Craft in the Abstract

Craft in the Abstract

Visit the American Craft Council’s digital collection of Craft Horizons, peruse them in chronological order, and you’ll find that the design trajectory across its four decades in print is immediately apparent. Start with the first few issues, which were published during World War II and look like bulletins from a government agency or humanitarian organization. Soon, photography is introduced – but only in black and white, and the covers retain their austere, imposing logo, a stylized eagle with its wings spread wide. Scroll a bit further into the late 1940s, and suddenly Renaissance paintings and Mughal miniatures bloom in full color. Then, in the spring of 1950, something very different appears for the first time on the cover: abstraction. A red, white, and black stencil by the Spanish avant-garde painter Joan Miró. It has all the curves and swagger of a piece of studio jewelry by Art Smith; a Renaissance painting it was not.

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Encountering Alice Kagawa Parrott

Encountering Alice Kagawa Parrott

When artists are gone, we usually have two ways of getting to know them visually: through their work, and through photographs or film documenting them or their studio. Alice Kagawa Parrott, a fiber artist, ceramist, and ACC Fellow, died in 2009, at 80. Though there is something irksome about accomplished artists – particularly women artist who were active in the middle of the 20th century – being “rediscovered” by style-seekers on the internet, Parrott’s work is indeed enjoying a well-deserved resurgence of interest, with articles appearing in the past several years on the Gravel & Gold collective’s blog and Esoteric Survey. Her color sense and the pastoral beauty of her home and studio are enormously appealing and feel quite contemporary: She clearly loved magenta, and her indoor-outdoor workspace looks chic, unpretentious, and dreamlike. Her work was recently featured in the Museum of Arts and Design’s 2015 exhibition “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today.” Yet even in the studio craft world, Parrott’s name is less recognizable than that of Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, Ruth Asawa, or Toshiko Takaezu, her friend from Cranbrook in the early 1950s.

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Levi's Denim Art Contest

Levi's Denim Art Contest

Jeans are a kind of uniform and a category of clothing unto themselves. In a pinch, they offer a face-saving way to punt the bottom half of an ensemble, acting as an always-cool stand-in for something more well thought through. Titans of Silicon Valley regularly turn up in jeans to give talks and make major new product announcements. Jeans are different from pants as a broad category because they mean something distinctive, much in the way that high heels are a category apart from shoes.

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Power Object: Rose B. Simpson’s Maria

Power Object: Rose B. Simpson’s Maria

Every inch of Maria is matte black, except for the lines and curves of the shiny, geometric design that animates its surface. It looks as though these glossy areas were carefully burnished to make them visually pop against their flat background. The abstract shapes are inspired by the work of Maria Martinez and echo Pueblo motifs of a vast and dramatic natural landscape dating back centuries. As for horsepower, you’d have to ask the artist, Rose B. Simpson. (1)

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Wendell Castle, a Legend of the Furniture and Design Worlds, Dies at 85

Wendell Castle, a Legend of the Furniture and Design Worlds, Dies at 85

Since the morning of Sunday, January 21, design Instagram has been awash in images of sinuous objects that defy easy categorization. A silver chair looks as though it could be the tongue of a colossal human figure; a massive white seat resembles nothing so much as a gigantic, gleaming back tooth. Candy-colored neon lamps sit on bases that resemble sturdy elephant’s feet. In some of these images, a slight, silver-haired, bespectacled man looks at the camera, seated on a wild creation with three legs, or at the edge of a sculptural object comprised of curvaceous cones and scoops. Happily reclined, as though he had made himself at home in a craggy, natural rock formation that was never meant for human comfort, Wendell Castle often had the look of a friendly genius who didn’t quite know what all the fuss was about.

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Fake Fur: An Essay

Fake Fur: An Essay

Stuffed animals beckon to us constantly: from retail kiosks, amusement park prize shelves, and toy stores, eventually finding their “forever homes” in countless childhood bedrooms around the world. They elicit deep sentimental attachment, and even love. Unlike pets, there is theoretically no limit to their lifespans. With us from the first moments of our lives through the scrapes and dramas of youth, they are witness to every secret embarrassment, comfort us through every lonely worry. One of the most famous narratives involving a stuffed toy, the story of The Velveteen Rabbit, is so poignant that it can move adults to tears. Cloaked in fake fur, stuffed animals carry real emotional heft, and occupy a singular place in the history of play. But we don’t usually live with them forever. Because stuffed toys are associated primarily with childhood, their presence in other walks of life—like contemporary art—jolts us with conflicting impressions of something very innocent paired with something much more grown-up. This may be because, like fairy tales, stuffed animals’ own history is surprisingly dark.

