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Shows to See: June/July 2013

Shows to See: June/July 2013

Shows to See: June/July 2013

June/July 2013 issue of American Craft magazine
Author Staff
David K. Chatt, 108 Meditations in Saffron

David K. Chatt’s 108 Meditations in Saffron at CMOG. Photo: Courtesy of CMOG

CA / Los Angeles
Craft and Folk Art Museum
Sonya Clark: Material Reflex
to Sep. 8
This is not your great-grandma’s dainty Victorian hair art. Clark, a fiber artist, ACC trustee, and chair of the craft/material studies department at Virginia Commonwealth University, uses African and African American hairstyling methods to weave visual stories about history, racial identity, and cultural ideals. 

CA / Pomona
American Museum of Ceramic Art
The Clay Connection with Jim and Nan McKinnell
to Jul. 28
For decades, the McKinnells crisscrossed the nation, teaching ceramics from a truck with a kiln in its bed, leaving a legacy of innovation, influence, and thousands of pots. This retrospective of their 50-year career brings together some of their work with pieces by artists whom they taught or encountered in their travels. As noted ceramist Wayne Higby – Nan’s student – said after her death last year at 99, “I walk in the light of ceramic art today because once Nan McKinnell took time to help show me the way.”

CO / Denver
Denver Art Museum
Spun: Adventures in Textiles
to Sep. 22
DAM is celebrating its new textile galleries with a grand patchwork of exhibitions inspired by its own collections. “Cover Story,” the centerpiece of this museum-wide event, gathers objects such as blankets, wall hangings, rugs, and robes that affirm textiles’ prominence in every aspect of life. Also part (but not all) of the Spun fun: “Western Duds: How Clothing Helped Create an Archetype” gives blue jeans and serapes their due as icons of Wild West lore; “Transposition” is an interactive exploration of the crossroads of craft and technology; and “Material World” debuts new acquisitions.

DC / Washington
The Textile Museum
Out of Southeast Asia: Art That Sustains
to Oct. 13
In its last show before moving to George Washington University next year, the museum celebrates Southeast Asia’s textile traditions and their enduring power to inspire artists. Works by weaver Carol Cassidy and batik artists Nia Fliam, Agus Ismoyo, and Vernal Bogren Swift are paired with historical works from the collection — brocades and ikats from Laos, batiks from Indonesia – to illuminate the sturdy threads of design, technique, and artistic ideas that bind them all.

GA / Atlanta
High Museum of Art
Gogo: Nature Transformed
to Aug. 25
The marshes, rivers, and beaches of Cumberland Island, the southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands, harbor a wealth of wildlife. Jewelry artist Janet “Gogo” Ferguson, whose family has been rooted there for generations, gathers what her island home offers – shells, bones, seaweed, leaves – and uses it as both inspiration and material for her work.

MI / Bloomfield Hills
Cranbrook Art Museum
Anders Ruhwald at Saarinen House: The Anatomy of a Home
to Oct. 31
Eliel Saarinen, who designed much of the Cranbrook Academy campus, created his family home there in the 1920s as a complete expression of his modernist artistic vision. Since 1994, when the house became a campus museum, that vision has been preserved intact. Now, Anders Ruhwald, head of Cranbrook’s ceramics department, shakes it up with seven installations in spaces ranging from a closet to a courtyard.

NJ / Millville
Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center
Jun. 7 – 9
Since 1985, this biennial event has been a hub for artists, collectors, curators, and dealers, who enjoy a packed program of speakers, demos, hands-on activities, and shows, including the dazzling 10,000-square-foot gallery exhibition. Doyenne of stained glass Judith Schaechter is booked to deliver this year’s keynote.

NM / Santa Fe
Santa Fe International Folk Art Market
Jul. 12 – 14
Ten years after its inception as an exhibition of folk art at a pottery store, this juried market, now the largest of its kind in the world, is a showcase for traditional artisans and a magnet for folk art fans and buyers. This year, 170 artists from more than 50 countries will offer jewelry, textiles, basketry, pottery, rugs, and other work.

NY / New York
Museum of Arts and Design
Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger
Jun. 25 – Sep. 22
Lovers of couture, ornament, and all things bling are invited to step into this fabulous jumbo jewelry box of a show. Berger’s collection of high-fashion jewelry is one of the most dazzling in the world, numbering about 3,000 items; the 450-some pieces on view here are the sparkling tip of the iceberg.

PA / Farmington
Touchstone Center for Crafts
Alloy Group Exhibition
Jun. 22 – Aug. 11
Wood, Iron, and Line: The Contemporary Blacksmithing of Greg Gehner
Jun. 22 – Aug. 4
In this metalwork twofer, the Alloy collective of southwestern Pennsylvania jewelers and smiths exhibits jewelry, small sculpture, and other objects in one gallery, while Gehner’s work is on view in another. Gehner’s earliest experience in metal – straightening bent nails to repair fences and build tree houses on his family’s farm – was the first step on his life’s path: creating objects with time-tested forging and fabricating techniques and a 21st-century aesthetic.

