Ruth Penington: Tradition and the Designer

Ruth Penington: Tradition and the Designer

Ruth Penington, jeweler and Northwest regional trustee of the ACC in 1962

Ruth Penington, jeweler and Northwest regional trustee of the ACC, in 1962

Ruth Penington, born this day in 1905, was a pioneering craft activist. Known for lobbying galleries and museums to include craft side-by-side with the "fine arts," the fiery artist was also a highly respected metalsmith and professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. As a lifelong expounder on craft, Penington, who died in 1998, helped found the Northwest Printmakers Society, Northwest Designer Craftsmen, Friends of Crafts in Seattle, and the World Crafts Council. She was inducted into the ACC's College of Fellows in 1976.  

When it came to her own work, Penington was largely inspired by the history and cultures of the Pacific Northwest. She had a remarkable talent for creating modern metal jewelry incorporating folk objects - such as spindle whorls, trade beads, stones, and feathers - as the focal point. At the Fourth National Conference of the ACC, held in Seattle during August of 1961, Penington made this poignant statement of her beliefs on the role of tradition in design:

Since a work of art speaks for its designer as long as it can be observed, it becomes a means of exchanging ideas with great and sensitive souls of all ages and cultures. The contemporary designer senses a kinship with the work of others, past or present. He evaluates and absorbs the ideas expressed. And his own expression becomes richer because of this.

Check out the proceedings from the Fourth National Conference of the ACC for Penington's full speech as well as the transcripts for talks by artists - including woodworker Sam Maloof, jeweler Bob Winston, enamelist June Schwarcz, and others.

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