Birthday Gifts for MoCC

Birthday Gifts for MoCC

ZOOM_ON11_RusselWrightChaseChromeCornSet1934_ret.jpg

Works by Russel Wright (pictured here), Henry Takemoto, and Faythe Levine are among the recent acquisitions Portland's Museum of Contemporary Craft is celebrating - along with its diamond anniversary - in its "75 Gifts for 75 Years" exhibition, through February 25, 2012. Photos: Dan Kvitka

The Museum of Contemporary Craft (MoCC) in Portland, Oregon, knows how to celebrate an anniversary. To mark its 75th year, the Portland institution has grown its nearly 1,000-object collection by acquiring more than 75 new gifts from big-hearted donors across the country. An exhibition of the objects, "75 Gifts for 75 Years," opened in late July and runs through February 25. We checked in with MoCC's curator (and ACC board member) Namita Gupta Wiggers to find out more.

Tell us about organizing this exhibition.
Over the past year, a number of collectors from Portland and across the country generously offered gifts to the museum's collection. This increased interest in placing work at MoCC encouraged us to create a project around building the collection. With those gifts as a starting point, we were well on our way, and decided to approach collectors, gallerists, and artists for assistance in building the collection in honor of this milestone
in the institution's history.

How do the gifts fit into the existing collection?
The gifts begin to fill several significant gaps in fiber, glass, jewelry, and wood. The collection is particularly strong in ceramics, as we were originally founded in 1937 as Oregon Ceramic Studio, and hosted significant regional annual exhibitions from 1950 to '64.

However, despite several series of exhibitions focused on the studio glass movement, the collection did not develop in a clear way from the 1980s forward. This new group of gifts fills important gaps in these more recent decades, and provides a foundation on which we can build future growth.

Do the gifts have special MoCC connections?
The gifts span the entire 75-year history of the museum. The oldest gifts in the exhibition are pieces of 1930s tableware designed by Russel Wright, significant in the history of MoCC, as his ill-fated American Way project included several of the artists - all women - who were part of the group that founded Oregon Ceramic Studio. The addition of Faythe Levine's archives from Handmade Nation and Kate Bingaman Burt's drawings from the accompanying publication provide an up-to-date resource on how craft shifts and changes with each generation.

Other exciting connections to the museum's history are three ceramic pieces by Henry Takemoto, whose work was exhibited in the 1960s here, and a small vessel by John Mason, who received a solo exhibition at the urging of Peter Voulkos.

What are some of the more unusual or unconventional gifts in the group?
It's very exciting to have a signature trompe l'oeil leather jacket by [ceramist] Marilyn Levine and three sculptures by Joan Livingstone - pieces that would be considered major acquisitions at any institution. Placed here at MoCC, they can be examined and understood as work that deconstructs the divides between art, craft, and design, while providing important opportunities to consider how craft functions in contemporary practice.

Talk about the choice to push the definition of craft and expand to gifts of animation, drawings, etc.
Making does not happen in a vacuum. Many artists use drawing, computers, paint, craft-based media, and writing in their work. To perpetuate the idea that craft is only about working in specific media, as opposed to a way of working that is engaged more broadly, is severely limiting to the field, and does not really represent the way people have worked and continue to work. These recent gifts to the collection help us communicate that to our visitors.

What do you hope people will take away from this exhibition?
I hope that people will consider how they steward objects and history in their own homes, how museums offer opportunities to tell stories through objects, and how museums connect us to our cultures.

Elizabeth Ryan is American Craft's interactive editor.