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Steampunk Meets Contemporary Luxury in Amuneal's Creations

Steampunk Meets Contemporary Luxury in Amuneal's Creations

Situated on a busy industrial corridor of Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood, Amuneal’s 60,000-square-foot fabrication space looks every bit an artisanal design mecca. Furniture and shelving are meticulously crafted from metal and wood every square inch of which has been treated by hand to achieve just the right surface texture and color. Finished pieces are packed with installation instructions and diagrams that are almost works of art in their own right.

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Ceramic Excellence for Archie Bray

Ceramic Excellence for Archie Bray

This catalog from Archie Bray Foundation features writing on five different Bray fellows of contemporary ceramic arts. Each year the Bray invites a writer into their realm to survey their rich creative community, spend time with the artists, and create a body of writing guided by their experience. Their 2017 writer-in-residence is Sarah Archer.  All of the writing in this catalog was produced by Archer.

This year’s fellows include Ling Chun, Nicholas Danielson, En Iwamura, MyungJin Kim, and Noah Riedel.

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Open-Source Activism

Open-Source Activism

Two social movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, organized labor and women’s suffrage, both emerged just as photography was coming into its own as a documentary form, and banners appear in many images of their marches and protests. They affect the way we see these events in the most literal sense, visually populating scenes of history with their words. Black-and-white images from the turn of the 20th century capture women in fine Edwardian dress and impressive hats, carrying the banners they made to champion the causes of votes for women. In one example from 1917 by the photographers Harris and Ewing in the collection of the Library of Congress, an unidentified young women in a fur collar holds a banner that reads: “RESISTANCE TO TYRANNY IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD.” Another image, circa 1910, shows a group of suffragettes holding umbrellas on which they’ve painted messages entreating observers to join them at a planned march in Washington, DC, “rain or shine.” It’s not difficult to imagine these pared-down expressions as tweets.

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Inside Philadelphia’s New Museum of the American Revolution

Inside Philadelphia’s New Museum of the American Revolution

Philadelphia’s Old City is thick with American history. Within a short walking distance, visitors can see the Liberty Bell, stand inside Independence Hall and behold the ruins of the original President’s House, where George Washington and John Adams both lived in the 1790s. For good measure, there are always a few historic interpreters in 18th-century costume inviting tour groups to step lively over the cobblestones.

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The Worst McMansion Sins, From Useless Pilasters to Hellish Transom Windows

The Worst McMansion Sins, From Useless Pilasters to Hellish Transom Windows

If the current leader of the free world is, as Fran Lebowitz described him in an interview with Vanity Fair last October, “a poor person’s idea of a rich person,” then the houses Kate Wagner dissects in her blog McMansion Hell are a particular sort of middle-class person’s idea of great estates. There are turrets, balconies, grand foyers, wrought iron that isn’t actually wrought, crystal chandeliers that are probably made of glass, and spiral staircases galore. But inside and out, these houses look more like architectural Mad Libs than the products of a well-thought-through, cohesive design. 

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A Western Cultural History of Pink, from Madame de Pompadour to Pussy Hats

A Western Cultural History of Pink, from Madame de Pompadour to Pussy Hats

Visitors to the official website of the Pussyhat Project are welcomed with an exclamation of color and joy from founders Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman: “We did it! We created a sea of pink!” And indeed they did. The Women’s March on Washington, D.C., and the 600 allied marches across the United States and the world, drew between 3.3 and 4.6 million protesters, making it one of the largest single-day demonstrations in the nation’s history. Suh and Zweiman launched the Pussyhat Project in advance of the march with the goal of having one million hats on hand, and their website includes PDF patterns for knit, sewn, and crocheted versions, which have collectively been downloaded more than 100,000 times. The resulting sea of cat hats caused a run on pink yarn across the country and quickly became a powerful visual shorthand for this particular swath of anti-Trump protest movements.

