seung Jeon Paik from Annandale, Virginia, will be returning for his second showing in Philadelphia. He has fond memories of meeting collectors and gallerists and receiving helpful feedback from them. 

SEUNG JEON PAIK

Among Paik’s offerings are brooches and pendants made from eighteen karat gold and sterling silver. He has turned to the cosmos for inspiration, creating “naturally occurring galaxy and swarming forms” through the representation of “small particles.” And as with Lyons, technology and tried-and-true techniques go hand in hand: Paik uses traditional granulation, Rhino 3D CAD and laser welding to produce his ornaments.  

In the mixed media category, Amy Roper Lyons from Summit, New Jersey, is returning for her sixth show, honored to be juried in again. She combines precious metals and enamel, seeking, she says, “to capture a tension and balance: the transparent fragility of glass, the strength and subtlety of the matte surface of the metal.” 

Roper Lyons is showing jewelry and larger objects: goblets, cups and bowls. Of note are several examples from her current series of Women’s Work goblets, “reimaginings” of what she calls the “historical trope of decorative female figures used ornamentally in sterling hollowware.” She turned to a mix of digital technologies and traditional methods to create these pieces. She used CAD to model the figures and cup frameworks, which were printed in resin on a 3D printer. She then made molds and cast the parts in sterling silver. The final step entailed enameling them by hand, employing plique-à-jour, a vintage method for creating a glowing surface. 

AMY ROPER LYONS

Meanwhile, Roper Lyons’s recent jewelry, in eighteen karat gold and enamel combined with gemstones, is inspired by outer space. Her cloisonné technique allows for subtle layering of colors over a textured base while creating areas that flash and glint.

William Alburger from Barto, Pennsylvania, won the Best New Artist award at last year’s craft show, earning him an automatic invite to the 2018 gathering. He calls himself a “repurposing eco-artist,” creating art from wood rescued and reclaimed in his part of the Delaware Valley. Most of his pieces are “eco-art” sculptures that can be displayed on the wall, but can also serve as shelf or mantel. He makes console and coffee tables too.

Alburger likes to imagine the life of the wood he works with, “the endless stories that lie buried in its rings and chiseled in its bark.” He also rescues barn boards. “To me, the deep texture and markings of decay are pure art.” The wood itself seems to direct him as he follows “the flow of the wood and tries to place in the spotlight the interesting grain or markings.”

Like many of the artists in the Philadelphia show Alburger is passionate about his materials and has made a personal connection to them. In this regard, Alburger and company fulfill one of the main criteria of the jurors, as noted by one of them, Perry Price, executive director of the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, in an interview for the show. “At this level,” Price states, “the mastery and accomplishments of the individual artists is almost a given, but makers who I tend to recognize with higher scores are the ones who draw me into their work by virtue of the originality and authenticity of their voice as artists.” That’s the common thread here: the original and authentic voices of these remarkable people.

WILLIAM ALBURGER

 
The five jurors for the 42nd annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show had their work cut out for them, selecting 195 artists from a total of 876 applications. As the show gets under way at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a bounty of beauty and technical expertise awaits those who pass through its doors.
 

Get Inspired!


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Carl Little has previewed the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show for Ornament before and loves the opportunity. “The show’s remarkable variety and the stellar quality of the work makes it a daunting task to select a few craft artists to highlight,” he notes. Upcoming for Ornament is his review of “Uneasy Beauty: Discomfort in Contemporary Adornment” at the Fuller Craft Museum. His third collaboration with his brother David, Paintings of Portland, came out in June. He also contributed an essay to Nature Observed: The Landscapes of Joseph Fiore. Little lives and writes on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

Burning Man at the Renwick Gallery Volume 40.4

TRUTH IS BEAUTY by Marco Cochrane of stainless steel rod and stainless steel mesh, 2013. Photograph by Eleanor Preger, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery. THE 10 PRINCIPLES. Night scene: BURNING MAN PARTICIPANTS, 2013. Photograph by Neil Girling, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

Creativity is the principle that lies at the fiery heart of Burning Man. It is the sacred act that is celebrated by this neo-Pagan, techno-Hinduist, born-again-hippie festival, which represents to participants the absolute freedom to be one’s true self. It is appropriate that the hellishly hot, sandy basin in which the event sits is called the Playa. Metaphorically, it’s located on the boundaries of modern civilization and the vast unknown, between proverbial sea and sand. Effectively, it’s humanity’s sandbox, a place to play without all of the artificial constraints and prejudices we humans have made for ourselves.

      That word, play, is a much underappreciated aspect of human nature. Nora Atkinson would probably agree. As the Lloyd E. Herman Curator of Craft for the Renwick Gallery, Atkinson put together the landmark exhibition, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” for many reasons, ranging from the personal (a former resident of the state of Washington, she felt a longing for West Coast culture) to the idealistic. As the quintessential outsider event, bringing Burning Man to the nation’s capital had more than a touch of subversiveness to it.

Burning Man was born in San Francisco, on the original Playa, Baker Beach, in 1986. It all began when carpenter Larry Harvey and his friend, Jerry James, knocked up a crude wooden effigy of a human being, dubbed the Man, bundled him up into the back of a Ford pickup truck, and carried it down to the shoreline. There, they and a group of friends raised the combustible figure, doused him with gasoline, and the rest is history.

WINTER IS COMING... by Manish Arora of silk and metallic armor, hand-embroidered, hand-embellished, chain-linked by hand, 2015. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

THE PLAYA PROVIDES NECKPIECE from various artists, assembled by Jennifer George, of metal, plastic, crystal, abalone, wood, and sterling silver, 2006-2017. The gifting economy that underpins the entire foundation of Burning Man, both literally and figuratively, leads to a continual and constant exchange of medals, pendants, badges, brooches, and other memorabilia as signs of affection, friendship, community, and shared memories. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

      Well, not quite. The catalysts that transformed the Baker Beach gathering into a temporary settlement nestled in the sweltering sands of Nevada desert were the po-po, and a group of like-minded malcontents, thrillseekers and iconoclasts known as the Cacophony Society. Like Russian matryoshka dolls, the Society came from a small group of friends who dubbed themselves the Suicide Club—after surviving, according to local lore, a stint hanging precariously from a loose railing over the crashing Pacific Ocean below Fort Point. Afterwards, Gary Warne and three compatriots recovered to safety, with a solemn oath to live each day as their last. These dwellers of the fringe, inhabiting the periphery of the human experience, would attract more like-minded individuals. Happenstance (and word of mouth) brought the flotsam and jetsam of San Francisco together on Baker Beach, celebrating the immolation of the Burning Man.

The festivities were interrupted in 1990, as the local police informed the revelers that the party was over. The community did not waste any time; during Labor Day weekend, a procession set out from Golden Gate Park, to find Burning Man’s new home, in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, far to the north of Reno. Here, in the middle of nowhere, underneath the blazing sun, a member of this band of merry adventurers, Michael Michael, marked the boundary between worlds with a foot dragged through the dirt, baptizing it with the words, “On the other side of this line, everything will be different. Reality itself will change.”

AERIAL VIEW of Burning Man gathering at Black Rock City, 2012.  Photograph by Scott London.

      Black Rock City is the real final frontier (pardons to Gene Roddenberry). There might be a lot of wild, unexplored and untamed land left on planet Earth, but Burning Man dives deep into the social, spiritual and ethical territory that lays far out in uncharted waters. Ten Principles girdle the philosophical foundation of Burning Man: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leave No Trace, Participation, and last, but absolutely not least, Immediacy. It is radical in that most honest of ways, by being a pure expression of what it preaches.

What may surprise those who view the festival as frivolous is the amount of work that goes into organizing Burning Man, and the structures that have grown up around it. The Department of Public Works (whose insignia is the Man circumscribed by the spokes of a tire wheel, embedded in a great black gear) has a laundry list of tasks that include “Building logical roads, creating and placing signage, maintaining approved potable water systems, providing portable and stationary electrical power, assisting with major art projects, and setting up the small-plane airport and runway.” The fact that between all those practical considerations, nestled surreptitiously, is the art, illustrates how the boundaries between practical life and art grow thin and merge together here. Like in many indigenous and folk traditions, there is no separation.

It was this challenge, of authentically presenting the spirit of the event, presenting the glitz and glamour without obscuring the substance, that Nora Atkinson faced in mounting the exhibition at the Renwick, part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Like a living flame, its temporary nature and spontaneity is its essence. How do you communicate that to an audience inside a building that is more than a century old?

 

BEFORE I DIE by Candy Chang (New Orleans, Louisiana), 2011. As an experiment in community building, and healing, Chang created the first wall on an abandoned house in her neighborhood of New Orleans. A response to a loved one who had just died, now these participatory installations, like David Best’s Temple, allow its audience an intimate relation with the art. In fact, the audience is part of the art itself. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

 

      The key, Atkinson reveals, is collaboration. “I reached out early on to the Burning Man organization. I had already had in my head a number of artists that I wanted to include, many of them being perennial artists that I thought really represented the aesthetics that have come out of Burning Man. But I also wanted to make sure that the community felt heard, and that the internal community favorites made it into the show, and that we had a really wide spread.” She makes reference to the populist nature that is at the root of Burning Man, an “Anything You Can Do I Can Do” ethos that sees MFA trained artists creating installations alongside carpenters and death metal heads.

Some, like Michael Garlington, graduated from Burning Man University by first working in the Department of Public Works, then apprenticing to celebrities such as David Best, who created the temple made of recycled wood that takes over the Grand Salon on Renwick’s second floor. Now Garlington’s work is exhibited by a gallery, and he erects his own sacred structures on the dusty surface of the Playa. For Atkinson, revealing this network of connections and relationships that develop through the festival was vital, as was giving Burners (a term for Burning Man attendees/devotees that is as contentious as it is ubiquitous) a voice in the show. “We actually put out a call in the Burning Man community, through the Burning Man organization, asking people to submit artists that they thought were important, artists that were some of their favorites, to us. And there were some pieces in the exhibition that made it in that were discovered through people’s suggestions.”

TEMPLE by David Best and the Temple Crew of recycled wood, 2018. Best creates wooden temples, spiritual structures, that are lit on fire each year at Burning Man. The Renwick commissioned him to create a temple for the exhibition, which Best dedicated to people who have lost, whether it be a loved one or something else. Visitors were encouraged to write on small wooden plaques that could be placed at the various altars around the temple. Best has said that there are few sacred spaces where people can reflect on loss and to celebrate and remember our deepest emotions. Photographs by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

      While the art installations may be the most memorable aspect of the festival’s visual milieu, Atkinson wanted to present the experience of Burning Man in a holistic and comprehensive manner, and what is a day on the Playa without body paint, glow-in-the-dark fabrics and otherworldly outfits?

READY TO LOVE ENSEMBLE by Manish Arora of thread, silk, beads, crystals, faux patent leather, felt, sequins, and iridescent armor, hand-embroidered, hand-embellished, hand-appliquéd, chain-linked by hand, 2016. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

      Normally we associate costumes and clothing as being different; one is unserious, fun and fantastical, while the other is outerwear to protect ourselves from the elements. Both however are the same in one very obvious respect: they are objects worn on the body. It is the gentle and not-so-gentle continuous pressure of society that makes certain outfits “costumes,” generally because they are too outlandish for people to comfortably accept as clothing. 

In fact, we are rejecting the validity of the wearer’s humanity. A person wearing something so outside the norm that we don’t recognize them as part of “our group” anymore becomes a caricature. Whether it is the loose, voluminous clothing of a clown, replete with red hair and rubber nose, or the dazzling ethnic attire from a foreign culture, for many people that invokes The Label of Other.

The costumes and clothing generated by Burners speak to the dissolution of societal labeling, just as the gifting of food, water and services represents an intentional shift away from a heartless status quo towards a healthy one. What you wear on the Playa is an expression of self; a statement of both exploration and identity where the message is simply, “This is who I am.” Whether the image you are projecting is what you want to be, what you actually are underneath society’s baggage, or the self you are finally, after many years, comfortable with revealing, Burning Man, for all its carnival illusions, is rather more real than the circus it superficially resembles.

With limited space and a huge breadth of material, Atkinson had to establish criteria for what pieces she wanted to display in the exhibition. The route she chose was to present artist and designer-made costumes to highlight the more unusual and fantastic wearables seen at Burning Man, while using photographs to give visitors an idea of what the every day Playa-goer looks like. She jokes about how when she has taken Burners through the exhibition, the most audible criticism is “Where’s the duct tape?” For many, who don’t know how to sew or cut fabric for clothing, ensembles are assembled from thrift-store purchases and random gear shimmied together with glue and a prayer.

NAGANA BRASS GOWN by Gelareh Alam of hand-cut leather, and custom metal work by Jungle Tribe, 2014. Although resembling something out of Mad Max, Alam’s intention for both pieces in the exhibition were born of a desire to express her thoughts on the emotional investment, both good and difficult, that love requires in a wearable piece. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

      That is not the case with the specimens on display here. Even though they appear like the regalia of alien queens, Gelareh Alam’s Cocoon Gown and Nagana Brass Gown, along with Caley Johnson’s collaborative piece the Crown of Nagini, are more than simple costumes. Rather than being made for theatrics or pretending, Alam’s clothing is meant to raise the stature of the wearer, and to create an aura of confidence that elevates them. They are also deeply personal. Alam, who grew up during the Iranian revolution, has been going through a journey of self-realization since she arrived in the States.

When Alam first came to the U.S. to study fashion design at the Art Institute of California, she was moving from a degree in psychology to a new world, without being able to speak English. She found her voice through visual communication, which she feels led to her emphasizing sight above the other four senses. America gave her the room to explore and grow as a human being. When Alam went to Burning Man in 2007, as she was completing her degree, it was because a friend gifted her with a birthday ticket.

What that visit did for her self-confidence was profound. She brought some of her clothing to the festival, and the recognition she received from total strangers was like the cosmos giving her the proverbial wink and nod. “I could not believe the response I was getting. It was amazing to see. Suddenly I was being praised for the creativity that I was not allowed to practice growing up, and that was a huge transformation.

