Carnegie and Craft: The Next Chapter

Carnegie and Craft: The Next Chapter

Published on Monday, March 21, 2011. This article appears in the April/May 2011 issue of American Craft Magazine.

Judy Kensley McKie; Monkey Settee, 1994; walnut and bronze; 3 x 6 x 2.25 ft.

Plus: the Ceramics Research Center of the Arizona State University Art Museum, and remembering Paul Soldner

Carnegie and Craft: The Next Chapter

Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art has long promoted craft. In 1911, the 16-year-old museum featured an exhibition of Fulper art pottery; nearly 20 years later, it hosted the "International Exhibition of Ceramic Art." And in 1959, the museum opened its galleries to the traveling exhibition "Glass." Yet the Carnegie's permanent craft collection did not begin expanding in earnest until the 1980s, under the tenure of curators Phillip M. Johnston and Sarah Nichols. They focused acquisitions on two very Pittsburgh-worthy media: aluminum and glass. Since Nichols' 2006 retirement, decorative arts curator Jason Busch and assistant decorative arts curator Rachel Delphia have worked to acquire additional pieces, most of them wood. Over the last four years, they have added about 30 pieces by virtuoso woodturners such as Virginia Dotson, William Hunter, and Ed Moulthrop.

Recently another significant chapter has begun in the Carnegie craft-collecting history: In October, renowned collectors Deena and Jerome Kaplan made a promised gift of about two dozen pieces, many by major artists whose works are not currently part of the Carnegie's permanent collection. Among the works slated for the museum are a glazed figure and decorative charger by the late American ceramist Viola Frey, a bocote bowl by German woodturner Hans Weissflog, a fiddleback maple double rocker by the late American furniture designer Sam Maloof, and a chair of flameworked Pyrex rods by American glassmaker Brent Kee Young.

To properly showcase the Carnegie's decorative arts and design collection - nearly 3,000 pieces including about 350 modern and contemporary craft pieces - the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Galleries were renovated and reopened in November 2009. They have become the permanent home for a chronological presentation of decorative arts and craft objects dating from the mid-18th century.

Some of the Kaplan gifts, such as Judy Kensley McKie's walnut and bronze Monkey Settee (1994), appear in the Bruce Galleries. Gifts of more intimate scale, such as Beatrice Wood's Blue Lustre Vessel #103FF (1985), fill an adjacent space, dubbed the Balcony Gallery, which also has been completely renovated. "The Kaplans' gifts are invigorating all of our spaces," Delphia notes.

Previously devoted to small-scale decorative arts exhibitions, the Balcony Gallery was once called "the Treasure Room," though its compact, wood-paneled space posed significant spatial, lighting, and climate-control limitations. The now-airy gallery boasts gleaming casework covering 40 linear feet of wall from floor to ceiling. Its brilliant illumination beckons visitors from behind the balcony's white marble balustrades. Modern and contemporary craft pieces, the Kaplans' pieces among them,
will rotate through the space.

In celebration of both the Kaplan gift and the museum's continued commitment to craft education, the renovated Balcony Gallery's inaugural exhibition, "Hand Made: Contemporary Craft in Ceramics, Glass, and Wood," opens on April 8. "We're taking a moment to focus on something we've been doing for a long time," says Delphia, "and to highlight the wonderful and rich collection we have."

Savannah Schroll Guz is an art critic for Pittsburgh City Paper, a monthly review columnist for Library Journal, and author of two short fiction collections.

Paul Soldner (1921-2011)

Known as the father of American raku, ceramist Paul Soldner died January 3. Read a remembrance of this pioneering artist.

In Brief

The Ceramics Research Center of the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe has received a $190,000 grant from the Windgate Charitable Foundation. Curator Peter Held will use the money for a retrospective exhibition and an accompanying book on contemporary ceramist Wayne Higby ... The Community Partnership for Arts and Culture distributed $20,000 Creative Workforce Fellowships to 20 Cuyahoga County (Ohio) artists, including craft-makers William Brouillard, Stephanie Craig, Matthew Hollern, Michael Romanik, Roberta Williamson, Brent Kee Young, and Stephen Yusko ... Furniture maker Libby Schrum of Camden, Maine, received the 2010 John D. Mineck Furniture Fellowship, a $25,000 award administered by the Society of Arts and Crafts ... At the inaugural Bellevue Arts Museum Biennial "Clay Throwdown!" last fall, ceramist Nathan Craven won the $5,000 Samuel & Patricia Smith People's Choice Award, voted on by some 2,000 museum-goers. Ceramist Dirk Staschke was selected by BAM's curatorial staff for the John & Joyce Price Award of Excellence, winning $5,000 and the opportunity for a solo exhibition at BAM.

Julie K. Hanus is American Craft's senior editor.