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In the Studio: Stacey Lee Webber

In the Studio: Stacey Lee Webber

The massive Globe Dye Works complex in Northeastern Philadelphia smells of freshly ground coffee. Visitors are greeted by a gigantic antique scale and countless spools of thread in every imaginable hue, arranged just so. The building hums with activity as a network of small-batch entrepreneurs plan special event menus, frame artwork, and—evidently—roast coffee beans to perfection.

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“Hands to Work, Hearts to God”: A Post-Election Craft Manifesto

“Hands to Work, Hearts to God”: A Post-Election Craft Manifesto

Reading the post-election commentary from my vintage-furnished stop in the Acela bubble this week, I have felt a kind of nausea and dread that I had not experienced since I nearly lost my stepfather, who worked in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001. He survived, but none of us has ever been the same. I knew then that I would devote my life and abilities to the community I love: people who make things, people who enrich others’ lives by teaching and mentoring, people who shine light on injustice through their artwork, who help us find connection with each other. I didn’t know then what shape this would take (or even which graduate school I would apply to), but I knew that the shortness of our time here made it imperative that I lead with my heart and gut, even when my brain tried to exert executive orders.

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Maggie Sasso: Too Much Sea for Amateurs

Maggie Sasso: Too Much Sea for Amateurs

The site-specific sculpture inspired by the Milwaukee Breakwater Lighthouse is the largest work
Maggie Sasso has ever made. It might also be the loneliest—for the lightkeepers, conditions were
tough, isolated, and could be very dangerous—but it is likely to encourage viewers to learn more
about the landmark. The lighthouse has long been an object of fascination: there was something about its distant glow that made land-dwelling folks curious and perhaps a little jealous. Once an active and necessary beacon in Lake Michigan’s Milwaukee Bay, later a mysterious, deteriorating Art Deco artifact, today it is an historic landmark about to embark on a new life as a “lakefront attraction.”

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Maker to Market: Ruth Asawa Reappraised

 Maker to Market: Ruth Asawa Reappraised

When Ruth Asawa (1926–2013) (Figures 1 and 2) died in August, 2013, the obituaries that appeared in newspapers and magazines across the US characterized her life’s work with a diverse array of descriptors. In the pages of the New York Times, she was an “artist who wove wire.”1 In the Los Angeles Times, a “California sculptor.”2 In an article appearing in the SFGate, she was “overlooked.”3 And according to Art+Auction, she had enjoyed a “late, meteoric rise from obscurity.”4 Reading the story of Asawa’s career from these headlines alone, one might suppose that she was an under-recognized artist using a traditionally feminine technique to create objects from humble material, and that by some fluke, she had been bestowed with a late-life spike in recognition, even celebrity. However, evidence of a flourishing career in the 1950s, which included commissions, solo exhibitions in New York, and an acquisition by the Whitney Museum of American Art, appears to contradict the notion that Asawa toiled for decades in anonymity.

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The New Ten's Two-Body Problem

The New Ten's Two-Body Problem

Five years from now, on the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.S., an American woman of distinction will appear on the ten-dollar bill, with Alexander Hamilton retained somewhere on the note. This decision, announced last week by Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, has been met with considerable puzzlement from those who wonder why we would demote Hamilton, the founder of our financial system, instead of Andrew Jackson, who was the architect of the Trail of Tears, an opponent of central banking, and the target of the grassroots campaign to get a woman on the twenty-dollar bill, led by the group Women on 20s. As Vauhini Vara recently wrote, some asked, too, why the first woman to appear on paper currency in the United States should have to do so alongside a male chaperone, and they wondered whether the Treasury would, after holding public consultations this summer, honor Harriet Tubman, the choice of those who voted in an online poll conducted by Women on 20s. The current debate over American currency resonates with the complicated history of how and why women have been represented on money, a history that provides insight into the ways women have wielded and represented authority through the ages.

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‘Back to the Future’ 30 Years Later, or Riding in Cars with Millennials

‘Back to the Future’ 30 Years Later, or Riding in Cars with Millennials

One of the greatest pleasures of teaching design history to college students — apart from watching their reactions as I play excerpts from grouchy interviewswith the legendary Braun designer Dieter Rams in class — is time travel. Not the actual temporal kind, but the generational kind, where you realize that you’re the only person in the room who remembers the 1980s, and everyone else in the room is really curious about that.

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