Aileen Osborn Webb Awards 2009

Aileen Osborn Webb Awards 2009


Katherine Westphal in her studio. Photo Tom Grotta.

Bravo! A lawyer, two curators and seven artists receive the American Craft Council’s 2009 Aileen Osborn Webb Awards.

A lawyer, two curators and seven artists are the recipients of the American Craft Council’s 2009 Aileen Osborn Webb Awards, named for the Council's founder. The awards, established in the mid-1970s, honor those who have demonstrated outstanding artistic achievement, leadership and service in the craft field. Fellows, nominated and elected by their peers, are makers who have demonstrated extraordinary artistic ability for 25 years or more; nonartists are named Honorary Fellows. The Gold Medal, the highest award for an artist, was this year presented to Katherine Westphal.

The Award of Distinction for Contributions to the Field of Craft designates an individual, organization, institution or corporation that has rendered significant service to the field over a quarter century, and the Award for Philanthropy recognizes exceptional efforts in support of the American Craft Council over the same time period. The 2008 honorees were named in the October/November issue of American Craft; here we extend our respect and gratitude to the 2009 awardees.

Gold Medal

Katherine Westphal

A playful pioneer of art quilts and a leader of new technology for surface design-especially known for her early use of the color photocopier-Katherine Westphal (b. 1919) also promoted craft wearables, collaged and printed, of cloth or paper. She was an energetic teacher at the University of California, Davis, who made an art appreciation class the place to be, attracting hundreds of students. She retired, emerita, in 1979. For the often-repetitive imagery in her work, she has drawn upon travels with her husband, Ed Rossbach, and other aspects of her life. “Anything I see or experience can pop out in my work, the connection being most often intuitive,” she said, and spoke of it being mixed in the “eggbeater” of her mind. Holding her BA and MA from the University of California, Berkeley, Westphal has also created jewelry, books, baskets, drawings, paintings, embroideries and ceramics.


Jamie Bennett

One of the preeminent enamelists in the U.S., Jamie Bennett (b. 1948) has created a body of jewelry noted for painterly surfaces, technical mastery and eclectic cultural references, qualities abundantly displayed in his currently traveling retrospective, “Edge of the Sublime” (and companion book). A graduate of the University of Georgia, Bennett received his MFA from the State University of New York, New Paltz (1974), where he has been a professor of art in the metal program since 1985. He also taught in the Program in Artisanry at Boston University (1980-85). Bennett is fascinated by enameled jewelry as a medium for representing natural forms, but he notes that his floral images are “dislocated and botanically inaccurate, a subjective quality that appeals to me.” He avoids mimesis, preferring “to concoct and unravel whatever I work from.”

Bernard Bernstein
As a metalsmith in New York City for 50 years, Bernard Bernstein (b. 1928) has devoted himself to the design and execution of Jewish ceremonial objects. A graduate of City College, he earned an MFA in silversmithing and jewelry from the Rochester Institute of Technology (1963) and an EdD in creative arts from New York University (1971). He was drawn to Judaica in the late 50s through study with Ludwig Wolpert, a pioneer of modernist ritual objects. Bernstein was on the industrial education faculty at CCNY (1962-86) and since 1988 has taught at the 92nd Street Y. His work is in synagogue, private and museum collections. Bernstein's goal for his Hanukah lamps, Torah ornaments, kiddush cups and spice boxes is that they “promote a special state of mind” by their presence “in a sacred place during a sacred moment.”

Benjamin Moore
Benjamin Moore (b. 1952) began his long involvement in craft with a BFA in ceramics from the California College of Arts and Crafts. He then moved on to glass, receiving his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. After studying at Pilchuck Glass School, Moore served as faculty member there for years and is a trustee of the institution. In 2006 he received its Libensky Award for his contributions to studio glass. Known for his elegant blown-glass vessels and specialty lighting, Moore-who runs his own design business-has worked for such celebrated glassworks as Fabrica Venini in Venice. He is among those who carried the Italian glassmaking influence to Pilchuck. “The fundamental focus of my work is to achieve simplicity, balance, and clarity of form,” Moore says. “The true challenge of creating an object is to give the piece a timeless presence.”

