And the Award Goes To...

And the Award Goes To...

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ACC Executive Director Chris Amundsen, Susan Mahlstedt, and juror Mark Pharis

At every American Craft Council show, the ACC gives out Awards of Excellence to a group of exceptional exhibitors, who are selected by guest jurors. It's a thrilling event: Show-goers gather with jurors and ACC staff, then everyone marches off in a grand parade to surprise the winners in their booths.

This year in St. Paul, ceramic artist Mark Pharis was the juror. Pharis, a one-time student of Warren MacKenzie, is an esteemed professor at the University of Minnesota, where he has taught in the department of art since 1985. He has exhibited and taught across the country, and his work is in the collections of numerous museums, such as Victoria and Albert (London), Arizona State University, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He brought a great deal of insightful observation to his Awards of Excellence selections, who are...


Susan Mahlstedt, jeweler and metalsmith, whose hand-fabricated jewelry captured Pharis' attention with its subtle detail and precise craftsmanship. Her booth was the first stop on the Awards of Excellence walking tour. "Jewelry is not my field, but I was moved," Pharis said, comparing some of the pieces to Persian miniatures. Quiet work like this can be at a disadvantage in a crowded exhibition hall, but spend a little time with Mahlstedt's jewelry, and "it reveals itself," he said. "It deserves more attention."

Next up, Lynn Joris Reintsema and K. Meta Reintsema's clothing earned Pharis' admiration. He praised their clean designs and mastery of medium. "I was struck by the simplicity and directness," he said -- these are women who know their materials and treat them in a careful and respectful manner. In the elegant drape of their jackets, vests, shirts, and scarves, Pharis spotted architectural, modernist, and Asian influences.

Then, in a celebration of work not-at-all-quiet, Pharis gave his final award for craftsmanship to B.J. Christofferson, who takes saints, symbols, and all manner of iconography, cuts those allegorical images from paper, and creates joyous and mysterious 3D vignettes. Her collage work is at once reverent and irreverent, said Pharis, noting that that balance is no small feat. In addition to making her fabulous art, Christofferson owns Secret Heart Gallery in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.

To cap off the tour, Pharis led the group to Ikuzi Teraki and Jeanne Bisson's Romulus Craft booth, which received the award for booth design. Pharis - clearly with an artist's eye - praised the makers' skillful display of porcelain plates, mugs, bowls, and vases. Niches in the walls and understated wooden shelves provide subtle framing for objects.With its neutral colors and simple materials, the booth allows the work itself to be the celebration, Pharis said.

To watch videos of Mark Pharis speaking about each award winner, click here.