Masters: Sara S. Morgan

Masters: Sara S. Morgan

Aileen Osborn Webb Award for Philanthropy
Sara S. Morgan

Morgan and her co-founder’s earliest idea was more modest – but it quickly became clear that Houston would rally behind a venue for museum-quality craft.

Robert Seale

Today, Houston is a hot spot for contemporary craft. In 1998, when Sara S. Morgan and her husband, Bill, first moved back to the city after living in Kansas City, that wasn’t necessarily the case. “I was surprised,” she recalls. “There was very little craft being shown.”

At the time, her daughter, a new graduate of Kansas City Art Institute, was looking for studio space in Houston. Her search gave Morgan and her friend Ann Shaw Lancaster an idea – one that grew more ambitious by the moment: What if they could rally donors to buy and renovate a building? What if they offered studio space for artists working not in a particular medium, but in an array of them? What if that cross-pollinating setup had an exhibition space, too, and a shop? And most presciently: What if it were a place where the public could come see artists at work, come experience the magic of making?

“We talked to artists, gallery owners, collectors – everybody seemed to think that this was a really great idea,” Morgan says. Three years later, in September 2001, the co-founders opened the doors of the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.

The center’s – and thus Morgan’s – impact on local, regional, and national contemporary craft cannot be underestimated. Morgan and Lancaster set the bar high from the start; for its opening show, HCCC brought in “Defining Craft 1” organized by the American Craft Museum (now the Museum of Arts and Design).

Today, with its robust residency program, educational opportunities, and innovative exhibitions, the small-but-mighty HCCC is among an elite handful of organizations in the United States exclusively devoted to craft – playing an essential role in cultivating the next generation of makers and helping ensure that material culture continues to flourish.

For Morgan, who has taken a step back from day-to-day operations, but still serves on HCCC’s board, it is – and always has been – a labor of love. “In past years, I’ve been more involved in social-service-type organizations, in policy organizations,” she says. “And I have to say, as much as I got out of those, I had never experienced the pure joy of being involved in the arts.”

Tireless advocate: Morgan has given her time to nonprofit, civic, and political organizations for more than 50 years. She currently serves on the board of the Houston Grand Opera and the Kinder Institute for Constitu­tional Democ­racy at the University of Missouri, and is a life trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She is a past board member of the Children’s Museum of Houston, the American Craft Council, and Girls Inc., among other organizations.

Innovative vision: When HCCC opened, its design broke the mold, putting artists’ studios front and center – the first thing you see when you walk through its doors. “We wanted something different,” Morgan recalls, “an atmosphere where making was the important thing – and where people could come and witness that.”

Team effort: “Ann and I may have been the co-founders, but HCCC would definitely not have happened if it had not been for a lot of other people,” Morgan says firmly. “That old saying, ‘It takes a village’? It truly does. And this child has been raised very well by the village.”

Hometown pride: “It’s such a can-do city,” Morgan says of Houston. “If you’ve got a good idea, and you’re willing to work for it, you can do anything.”

Read more about the 2016 American Craft Council Awards and winners.