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Published on Saturday, June 25, 2016. This article appears in the June/July 2016 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Author Staff
Craft for a Modern World: The Renwick Gallery Collection

Craft for a Modern World: The Renwick Gallery Collection

Mark LaFavor

Craft for a Modern World: The Renwick Gallery Collection
By Nora Atkinson
D Giles Limited, $55

The digital age is changing how we think. This is a generally accepted fact, but one rarely illustrated as elegantly – and optimistically – as Nora Atkinson has achieved with Craft for a Modern World.

When Atkinson joined the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in 2014, the institution was under renovation; as the new Lloyd Herman curator of craft, she was charged with the reinstallation of its permanent collection, opening in July. Inspired by the hyper-linked web, she developed a nonlinear exhibition format that encourages exploration and the forging of connections.

This catalogue follows suit. Atkinson presents traditionally “unrelated” works side by side, drawing readers into a thrilling process of discovery – the conversation between Mary Jackson’s Low Basket with Handle and Mary Lee Hu’s Choker (#38), the common language of Marc Maiorana’s Renwick Gate and Joshua DeMonte’s Curtains and Balcony Bracelet. The layouts also feature tantalizing grayscale details of other works, identified with plate numbers, enticing readers to roam serendipitously throughout the volume.

Instead of bemoaning shrinking attention spans, Atkinson invites us to bounce around – and, in doing so, creates profound engagement. ~Julie K. Hanus

Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art
By Claire Wellesley-Smith
Batsford, $30 

The idea of sitting down and creating a textile work by hand, one stitch at a time, is a notion at odds with the haste with which the world moves today. Spend a moment with Claire Wellesley-Smith’s ruminative Slow Stitch, however, and you may find yourself in search of a needle and thread. Wellesley-Smith is a UK-based artist and educator, and her observations of the social, environmental, and health benefits of a “less is more” approach to creativity are a welcome change from other how-to books on the market. Instead of prescriptive projects, Slow Stitch swells with well-researched information on sustainable materials, seasonal dyeing, and stitching techniques, as well as an introduction to community-based textile practice and profiles of talented international artists. With its focus on simplicity, a “whole process” approach, and reflection, Slow Stitch is a praiseworthy text for beginning and experienced makers alike. ~Jessica Shaykett

American Studio Ceramics: Innovation and Identity, 1940 to 1979
By Martha Drexler Lynn
Yale University Press, $65

An enormous compilation of information about a pivotal period in studio ceramics, Martha Drexler Lynn’s new book has two primary strengths: superb photo quality, making it a beautiful tome, and a West Coast – specifically Californian – emphasis that deeply explores that rich lode. Those seeking particulars of the work won’t find a great deal here, however; Lynn is focused on context, and she thoroughly outlines changes in exhibition practices, educational philosophy, and institutional development. She emphasizes biographies of makers and focuses on ceramics identified as art by museums. (She is a former museum curator.) The 418-page book does contain some minor factual errors, and its academic structure makes it repetitive. But an aggregation such as this, demonstrating extensive research in secondary sources, nonetheless lays groundwork for future stylistic analysis and gives a sense of how we got to where we are. ~Janet Koplos