SmithSonian Craft Show 2011

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					    The two main choices for craft shows are specialization and balance; to either focus
     strongly on an established audience or to stir the pot. Neither of these need to be
          exclusive choices; treading a middle ground might be the better answer.

SmithSonian Craft Show 2011

                                                                                                       LIZ ALPERT FAY
                                                                                    BRIAN BEAM

                                    LAURA BREITMAN

                                                     GUSTAV REYES

                  NICARIO JIMENEZ

                                                                                                         ANDREA HANDY

                                         JOH RICCI

                 ROBYN NICHOLS

                                                                                                 CHRIS WHEELER

                                                                    LISA SORRELL

                                                                                   Patrick R. Benesh-Liu

april 14 – 17
national Building muSeum
waShington, d.C.

       he craft world is dealing with a generational shift that has
       all the inexorability of time itself. A new crop of craft
       artists, encouraged in their artistic pursuits by their peers
and the camaraderie of community offered by the Internet,
are creating a new craft movement, one that is decentralized                                              JOHN IVERSEN

and widespread. More than that, it offers a different avenue
for young artists, who can exhibit and market their work among
themselves and their age group rather than proceeding into
the more established professional arenas.                                  The jewelry of Mayra Orama Muñiz and Erica Millner is
     Inevitably as this new movement grows, however, the best          another welcome stirring of the pot. Their geometric, architectural
of these artists will want to progress. With this growing              work seems like it would be made with metal, but in fact
population, the traditional craft shows face difficult choices. In     utilizes a combination of precious metal and wood. Their
most cases, long-time craft artists continue to improve in             bracelets have sculptural elements, such as a three-part bangle
their work; thus, carrying out a complete turnover of exhibitors       that features each of the three curving arches interlocking into
loses a large pool of talent. However, there are unmistakable          a single smooth piece that has a sense of rotational power.
gems among the up and coming, and the introduction of new              Their geode-like necklace has a satisfying heft of shape, with each
artists helps keep the line-up fresh. The two main choices for         wooden “bead,” matte charcoal black, populated by dots of
craft shows are specialization and balance; to either focus strongly   silver to break up monotony. The use of wood stems from
on an established audience or to stir the pot. Neither of these        their first craft fairs in Puerto Rico, where they began their
need to be exclusive choices; treading a middle ground might           career. “There were many ‘rules’ about making crafts that
be the better answer.                                                  reflected the historical crafts of the island. Artisans were
     In 2011, the Smithsonian Craft Show is approaching                accepted to craft fairs based on their use of traditional materials.
this issue for the first time. Most craft shows have a section for     We started using seeds from palm trees and vines to create
emerging artists, but in recognition of the volume of craft            our jewelry. Many people were doing the same thing so we
artists out there, nearly half of this year’s one hundred twenty       started using exotic woods that were readily available. We
exhibitors for the Smithsonian Craft Show are new. Most still          would go to the local wood mill and select the pieces that
have five or more years of exhibiting experience. While many           would otherwise be burned or discarded. The wood was so
of them are younger artists, some are those who have been              unbelievably beautiful that we were inspired to use its grain,
trying to enter for years.                                             tone and color to create sculptural jewelry.”
     This certainly changes the show’s dynamic and feel. The               Muñiz and Millner have been doing art fairs for years
most apparent difference is the utilization of alternative             in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. Having begun their jewelry careers in
materials, and the novel approaches to the medium. Kaoru               1998, they attended roughly fifty art fairs every year in a wide
Izushi’s knitted fashion is a trailblazer for the potential of         range of locales, from the Museum of Art in San Juan to “a
this new generation; sensuous, hip, with shapes and draping            dusty field in Moca.” As with Kaoru Izushi, Muñiz and Millner
reminiscent of traditional East Asian cultures, all rendered           show that there is a sizeable pool of artists who have plenty of
in natural fibers run through the knitting machine. Her work           experience in shows yet only now have gained the opportunity
is currently unimitable, not by quality of craft nor rarity of         to attend a higher venue, about which they are similarly
material, but rather its originality, clever inspiration from          enthusiastic. “We are very grateful and excited,” Millner says.
traditional elements, strength of design, and functionality.           For Millner and Muñiz, the Smithsonian Craft Show gave them
Though Japanese, Izushi seems to have taken influences from            an excuse to experiment with their work and push the edge
Korean dress. Her jackets resemble chogori, small Korean               of their artistic envelope.
coats that for women only extend to the armpits, and are tied              Glass artists Jeremy Newman and Allison Ciancibelli create
across the front by a bow.                                             luminescent sculptures that resemble colorful chimaeric
                                                                                                                                              33 ORNAMENT 34.3.2011

