Smithsonian Craft Show 2018 Volume 40.3

JIYOUNG CHUNG

Smithsonian-Craft-Show-Cover.jpg

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!

 
 

Jill-DeDominicis_Contributor.jpg

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.

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.”

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.”

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.