“Burning Man was so natural for me, it felt like home,” says Alam. “Expression in the elements. Sublime. Here was a culture screaming that radical self-expression was not just good, but demanded. It was a place to re-define myself, and align with peace, equality, human empathy. It was transformational and deeply empowering. As an artist I am constantly in search of inspiration and constantly trying to break through those barriers. At Burning Man, this is the whole point of everything anyone does there.”

THORAX, AMBASSADOR OF THE INSECTS by Tyler FuQua of reclaimed materials, 2015-16. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

     Tyler FuQua has been constructing giant puppets for over fifteen years as his true passion, while making a living as a contractor. Building things is in his blood, whether it’s remodeling a bathroom or creating large metal installations. “Of course, it’s way more fun to build a giant robot instead of remodeling a bathroom,” he explains, “but sometimes I get projects that combine art and functionality.” His wearable costume, grandly titled Thorax, Ambassador of the Insects, was inspired as he mused about the speaker grills on his stereo, which resembled alien bug eyes. “I made the first helmet using these grills but it was just too ominous. I build fun things for all ages so this just wasn’t doing it for me. I went back to the drawing board and made what you see now. I really wanted to use as many reclaimed materials as possible, so the creation of Thorax was really determined by what I could find on the shelves at thrift stores. I would just walk around with an open mind until I found something that would work for what I needed. A lot of my art is creature-based, and I am a huge superhero fan, so Thorax is a conglomeration of those two things.”

There is also an element of self-invention. For many, Burning Man is that rare time in their life when they can be someone else. The straitjacket of their work, home or family life is temporarily lifted, and they are free to experiment with who they are. On the Playa, Burners find themselves anew, break apart previous conceptions of self, and come back together, rejuvenated, in some cases reborn, no LSD or ayahuasca required.

That isn’t to say everyone who comes to Burning Man finds it a transcendent experience; indeed, the point is the festival represents different things to different people. Perhaps that’s what makes it such a uniquely American phenomenon. Atkinson notes one of the reasons why she chose it as the subject of an exhibition was that Burning Man is as American as apple pie. “It was born in this very frontier culture, this sort of West Coast culture and Silicon Valley, believing that just because something has been done one way before doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be done. The idea of being out in a vast, empty environment and creating something entirely new from scratch has a lot to do with the entire American dream and the spirit of what we are as a country.”

TOTEM OF CONFESSIONS by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti at Burning Man, 2015. Photograph by Michael Holden, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

      Such a multidimensional entity as Burning Man isn’t meant to be pinned down by taxonomists, although many will try. One flailing wing of the butterfly might be identified in that the festival is a radical social experiment. By undergirding the laboratory with strong, actively exercised principles, the Mad Scientist is unleashed into “the real world.” This doesn’t take place in a vacuum, a society without rules that is the nightmare of many a dystopian take on the future. In fact what we have here is a nascent utopia, taken to its practical heights by the wild and untameable spirit of the people involved. But the dream doesn’t die with the end of each year’s festivities; it keeps being passed on by those who lived it, out there on the dusty earth of the Nevada desert.

SUGGESTED READING
Bruder, Jessica.
Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2007.
Christians, Karen and Christine Kristen. Jewelry of Burning Man. Santa Rosa, CA: Global Interprint, Inc., 2015.
Raiser, Jennifer. Burning Man: Art on Fire. New York: RacePoint Publishing, 2016.
King, Nicholas. Burners. Cochiti Lake, NM: Laughing Coyote Press, 2017.
Galbraith, Carrie and John Law. Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society. San Francisco: Last Gasp, 2013.
Jones, Steven T. The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert Is Shaping the New American Counterculture. San Francisco: CCC Publishing, 2011.

LORD SNORT by Bryan Tedrick, 2016. Photograph by Duncan Rawlinson, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

“No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” is showing in two phases, with the full exhibition through September 16, 2018, then certain works will be viewable through January 21, 2019, at the Renwick Gallery, Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006.
Visit their website at www.americanart.si.edu/visit/renwick.

Burning Man debuts annually; for 2018 it met from August 26 - September 3.
Visit their website at www.burningman.org.

 

     Get Inspired!

 
 

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Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. A scene hopper, Benesh-Liu has spent time in a variety of art and craft-based communities, from millennial pop culture fan groups like Anime cosplay and furry costumes to outsider art museums like the John M. Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. While in Washington, D.C. at the Renwick Gallery’s landmark exhibition, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man,” he realized his interests were all leading to one place, Black Rock City. After interviewing Nora Atkinson, the Renwick’s Lloyd E. Herman Curator of Craft, as well as artists whose work was featured, the interconnectivity of this event with creative communities became apparent. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Smithsonian Craft Show 2018 Volume 40.3

JIYOUNG CHUNG

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National Building Museum
April 26-29, Preview Night April 25
www.SmithsonianCraftShow.org

In the Navajo tradition, master weavers would often weave a thin thread of a contrasting color in the outer corner. Called the ch’ihónít’i, this “spirit line” extended out to the edge of the piece. The Navajo believed that the weaver’s being became part of the woven cloth in the process of making, their soul forever entwined with the piece itself. The spirit line allowed a path for the artist to disentangle herself and move on to create even more works of beauty.

IRINA OKULA

      This notion of a maker’s spirit being encapsulated in their work lies at the heart of the contemporary craft movement. For those who dedicate their lives to craft, making is about more than the practice itself, more than selling work for a living. It is an act of divine creation, linking heart, hand and spirit. It is also an act of vulnerability. Sharing your work opens you to criticism, extending the conversation beyond you and your materials to an outside audience. For makers, there’s arguably nothing better than when viewers appreciate and are moved by your work.

The artists participating in the 2018 Smithsonian Craft Show are well poised for this kind of exchange between maker, object and viewer. Now in its thirty-sixth year, the annual show presents one hundred twenty of the country’s premier craftspeople, and welcomes an educated and seasoned audience of craft lovers each year. Presented by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, jurors make careful selections, choosing from some one thousand artists working in twelve different media—basketry, ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, wearable art, and wood—making this one of the most influential craft events in the nation. For many artists, acceptance in the show is a big moment in their career. Having the chance to exhibit here inspires them to push boundaries, to explore new bodies of work, and to bring their very best to show.

Paper artist Jiyoung Chung relies on tradition, making her painterly, deconstructed paper works using the joomchi method—a Korean artform mixing hanji, or mulberry paper, with water and agitating it to break down and combine layers into one strong, fabric-like entity. It is akin to felting, and over time it ages to an almost leather-like texture. In Chung’s floating sculptures, the paper is layered, with holes like portals to the worlds below, and loose strands, frayed edges and furrowed surfaces. It draws the viewer in and feels both natural and otherworldly. Each piece is one of a kind, and some are large in scale. “It gives me more ground to explore and develop my ideas, as well as challenging my physical limitations,” Chung says of her play with size. “It opens new doors and possibilities for me to discover more about joomchi—what it can do and how far I can push it.”

LAUREN MARKLEY

      In Chung’s eyes her work is driven as much from her own creativity as it is from joomchi itself. She credits much of her design sensibility to a sort of collaboration with it. “I usually have a concept to start with. However, the process has surprising characteristics. It wants to be certain ways. I don’t feel like I am dealing with material, but with a person. So I often negotiate between my original thought and what joomchi wants to do.”

For ceramist Irina Okula, acceptance to her first Smithsonian Craft Show in 2015 was “almost like a dream.” Okula’s fragmented vessels have a quiet, emotive quality, with landscape imagery, text and abstract markings pieced together in simple, pleasing forms. Black bird silhouettes soar alongside snowy hillsides, repeating patterns, excerpts of text and a soft color palette. Her signature technique of piecing together broken clay shards came about by accident, after a pot she was working on broke into several pieces. Rather than mourn the piece, Okula fired the fragments separately and later epoxied them together to reform the original shape. Intrigued by the results, Okula began to break her work on purpose. Each shard is decorated with different surface treatments—using slip, stamps, copper tape, wire, and words—then packed into saggars, or covered clay containers, and fired with combustible materials soaked in solutions of salt, iron, cobalt, or copper oxides. 

The element of chaos brings a narrative quality to the vessels, fragmented like the memories and stories that make up one’s life. “My work emphasizes the relationships of the pieces to each other and to the whole,” Okula says. She welcomes the randomness of her process, each result pushing her to explore further. “There is an unpredictable quality to the breaks and the firing, which play a critical role in the outcome. I like the surprises. After I break the pieces, I tape them back together in the original form and do a drawing, front and back. I love how the pieces contrast and complement each other. They help me tell a story, often my story.”

MEGHAN PATRICE RILEY

      Impulsivity and disassembly are also central to jeweler Lauren Markley’s creative practice. In addition to sterling silver and brass, Markley works with reclaimed wood, textiles and enamel, constructing jewelry inspired by architecture, plans and schematics, spaces and structures. A pair of earrings is made from intersecting bits of sterling silver, reminiscent of angled steel. A brooch of layered wood has metal bars extending out like askew scaffolding. Segments of blackened silver overlap like roof tiles, an accent of golden yellow silk thread adding a touch of softness. “I get asked a lot if I’m a frustrated architect—I’m not!” Markley jokes. “Someone once looked at one of my big, chunky, geometric rings and said ‘Oh! I want to live in there!’ It’s still one of my favorite comments.”

Markley’s jewelry starts in sketch form. “Very loose and gestural, just getting an idea of an appealing shape,” she explains. “From there, I cut the material into smaller pieces and spend time figuring out how to reassemble it to achieve the shape I’m aiming for. It’s fairly improvisational, and I don’t have a clear plan or pattern for how I’m going to solder the metal or glue the wood back together.” Like sculpture or architecture, the “site” of her pieces is just as important. “I want my clients to be comfortable with their pieces. There is always a negotiation with weight, proportion, depth, scale, when figuring this out.”

Jeweler Meghan Patrice Riley also enjoys this relation of jewelry to the body. “I love the idea of the body as site—meaning that jewelry is fashion, art, design, and everything in between. A piece that looks like non-wearable art that belongs on the wall comes to life on the body. And I love the idea of people taking a personal approach; they can play with wearing my pieces in traditional ways or push their own ideas.” Her Blanc and Noir lines are made from steel cable cord and aluminum connectors or crimp beads—typically used in beaded necklaces to secure the stringing material to the clasp. But in Riley’s work, the cord, connectors and crimps take center stage; the stones, when used, are secondary, almost like jewelry turned inside out.

 
This notion of a maker’s spirit being encapsulated in their work lies at the heart of the contemporary craft movement. For those who dedicate their lives to craft, making is about more than the practice itself, more than selling work for a living.

The two-dimensional, line drawing feel to her work is not accidental. Some of her pieces almost read as blueprints for other complex structures. “It’s definitely jewelry about jewelry, which can be pretty meta,” Riley explains. “I have always loved all of the mechanisms, small parts, connectors that go into the making of jewelry. I love what I can create with this paired down process. I think of all of the crimps as stars in a larger constellation, creating order amidst chaos.”

CHIE HITCHNER

      Riley often starts with sketches derived from physics and mathematical concepts. She then translates them into her materials, often incorporating new items like the industrial ball chain interwoven with stones and pearls in her Gris line. A result of her obsession with ball chain and safety pins in her “grungy-goth-punk” teenage years, the series demonstrates Riley’s ability to turn traditional jewelry concepts on their head. The line was featured in a runway collaboration with Mariana Valentina, and caught the eye of large retailer Free People, who picked up Riley’s work. Riley designed epaulettes, arm and hand chains for the collection. 

Color is an important factor for Chie Hitchner, who uses natural dyes in her loom-woven fabrics. Working with raw fibers such as silk, wool and linen, Hitchner dyes the threads in small batches in her studio, often using materials she finds nearby. “There is something special about discovering the dyeing properties of plants that are right around you,” says Hitchner. “Fig leaves make a brilliant yellow. Camellia blossoms become a steely gray. Japanese maple leaves usually give me a beautiful gray, but last fall they gave me a beautiful green. Depending on the time of year and location, the color can be different.”

While part of the show’s Decorative Fiber category, Hitchner also creates wearables. This lends versatility to her design process. She imagines the pieces displayed cleanly and flat on the wall or a table, and also considers how they will bunch and flow with the curves of the body. Worn or flat, Hitchner’s firm grasp on design and technique and her debt to Japanese traditions is evident. Her patterns are crisp and exact, in calming neutral tones and soothing repetitive patterns one can get lost in.

Hitchner learned to weave at eighteen and attended a Japanese university that placed a heavy emphasis on technique and methodology. “My work is deeply influenced by Japanese craft techniques,” Hitchner explains. “I like to use kasuri, the Japanese form of ikat, in both warp and weft. I also use sukui-ori, which is a technique of pick-and-weave, where I use manual techniques to insert additional colors and threads into the weft. These techniques broaden the range of the designs that I can produce using a simple four-harness floor loom.” 

MARY JAEGER

      Understanding one’s work in the larger picture of the fashion and commercial market is an important part of survival as a craft artist. Clothing designer Mary Jaeger has been sewing since just four years old, and recognizes the complexities of the fashion, craft and couture worlds. In her NYC atelier, she creates everything from dramatic scarves, shawls and jackets that play with proportion, pattern and shape, to classic cut, shibori-dyed indigo tank tops, hoodies and tees that are perfect for everyday wear. The latter are made to touch a broader client base, but the goal of Jaeger’s garments is the same: to empower the wearer. “My couture garments address the need for thoughtfully designed and beautifully constructed clothing to communicate individuality in our culture currently exploding with fast fashion,” Jaeger reflects. “Fashion design incorporates multiple aspects of today’s culture and can foreshadow the future through the use of colors, shapes, materials, make, fit, and styles. In turn, fashion communicates messages we individually interpret and consciously or unconsciously adapt to make our own style of dress.”