Louis Marak
In 2006 ceramist Louis Marak (b. 1942), retired from a long and distinguished teaching career that began in 1967 at Keuka College in upstate New York and continued at Humboldt State University in California. During this time Marak, who received his BFA at the University of Illinois and his MFA from Alfred University, established himself as an internationally exhibited artist whose work is included in the permanent collection of, among other places, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. Marak is known for playing with perspective. He's interested in how the juxtaposition of images changes a piece. “My subject matter deals primarily with containers and containment,” Marak once said. “Things inconsistent with common experience or having contradictory qualities fascinate me.”

Carol Shaw-Sutton
Carol Shaw-Sutton (b. 1948) earned her BA and MFA from California State University, San Diego, and has taught since 1984 at Cal State Long Beach, where she has headed the fiber program since 1990 and in 2002 was named art department outstanding professor. She gained national recognition with a 1977 American Craft Council Young Americans award and since then has received two National Endowment for the Arts individual fellowships, among many honors. Shaw-Sutton has exhibited extensively, including, in the 1980s, the Lausanne Biennial and an international textile exhibition in Kyoto, where her large suspended work, Our Bones Are Made of Stardust, won the Fine Arts Award. While early structural work in painted twigs was known for symbolic canoe shapes, recent installations and wall works of knitted linen or mixed media include garment imagery.

Rosanne Somerson
The distinguished furniture maker/designer Rosanne Somerson (b. 1954) has long been associated with the Rhode Island School of Design (BFA 1976), where she found a mentor in the master woodworker Tage Frid. She began teaching there in 1985 and is currently head and professor of furniture design, the department she helped to establish. One of the early women in the field, Somerson also maintains her own studio, creating, for exhibition and by commission, furniture notable for its graceful, often witty forms and impeccable craftsmanship. She designs for production as well. She has engaged feminine references and asserted furniture's emotional resonance. “Drawers and compartments can store memories as well as things, seating provides not just pause but site.... And mirrors-well, we all know that they just lie.” Thus, she says, her vanities and mirrors have distracting frames.

Aileen Osborn Webb Award for Philanthropy
Paul J. Smith
Through an illustrious career as a curator, lecturer and juror, Paul J. Smith has advanced appreciation of contemporary crafts since joining the staff of the American Craftsmen’s Council in 1957. Appointed director of the organization’s Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now the Museum of Arts and Design and no longer affiliated with the Council) in 1963, Smith initiated innovative exhibitions in a remarkable range of topics and media. For the museum’s 1986 new facility opening, he curated “CRAFT TODAY: Poetry of the Physical,” which toured internationally. Retiring in 1987 and named director emeritus, Smith developed a consulting service. He is now organizing the MCC exhibition files for the acc Library and serving on the boards of the Louis Comfort Tiffany and Lenore G. Tawney foundations. Smith holds an honorary doctorate from Parsons design school and is an ACC Honorary Fellow.

Award of Distinction for Contributions in the Field of Craft
Michael Monroe
As curator, museum administrator, lecturer and juror, Michael Monroe has been prominent in the craft field for nearly 40 years. He was associated with the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery for 21 years, ultimately as curator-in-charge. In 1993, the Year of American Craft, he organized a collection for the White House-documented in a book-that toured for 10 years and can still be enjoyed online. The recipient of several lifetime achievement awards, Monroe was named an ACC Honorary Fellow in 1995; he also served three years as the Council’s executive director. Since joining the Bellevue Arts Museum, WA, in 2004 as executive director/chief curator, he has raised its profile and made it a leading venue for crafts, presenting 47 exhibitions. Currently director of curatorial affairs, Monroe will become the museum‘s director emeritus upon his retirement in February.

Honorary Fellow
Robert Pfannebecker
In 1964 Robert Pfannebecker drove from his home in Lancaster, PA, to the graduate degree exhibition at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he purchased several works. Thus began a more-than-40-year acquisitions odyssey that has resulted in an exceptional collection of early pieces by some of the major figures in American studio craft. Pfannebecker, a lawyer first known for his civil rights cases and subsequently several times city solicitor for Lancaster, had, by 1979, when he was profiled in American Craft, amassed more than 1,000 works in all craft media and added two freestanding gallery buildings to his rural home. He is noted for collecting directly from artists (often from degree shows) and staying in touch with them via correspondence or a monthly payment schedule. His still-growing collection now numbers around 3,000 works (and fills a third gallery building).