‘Skilled making on a human scale;’ “Crafting America” at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announces the debut of Crafting America. The exhibition will be view through May 31. Timed tickets are available here for $12. Admission is free for members, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, veterans, and youth ages 18 and under. 

Crafting America is the first exhibition at Crystal Bridges dedicated to the subject of modern and contemporary craft. Over 120 objects made from materials such as wood, glass, fiber, ceramics, metal, and more feature in the exhibit. 98 American artists are incorporated to tell a broad and inclusive story of craft in the United States from the 1940s to today. 

Crafting America was co-created by Jen Padgett, associate curator, Crystal Bridges, and Glenn Adamson, guest curator and scholar of craft, design history, and contemporary art.

Crafting: “Skilled making on a human scale”

“There are many different ways to look at craft, but for our purposes, craft is skilled making on a human scale,” Padgett said. “This exhibition allows us to tell a more expansive story about American art because craft has long been an accessible art form for women, people of color, immigrants, Indigenous peoples, veterans, and other marginalized communities. This exhibition highlights a range of mediums and explores how artists have engaged with and reinvented traditional ways of making.”

The exhibition is organized into four parts: Introduction/What is Craft, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Through these sections, the exhibition explores the concept of craft and how closely craft is intertwined with the American experience. How artists shape the objects of daily life. The history and innovation that led to expressive forms of craft. How the process of making celebrates the quality and materiality of craft.

Crafting materials

Ceramics: While Toshiko Takaezu was a multidisciplinary artist, her best-known works are enclosed ceramic forms, ranging in scale from the size of a hand to over six feet tall. A grouping of eleven ceramic sculptures by Takaezu are featured in the Contemporary Art Gallery near works by abstract painters including Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler.

Fiber: Sheila Hicks pushes the boundaries of scale and form to explore the gestural possibilities of fiber. For Mandan Shrine (2016), Hicks wrapped bundles of linen with bright, multicolored thread at rhythmic intervals, creating a sculptural ebb and flow between the tightly bound sections and the loose, organic linen lengths.

Glass: Artist Andy Paiko cre­ates reliquaries from glass, sometimes left empty, sometimes filled with handmade “specimens” evoking those of a historic curiosity cabinet, as seen in Reliquary Group (2020).

Metal: Artist Hoss Haley began tinkering with metalsmithing at a young age in his father’s tool shed on the family farm in Kansas. Haley’s coil sculptures reveal the capabilities of steel, as the joined metal of his works such as Architectural Coil Maquette (2011) create a ribboning effect.

Wood: Wendell Castle’s Chest of Drawers (1962) is an unconventional cabi­net with twisting tendrils crawling up it, which cleverly serve both as legs and drawer pulls. It is an early example of the artist’s break from the standard woodworking formats to explore free space.

Anne Lemanski, ‘Tigris T-1,’ 2018, copper rod, archival print on paper, artificial sinew, epoxy, and plastic. 64 × 61 × 30 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, Gift of Fleur S. Bresler, 2020.8. Photography by Steve Mann.

New Acquisitions:

·       Diedrick Brackens, a year of negotiations (2019): Diedrick Brackens weaves tapestries that exist between figuration and abstraction, often engaging with histories that resonate with his experience as a gay Black man in the United States. a year of negotiations (2019) comes from a series Brackens made to reflect on how animals have often functioned as symbols across time and artistic disciplines.

·       Anne Lemanski, Tigris T-1 (2018): Just over five feet tall, Anne Lemanski’s Tigris T-1 (2018) features a tiger balancing skillfully on a colorful ball. To create the tiger, Lemanski first fashioned a metal framework, then stitched specially printed paper to cover the form. With this work, Lemanski addresses deeper themes around power: the mighty, threatening predator made obedient to the desires of human handlers. The work was generously gifted to the museum by Fleur S. Bresler, a leading collector of American craft.

·       Beth Lipman, Belonging(s) (2020): Wisconsin-based artist Beth Lipman is well known for her detailed works made entirely of glass. In conjunction with Crafting America, Crystal Bridges invited Lipman to respond to a set of eighteenth-century paintings in its collection attributed to the artist Gerardus Duyckinck I. These paintings depict three genera­tions of a single family who lived in New Amsterdam (the Dutch colony that preceded New York), anchored on the figure of Abigaill Levy Franks.

Stars of craft: Ruth Asawa, Nick Cave

Crafting America also puts works from the Crystal Bridges collection in conversation with the broad story of craft:

·       Inspired in part by wire basket-making in rural Mexico, Ruth Asawa created hanging woven sculptures, such as Untitled (S.028 Hanging Four-Lobed Continuous Form within a Form), for which she is now celebrated.

·       Chicago-based artist Nick Cave, who was recently featured at the Momentary in Nick Cave: Until, is well known for his Soundsuits, full-bodied suits made of textiles and found objects that serve as tools of liberation.

After it closes at Crystal Bridges, the exhibition will travel to the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, June 29 through September 12, 2021.

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