Jaeger’s Accordion Bonbons do feel a bit like a glimpse into the future. Part of her Unfolding series, multiple colors of silk dupioni are pieced, pleated, dyed, and edge-stitched to drape around the neck and shoulders. Their smart construction folds compactly like a fan for traveling, like something out of The Jetsons. Made from repurposed silks, they combine her love for the visual transformation between flat patterns that become three-dimensional when worn, reducing waste, and using color as an accent to her neutral black, gray, white, and indigo palette.  

TREFNY DIX AND BENGT HOKANSON

      Collaboration is key to Trefny Dix and Bengt Hokanson’s blown glass vessels. Working together since 1996, the duo is inspired by everything from 1920s purses, to graffiti and computer circuits. Their work is varied, calling on Italian methods like the use of murrine and canes for pattern, and Swedish influences in their employment of thick, clear glass and large spots of color to frame and offset their colorful murrine.

Their designing works in stages—often starting with discussion of a new murrine or surface texture they want to explore; then moving on to color choice; what form expresses the pattern best; and finally how to achieve the design in mind. “We work out issues with the size, form, surface application, blowing, and shaping techniques, trying to achieve the concept behind the piece,” Dix explains. “Sometimes the piece goes through such a transformation from the idea one of us started with that it becomes a true collaborative effort.” Skilled colorists, their glass has an energetic movement and fluidity, and the heavy use of color demonstrates their skill in the glassblowing. Like all the artists in the show, Dix and Hokanson are thrilled to be returning this year. “We consider exhibiting in the Smithsonian Craft Show to be a high career achievement. The artists have been selected because their work represents a high standard of creativity and technical mastery within their mediums. It is an honor to show our work with the other artists.”

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Jill DeDominicis is a former Ornament staff writer and editor whose love for wearable art and all things craft remains strong. She works at Mingei International Museum, a craft, folk art and design museum in lovely Balboa Park in San Diego, California. DeDominicis is delighted to be covering this year’s Smithsonian Craft Show held in the nation’s capital at the National Building Museum. With its one hundred twenty artists in all craft media, the show provided an ample opportunity to write and learn more about some of her favorite contemporary artists who are showing their work.

20/20 Exhibition Volume 40.2

SUZANNE AMENDOLARA: CAST STERLING SILVER ELEMENT, measuring 6.4 x 5.1 x 1.9 centimeters, for the “20/20” collaborative exhibition. Photograph by the artist.

Collaborations are a unique form of education: they bring new ideas to artwork, create a different purpose for making and force artists to take responsibility for creative decisions. As an artist making metalwork for more than three decades, I occasionally get caught in a rut or feel like my work is dated or insignificant. The problem-solving aspects of collaborative pieces help me to work through these challenges. For example, during the past several years, I have engaged in collaborations with Daniel DiCaprio, Renée Zettle-Sterling and Robert Thomas Mullen and much enjoyed how the discourse stretched my imagination. Working with elements created and handed to me by another artist to complete forces me to think in a different manner than I normally do when resolving a piece. It is also informative to see how other artists use forms that are particular to my work. Experiencing both vantage points of the collaborative process allows me to generate unfamiliar and fresh solutions in my own studio practice. In every single case, these collaborations were rich and rewarding experiences for both artists.

      Brigitte Martin, the founding editor of crafthaus, suggested that I expand and formalize my collaborations as part of an invitational exhibition project that she would co-sponsor. The works were to be shown during the Society of North American Goldsmiths Conference, at the Marion Cage Gallery, in New Orleans, from May 24 to 27, 2017 and online at the crafthaus website, crafthaus.ning.com, from September 23 to October 31, 2017. Our premise was to cast multiples of a single sterling silver element, then send one of them to each member of a group of artists with the request to complete the piece by October 15, 2016, using the shape in any way they chose. Measuring 6.4 x 5.1 x 1.9 centimeters, mine could be interpreted in numerous ways, yet still indicative of my own work, and it would be my only contribution to the show. The majority of the artists wanted to keep their piece a surprise and I saw most of them for the first time as I unwrapped their packages when they arrived to be photographed.

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      While the exhibition title was tied to our original intent of inviting twenty artists, “20/20” also inferred perfect vision or being able to see clearly. In a case of spontaneity, we kept the title even though the show went on to include twenty-one artists. Brigitte and I were concerned with seeing a broad range of solutions to our challenge and developed a list of artists who have a wide range of working styles. Entering into a collaboration, there needs to be total trust between the artists. Therefore, every artist was given complete control over their end of the project; they could forge it, cut it, solder onto it, color it, etc.

We chose artists who work in jewelry and objects in traditional ways (Tom Muir, John Rais, Todd Reed) and others who work with experimental and nontraditional materials and processes. Joshua Kosker made a series of jewelry from tangelo peels. Teresa Faris collaborates with her bird who chews wood that she then incorporates into her pieces. We invited jewelers, metalsmiths, enamelists, sculptors, and artists who work with wood and steel. Some artists, such as Alexis Spina, currently a graduate student at the University of Georgia, and Logan Woodle, an assistant professor at Coastal Carolina University, earning his MFA in 2012, are emerging in the field; while others are well-recognized and established (Andy Cooperman, Marilyn da Silva and Thomas Mann).

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      It was also exciting to see the collection of pieces with markedly different approaches. A few to mention: Joshua Kosker used humor to create a “high end” bathtub stopper with rubber and sterling; Marilyn da Silva used the casting to create one of her quintessential books; Todd Reed encrusted the surface of the casting with diamonds; Andrew Kuebeck used an enameled decal of nude males; and Kathryn Osgood used her typical natural forms found in the Outer Banks with textural enamel and pearls.

Naturally, I was also interested in seeing how the artistic handwriting of each artist would alter my work. And those hoped for influences did appear. Adrienne Grafton’s piece and the way she builds her narrative and Andy Cooperman’s forms and surfaces were those that have gone on to inspire me. In general, I learned to look at forms from every possible angle and orientation including upside down, the cross section and using partial forms or impressions of form. It was also intriguing to observe how artists used color, surface, line, and texture with a variety of materials.

Our purpose for putting together the show was to teach the artists involved, as well as the viewer, about different ways of seeing. There were no preconceived ideas of what each artist would do, just the anticipation that they would bring their own aesthetic to the project. The results were beguiling, entertaining and a testament to the power of creativity.

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      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Suzanne Amendolara is a metalsmith and teaches Jewelry Design/Metalsmithing at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Amendolara served as President of the Society of North American Goldsmiths from 2011-2014, and is currently on the Board of Governors at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Her metalwork has been exhibited regionally, nationally and internationally in galleries and museums, and is part of the permanent collections of The Renwick Gallery and the White House Collection of American Crafts, Washington D.C.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show Volume 40.1

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show 2017

THOMAS MANN

The craft world does not define itself through a particular medium but through the connection between the hand, the heart and the mind. For those in craft, it is vital to receive satisfaction from its pursuit and to appreciate, even revere, the materials, tools and techniques that give rise to finished work. The stimulus, the drive to create, is based on exploration of the unknown and what can be revealed from each singular search. A direct response to the desire for making life more meaningful, it is for an artist an anchor to the ever-surging flow of existence, perhaps most especially in troubling and chaotic times. The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, now in its forty-first year, is an important conduit where the best in craft is once more reaffirmed and validated by the uniquely talented artists who showcase their works. Here, the handmade in thirteen different media can be seen, appreciated and taken home to live again within one’s own personal experience.

      The craft categories—basketry, ceramics, emerging artist, fiber decorative, fiber wearable, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, and wood—are represented by almost two hundred experienced and talented American artists selected through a rigorous, annual jurying process based on originality, innovation and technical expertise in a medium. To support them is to encourage and promote the value and importance of art by hand as it is passed on, nourishing the planet with the limitless possibilities of human creativity, linking us over the millennia from generation to generation.

Long a major player in the contemporary jewelry movement, New Orleans-based Thomas Mann established his “Techno Romantic” branding in the 1970s as a means of both merging and diverging the material world with that of the human spirit. With a fondness for the found object, and the propinquity it can bring to jewelry, he was freed to improvise his constructions and to make compositions in unlikely and surprising juxtapositions. He eschews precious metals and gemstones, and his jewelry ingredients have been drawn from surplus stores and supply houses, from electronic instruments and costume jewelry parts, whatever might catch his eye. His preferred metals are aluminum, brass, copper, nickel, silver, and stainless steel; and he utilizes acrylic, fiberglass, micarta, and nylon, often carving them.

Mann’s jewelry has been influenced by his peers in the close community of fellow artisans, but is also inspired by other assemblists and collagists—Joseph Cornell, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Georges Braque, whose visual similarities are redefined into personal adornment. There is a great deal of humor and irony to be found, but, make no mistake, pay close attention to Mann’s craftsmanship; it is the platform from which his idiosyncratic voice carries a very personal and wondrous message. His jewelry lacks the existential angst of some other metalsmiths and embraces the more positive aspects of being human, echoing a purity and naturalness that come to mind when we think of Adam and Eve before their and consequently our fall. His evocative tributes to our hearts and hands show a tenderness and belief in the ultimate power and goodness of the human spirit.

LISA BELSKY

      The malleability of ceramics, among its more notable characteristic to alter, change and modify, makes the medium an especially fascinating one to explore. Ceramist Lisa Belsky is on a personal quest to test clay to its fullest capabilities. Belsky, a Philadelphia transplant to Columbus, Ohio, received her MFA from Ohio State University and stayed to set down personal and professional roots. These roots have taken hold and grown under Belsky’s artistic hand, maturing in her distinctive, sculptural ceramic forms.

For Belsky working with clay is also intertwined with her appreciation of fiber, especially knitting and crocheting. The threads of these practices are tied to her love of family; and her emotional connection to them stems from her childhood, watching her female relatives knit and crochet, passing the craft from one to another, and then following in their footsteps herself. 

Her pieces begin as handknit or crocheted fabric that are then manipulated, shaped and dipped into porcelain slip; the firing process burns away the material leaving the ceramic. What remains are basket-like vessels, leaving an abstracted sense of its inspiration, yet singular, no longer connected to its former fibrous state. “I view this body of work,” she says, “as a metaphor for embracing change while preserving memories.” As with many artisans, the result is a success when it elicits a deeper appreciation for the handmade object and the internal motivation that brought it forth.

 

STEPHEN ZEH

 

      Stephen Zeh, from Temple, Maine, plies his craft from the subtle tones born of the brown ash tree, following the traditions of Maine Woodsmen, Shakers and Native Americans. His finely woven baskets are made for use, whether to carry apples from the fall season, eggs from the hen or storing yarn for wintertime knitting. The brown ash has to be carefully selected for the right grain and flexibility to start the process for the hand scraping, other methods and tool use that takes place. A drawknife, shaving horse, ax, froe, and hornbeam maul will shape and release the wood’s natural sheen that over the years will grow a lustrous patina lasting into the future. 

Zeh also makes sweetgrass trays that turn a blond straw color over time and perfume the air with its natural scent. Also part of the repertoire are tea, cracker, bread, muffin, Italian breadstick, and French bread baskets, each with their own unique shape. Working with his partner and wife jewelry designer Tamberlaine, Zeh also designs exquisite diminutive jewelry; pendants inspired by the oak acorn, vegetable and fruit basket shapes, handwoven in eighteen and twenty-two karat gold. Their delicate forms, discrete visually, are so beautifully executed that they catch and arrest the admiring eye.

MEG LITTLE

      Meg Little, from Newport, Rhode Island, says it is up to you: walk on her one-of-a-kind rugs or hang them on the wall as an art object. Little specializes in hand-tufting, a process of punching strands of wool with an electric tufting gun into a backing stretched on a frame that she works, from the rear, in an upright position so that she can reach across the canvas into its design more easily. Her extraordinary color palette, sophisticated and elegant, is based on an expressive amalgam of geometrical shapes: triangles, squares, lines, circles.

 Little is a proponent of more is more, mixing colors that can go up to twenty-five different combinations in the tufter. All the yarn is commercially spun and dyed for the carpet industry and she uses two and three ply wools made for carpets and rugs. She says hand-tufting is an industrial process and she follows its guidelines in making her work, but the design and embellishment is due to her own creative sensibility. 

Her passion for hand-tufted rugs dates from 1984 when she moved to Cornwall, England, after earning her Master’s Degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. During the six years she lived in Cornwall, she met Grace Eckhert, a tapestry weaver who was beginning to experiment with the process, and introduced Little to the medium. Life was never the same and the designing and production of hand-tufted rugs became Little’s craft. She succeeds in making something extraordinary from the ordinary—that of the art of walking on rugs.

New York City-based Mina Norton was originally trained as a painter in her native Iran and studied commercial textile design in England before moving to the United States. From a family of doctors and lawyers, Norton was expected to proceed into one of these professions, but she had other ideas and moved instead in the direction of the arts. It is here that she has received her fulfillment and satisfaction, earning, in over thirty years of dedication and hard work, a widely-appreciated reputation. Her coats and jackets accomplish the feat of being both dramatic and refined. With her exacting nature, Norton fashions garments that are carefully and precisely structured. In her studio, they are hand-loomed with high quality merino wool, dyed and felted by hand. Improvisation occupies an important position in her vision, and she trusts her instincts when she introduces touches of color against an understated palette of grays and black. 

MINA NORTON

      Refining and re-defining, the clothing reaches a level of rich minimalism, in addition to a classicism transcending this modern age, but also most certainly acknowledging it. Her work is an infusion of world cultures, Iran, to be sure, but also Africa and India. It is not only the design but the comfort and wearability of her apparel that are exceedingly important to the success of a piece. Norton is determined to ensure that her clients receive a lifetime of beauty and practicality.

In a career that has led from teaching art to creating her own clothing and accessories, Andrea Geer, from Rochester, New York, does what it takes to achieve consistent results within her creative control. But it is experimentation with texture, form, color, and movement that ultimately propels her love of the process; she says, “As I learn more about my craft, my ideas evolve. I am most interested in how fabric moves around the body and how architectural form can be created using yarn.”

