The exhibition Craft in America: Expanding Traditions is on view through September 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR, and then travels to additional cities. It is accompanied by a major publication that hits bookstores in the fall and a three-part television series airing on PBS stations. All are projects of Craft in America Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring craft in the United States. For more information visit www.craftinamerica.org.
Basket #2004-5, Birch Bark/Silk Thread, 13 x 13 3/4 x 13 3/4 by Dona Look
Handcrafted objects have been created by every civilization since the beginning of time. These artifacts are not only essential to daily existence, they are also a culture’s tribute to its own character and place in history; they embody the desire to remember, reflect, and connect—serving as bridges between individuals, community, and the environment. The exhibition Craft in America: Expanding Traditions provides the opportunity to examine how compelling and thought-provoking craft objects produced in the 20th century—including a range of everyday objects of use and extraordinary objects of contemplation—extend the historical traditions and cultural lineage. These innovative and vital objects also reveal how craft taps into, and shapes, wider cultural streams, flowing freely into the broader narrative of contemporary art.
The crafts have played a significant role in the social, cultural, and artistic history of 20th-century America. These artifacts resonate simultaneously on multiple levels: as utilitarian objects that
Tiara of Useful Knowledge, Silver/Gold, Transforms into Brooches, Stick Pins, Tie Tack, Pendant, and Headband, by Jan Yager
demonstrate the marriage of functionality and creativity; as cultural identifiers; as objects of significant aesthetic importance; and as political expression.
This landmark historical survey features 150 exemplary works that celebrate the aesthetic achievements in the field. Spanning more than one hundred years, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, the exhibition explores the many cultures and movements that have contributed to the development and refinement of American crafts during the last century. Integrating the various media of handcrafted furniture, ceramics, fiber and textiles, basketry, glass, wood, jewelry, and metal, the exhibition will represent a broad base of makers.
The exhibition is developed around three themes: Memory/Tradition, Community/Culture, and Landscape/Nature. The section on Memory/ Tradition will elucidate how craft objects become immutable evidence of our past. Made by hand to be part of our everyday lives, they recall personal stories of the maker, of the collector, and of who we are as people. They are more than our history; they are the memory of our culture.
Double Rocker by Sam Maloof
The section on Landscape/Nature will examine the interdependent and often tumultuous relationship craft makers have with their physical and personal environment: the exterior landscape of the natural and built environment, and the interior landscape of personal narrative and identity. This section will feature works that embody the power, beauty, and fragility of the natural world.
The historical framework of the exhibition is meant to be more impressionistic than linear, as the story of American craft unfolds through the placement of objects that are arranged by visual and conceptual connections rather than straightforward chronological relationships. For example, in the section on Memory/Tradition, a humble utilitarian Appalachian high-back chair serves as the starting point of a traditional cultural object. A variation of this chair is also created by the Shakers, who elegantly refined its structural components. The form is then manipulated by designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement who emphasized its hand-sewn qualities and emphatic joinery, proclaiming objects made by hand to be morally superior to those industrially produced… -Excerpt by Jo Lauria
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