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This Month in American Craft Council History: December 2012

This handblown glass ornament by Richard Marquis, was selected as one of the 100 decorations created especially by American craftspeople for the Mondale family Christmas tree in 1977.
Artists working on a project at the School for American Craftsmen, Rochester, New York, c. 1953
Recipe for Kiln-Baked Potatoes by enamelist Ellamarie Woolley from The Craftsman's Cookbook, published by the ACC in December 1972.

This handblown glass ornament by Richard Marquis, was selected as one of the 100 decorations created especially by American craftspeople for the Mondale family Christmas tree in 1977.

Photo gallery (7 images)

This is the last in our 2012 monthly series looking back through the American Craft Council archives to uncover interesting, little-known (yet culturally significant) events that took place over the course of the organization’s 70-year history. December was a particularly active month, with the launch of a pioneering craft school, a major woodworker’s retrospective, a crafty cookbook, and holiday craft traditions at the vice presidential mansion.

December 1944
The first student, a New Hampshire marine discharged after combat injuries, arrives at Dartmouth to attend the School for American Craftsmen (SAC), the new name given to the Rehabilitation Training Program sponsored by the American Craftsmen’s Educational Council (today known as the American Craft Council) and the Dartmouth College Student Workshop. In a speech ACC founder Aileen Osborn Webb gave on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the SAC, she said the following about its founding:

At the time…I helped with America House, and I remember one day I was called into the front of the shop. Someone had insisted on seeing me. It turned  out to be a very valuable and somewhat crazy GI. He urged me to buy a big house in his hometown and open a craft school. Frankly, I had never thought of  developing a school, and I focused on it all night. Early the next morning I telephoned David Campbell, who was a wonderful guy. … I told him about the idea. He was a very enthusiastic person, and he worked quickly. He took fire in the idea and said, “I will talk to Virgil Poling,” who had  a big woodworking shop at his disposal. He was the head of the extracurricular activities at  Dartmouth. This gave us a big start. There were empty buildings and the students were away. … It [the SAC] opened in quarters assigned to us by Dartmouth with the help and sponsorship of president Mark Hopkins. Our first student was a Seabee who during the war had hurt his back. He had been a carpenter in the Navy and would have liked to be a ceramist in real life.

The SAC is still flourishing today as part of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, where the school made its permanent home in 1949.

December 12, 1958
The landmark retrospective exhibition, “The Furniture and Sculpture of Wharton Esherick” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City. Esherick is best known for creating unique sculptural forms with wood, including furniture and functional objects. The exhibition featured commissioned work created from the 1930s to 1950s.

An article in the New York Times published on December 30, 1958, highlighted not only the importance of a retrospective on one of the 20th century’s most notable woodworkers, but also the functionality of Esherick’s objects. The article notes humorously that many families would be doing without while the bowls, chairs, and dining tables they use in daily life were on loan to the museum. Esherick is quoted in the paper saying, “Why, we reached for something the other day and remembered it was in New York!” The exhibition was on view at the museum through February 15, 1959.  Works from the Esherick retrospective and the catalog can be found in the ACC Library Digital Collections.   

December 1972
The ACC publishes The Craftsman’s Cookbook, which has 192 pages and 160 recipes gathered from craftsmen, in conjunction with the MCC exhibition “Objects for Preparing Food” (September 22, 1972 - January 1, 1973). Lois Moran, who compiled the recipes into the book, acknowledges in the introduction that “This book was done in salute to American craftsmen, not alone because they are so often inventive cooks, but because they are very special people.”

Recipes in The Craftsman’s Cookbook include an “Omelet with Yoghurt and Alfalfa Sprouts” from ceramist Paul Soldner, “Two Craftsmen’s Sauerbraten” from textile artists Cynthia Schira and Marilyn Pappas, “Sourdough Pancakes” from metalsmith Ronald Pearson, and “Kiln-baked potatoes” from enamelist Ellamarie Woolley, along with intriguing selections from many other prominent craftspeople of the 20th century. 

December 1977
For the first time the vice presidential mansion Christmas trees were decorated with the finest in American handcrafted ornaments, thus becoming known as the "creativity trees." The objects were specially designed by craft makers across the county in a variety of media. Joan explained in 1978, "This holiday tree celebrates the vitality and creativity of the American imagination. This tree is also a reminder of the tradition of exchanging and displaying one's handmade creations with family and friends at holiday time."

The variety of ornaments reflected the endless creativity in the craft movement: a stitched, hand-dyed angel; a ceramic Santa riding a polka-dot kayak in highly glazed clay; a striped, woven and crocheted icicle; cornhusk dolls; trumpeting angels of bread dough, and other equally stunning items in wool, silk, linen, wood, metal, and paper. For more information on Joan Mondale and the “creativity trees”, visit this history lesson from former archivist intern Kat Oosterhuis. 


This Month in ACC History" takes a look at events from the American Craft Council's 70-year history that shaped not only the organization but also the contemporary craft movement in America. Stay tuned for more craft history tidbits coming your way in 2013 and, in the meantime, check out our new weekly feature Throwback Thursday to view additional images from the ACC Archives and Digital Collections! 


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