A combination of informed skills and physical tools, some unusual to clothing, are the manifestations of her pushing the standard, recognized boundaries of designing knitted garments for the female form. The goal is to enhance the body and to imbue the fabric and its ultimate shape with a seeming spontaneity and playfulness. While some of her clothing is hand-loomed on vintage punch card knitting machines and sewing machines, she also uses paintbrushes, digital styluses and Photoshop. For Geer, it is all about finding what will best express an idea she is formulating. 

The visual impact is a strong element in Geer’s work and it presents a commanding, vibrant presence. She received both a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design and a Master of Fine Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Perhaps due to the influence of both degrees in graphic design and painting, her designs reside in a more abstracted yet highly structured realm. As an additional flourish, she handmakes her buttons and pin closures, further customizing her mostly one-of-a-kind clothing, with a bit of limited production.

ANDREA HANDY

      Do not ask furniture artisan Bradford Smith whether he works in familiar styles, like Shaker or Arts and Crafts, because he will tell you that in the over thirty years he has been designing, the driving force has been to develop his own voice and not to be “pigeonholed” by any traditional style, or contemporary variations for that matter. His comfort level is to be found in combining the old with the new, intertwining craftsmanship and practicality with aesthetic expression.

From Worcester, Pennsylvania, Smith was raised on a farm where he helped his family by fixing and building things on the land. After high school graduation, for four years he worked in area woodworking shops and in them learned the basics of woodworking. And, he says, a strong work ethic. He went off to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Craftsmen and graduated with a BFA in woodworking and furniture design. That same year, 1980, he started Bradford Woodworking with his wife Sandy, who also graduated from the school.

A special touch of Smith’s is his use of recycled and salvaged lumber and old farm equipment in his furnishings which encompass a full range of beds, benches, bookcases, cabinets, tables, stools, whatever will enhance the domestic environment in a distinctive way. He will use ax handles for chair legs, taking advantage of their S-curve and knobby foot. Pitchforks, he describes, “make ideal supports for chair backs and have some spring when you lean back.” With their generally farm-related themes, the pieces attract with an authentic rustic charm and warm presence.

 

BRADFORD SMITH

 

      Nick Leonoff’s glass works are luminescent and magical as they respond beautifully to light, a platform varying from opaque to translucent in a dazzling array of colors and gradations. In 2011 he established his glass studio in Brooklyn, New York. But a range of experiences have led him from his native California, where he was first introduced to the medium by apprenticing to renowned stained glass artist Alan Masaoka on the Monterey Peninsula, with whom his passion for glass began, to the east coast where he attended the Corning Museum of Glass and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. His fervor for glass began with Masaoka as mentor and deepened over the years as he has worked with other notable artists like Kait Rhoads, Greg Dietrich, Davide Salvadore, and Martin Janecky.

NICK LEONOFF

      Leonoff has been attracted to glassblowing since the day his first gather of glass emerged from the furnace and he experienced the breathtaking change of a molten form transition into a solid state. He specializes in Swedish overlay techniques to create layers of colored glass in the walls and on the surface of his glass forms. After annealing and cooling, he carves the pieces with diamond wheels to remove layers of glass, exposing colors within. This is where he designs and creates the patterns and textures that distinguish his work—the focus of his artistic concentration. 

Jeweler Tara Locklear finds her materials in the everyday, from concrete shards to skateboard fragments, reinforcing the particularly contemporary concept that jewelry can be made from anything, not just from the realm of precious metals and gemstones. A student of noted jeweler experimentalist Robert Ebendorf, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metal Design from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, and continues to reside in North Carolina, making Raleigh her hub. Not long ago, considered to be part of the category called Emerging Artist, Locklear has quickly established an active presence in the show, gallery and museum worlds. Her exhibition and workshop schedule, aside from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, includes the American Craft Council shows, Smithsonian Craft2Wear, and galleries J. Cotter Gallery in Vail, Colorado, and the former Velvet da Vinci in San Francisco, as well as instructor at the Brooklyn Metal Works and Society of Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh. Already in her relatively young career, Locklear is so well considered that her jewelry is now part of Racine Art Museum’s permanent collection.

 

TARA LOCKLEAR

 

      With a sharp visionary sense of the unusual, Locklear explores the nature of beauty beyond the primary purpose of her materials, refashioning them into unexpected statements. She peels away, for example, the personal, autobiographical references an old skateboard might have meant to its skater and uses its wood to make a necklace. The same is true of hand-plucked cement found on roadways, detritus to most, trod on by the unknown, innumerable passings of people and traffic, but translated into a ring and clever kind of jewel. These seemingly insignificant substances are not only cost effective for Locklear to refashion, but by specifically choosing them for her bold and imaginative jewelry, she still values their original intent and also raised them to a new level of definition and meaning.

Some passions begin early in life and Michael Shuler’s goes back to that of a six year old, when he discovered that wood held his curious attention. That youthful focus never wavered as he progressed through his teenage years, figuring out how something, like a family heirloom chair had been built, then exploring, learning, making. The Santa Cruz, California, artist has maintained his studio since 1973 and since that time earned a highly respected reputation in wood turning.

With his record for superb craftsmanship dating to the 1980s, his resume is fulsome, including, to name a few, excellence in wood awards from the Smithsonian Craft Show, American Craft Exposition, Washington Craft Show. His works are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the White House Collection of American Crafts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Arts and Design, and Yale University Art Gallery. This year marks Shuler’s sixth appearance as an exhibitor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.

Creating lathe-turned vessels have become his life’s work. His “segmented” vessels are exactingly cut from exotic hardwoods, like zebrawood, pink ivorywood, birdseye maple, gabon ebony. The result is an amazing patterning of colors and grain native to the wood itself, with perhaps up to five thousand segments of wood utilized in a large bowl and two thousand pieces in smaller ones. His second body of work, also drawn from nature’s bounty, “organicas”, is drawn from pinecones, Banksia protea, thistles, and artichokes. In both types of vessels he reveals an awe-inspiring beauty originating in the natural world; and, in the hands of this wood master, manifested by the power of imagination and infinite possibilities emanating from the human spirit.

 

MICHAEL SHULER

 
 

See Our Participating Artists at the Show

 
 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the United States in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. As her travels take her throughout the United States, there are many places which are dear to her heart, one in particular being the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show that provides a venue for beautiful handmade art every November. Her delving into the work and philosophy of the craftspeople who exhibit is another testament to the creativity of the spirit.

Smithsonian Craft Show 2017 Volume 39.4

 
When we all arrived on these shores, we brought with us the knowledge and skills to make domestic goods by hand, and the folkways of the countries we came from: If you needed a basket to carry produce, somebody had to make one. We treasure these heirlooms as a way of belonging, to family and community and the past. Though utilitarian, they were never really humble: fine workmanship has always been prized.
 

The Smithsonian Craft Show, now in its thirty-fifth year, is in a league by itself. With stringent standards for artistry, creativity and technical expertise, the four-day event presents one hundred and twenty artists from thirty-four states at the handsome National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s show celebrates a far-reaching vision of craft as art that unites heritage, continuity and change, looking back to the cultural wellsprings of our oldest and most cherished traditions in America. When our immigrant ancestors arrived on these shores, they brought the skills of their hands, and the folkways of the countries they came from. Craft created a country: if you needed a basket to carry produce, somebody had to make one. These handmade, utilitarian things became our heirlooms, a way of belonging to family and community and the past. But they were never really humble: fine workmanship has always been prized. The Smithsonian Craft Show takes pride in that history and its inheritors, the artisans today who find new inspiration in wood, leather, glass, grasses, cloth, ceramics, and metal. Some of them studied in classrooms or trained as apprentices in workshops; some learned from their father or grandmother; some are self-taught. All of them use their hands.

      If you see pewter, you are liable to think colonial America. Her favorite comment that pewtersmith Rebecca Hungerford hears is “I always thought pewter was gray and clunky. You’ve really changed my mind.” Hungerford, from Michigan, is a shining example of an artist who bridges old and new in craft. After earning a fine-arts degree from Miami University, she studied pewtersmithing in New Brunswick, Canada, with a teacher who trained in England and taught her how to make her own molds. She has handmade classic pewter bowls, mugs, plates, and candlesticks ever since.

She still sounds amazed at the “huge leap” she took, around 1995, to contemporary design. She hankered after using her fine-arts training: “There’s great joy in creating something new that’s original and personal.” Hungerford describes how her contemporary work “reflects a feminine hand; it’s more fluid and sensual. Sometimes I acid-etch or color with Prismacolor pencils, paints and foil, then burnish for a translucent surface. I love pewter’s warm color, its softness and great tactile quality, and its affordability.” A whimsical appeal makes her pewter look lighthearted: tinted goblets seem to sway on their stems to a private samba rhythm.

Ceramics breathe of house and home, of the life-affirming communion of eating together. First-time exhibitor Adam Paulek’s spare, engaging ceramics are functional art: plates, mugs, teapots, serving pieces. He describes his ceramics as a canvas, on which he assembles enigmatic narratives from photographic images. During a recent artist-in-residency, in Denmark, he switched to porcelain clays, creating pools of limpid white, blue celadon and a pale yellow for more background clarity. 

ADAM PAULEK

The Iowa-born studio artist trained as an apprentice potter in Asheville, North Carolina, and earned an M.F.A. at the University of Tennessee in 2003. He lives in Virginia, where he teaches ceramics and design at Longwood University. Wherever he goes, he takes his digital camera to record anything that catches his attention. Later he revisits his photographs, looking at forms. He strips out everything surrounding an object—for example, a bare twig—or may zero in on part of it. Once he makes the images “through the process of laser transfer decals, in either sepia tones or color, I move them around and apply them, like a collage.” Paulek lets things unfold; he tells his students that “It’s not the ideas that differentiate you; it’s your curiosity, your engagement. It’s how you pay attention.” His photo-realist images arrest your eye; their juxtaposition draws you in. Maybe they tell a story, maybe not; it depends on your interpretation. But tossing those possibilities around is entrancing.

REBECCA HUNGERFORD

      Of all the hand tools in human history, nothing has come laden with more status than the knife. Across cultures, across centuries, it is one of humanity’s most prized possessions. Zachary Jonas, a member of the respected American Bladesmith Society, is an eloquent and knowledgeable spokesman for the art and practice of his craft. His knives are beautiful to behold, handforged from high-carbon steel, and relentlessly fabricated to fit like a dream in your hand. Essential to a state-of-the-art knife, Jonas says, is “its balance. A handforged knife actually has a thicker blade than a factory-made one, but it feels lighter because it’s balanced, which means you’re not fighting it while you’re trying to use it.”

A native of Massachusetts, Jonas graduated from Connecticut College in 2005. He found his calling in an evening class in bladesmithing at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. An apprenticeship takes years. “The heat and forging are only about ten to twenty percent of making a blade,” Jonas explains. “Most of it is grinding, filing, shaping, and polishing, polishing, polishing.” Unique to Jonas’s knives is his revival of Damascus steel. An ancient art originating in Middle Eastern metallurgy, Damascus is an intricately patterned, forged steel, in which each blade’s pattern is distinctive to both the skill and techniques of the individual artist.

Jonas is equally passionate about his handcrafted wooden handles, selecting the colors and orienting the wood grain to complement the blade. This is where function defines beauty; there cannot exist anything more satisfying, for anyone who uses their hands, than to wield a perfect knife.

ZACHARY JONAS

      Colorado-born Ben Strear, making his debut at the Smithsonian Craft Show, handcarves shallow-relief wood vessels and sculptures that feel almost alive in the play of light and shadow across their patterned surfaces. It took him some time to follow his passion for carving. Strear graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006 with a degree in furniture design, and then spent close to a decade in New York, working in high-end commercial millwork, art fabrication and complex 3D modeling. A move to North Carolina let him set up a home workshop as a studio artist. He is attracted to organic, repetitive forms: the whorls of a mollusk shell, or the feathers carved in a bird’s wing from an Assyrian stone bas-relief.

BEN STREAR

      Strear turns his pieces on a lathe to create contours suggesting vegetal growth; almost, he says, they resemble “petrified fruits.” He employs domestic hardwoods and traditional handtools, then lightly wire-brushes a piece at the end to bring out the fine grain. “If the wood characteristics are not so pretty, I’ll cover them with milk paint for a matte surface,” Strear says. “The main theme is that everything is monochromatic, in shades of white, gray or black, to show the layers of pattern.” Before he touches a tool, Strear rigorously draws out every detail on paper, “to see the aesthetic I want.” His carving reflects a boundless appreciation for the warmth and innate beauty of wood.

Go back three hundred years—a long time ago, in America—when the ancestors of MacArthur Foundation award-winning artist Mary Jackson arrived on slave ships. Their descendants made their home in the marshes of coastal South Carolina, where Jackson grew up and learned as a child to make her legendary sweetgrass baskets, weaving them with virtually the identical techniques found today in West Africa. “There’s a similarity in the coiling and the stitching pattern,” Jackson explained in the PBS documentary Craft in America. For Jackson, respecting an unbroken tradition is as important as the craft itself: “For my ancestors, it was evidence of where they came from,” she explains. In more than forty years of basketmaking, she has always been conscious of “how proud they would feel to see it’s been passed down.”

MARY JACKSON

      During a ten-year interlude working in New York, Jackson became deeply interested in contemporary art and ideas. When she returned to basketry, she emerged as an innovator, with breakthrough ideas like “sweeping handles and flat shapes with [a spray of unbound] grasses flowing from it,” that caused a sensation. She adapted old forms, like extending in the edges of a rice-winnowing “fanner” basket to make a more enclosed, shallow shape displaying intricate designs woven from bulrushes and long-leaf pine needles. A basket can look deceptively simple. “You need strong hands,” Jackson says, to keep the tension while lacing together the pliable sweetgrass with strips of tough palmetto leaves native to South Carolina. Her impeccable construction and finely woven detail reveal an unsurpassed mastery of her medium, and her inventive forms, no matter how sculptural, still remember they are baskets.

