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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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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Kitchen Table Politics

Kitchen Table Politics

On October 15, 2008, 27 prominent American ceramic artists unveiled a diverse group of cups, plates and other pots called "Obamaware" as a fund-raiser for Barack Obama's presidential campaign [figure 1]. It was a great idea-a convergence of the handmade aesthetic beloved by progressive Americans, a "green" object you can use over and over, and a way to support the arts during difficult economic times. What better way to support the candidate for change? It even turns out that the Obamaware makers are in good company: many fascinating episodes in ceramic history attest to the subtle but enduring power of pots to convey both food and ideas. Ancient Greek potters used scenes from well-known myths to comment on Athenian politics. A 16th-century German potter decorated a jar with imagery that promoted controversial new Protestant beliefs-and went to jail for it. Pots have long played an important supporting role in conversations about politics in the domestic realm, or as politicians like to say, "around the kitchen table." The Obamaware project represents an information-age twist on the old-fashioned pottery sale. Like many potters before them, these artists used ceramic surfaces to express their ideas and comment on current events. They also did what potters as recently as the early 1990s could not have done: they sold pots online and blogged about it.

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