     As far as her acceptance, Izushi is overwhelmed. She is no        beach stones, the rare treasures of the mundane. Taking their
stranger to craft shows: “Including small local shows, I’ve been       inspiration from the local landscape of their home in North
showing more than fifteen years,” Izushi explains. However, this       Central Washington, Newman and Ciancibelli’s artist statement
is the first time she has been admitted to the Smithsonian. “I am      points out, “It is in these lowlands that we find our voice,
very excited about it. My dream has come true,” Izushi says.           exploring the intersection of the native landscape and the
                                                                                              established artists who still make up half the Smithsonian’s
                                                                                              exhibitors, and continue to create outstanding work. John
                                                                                              Iversen, veteran metalsmith and exhibitor at the Smithsonian
                                                                                              Craft Show, is an elegant example. Iversen’s work is that sublime
                                                                                              convergence between aesthetic and technique. His leaf motifs,
                                                                                              an iconic facet of his portfolio, stand out in white silver as if
                                                                                              they were petrified. Veins and filaments are gloriously
                                                                                              rendered. And Iversen has continued to explore new directions
                                                                                              in his work.
                                                                                                   Similarly, the jewelry of Ken Loeber and Dona Look shows
                                      MICHAEL BROLLY                                          the maturation that requires significant time and effort to
                                                                                              achieve. Loeber and Look’s work has focused on textural
                                                                                              qualities, but more recently Ken Loeber has begun a series
                        influence of man in transforming that landscape.” The frosted         playing with the concept of shadow, foreground and background.
                        glass sculptures, often mounted on rusted metal planks or             Coral branches, accentuated by a gold leaf or a single pearl,
                        pieces of wood, certainly evoke that poignant sensation of            backed with a dark, sterling silver silhouette, become a poignant
                        woodpost fences, rusty barbed wire, and the hills and fields          three-dimensional structure.
                        of Washington. “We have been working with blown glass for                  Loeber and Look’s admission to the Smithsonian again
                        fourteen years and showing it nationally for the past ten years,”     this year is well deserved. Dona Look received a United States
                        Newman says. “As young emerging artists we are excited to be          Artist Fellowship grant in 2010 which was very helpful in
                        able to show our work to such a sophisticated clientele.”             giving a creative boost to the artists. Look explains, “It encouraged
                              Chandra Stubbs is a mixed-media artist who is also joining      both me and Ken to focus on doing our best work and
                        the Smithsonian show for the first time, although she has             gave us the opportunity to experiment on new ideas with less
                        presented her work in other craft shows as many other new             financial stress.”
                        arrivals have. Stubbs’s work is built upon her ceramics                    Rod Creegan and Ignatius Givens are veteran milliners
                        training, but takes a completely different direction due to her       whose braided fiber hats play significantly with shape. Truly
                        interest in fabric. Merino wool felt is the medium for a bold         sculptural pieces, the stiff nature of fiber weaving with straw
                        palette of colors. Making the ceramic-enshrined equivalent of         or raffia allows very complicated forms to be produced. While
                        a wall hanging, the pieces Stubbs makes are bright and vibrant.       the iconic farmer’s straw hat may be made from the same
                        Her work is like an orderly Jackson Pollock, where the paint          material, Creegan and Givens illustrate just how far the boundaries
                        splashes are instead layers of dyed felt, set into conscribed         can be pushed: a mountain of leaves surmounted by a small
                        ceramic circles rather than blotting themselves across a canvas.      beehive becomes a cone-like cap, while something like a multi-
                              For Stubbs, Smithsonian has been a goal post to reach for       tiered fedora with thick braiding experiments with a standard
                        years. “Smithsonian Craft Show, it kind of says it all. I’m not       shape to produce something unusual and stylish. That most of
                        going to lie, I was ecstatic that I got in and have been trying       their work exists in a mono-colored oeuvre of straw-yellow
                        to reach this point in showing my art since day one,” Stubbs          presents a type of incongruity—that of innovative form paired
                        explains. “I have applied for the past five years, and even when      with a traditional folk medium.
                        I saw the acceptance letter I still could not believe it. There            This is the simple truth which not only Iversen, Creegan,
                        comes a certain validation with being selected to present             Givens, Loeber and Look, but many other established artists
                        work in such a prestigious show. And with this validation comes       prove: that there is no expiration date on good craft. This
                        a new sense of spirit and creativity.”                                demonstrates the value and necessity of finding ways to
                              Stubbs has a particularly cogent perspective on the multi-      encourage the presence of both groups, the established and
                        disciplinary craft that is appearing more and more at craft shows     the emerging. Going too far in one direction or another, at the
                        like the Smithsonian. “I have been doing shows since 2001, but        very least, reduces the diversity of the craft work.
                        feel I have really caught my stride the past three years after I           In a description of their work, Newman and Ciancibelli
                        left behind my label as a ceramic artist and have embraced the        write, “Blackbirds flocking to a lone cottonwood tree, a full
                        world of mixed-media. I have never liked labels, and as far           September moon signaling the harvest, straw bales left to rot
34 ORNAMENT 34.3.2011