LINDA KINDLER PRIEST

      What you are really seeing, when you look at a piece of Linda Kindler Priest’s jewelry, is a storyscape. The minutely sculpted wildlife and flowers, in fourteen karat gold repoussé, are caught in motion: the bullfinch, its tail tilted to fly away; the polar bear, in mid-stride; the swaying lily. Each small animal, bird, insect, fish, or bloom finds its natural home in the gemstone or mineral framed below it, inferring a context and meaning: ice, air, water, the green earth. A delicate pearl, tucked at an angle by a pelican, represents a small egg; the scatter of green sapphires cresting the aquamarine crystal beneath the pelican evokes the sea, sparkling in daylight. “I wanted a contrast to the gold metal,” Priest says. “The gemstones add more emotion; they allow more color and expression.” The poetic economy of her compositions lets you gaze into the depths of each stone, suggesting more to the story: a veining of pink agate becomes plant roots. Her brooches are made in pairs, as a top and bottom that can be worn together or separately.

A meditation on inner strength runs through her work, in the materials she uses, in her demanding techniques, and in the life force of the world around us. Priest, from Massachusetts, trained as an artist at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, where she also teaches. Maybe it is Yankee self-reliance that led her to take up the arduous process of repoussé, which dates back thousands of years and takes almost as long to do; at its best its finesse and execution makes you intensely aware of the artist’s hand. Priest reworks the metal “so many times that there’s a softness to it. And I must anneal it at least twenty to fifty times. There’s only me, my tools—an extension of my hand—and the metal. You’re apt to get a bit more of me than you would with other processes.” In essence, Priest has revitalized a formal, old-world technique with superb results.

JUDITH KAUFMAN

“I don’t like gold that’s too shiny,” says jewelry artist Judith Kaufman. “I like it to look organic and ancient.” Kaufman, enticed by gold into a mutual seduction over twenty years ago, works with a palette of fourteen karat rose gold, eighteen karat green gold, and a twenty two karat gold that she uses interchangeably to create luminous, painterly effects. “You can pour your creative energy into something when you love and respect the material,” she explains. Over decades of handmaking jewelry, the artist has come to trust the same visceral affinity when choosing gems or stones; “They speak to me,” she says. Aesthetically, there is an intangible consciousness of imperfection. “I like to see the hand in a piece,” she says, referring to her techniques; almost invisible irregularities “give a piece soul.”

      Kaufman took jewelrymaking lessons as a teenager and has lived and worked in her Connecticut hometown all her life. Her jewelry has evolved over her career, but still harbors an unpredictable quality; there are no traces of any school or style except what she gleans, subliminally, from nature. On her daily walks she may see a detail that percolates in that mysterious place where inspiration dwells, like the sight of some cognac-colored pine needles drifted together at the edge of a pond. Once at her studio bench, she gathers components, waiting for colors and forms to converge. “You have to show up for yourself,” Kaufman says, “I’m particular, and it may take all day.” Her jewelry evokes the random beauty and logic of nature. Asymmetry is her visual keystone: a balance between too much and just enough, like the gusts of bubbles skidding across a broad cuff. Kaufman explores the idea of something “trapped by nature;” for instance, in a new brooch, two halves of rutilated quartz enclose wind-tossed gold leaves and diamond berries. “It’s leaves and needles,” she says, “their X-shapes talk to each other.” Kaufman’s jewelry is both lyrical and majestic; Hillary Clinton owns one of her necklaces, which seems appropriate for someone who has moved on the world stage.

Marian “Mau” Schoettle’s instantly compelling wearable art references the twentieth century on multiple levels: urban streets; work uniforms; the space age; abstract art; shipping and advertising; the mobility of modern life. She calls her coats and jackets “post industrial folk wear. I’m interested in working with materials and images from the world we live in now.” Her material is Tyvek®, a featherweight, durable synthetic plastic as common as paper in our culture: in FedEx mailing envelopes; to wrap houses under construction; and in the orange cover-alls worn by prisoners working along state highways. Commercial-grade Tyvek comes in stiff sheets, which Schoettle washes to make more pliable; in time it becomes softer (she does not use a grade of Tyvek made for clothing).

MARIAN SCHOETTLE

      Originally from Pennsylvania, Schoettle lived in Europe before moving to New York’s Hudson Valley. Though she has made and sewn clothes all her life, her interests in conceptual art and photography led her into design. She describes the stencil lettering, half-erased numbers, and word fragments that she draws with surplus hardware and paint as “culture-jamming. Every typeface has further cultural information.” Sometimes she includes photo-transfer images of distorted buildings. The artist deliberately defies composition, letting anarchy rule a layout. “I’m influenced by Dada,” she explains. Her visual language exploits distinctively conflicting ideas: protective versus perishable, for instance, in a new two-tone brown Tyvek that plays with the notion of paper. A sense of irreverence opens up engagement: one customer on her way to Egypt wrote a travelogue about her trip on the inside of one of Schoettle’s coats.

Beloved New York Times street-fashion photographer Bill Cunningham once said his favorite decade was the sixties. The era’s anthem of freedom of expression lives on in the exhilarating confections of New Orleans-based designer Starr Hagenbring, whose kaleidoscopically colorful luxe-silk coatdresses and jackets manifest an air of contagious revelry and joie-de-vivre. Her wearable art, painstakingly embellished with handpainted lace, handpainted imagery, free-form machine stitching, piecing and layering, is lush and cumulative, making not so much a statement as a pirouette.

STARR HAGENBRING

      “Martha Stewart taught us to glitter a pumpkin,” Hagenbring says. “I like to make people feel happy wearing something beautiful. In my family, it was a real event to get dressed up and go out.” Raised in Illinois, Hagenbring graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in theater design, and had her own boutique in New York’s SoHo, while developing the dramatic blaze of stained-glass colors integral to her designs. “People respond to color, especially to shades in the orange/magenta/red range, which complement every skin tone.” The opulence of her work belies her restraint, for example in applying gold. “Gold implies splendor, rather than glitz,” Hagenbring explains. “For the best teachers, look at the Egyptians or the Byzantines. Don’t look at Las Vegas.”

Her couture tailoring defines a feminine shape; hints at a waistline suggest a sexier attitude than shrink-wrapped knitwear that leaves nothing to the imagination. A jacket may have up to nine gores; “Gores don’t cut off your waist from your hips; they keep a long line.” Everything is fully lined, and sleeves are opened to allow more movement. At the same time Hagenbring injects a bit of provocation: a painted series of religious symbols, or recently, over-scaled dung beetles. “I like to take the misunderstood and invite people to really look at it and see its beauty,” the artist says. Her clothing exults in living life to the hilt.

ROB & BARBARA MATHEWS

      When a jazz ensemble musician came to Rob and Barbara Mathews for a pair of awesome shoes with a retro vibe to wear performing, the Mathews obliged, crafting stellar red-and-ivory leather brogues. A third-generation shoemaker, Rob Mathews met his wife, Barbara, as students at Middlebury College. They established a custom shoemaking business in New Hampshire while also restoring an eighteenth-century farmstead. “Small shoemaking shops dotted the New England countryside in earlier times,” Barbara Mathews says. “We’ve found bits of antique shoes and shoe tools in the old buildings on our property. We feel like we’re working in the spirit of New England shoemakers, often with their old tools right in our hands.” The Mathews team up on design and construction, bringing science—Rob Mathews’ certification in pedorthics—as well as art to their craft.

Custom shoemaking is a collaboration; it involves your wishes and your feet in measurements and fitting, cushioning preferences, and picking colors and style. The Mathews act as interpreters and consultants as well as artisans, often forming lifelong bonds with their clients. “We love showing the possibilities to make something individual and expressive,” says Barbara, which are epic considering the variety of ethically sourced leathers from around the world that they have available. Their shoes are handsewn and all leather-lined. “People are always surprised at how light the shoes are at first,” Barbara explains. “Custom shoes are made to feel like you’re going barefoot.” Probably nothing seems as personal or as memorable as a pair of bespoke shoes; visitors to Monticello speak of Thomas Jefferson’s tall riding boots as one of their favorite sights.

It takes time to create timelessness. “Creating by hand involves a lot of problem solving, prioritizing and organizing. It isn’t serendipity: it’s very thoughtful and meticulous work,” as Rebecca Hungerford puts it. The handmade connects us: in the age of the internet and mass-production, it speaks to something as indefinable as a sense of human touch. Linda Kindler Priest recalls an old table she saw in an antiques store. “It was handfinished,” she remembers; “it glowed.” Adam Paulek reflects that the handmade is “comforting, because it makes you part of a continuum.” Making something by hand is the essence of our humanity, Starr Hagenbring believes: “Creativity is the spice of life. You get a wonderful thrill from finishing a piece, or a room, or a dish of food, and it’s turned out fantastically. That thrill—it’s better than anything.”

Smithsonian Craft Show. National Building Museum
Preview Night April 26. April 27 – 30, 2017

www.smithsoniancraftshow.org

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Leslie Clark is a freelance writer and editor in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Around town here you see a bumper sticker that reads Art Saves Lives,” Clark comments. “In these horrendous times, it felt life-saving to speak with some of the incredible artisans at the 2017 Smithsonian Craft Show. Not only were they generous and thoughtful talking about their work, but also they helped remind me of brighter vistas, of what is possible when people put their hearts and minds to what they care about. A big thank you to each and every one, and to Ornament magazine.” 

Comment

Leslie Clark

Leslie Clark is a freelanced writer and editor in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Clark, who claims red is her favorite color, was flabbergasted by her visit to the “The Red That Colored the World” exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art up on Museum Hill. “I had no idea how exhaustively people worked, for centuries, to produce a red color. No wonder kings and prelates hogged it for themselves. Cochineal changed everything. Even now, with synthetic dyes around, its amazing properties are still the best. It makes you grateful to Mother Nature and those little bugs.”

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show Volume 39.2

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show 2016


Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, Pennsylvania Convention Center, November 10 - 13, 2016. Visit pmacraftshow.org for more information.

CHRISTINA AND MICHAEL ADCOCK

Each November, Philadelphia becomes the epicenter of the nation’s craft world for four exhilarating days known as the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, as hundreds of artists and thousands of enthusiastic and discerning viewers flock to the city to immerse themselves in the best that American craft has to offer.

      This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the PMA Craft Show, and it promises to be a landmark exhibit. From more than a thousand applicants, the five jurors have selected one hundred ninety-five artists from thirty-four states. On display will be work representing every major craft medium, including baskets, jewelry (precious and semiprecious), metal, glass, fiber (wearable and decorative), leather, wood, furniture, paper, ceramics, and mixed-media creations. A separate category for “Emerging Artists” helps relative newcomers bring their work to a wider audience. Similarly, the special “Craft-U” section allows students and recent alumni from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, the Moore College of Art and Design, Kutztown University, and Savannah College of Art and Design to display and sell their work at one of the country’s premier venues for fine crafts.

PING WU

      The Craft Show is organized and presented each year by the Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a major fundraising event for the institution. Last year’s show generated around $845,000, and since the first show in 1977 more than $11.7 million in proceeds have been raised to fund every aspect of the museum’s mission, including education, acquisitions, exhibitions, programs, and renovations. As the first retail craft show to be organized by volunteers for the benefit of a nonprofit organization, the PMA Craft Show has become a highly successful model for others to follow. In the process, it has also done much to promote contemporary American craft.

Regular attendees will find many familiar faces in this year’s line-up, including ceramicists Cliff Lee and Bennett Bean; jewelrymakers Namu Cho, Rebecca Myers, and Steven Ford and David Forlano; fiber artists Elyse Allen, Andrea Handy, and Ping Wu (winner of last year’s Ornament Award for Excellence in Art to Wear); basketmakers Christine and Michael Adcock; and mixed-media artists Roberta and David Williamson, who will be participating in their thirty-fifth PMA Craft Show!

The show’s organizers, however, are proud to point out that more than a quarter of this year’s entrants are first-time exhibitors, a testament to the rising generation of skilled artisans. “This year we will have fifty new artists,” said Gwen Goodwill Bianchi, chair of the 2016 Craft Show. “It’s very exciting to have so much new work as we celebrate the show’s fortieth anniversary! That keeps contemporary craft fresh and moving forward.” Bianchi has been a member of the Craft Show Committee for ten years, and a member of the Women’s Committee for the past eight years, but this is her first time chairing the show. “The biggest surprise has been how the younger, tech-savvy generation continues to embrace the relevance and importance of handmade work,” she said. 

CLIFF LEE

      Juror Glenn Adamson, a respected author, curator and theorist of contemporary art and former director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, was similarly encouraged about the future of craft in America. “I was surprised by the high quality of entrants in the ‘Emerging Artists’ category,” he told me. “Though craft is, as they say, ‘long to learn,’ there were many artists who had clearly hit the ground running and had a lot of mastery already.” Adamson notes that while technology has had an impact on these younger artists, its mark is seen more in the aesthetics of the works than in the processes employed in making them. “Certainly you can see the influence of digital technology here and there, not so much in the techniques used (which remain mainly traditional) but in the style of imagery.”

Fellow juror Laura Mays, an Irish-born furniture designer and maker now living in California where she directs the Fine Woodworking program at the College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg, also noted the (perhaps ironic) influence of digital technologies on the aesthetics of handcrafted art. She sees “a move away from polychromatic patternmaking and exuberant surface, towards a clean-lined, materials-driven, neutral palette, very similar to a design-led approach. Maybe it’s the Apple influence—small radius corners, materials left unadorned though polished, visually tidy.” While acknowledging that “the entrants wish to be selected to show their work for sale,” she adds: “It really struck home that human beings are very driven towards the manipulation of material and to learn and exhibit manual and mental skill... I had a very palpable sense that the energy and commitment that the craftspeople put in is not commercially driven.”

ALEKSANDRA VALI

     Among the ten “Emerging Artists” selected for this year’s show is jewelrymaker Aleksandra Vali. Now based in Geneva, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago, Vali was trained as a sculptor and ceramicist in Russia and exhibited widely in her native country and abroad. After moving to the United States, she shifted her focus to metalsmithing and jewelry. “My work with clay has definitely affected my current works,” she said. “For me, metal provides a unique opportunity to create unusual, stylish pieces with fine details and very sharp and clear lines and shapes, something I was unable to do in ceramics.”

