Intricately cut and assembled sculptures of paper. Brightly colored porcelain horns that actually can be played. Lamps made of different colored elegant papers that have been sprayed into place. Multicolored painted silk lighting fixtures that look like exotic insects.
Whoever said there was nothing new under the sun?
The unbounded creativity and inexhaustible imaginations of American craftsmen never cease turning out objects of beauty and wonder–some utilitarian and some for the sheer art of it.
The American Craft Council is a 60-year-old nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting understanding and appreciation of contemporary American craft. The Council was the parent of the American Craft Museum (founded in 1956 and recently renamed the Museum of Arts & Design) which has since become an independent and thriving institution.
But the general public probably knows ACC best for its craft shows which are held in various cities around the United States throughout the year. These shows are juried, the artists chosen by a peer-review process that assures an unusually high quality of original work. There’s an astounding variety of media in which these craftspeople work, including clay, glass, textiles, metal, wood, paper and whatever other raw materials capture their imaginations.
The selection is large, with some 300 exhibitors, most of whom are present in their booths. Thus the visitor has the unusual opportunity to engage in dialogue with the artists.
Hugh McKay is one of many exhibitors working with glass, but where most glass artists today are interested in glass blowing, McKay (who calls his studio Heretic Glass) sculpts glass with molds, using the classic lost-wax process. The resulting texture is generally denser than the blown glass work seen elsewhere, but it retains the luminosity and translucence of the material. Some of McKay’s pieces look biomorphic; others are more architectural. This is museum quality work and, indeed, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Art, among others, have McKay works in their permanent collections. (Prices are correspondingly steep.)
Ceramicist Anne Goldman’s stoneware pieces grow larger and more elegant with each passing year. Starting with wheel-thrown vessels, she then carves, sculpts, and pierces the surfaces which take on a variety of textures that give the look of wood or stone or some wondrous undersea shell.
Kevin Loughran creates what he calls "house jewelry," individually crafted items like door bells, dimmer switches, switch plates, and sconces, using brass and copper which he etches with a variety of patterns, from the geometric to the floral, often with an Asian influence. Patrick Meyer also creates all kinds of household accessories, from cheese knives to shaving brushes to handsome decorative hardware. His material is pewter, but safe, contemporary pewter, made of tin and silver (without the lead that used to give pewter its dusky finish) and his forms are inspired both by primitive sculpture and modern art. Handsome, affordable gifts.
Kathleen Otley creates stunning wall hangings using peeled and stained willow branches bound with various colors of wool and brass rings. Inspired by tribal art, these are unique pieces that typify the creativity and individuality found at the ACC shows. Steve Smeed’s porcelain horns are joyfully decorative and they can be played as well.
Barbara Woods creates hand-painted silk and ceramic lighting — lamps, sculptures, and wall pieces. The silk is mounted on styrene, the material used as the body of lamp shades. From the elegantly simple insect sconces to an entire bottom-of-the-seascape, her work glows with subtle colors and fine detailing.
The quality of work in the ACC shows is such that there is sheer pleasure simply in viewing the works on display. That they are all for sale is an added bonus for the casual shopper or the serious collector. Prices range from $20 to nosebleed levels. Beware for your budget, though–it’s hard to leave without a new acquisition to take home.