                        as the future of cross-disciplines in the world of craft I think we   in a farmer’s field, an abandoned fence line of weathered posts.
                        are going to see a lot more. Artists and craftsmen I talk with        These simple, abstract images present to the viewer a single
                        are doing the same, and I think it is a natural progression.”         moment in time, but a more elaborate storyline lies in the
                              While these new arrivals are stimulating for their own sake,    periphery. The narrative tells of the cycles and the seasons
                        it is something that should be considered in addition to those        that inform and direct our daily lives.” Newman and Ciancibelli’s
                                                                                KATE BISHOP

                                       GINA PANNORFI

                                                                                                                         SELMA KARACA


                                                                  EMANUELA AURELI

                                                                                                                       KATHLEEN NOWAK TUCCI

                               KAORU IZUSHI

                                                     GAIL CROSMAN MOORE

  statement about their art is a good metaphor for the current          alike, a show like the Smithsonian represents a major and vital
  craft world at large. The seasons are changing; unlike the            source of income. The livelihood of a craft artist is difficult
  relatively small pool of dedicated craftspeople who have made         whether they are just starting out or have been in the field for
  up the community for decades, the near future will see an             decades, and the influx of new artists into Smithsonian
  explosion in population.                                              necessarily displaces many of these incredible artists.
      The Smithsonian Women’s Committee has made a big step                   The likeliest answer is the happy medium; a place to bring
  this year in trying to address these concerns. How future             in new artists into the circuit, while slowly accruing its own
  shows will go is an interesting question; will half of the show       stable of excellent artisans from those who have and continue
  continue to be first-time exhibitors? What will happen to             to pass through. Even as American art education receives
  those who exhibited this year? Who, out of the quite extensive        severe cutbacks, there are legions of young artists out there; it
  pool of skilled craft artisans, will be picked for that other half?   is clear that the pool of talented craftspeople in the near future
  The Smithsonian’s decisions will determine the future nature          will be larger than it is today. One way or another, these artists
                                                                                                                                             35 ORNAMENT 34.3.2011

  of the show. This depends on what the goal will be. Is it now         will need a door into the show circuit, and the craft shows will
  a showcase for new talent?                                            need this talent to remain connected to a new generation of
      While this may seem to be a simple answer, it is important        craft buyers. Perhaps the new incarnation of the Smithsonian
  to understand that for emerging and established craft artists         will serve as this vital gateway.

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