Vali’s training as a sculptor is evident in the Calendar from Atlantis/Bells series. These conical constructions of oxidized silver, each about four inches high, feature pitted and grooved surfaces to which the artist adds rune-like symbols and other motifs in electroplated twenty-four karat gold. As the title implies, the overall effect is one of an exquisitely preserved archaeological artifact recovered from an ancient civilization. (Vali notes that although each “bell” contains a clapper and is thus technically functional, they are not necessarily designed to produce a pleasing sound.) Her fascination with the material culture of the past also drives the Measures of Value collection, sleekly modern pendants whose designs incorporate antique elements, including Chinese coins, watchmakers’ tools and mini-calipers, in a clever play on the overlapping objective and subjective meanings that accrue to “value.”

MELODIE GRACE

      Other “Emerging Artists” this year include ceramicist Melodie Grace of Nashville, Tennessee, who, according to the artist’s statement, combines “wheel-thrown, handcarved and etched elements with both traditional and naked raku” to create pots whose textures often evoke natural materials such as pine cones. The surfaces of many of her vessels feature sharply defined images of trees, blossoms, leaves, and birds whose colors are created exclusively by smoke during the firing process.

ROBERT COBY

      Glass artist Robert Coby of Cleveland, Ohio, similarly evokes landscape in his handblown and carved vessels. His Topography series, for example, features egg-shaped vessels of molten glass in various hues, into whose surfaces the artist etches intricate patterns of concentric lines resembling the elevation markings on topographical maps. Coby then carves away portions, creating crevasse-like openings bounded by serrated crystalline edges, beneath which lie the exposed luminous interior surfaces. One could easily imagine each vessel as a globe-egg that incubated some fantastical creature, which has now hatched and left behind its multicolored shell for us to admire.

Another artist who evokes the fantastic in his work is first-time exhibitor David Winigrad of Penn Valley, Pennsylvania, who specializes in the wind-activated kinetic sculptures known as “whirligigs.” Winigrad earned a BFA in two-dimensional design from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and spent three decades working in advertising. His mother, Etta Winigrad, is a world-renowned ceramic sculptor, but David told me that he came to kinetic sculpture “almost by happenstance” when he got some woodworking tools from his brother and began experimenting.

“I was first drawn to traditional folk-art whirligigs by virtue of their very unlikeliness as objects of art,” he said. “Whirligigs, in essence, are machines.” As such, they share much in common with their more practical cousins such as combustion engines and electric motors, including the crankshafts, cams, pistons, and rotors that translate energy into motion. In this case, however, the driving force is wind, adding an element of chance to the machine’s performance. “It’s the mercurial nature of wind that makes the whirligig so captivating,” said Winigrad. “Like a marionette, they will suddenly come to life, spin madly, and then, just as suddenly, come to rest.”

DAVID WINIGRAD


      Winigrad’s inspiration for each whirligig “almost always comes from the wood. I gravitate to burls specifically, the deformed growths found on various species of trees... Each burl has a unique grain pattern and often contains voids, bark, spiky caps, and live edges.” These irregular features allow him “to contrast the eccentricities of the burl with the precise geometries I impose on the overall shape.” Along with the wooden elements, which range from ebony, maple, cherry, and walnut to osage orange and wild almond, he incorporates jade, stones, bone, feathers, crystals, coral, fossils, and other materials into these truly mixed-media creations.

EBEN BLANEY

      “My creative impetus is to amaze and delight the viewer through the variety of rotational movement and the beauty inherent in the materials,” explained Winigrad. “I also encourage people to interact with the whirligig through touch. In an incomprehensibly complex hi-tech world, viewers are able to fully understand how each whirligig works and enjoy the simple pleasure that comes with that realization.”

Participating in his second PMA Craft Show is Eben Blaney of Edgecomb, Maine, who has been making custom furniture for twenty years in the studio he built for himself in this small coastal town. Blaney, whose father was a boat-builder in nearby Boothbay Harbor, “resisted being a woodworker, anything to do with wood, for a long time,” he related to me during a studio visit in late August. After attending Hofstra University and the Portland School of Art (now the Maine College of Art), he went through a “soul-searching time” during which he “rolled around a lot.” This he did in a very literal way—by riding a bike all the way across the country. Eventually Blaney both found his way back home and embraced woodworking as his medium. The bike now hangs from the ceiling of the workshop, a reminder of his earlier nomadic life. He and his wife, a massage therapist, have their living quarters below the workshop, and she has a separate studio for her business nearby.

REBECCA MYERS

      Blaney’s first PMA Craft Show outing, in 2014, was “my best show ever, it was incredibly heartening,” he told me. He was particularly impressed by the “caliber of everybody else there,” but also by the sophistication of the viewers. “Philadelphia is a really well-educated population, in terms of furniture. They know what they’re looking for.” The city does indeed have a long historical connection to fine furniture-making, stretching from Colonial times through to more modern figures such as Wharton Esherick (1887–1970), a key inspiration for the resurgence of the craft following World War II. Echoes of Esherick’s aesthetic sensibility can be seen in many of Blaney’s elegant pieces, which combine the crisp geometries of mid-century modern design with a deep respect for the organic qualities of the materials.

An example is his Cormorant, a tall, slim hall table fashioned from walnut and ebonized tiger maple. “This felt very bird-like to me from the beginning,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite pieces because I was able to make it thinner than what you’re used to seeing.” On the in-progress version he showed me in the studio, the smooth, black surface of the elliptical tabletop was interrupted by the irregular edges of a knothole, a reminder of its origin in nature. Like many of Blaney’s pieces, the Cormorant also features exposed mortise-and-tenon joints. “I like to have some evidence that it was done by hand,” he said.

Nature has always been a primary inspiration for jewelrymaker Rebecca Myers of Baltimore, whose work features forms derived from seedpods, branches, flowers, and bees, among other motifs. “Most recently I’ve been working on an animal print collection of jewelry,” she told me in early September. “It’s made with layers of metals pierced to achieve the leopard and zebra patterns.”

Myers has done the PMA Craft Show “a handful of times” during her twenty-plus years as a jewelry designer and maker. “It’s always been a beautiful show and one of the most difficult to jury into,” she said. For Myers, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and attended Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, it is also something of a homecoming. “I have clients, family, teachers, and friends that I love visiting with at the show. Philadelphia is also such a great art and craft city. The public art is terrific. There’s a high interest due to the abundance of local art schools and museums.”

Like many of the participants, Myers finds hope for the future in an event that brings so many people together around the notion of putting beauty and creativity at the center of our everyday lives. “I think shows like the PMA Craft Show are cultural touchstones,” she said. “It’s so important to continue to educate a new generation of students and possible future collectors about incorporating art and craft into their lives. It’s very doable. To be an art collector you don’t need to go to a Sotheby’s auction. You can start at a show like PMA.” 

ROBERTA AND DAVID WILLIAMSON, BENNETT BEAN AND STEVE FORD AND DAVID FORLANO

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

David Updike is an editor and writer living in Philadelphia. A regular contributor to Ornament, he most recently reviewed the “Immortal Beauty” exhibition of garments and textiles from Drexel University’s Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection. In this issue, he previews the 2016 Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, which celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year, and found in the process encouraging evidence for the continued relevance of fine, handcrafted objects in our increasingly digitized world. Updike has, in addition, contributed articles on jewelry artists Rebecca Myers, Namu Cho and Michael Manthey in past issues. 

International Folk Art Market Volume 39.1

International Folk Art Market

IDA BAGUS ANOM SURYAWAN, mask carver from Mas Village in Bali, Indonesia. Photograph © by Marc Romanelli.

If there was ever a riot of colors and sensations, rebelling against the staid bland urbanity of modern life, the International Folk Art Market, held annually in Santa Fe, New Mexico, would be it. Bringing together travelers from across the world, and pairing what is quintessentially local art with a meeting ground accessible by a global audience, this festival of human creativity is rather remarkable to say the least.

      The event began in 2003 as an effort to empower folk artists by providing them with a marketplace that they could never have accessed otherwise. The thought was many artists in first, second and third-world nations create beautiful work, but are limited to selling to their village, tribe or the occasional tourist. By providing a venue in the United States and assisting them in traveling to America, these folk artisans could experience a windfall in profits while giving visitors the opportunity to purchase unusual crafts and art to which they might never have been exposed. It was a win-win concept, similar to the idea of micro-loans, and it has been hugely successful...

 

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Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. This April he attended the Smithsonian Craft Show, always a favorite, where he was part of a panel led by Craft in America producer Carol Sauvion discussing the state of craft in the twenty-first century. He contributes to the current issue an exploration of the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a world bazaar if there ever was one. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest craft News, where you can find out what is happening with art-to-wear in the global neighborhood.

Ramona Solberg Volume 38.5 Preview

Ramona Solberg's Fibulae

FIBULA PIN of sterling silver wire, formed, forged and filed, strung with molded Czech glass snake beads, bauxite bead, coconut shell disk bead, ostrich shell disk beads, vintage Chinese glass beads, African terracotta spindle whorl; forged/drilled dangles of silver, bronze and copper, metal bead, stone beads, copper metal disk, Venetian glass bead, many from the African trade; 13.6 centimeters wide, dating from mid-1980s. Spring portion of pin forged to work harden it; priced eighty-five dollars when purchased in 1988. Carolyn L. E. Benesh/Ornament Collection. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

 

The late Ramona Solberg’s found object style of jewelry continues to influence the work of Northwest jewelers Laurie Hall, Ron Ho, Kiff Slemmons, Nancy Worden, and others (Brown 2014; Updike 2001, 2006). Warm and effusive when speaking about the work of her peers, Solberg called herself the Henry Ford of jewelry, and rightly so (Benesh 1989, 2001; Liu 1995). An inveterate traveler and lover of the material culture of the many countries she visited, Solberg often combined her metalwork with beads, which she collected on her trips, and was responsible for two of the best bead jewelry exhibitions (1988, 1998) held in the United States, at the Bellevue Art Museum.

 

 For The Full Article

 
 

Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His new book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. He hopes to begin teaching photography to interested students later this year. In this issue Liu writes about Hal and Margie Hiestand, two extraordinary, self-trained jewelers from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and about the pricing of well-known contemporary jewelers’ work when they pass, in reference to the fibulae of the late Ramona Solberg, a beloved Northwest artist.

Little Dreams Volume 38.5 Preview

Little Dreams in Glass and Metal.
Jewelry from the Enamel Arts Foundation

 

LILYAN BACHRACH. Brooch of enamel on fine silver, twenty-four karat gold granulation, eighteen karat gold bezel, and sterling silver, 6.4 x 7.0 x 1.3 centimeters, circa 1980. 

Enameling—the art of fusing glass to metal with heat—has been used as a form of decorating metal since antiquity; the earliest known enameled objects are six gold rings decorated with cloisonné, “compartmentalized” enamel, made in Cyprus in the thirteenth century B.C. But enamel jewelry did not begin to flourish as an artform in America until the early twentieth century. The surprising history of American enamel is the subject of a new book and traveling exhibition, “Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present.”

      The project is the brainchild of Bernard N. Jazzar and Harold B. Nelson, founders of Los Angeles-based Enamel Arts Foundation. The two are established scholars of art history; Jazzar is curator of the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Collection and Nelson is curator of American decorative arts at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens and former director of the Long Beach Museum of Art. They began studying and collecting enamel about twenty years ago, when a business trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art precipitated a chance encounter with that institution’s vast enamel collection.

 

   GET INSPIRED!

 
 

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles, and a frequent contributor to Ornament. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. This issue, she goes behind the scenes of two very different exhibitions, The Museum at FIT’s “Fairy Tale Fashion” and the traveling enamel art show “Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present.” Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, published by Yale University Press.

Smithsonian Craft Show Volume 38.5

 

The first craft fair I ever encountered was in the early 1970s in Laguna Beach, a sun-kissed pearl of a beach town an hour or so south of Los Angeles. I was a suburban teenager brought to the fair by an aunt with a taste for art. I remember wandering wide-eyed through an outdoor maze of booths and tables displaying stoneware bowls and teapots, silver jewelry, botanical photographs, wood carvings, leather belts and bags, and a thousand other objects that I realized were not the same things available at the department and discount stores where my parents shopped. I was mesmerized, and I got the point. Everything on display had been handmade, probably by the person selling it.

      This seemed to me audacious, even a little subversive. Children make things with their hands. But the idea of adults in the mid-twentieth century choosing to make mugs and bracelets and blankets by hand was completely out of my sphere of understanding. Yet what I saw was compelling. Everything struck me as authentic and beautiful. After much deliberation, I bought a twenty-two dollar stoneware bowl made by a woman with a long black braid. The bowl was perhaps nine inches across and glazed in overlapping washes of azure and yellow. To my unformed aesthetic it was elegant and artistic. It became the centerpiece on whatever passed for my kitchen table for the next fifteen years as I moved from dorm rooms to starter apartments. I arranged fruit in it, and used it to serve food to guests. Though modest, it was a one-of-a-kind object that lent beauty and grace to any place I called home.

The upcoming Smithsonian Craft Show 2016 will be, as it always is, a celebration of just that transformative power of craft. Held at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C., April 21-24, the show includes one hundred and twenty-one craftspeople from around the United States. The annual show, first held in 1983, is one of the finest craft shows in the nation. For artists chosen to participate, it is a validation of their skill and creativity. This year eleven hundred craftspeople applied. The three distinguished jurors were charged with selecting artists who represent the best in their fields, whether the artists are mature masters or young innovators.

