Craft Highlights of 2018

Craft Highlights of 2018

Published on Thursday, December 27, 2018.
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2018 Creative Commons graphic
Creative Commons

It’s hard to sum up a year, but a number of leaders of craft institutions and organizations took up the challenge. We asked them to describe the biggest developments and events of 2018.

Leadership and Institutions
The year saw a perhaps unprecedented changing of the guard, says Perry Allen Price, who leads the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. New executive directors were appointed at the American Craft Council, Museum of Arts and Design, Pilchuck Glass School, Fuller Craft Museum, Center for Art in Wood, and North Bennet Street School. Searches for new leaders are under way at the Society of Arts and Crafts and Art Jewelry Forum.

Other milestones involved new names. The Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, led by Suzanne Isken, is now Craft Contemporary. The Society of Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh is now simply Contemporary Craft. And you can’t use “CCCD” anymore to describe the place in Asheville, North Carolina, that supports craft research and professional development; now it’s the Center for Craft.

Cultural Reach
With all of these shifts comes new hopes for broadening the audience for craft. “Leaders in the field – curators, administrators, teachers – are talking about making the field more inviting to larger numbers of individuals,” Bruce W. Pepich of the Racine Art Museum observes. There’s a new openness to different mediums, career practices, and exhibition topics, along with more ethnic and gender diversity, he says.  

One way to fit more people under the craft umbrella is to link it to aspects of life everyone understands – for example, Pepich says, the preparation of food and drink. Certainly craft beer comes into play here, as does the proliferation of offbeat culinary shows on TV and online. “I’m particularly taken by the tiny food cooking videos that present people making entire meals in miniature,” Pepich says. If you eat, you can appreciate the work of the hand involved in food prep.

Fashion is another common denominator that is pointing people toward craft, Pepich says. “This summer’s ‘Possessed’ show at the Whitney Museum in New York presented the clothing of Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta in the first clothing show that museum has had in two decades,” he says. “Eckhaus Latta manages to challenge the traditional aspects of luxury and commercial branding while making clothes that comment on society, incorporate handwork, and are also commercial in their own way.”

Here’s another commonality: More people are discovering that using your hands to make things feels good, says Isken of Craft Contemporary. “Craft practices have been recognized (or rediscovered) as instruments to improve mental and physical health. Granting organizations and medical professionals are prescribing making and visiting museums as part of healthy living,” she says.

Politics and Social Justice
Artists don’t work in a vacuum, several leaders observed, and the uproar surrounding national politics was evident in the artwork made and the exhibitions mounted this year. Brigitte Martin, executive director of the Furniture Society, sees an “increased focus on artists and institutions exhibiting work that speaks to the current political situation and questions of social responsibility.” Citing global warming and social justice as overriding concerns, Isken sees “the urgency of issues that have become intractably woven into the craft objects made in 2018.”

The term “craftivism” has been around for 15 years, and Ezra Shales, author of The Shape of Craft, sees the practice of craftivism taking hold. “Is craftivism getting institutional lip service or gaining traction?” he asks. “The selection of Cannupa Hanska Luger as the inaugural winner of the Museum of Arts and Design’s Burke Prize might portend real change.”

Education and Scholarship
More disciplines are discovering the relevance of craft, Center for Craft executive director Stephanie Moore says. “Fields ranging from architecture and urban planning to engineering and biology have begun to explore the craft-like nature and implications of their research and professional practice,” she says. And more scholars have come forward: “We have a generation of young academics who are devoted to the field.” Some of those academics will be trained in the new low-residency master’s program in critical and historical craft studies at Warren Wilson College, founded by Namita Wiggers. At the same time, other academic programs dedicated to craft continue to merge and close, Wiggers points out. Overall, though, Moore argues, “Craft has matured in the last decade with an intellectual and academic rigor.”

The year also saw the launch of the first online professional practices program specifically geared toward craft artists, according to Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith, who leads the Society for North American Goldsmiths and helped launch SNAG’s Road 2 Success program. She sees more business-oriented classes in art schools addressing employability.

The Next Generation
The Windgate Foundation made a couple of huge grants that will fund the future of craft. The Center for Craft announced its $5.7 million endowment for its long-standing fellowship programs, and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts received a $3.5 million endowment to enable university art students to take classes there.

Exhibitions of Note
Several leaders we heard from cited pivotal exhibitions as milestones of 2018. Josh Green, executive director of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, called out the Renwick Gallery show devoted to the work of Frances Glessner Lee (1878 – 1962), combining crafted miniature crime scenes and forensic science. Green was also enamored of the Jewish Museum’s show of Martha Rosler’s photomontages exploring domestic space, violence, and culture. “The juxtaposition of well-designed comfort, glamour, and horror offer an unsettling view of our own participation in the complicated and violent times we inhabit,” he says. Green appreciated Sarah Crowner’s tile installation-painting Wall (Wavy Arrow Terracotta) at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. “Crowner’s project captures the spirited hybridity through which formerly distinct labels of craft, architecture, painting, sculpture, and design are becoming increasingly intermingled,” he says.

Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith was delighted by the inaugural New York City Jewelry Week in mid-November, created by Bella Neyman and JB Jones. She was also glad to see four jewelry-focused exhibitions in major museums: “Uneasy Beauty” at the Fuller Craft Museum, “Jewelry: The Body Transformed” at the Met, “Fake News and True Love: Fourteen Stories by Robert Baines” at the Museum of Art and Design, and “Tex Gieling: Sixty Years” at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco.