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This Month in American Craft Council History: September 2012
Historical events in Septembers past at the ACC have included the opening of a museum, the first regional exhibition, Paul J. Smith's retirement, and a big gift to the library. Here are this month's ACC history highlights:
September 20, 1956
The Museum of Contemporary Crafts opened with the exhibition “Craftsmanship in a Changing World,” featuring 314 objects by 180 craftsmen from 19 states. The exhibition was designed to feature the work of the craftsman in both established and experimental forms. Aileen Osborn Webb wrote in the forward to the exhibition catalog that the MCC highlights the renewal of the human creative equation of the individual: “It is a visible and tangible proof that mankind lives not by bread alone but by the flowering of the spirit as well. It is an assertion that the crafts are more than the work of busy hands but are indeed a form of creative activity and a part of the total art picture.” The opening of the MCC was the crowning activity of 16 years of work, and for more than three decades was a vital part of the ACC’s program to raise standards of excellence in the crafts, to enhance public appreciation of the crafts, and to help develop markets for professional craftsmen. Many ACC services and activities stemmed from the exhibitions shown in MCC’s space.
The first Council-sponsored regional exhibition, “Contemporary Craftsmen of the Far West,” premiered at the MCC. Regional chapters of the ACC were highly active in the 50s through the 70s, putting on conferences, craft fairs, newsletters, and exhibitions highlighting the talents of craftsmen in a particular area of the country. Stephen De Staebler, June Schwarcz, and Paolo Soleri were just a few of the west coast artists featured in “Contemporary Craftsmen of the Far West.” By building a strong regional presence, the American Craftsmen’s Council could acknowledge and trace how the work of the American craftsman was affected by the diverse and cultural influences of their localities. Another purpose was to bring national attention to worthy craftsmen whose reputation had been restricted to their regions. The regional ACC Craftsmen Trustees largely did the development of this exhibition.
Paul J. Smith, director of the American Craft Museum since 1963, retired and was named director emeritus, ending a 30-year career at the Council. Smith joined the staff in 1957 to develop traveling educational exhibitions. In 1963, he was appointed director and assumed full responsibility for planning future exhibition programs, both traveling and for the MCC. Smith curated many noteworthy exhibitions, including “Designed for Production: The Craftsman’s Approach,” “Objects: USA,” and “Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical.” He was known for his receptiveness to new ideas, many of which were suggested to him by the crafts community, and his instinctive sense of taste and flair for installation, which placed him in a central role in the craft world’s evolving redefinition of itself. Arline Fisch, jewelry artist and former ACC trustee wrote, “Paul Smith’s direction of the museum clearly shaped the public’s awareness and perception of the developing craft movement in the United States as well as some of its background and history from around the world.” Smith now has an independent consulting service to the field, has authored numerous publications, and is a well-known juror and speaker.
The American Craft Council Library received a gift of 349 volumes from the estate of renowned stained glass artist Robert Sowers, adding to significant donations made in 1990 by Ed Rossbach and Mildred Constantine. A benefit that same year raised $96,000 to support library programs. Sowers had a solo exhibition of his stained glass panels at the MCC in 1975, which later became a traveling exhibition. Widely considered one of America’s finest contemporary stained glass artists, Sowers wrote several scholarly books and articles on stained glass, which can also be found in the ACC Library.
“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.