      At a time when it is easier than ever to acquire inexpensive, mass-produced clothing, jewelry, decorative and utilitarian household objets, the idea of making unique items from wood, clay, metal, fibers, glass, and other venerable craft materials can seem quaint. Manufacturers try hard to imitate real craft, though their machines can never really pull it off. No machine could ever imitate Lisa Sorrell’s skill and creativity at bootmaking. Sorrell, of Guthrie, Oklahoma, makes custom cowboy boots that no doubt will someday be in museums. She makes every bit of each boot from the colorful decorative designs on the shafts to the soles and heels. Like many artisans, she seems to have been born with gifted hands. She was making doll clothes at age twelve, and by fifteen was sewing professionally, making clothing for women in her church and prom dresses for high school girls.

“I find great satisfaction in creating functional objects,” says Sorrell. “Cowboy bootmaking appealed to me more than making clothing, because bootmaking is so physical and extremely complex. Every step in the process is a challenge, either physically or mentally.” She adds that she is “committed to the craft of cowboy bootmaking because I see myself as a link in a chain. Cowboy boots are a uniquely American craft, but it’s a craft that’s in grave danger of being lost. It has been passed along orally from bootmaker to apprentice. As I learned to make cowboy boots, I realized that I had a responsibility to learn the craft well and to pass it along to future generations.” Besides teaching and speaking on bootmaking, she produces instructional videos and is publishing a book.

If you know anything at all about the world of contemporary jewelry, Roberta and David Williamson need no introduction. The Ohio artists are among the most acclaimed jewelrymakers in the country, and their work is in the collections of major museums. In 2009 they were featured in the PBS series Craft in America. The Williamsons’ jewelry mixes a reverence for the natural world with poetic connections to home, garden and family. Crafted from found objects and antique images fabricated into sterling silver, their jewelry can conjure dreamy images of Emily Dickinson amidst the flora and fauna in her garden.

JULIE SHAW
 

Julie Shaw has been making and selling jewelry for most of her life. She grew up in Detroit and as a twelve-year-old had a job helping in the gift shop of the Cranbrook Institute of Science. She learned to polish the semiprecious stones sold there and was struck by their beauty. Soon she was making pendants out of rocks attached to chains. Remarkably, she talked the manager of her local dime store into offering her rock jewelry for sale. Later, in art colleges in Detroit and London, she studied painting and ceramics, and in her twenties supported herself selling paintings and beaded earrings at art fairs. When people started asking her to make wedding rings, she took a quick community center course in soldering and honed her skills on the job. In the thirty some years since then she has created production and one-of-a-kind jewelry, often based on her lifelong love of rocks and precious stones.

Shaw’s latest work is in enamel, which she learned to make a few years ago from her friend Barbara Minor, an enamelist and jewelrymaker. Shaw’s jewelry has an organic look that suggests the natural world. Yet her palette is brilliant and exuberant, as if she were looking at natural forms through a rainbow-tinted lens. “One reason I love the enamel is because I get to use color, and it takes me back to my days as a painter.”

K. Riley is another artisan who mixes formidable design and craft talents to create wearable art. Her jackets and coats are made of fabric she decorates with linoleum block prints of her own design. After decorating the cloth, she constructs the jackets. The sophisticated black, white and gray of her current collection suggests the graceful shape of traditional Japanese kimonos. The prints are inspired by botany and insects. Like many professional craftspeople, Riley started young. “I always loved making things,” Riley says. “My mother was a very talented dressmaker, I learned to sew from her. When I was a teenager I combined my love of sewing with my interest in printing and painting textiles. I’ve found joy in that same work all my life. I maintain a small studio with my sister as my assistant. I continue to make all the work myself, that’s where I find the joy.”

                                K. RILEY                                                      SUZYE OGAWA                                      BOYD SUGIKI AND LISA ZERKOWITZ

Riley is not daunted by competition from manufacturers. “Having more mass-produced things in the world makes it even more necessary for us to continue making well-considered, finely crafted items. The Arts and Craft Movement began in response to mass manufacturing. Everything from Etsy and the DIY movement to “slow foods” and “farm to table” has come from the need of people to find meaning in the products they use.”

Suzye Ogawa also knows something about mixing materials and techniques not often found in tandem. Her father owned a dental laboratory in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo when she was young, and she learned to cast metal in her father’s lab. She went on to a career as a public school speech pathologist, but in retirement returned to her interest in craft. Ogawa took a few basketmaking classes and “it was immediately clear that I wanted to combine lost wax castings with natural basketry materials and techniques. This work has evolved and now dominates and drives my creative spirit.”

My Laguna Beach bowl certainly had meaning in my life. I came from a family that set the table with the fancy dinnerware—which was grandmother’s porcelain from England—only for guests or holidays. The idea that everyday utilitarian things should be beautiful and well designed was completely foreign to me. In those days I would not have known what to make of Boyd Sugiki and Lisa Zerkowitz’s stream-lined, handblown glass goblets, martini glasses, vases, bowls, and cake plates. They make sorbet-colored glassware that nods to the modernist Italian and Scandinavian art glass of the mid-twentieth century. It is sleek, but gloriously cheerful. The couple met at the Rhode Island School of Design and established their studio and business in Seattle. They also make nonfunctional glass sculpture. One of their goals, they say, is “to produce beautiful handmade objects that people can live with each day and enjoy fully.”

MATT REPSHER

If Matt Repsher’s ceramics had been for sale at the Laguna craft fair forty-some years ago, I would have been intrigued. Repsher’s work is formal, structural and finished in muted, matte colors. He calls his current pieces “weed pots” because they are wide-bodied, narrow-necked ceramic vessels that could hold a single stem, a rose or a weed. That single stem would be without water, however. Like some of his other current forms the weed pots look composed of architectural elements that create the essential bones of a pot, rather than a fully fleshed out vessel. The pots are a contrast in the solidity of the clay and the adjacent open spaces. Repsher traces his fascination with ceramics to his father, who earned a master’s degree in ceramic art but later became a homebuilder. Repsher, soon to be based in Santa Fe, grew up surrounded by his dad’s ceramics, and says that his own work reflects an inherited interest in architecture and form.

SANDRA AND WENCE MARTINEZ

Sandra and Wence Martinez’s nearly thirty-year collaboration in art and in life is a fairy tale of what can happen when like-minded creative spirits join forces. Sandra was a young painter from Wisconsin whose small, abstract painting was carried to Oaxaca by a friend. The friend knew weavers in Oaxaca, and one of them, a young master weaver named Wence, translated the painting into a large weaving. When Sandra saw the weaving she was impressed. The rest is history. They arranged to meet, they fell in love, they married, and since 1994 the couple has maintained a workshop in Jacksonport, Wisconsin. Wence, who came from a Oaxacan family of master weavers, still translates Sandra’s artwork, which has references to plants, tribal art and myth, into weavings and tapestries made of hand-dyed, hand-spun wool. The Martinezes’ work is completely contemporary, yet grounded in tradition.

SARA DROWER

Contemporary craft has roots in traditional techniques, but it is by no means stuck in the past. Innovative craftmakers are using new technologies to expand the traditional craft idiom. Take Sara Drower, an Illinois printmaker and visual artist who started drawing and painting on fabric. She used those fabrics to make one-of-a-kind clothing for a while, then moved to quilts and wall hangings. Her latest work involves taking digital photos of urban scenes, transferring those images onto fabric via ink-jet printing, then quilting and beading the fabric. Her new works are small quilts, about a foot square. “I am fascinated by the quality of a photo that makes people look at it and want to know more about it,” says Drower. “So far, I have worked in a small format which requires a close look. I find that people are attracted to look at the images so I need to explain both the process and the thinking behind the work—all of which makes me try to understand what the creative process involves for both the viewer and the maker.”

My blue and yellow craft fair bowl was lost years ago during a cross-country move. But in the decades since I have tried to fill my life with handmade objects that reflect the creativity and skill of the artisans who make them—artisans such as the top talent assembled for the Smithsonian Craft Show. 

For more information on the Smithsonian Craft Show visit www.smithsoniancraftshow.org.

 

   GET INSPIRED!

 
 

Robin Updike is an arts writer and a longtime observer of the craft scene. Her preview of the Smithsonian Craft Show gave her the chance to interview some of the top-notch artisans selected for the show. Without exception, she was not only impressed with their work, but with their lifetime commitment to their craft and their ongoing efforts to fine-tune their skills. For instance, Julie Shaw began her life in art as a painter, then became a jewelrymaker whose work was in such demand that she started a production line and hired assistants. Well into middle age, Shaw decided to learn enameling, which she now uses to make gloriously colored jewelry. “I find that the best craftmakers are always looking for new ways to express themselves, regardless of the challenges involved,” says Updike. “It is inspiring.”

Tucson Gem & Mineral Show Volume 38.4

The Tucson Shows
Meeting Ground for the World

 

GUESTS OF WALKER QIN at the Azian Restaurant, mainly vendors from The Ethnographic Group at the Grand Luxe Hotel: Chaouki Daou (from Lebanon), Patrick R. Benesh-Liu, David and Marilyn Ebbinghouse, Bassem Elias, Thomas Stricker, Walker Qin (from Beijing), Jamey Allen, Robert K. Liu, and Lise Mousel. Photographs by Robert K. Liu and Patrick R. Benesh-Liu/Ornament except this image.

Downturns in global economies and the aging of collectors have seriously impacted the Tucson gem shows, especially for those dealing primarily in ancient and ethnographic ornaments. There has always been a certain amount of selling by visitors, which has probably increased, along with the disposal of collections by owners who have left the marketplace or died. Given the decreasing number of collectors and the changing demographics of buyers, the market for ancient and ethnographic jewelry is in considerable flux.

VISITORS AND VENDOR AT THE BALLROOM: Peter van der Wijngaart and Floor Kaspers (from Holland), vendor Thomas Stricker of TASART, Karen King and Kate Fowle Meleney, well-known American glass artist.

      The market for certain types of beads has shifted to China. Beads of natural materials that can be worn, such as amber, coral, stones, especially those with some relationship to Tibetan Buddhism, are sought after—none more than patterned stones such as dZi, other etched agates and pumtek. With etched agates and pumtek, there has been market manipulation with books containing information which may not be historically accurate. The Pyu culture of Burma may be the next to see such treatment (Qin, pers. comm.). Due to the savviness of many dealers, Africans and others have brought these desired ornaments to China, and many have turned their attention to this potentially lucrative market, especially if the Chinese begin to expand the number of collectors and their currently relatively restricted interests are broadened.

The Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (its popular moniker) is somewhat of a misnomer. It is better to think of the event as an umbrella, under which flourishes dozens of markets and fairs with different specialties. Some are purely for gem and stone buyers, including high-end vendors who target only the richest clients. Others have nothing to do with gems and minerals but sell tribal and ethnographic art, ancient beads and artifacts. Some shows focus on contemporary makers, with vendors selling supplies, tools, beads, and handmade jewelry to hobbyists and fashionistas seeking a little something special for their wardrobe, along with craft workshops catering to popular media like polymer, glass, metal, and beads.

DANNY LOPACKI AND ART SEYMOUR, good friends and respectively noted stone carver and chevron glass bead artist. Lopacki’s booth shows both of their work, as well as other beads.

In the Grand Luxe Hotel ballroom during 2015, as part of the Gem and Jewelry Show on Grant, six vendors made up The Ethnographic Group, including The Lindstrom Collection (Lise Mousel/Jamey Allen), David Ebbinghouse Fine Jewelry, Ancient Beads and Artifacts (Bassem Elias), Tasart LLC (Thomas Stricker), YoneSF (Sandra Fish), and the Indra Collection. Already known for the breadth and excellence of their offerings, the Lindstrom and Ebbinghouse booths added fine assembled jewelry from decades of collecting. This one room now shows ancient and ethnographic jewelry that is world class, a category that could be called hidden treasures. These are cultural goods of quality and rarity, deserving of serious study and efforts at preservation, but now are being or will be dispersed due to the passing of their owners or lack of institutions for housing and display. Also showing at the Grand Luxe was the work of many interesting dealers, like Pacific Artefacts, and including contemporary glass artist Art Seymour and stone carver Danny Lopacki.

PAULA RADKE ART GLASS AT THE RADISSON. She has long been associated with dichroic glass and is the developer of Art Glass Clay, a revolutionary way of making glass ornaments without the need of a torch.

To Bead True Blue and the Tucson Bead Show takes place at the Doubletree Reid Park and Radisson Suites Tucson, with the latter in the eastern outskirts of the city. Both shows are run under the auspices of Anna Johnson and her family, and host a wonderful mosaic of tool and supply vendors, ethnographic dealers, gem, mineral, and bead sellers, handmade glass bead artists, polymer artists like Klew, Christi Friesen and Yellow House Designs, and many workshops, like those by Kieu Pham Gray of Urban Beader and Paula Radke. During our visit, Radke demonstrated her Art Clay Glass, which can be fired in a microwave oven if placed in a ceramic fiber container, to enable a high heat buildup. Doug Baldwin taught photography; he has had many pupils in three and a half years. Workshops for popular media have been one of the fastest-growing areas of craft and vendor shows in the past decade, with To Bead True Blue and the Tucson Bead Show being no exception.

MIKA NISHIYAMA OF JAPAN, among a group of skilled Japanese glass beadmakers at the Tucson Glass Art and Bead Festival.

The Tucson Glass Art and Bead Festival had its first year in 2015, organized by Doug Harroun of Greymatter Glass. Those in the know are aware that the Festival basically picks up the reigns from noted boro artist and early bead show entrepreneur Lewis Wilson’s groundwork. Held now at the Sonoran Glass School, the show’s goal is to provide a marketplace for handmade glass artists in Tucson, and a number of bead artists signed onto the endeavor, including Bronwen Heilman, JC Herrell, Terri Caspary Schmidt, Patty Lakinsmith, and Donna Conklin. A group from Japan, spearheaded by Akihiro Okama and composed of glass bead and marble artists such as Takahiro Muto, an excellent crafter of fine borosilicate beads, and talented young artist Mika Nishiyama, was a welcome presence.

The Sonoran Glass School was also the venue for the Flame Off, a live competition for glass artists; exciting and fun to watch, augmented by good food and drink from food trucks on their grounds. Wilson was one such participant in the contest.

The Festival was also home to the Linda Sweeney Collection, an ambitious effort to create a contemporary glass bead museum based in Glorieta, New Mexico. Sweeney herself was present with several cases of the collection, which presented rather delightful examples from across the spectrum of contemporary bead designers.

Being in Tucson during the Gem & Mineral Show is like being in a city-wide carnival. One may see everything from treasures to trash, although one person’s trash may be another person’s treasure. If you have never visited, you owe it to yourself once in your life to attend this vast spectacle.


Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His new book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. In this issue he writes about the extraordinary crafting of Zhou Dynasty/Warring States faience, glass and other silicate ornaments, as well as their complexity. He and Patrick Benesh-Liu also cover the lively spectacle of the Tucson Gem Shows.


Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. Last year he attended “Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family” at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and found it an enchanting and thoughtfully produced experience. His coverage of the exhibition explores the work of the Yazzies, as well as expressing his appreciation for its presentation. In addition, he contributes his own perspective on the Tucson Gem & Mineral show. As Ornament’s resident reporter, he provides a zesty compilation of the latest craft News, where you can find out what is happening with art-to-wear in your local corner of the world.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show Volume 38.3

Each autumn as the days turn crisp freshened by the new season on the East Coast, one of the nation’s most treasured craft shows debuts in Philadelphia with thousands of attendees flooding Hall F inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Nearing four decades of presenting contemporary craft to both neophyte and connoisseur, the show is one of the primary fundraisers for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Purchases from the nearly two hundred exhibitors, whether a lustrous ceramic vessel by Cliff Lee, a breathtaking brooch by Judith Kinghorn or elegant handpainted garments by Kay Riley, not only help support the artist directly but also benefit the museum. Since its inception in 1977, the Women’s Committee who sponsors the show has contributed almost eleven million dollars to the museum in the form of educational programs, exhibitions and acquisitions for its permanent collection.

     The show is a panoramic example of the healthy, ever blossoming state of craft in America today and of artist contributions to the cultural innovations of this country. Artists prize the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, valuing not only its standards, quality and excellent reputation but for its encouragement and steady nurturance of contemporary craft in the United States.

FRANCESCA VITALI Rochester, New York

FRANCESCA VITALI
Rochester, New York

     In May of this year five jurors met to determine who of a thousand entrants would be admitted into the plentiful fourteen categories as defined by the committee—basketry, ceramics, emerging, fiber decorative, fiber wearable, furniture, glass, jewelry/precious, jewelry/semiprecious, metal, mixed media, paper, and wood. The one hundred ninety-five artists for 2015 were selected by invited jurors Lola Brooks, metalsmith; Sam Harvey, Co-Owner of the Harvey Meadows Gallery; Ronald Labaco, the Marcia Docter Curator of the Museum of Arts and Design; Don Miller, associate professor of The University of the Arts; and Tina Oldknow, senior curator of the Corning Museum of Glass. Work was judged according to an agreed upon assessment of the artist’s originality and innovation in a medium; the prominence of personal expression and creativity; by technical expertise and consistency of quality; and being of one-of-a kind or limited edition pieces in order to qualify.

One of the artists to this year’s show is Amy Nguyen. An award-winning textile artist, Nguyen has perfected her use of shibori in beautifully flowing silk organza coats and kimonos, ever graceful and always sensual. Her work rises to seemingly spiritual levels—an abstracted form of reverence and tribute to the world within us and to that which exists beyond. She is one who perhaps could not create without such a serene recognition, perhaps acceptance, of the indeterminate forces that drive us all. Otherwise her handwork would visibly lack the deliberative care and prayerful attitude brought to her cloth. Additionally, Nguyen’s painting of fiber is demonstratively compelling, another testament to her mastery. The dedication she brings to expressing her craft and the difficult bar set and met with each piece defines her as among the very best in the field.

JAMES PEARCE Peoria, Illinois

JAMES PEARCE
Peoria, Illinois

One of fourteen in the furniture category, James Pearce takes another path to functionality. Part of a fourth generation woodworking family, Pearce continues to explore the nature of wood through his inventive designs, while relying on traditional hand tools to aid their emergence in his custom fabrications. Fascinated by their grain, color and texture, he chooses not to stain his pieces to alter their natural state, preferring a wood’s natural warmth and color. Pearce’s wood is milled locally where he lives in Illinois, and he also uses local hardwood, like walnut, maple, cherry, and hickory. Alert to the advantage of propinquity, he sometimes gathers wood from trees that have been downed by storms in area fields. Pearce goes even further by making his own varnishes and applying a clear coat finish, a mixture of oil and varnish, to sustain the durability of a work and to bring out its particular glow.

Mary Jaeger’s rich repertoire of techniques do not reveal their diversity in her finished garments. Jaeger dyes, stitches, prints, pieces, shrinks, deconstructs—whatever it takes to arrive at what she envisions. It is critical to Jaeger that her textiles maintain their unique quality. Many of her coats employ quilting as part of the process. Jaeger has an inspired instinct for how the layering of cloth makes for warmth and comfort in wearing, and also how in its arrangement through interesting patterns and various textures there arises from within the garment a wholistic aesthetic and sophisticated sense of composing for the human form. She is in addition guided by a fluid sense of the possibilities of shaping and how color appears throughout a piece—that they can take many directions, not just the usual conventional path.

THOMAS HARRIS Bloomington, Indiana

THOMAS HARRIS
Bloomington, Indiana

Ceramist Thomas Harris lives on twenty wooded acres near Bloomington, Indiana, but it is in Bloomington itself where he keeps his studio and there uses wheelthrowing, handbuilding and slip casting to make his fascinating functional and nonfunctional works. Harris was educated in Arizona, receiving a bachelor of fine arts at Northern Arizona University and a master’s degree from the University of Arizona. Deconstructivist in ideation, his bowls, cups and teapots are brilliantly colored exercises in surface decoration—painterly splashes of bold in-your-face blues, yellows, greens, oranges. Harris says that he “looks for the unique in utilitarian forms, often misshaping the form after having thrown it.” Set off by a luminescent glow or polish, they appear to be some type of primeval, mysterious fruit or groves of extravagant wildflowers unfolding in the heat of the mid-day sun.

Another ceramist was born in Taiwan to a family that encouraged his artistic inclinations, and credits his Rhode Island School of Design education to introducing the possibilities of working in clay. “Clay is a very forgiving medium,” says Dwo Wen Chen. “For an undisciplined artist such as myself, it suits me perfectly. I can translate almost anything within my imagination using my hands and clay.” Chen has remained in Providence where he operates Three Wheel Studio, a gallery and studio showing his work and that of others. “I have become more comfortable in calling myself a studio potter,” says the artist. “It started one day when I opened my kiln and found an almost perfect little tea bowl with just the right glaze. To a potter, that was a perfect day.”

Honors, awards, grants, solo and group exhibitions, private and public collections, an author to boot (The Art of Basketry)—Kari Lonning’s resume is a prolific document of this successful working artist over a lifetime, in her instance dating to the early 1970s. Lonning weaves her baskets with natural rattan reed that is dyed by her with commercial, colorfast textile dyes to reach the depth of color so critical to their presentation (and to maintain their long life). Lonning is known for her “hairy” technique, a complex weaving process, where short pieces of reed are woven into the walls of the basket. They astonish the eye with their graphic complexity. She also favors spiral and vertical patterns in her designs and their distinctive coloration varies from bold to subtle. Her influences date from college days: she minored in textiles with a major in ceramics, and basketry, she says, became “the natural union of the two.” A favorite relaxation for Lonning, and a time of important inspiration for later creations, is to work in her Connecticut garden, usually assisted by her canine companion, an Old English Sheepdog named Emma.

PETRA CLASS San Francisco, California

PETRA CLASS
San Francisco, California

San Francisco artist Petra Class makes stunning jewelry in high karat golds and luscious gemstones—tourmalines, aquamarines, natural diamonds, lapis, sapphires, and more. Originally classically trained as a goldsmith in Germany, her techniques and aesthetics have been honed over her productive career. While the work employs methods and techniques she was taught, her jewelry is anything but formal and traditionally inspired. Rather it is emotive, jazzy, idiosyncratic, totally contemporary. The stone-set circles, squares, ovals, and rectangles appear to be improvisational collaged arrangements, but are in fact carefully designed for a unified effect. Class also brings bezel-setting to an impeccable new level and it brings as much to the overall composition as the beautiful stones.

Karen McCreary’s jewelry is a sensitive juxtaposition of color, transparency, light, mood, and illusion suffusing throughout her pendants, bangles and earrings. McCreary primarily uses transparent acrylic which she carves by hand and then layers with colored lacquer and twenty-two karat gold leaf. Her designs are influenced by a deep interest in science and technology and a passion for science fiction. In an earlier Ornament feature (Vol. 29, No. 3), McCreary related how much she strives to make jewelry that is “a reflection of me and the time I live in but has a timeless quality. I try to have a certain amount of balance between designs I can imagine and pieces that can actually be worn and comfortable on the body. For me that’s the reason to make jewelry.”

SCOTT AMRHEIN Sherwood, Wisconsin

SCOTT AMRHEIN
Sherwood, Wisconsin

Another completely alternative way of harnessing light is practiced by Sherwood, Wisconsin, artist Scott Amrhein. His slumped, kiln-formed glass vessels are extraordinary examples demonstrating how the reflective surfaces of glass are unique to the experience by which they are engaged: for example, time of day, whether morning or evening; seasonality, summer or winter; light source, natural or fluorescent. No two pieces of Amrhein’s are exactly alike but they all visually communicate a quietude and transcendence that is almost religious. Amrhein places his forms on pedestals, such as wood, copper and concrete, for support and to further emphasize their singular shape, but they also serve to draw one into the pieces, focusing the observer’s attention on his expert use of color, pattern and texture.

ANNINA KING Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

ANNINA KING
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania native Annina King lives in Huntingdon Valley, near Philadelphia where the craft show takes place, and where she received a master’s degree in fashion design from Philly’s Drexel University in 2005. In 2013 she opened Granaté Prêt, an artisanal clothing line also located in the city. King utilizes all kinds of materials: silk, wool, leather, linen, cotton, as well as some synthetic fibers. Her collections, based on a philosophy of making clothing for women that is graceful and feminine, evinces a personal confidence born through the unique quality of her designs. Drawing from the past as well as imagining the future, her sources include history, costume, illustration, and literature. “Structural Organic is a term I often think of,” King says, “as I strive to capture the spirit and forms in nature: leaf veins, branches and especially trees.” She integrates hand embellishment, intricate seaming, vintage techniques, and quirky hardware in her separates, coats, dresses, and tunics. Soft to the touch layers of hand-dyed silk chiffon, a long-romantic legacy of fashion, might be shocked into a startling modernistic lift with a visibly exposed zipper. Part of a welcome new generation of wearable artists, King’s explorations are refreshing re-interpretations of how it is possible to decorate ourselves.

During times like ours artists and their works help point the way to a more ennobling worldview of creation. It is helpful to remember the legacy passed on by artists of other times and places, and how contemporary makers challenge the status quo and memes of the day by their innovations and inspirations, just as their forbearers put forth. The handmade object is inextricably linked through the critical interrelationship of its form (through the way in which something is made) to its meaning (the purpose for which it is made), and from which an aesthetic arises. Craft transmits itself directly and immediately with timeless, inherent simplicity—the handmade object is beautiful not despite its usefulness but because of it.

 

Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s resident expert on contemporary wearable art. She gives her personal view on what is taking place in the current issue in Postscript on page 64. Benesh also writes about the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, one of her favorite craft events, where each year Ornament sponsors and selects the Award for Excellence in Art-to-Wear. She includes a report on the Saul Bell Design Award for 2015. The competition never fails to serve up a rich potpourri of decorative and functional objects, from the classically inspired to the avant garde.

International Folk Art Market Volume 38.2 Preview

International Folk Art Market

 
COTTON HUIPIL woven by Florentina Lopez de Jesus, Mexico. Photograph © by John Bigelow Taylor.

COTTON HUIPIL woven by Florentina Lopez de Jesus, Mexico. Photograph © by John Bigelow Taylor.

 

With breathtaking views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, for twelve years annually, Museum Hill in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has transformed itself into a colorful and lively outdoor world marketplace on Milner Plaza. For 2015, some one hundred fifty artists from fifty-seven countries present their handmade crafts to an audience of over twenty thousand visitors. For one weekend in July, the plaza is a vibrant, even overwhelming commingling of artists and an audience eager to partake of the cultural bounty that personal exchanges like this make possible. There are plenty of children’s events, dancing, a food bazaar, films, and music, but it is the handmade that is the seductive draw, and rightly so. People are still eager to appreciate and perchance to buy the works of individual craftspeople. The United States itself over the last decades has experienced an upswelling of just such an interest in craft made by its contemporary artists. So much so that American corporations have in the last years cannibalized the word ‘craft’ and it is used to define everything from beer to cars. Companies recognized and quickly seized on a powerful zeitgeist of value and authenticity the word communicates. There is a hunger out in the land for that which is real and genuine, and culturally and materially, it now drives for-profit decisions without true attachment to craft’s deeper meanings throughout human history.

 

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s resident expert on contemporary wearable art. This issue she presents to the Ornament readership the International Folk Art Market, now celebrating its twelfth year in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Market takes place on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill each July with one hundred fifty master artists from around the globe showcasing their handcrafted work. She also, as always, gives her own personal take on the issue in Postscript.

Smithsonian Craft Show 2015 Volume 38.1

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.

BETSY YOUNGQUIST: MIXED MEDIA

BETSY YOUNGQUIST: MIXED MEDIA

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.

MICHAEL BAUERMEISTER: WOOD

MICHAEL BAUERMEISTER: WOOD

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.

DEBORAH MUHL: BASKETRY

DEBORAH MUHL: BASKETRY

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.

KLAUS SPIES: JEWELRY

KLAUS SPIES: JEWELRY

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.

RAJ KOMMINENI: GLASS

RAJ KOMMINENI: GLASS

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.