RI / Providence
The Museum of Art
Rhode Island School of Design
Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion
to Aug. 18
No jacket required to visit “Dandy” – although that might have shocked the gents who inspired this exhibition right out of their bespoke cravats. This close-up look at some of history’s most distinctively dressed men (such as Beau Brummell and Oscar Wilde), their relationship to society’s mainstream, and the extreme craftsmanship required to clothe them is part of a deeper examination of the whys and hows of men’s fashion.

NY / Corning
Corning Museum of Glass
Life on a String: 35 Centuries of the Glass Bead
to Jan. 5, 2014
Beads are miniature masterpieces, says the Corning Museum of Glass, petite feats of technique and artistry that should not be overlooked – and yet often are. The answer? “Life on a String,” a decidedly undiminutive cele­bration of beads and beaded objects culled from the museum’s rich collection and on loan from seven other institutions. We spoke with exhibition curator Adrienne Gennett about bringing together this extraordinary range of objects.

An excerpt of this interview appeared in American Craft's print edition.

The scope of this exhibition is enormous, spanning 3,500 years of beading and bead-making across the world, and featuring nearly 200 objects. What was the impetus for creating such a large-scale show?

The main impetus for this exhibition is the large holdings of glass beads in the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass, which have never before been on view together in one space. When I arrived at the museum in 2010, I was given the task of documenting, researching, and organizing the glass beads. In my work I found that the museum held a significant and varied collection which represented not only a vast amount of time in the history of glassmaking, but a wonderful range of technical developments in glass beads. These techniques often paralleled or predated much of the work being created in a larger form in many glass manufactories. It is an important aspect of glass making that is not always well represented in museum exhibitions and collections.

The various beadwork objects are used to further explore the nature of glass beads and how they are used in both similar and different manners around the globe. They exhibit how exceptionally diverse cultures incorporate glass beads into their own systems of belief and adornment. Beadwork exhibits the great importance that glass beads have taken on in many cultures.

Two hundred objects is certainly a daunting amount to display in one exhibition, but then again a large portion of those objects are considerably smaller than what is usually found in a special exhibition, making the task not quite so formidable.

In many cultures, beads were or are symbols of power and wealth. Does the exhibition feature beads or beaded objects that are known to have belonged to notable figures, either historical or contemporary? What do these pieces say about their owners?

Almost all of the historical works within the exhibition are from unknown owners. Rather the focus is on the beads and beadworks that are imbued with the power and the ability to visually signify wealth and not the power of their provenance. There is one loan of a Parka from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which was made by a Native American woman in Alaska who went by the nickname Shoofly. The parka and the woman have quite an interesting story, but the object remains an extraordinary example of this form of beadwork on an indispensable type of outer garment, rather than just an emblem of her story.

The contemporary works in the exhibition do gain more power from their makers and owners, as they were produced to create a work of art that addressed the desires and emotions of the artists. These objects are also powerful, but through their creation and connotations, rather than through their use.

The museum describes beads as “miniature masterpieces,” a word we tend to associate with individuals, yet for many historical objects there is not a known artisan. Are many of the beads or objects in Life on a String attributed? Does anonymity affect how pieces are viewed or experienced?

While it is impossible to link a specific artisan to most of the objects in “Life on a String,” we do know where many of these beads were made and often where they were used. I believe that the viewer will experience many of the objects in the exhibition as important works of art on their own as they come to see the technical mastery needed to make the beads and beadworks and the great cultural value that these objects have taken on in their societies. By examining the various uses of these works in a thematic context – through ornament, power, ritual, trade, and processes – a larger significance will be found that goes beyond the need to know who the original artisan was. 

The exhibition is augmented by flameworking demonstrations, as well as hands-on opportunities in beadmaking for visitors.  How do you view the relationship between experiencing process and viewing finished objects? Is it important for viewers to understand the processes by which the objects were created?

It is important for viewers to understand the processes that are used to craft the beads and beadworks that will be exhibited. Objects such as beads have a tendency to be overlooked and by explaining and demonstrating how they were made, we hope viewers will be moved to take a deeper look at the objects on display.

Glass beads are made utilizing techniques often found in larger glass vessels, but on a significantly smaller scale that can become unreadable or misunderstood. By using a portion of the exhibition to explore processes and incorporating flameworking demonstrations, the visitor will be able to truly experience the amazing and sometimes excruciatingly detailed work that go into forming these miniature works of art. Taking it to the next step of actually making your own bead is a wonderful way to memorialize the experience and to get a personal understanding of what it takes to make a bead.

The history of the bead is linked to the history of trade between Europe, North America, and Africa. How does the exhibition address this? Can you talk a bit about the role beads played in both cultural/aesthetic and economic exchange between these three continents?

Trade and influence is one of the five main themes of the exhibition. This area will not only look at the well-documented trade bead industry between Europe, North America, and Africa, but also the exceptionally significant Indo-Pacific trade bead. The small monochrome beads produced first in Southern India from 200 BC would grow to become what we now know were the most traded bead in East Asia and the Pacific, even finding their way to Africa. 

This will complement the discussion of the trade bead industry, which does play an important role in this portion of the exhibition. The museum has a large collection of beads produced in both Venice and Czechoslovakia (Bohemia) that were created solely to be sent to Africa and were purchased there in the 20th century, from markets in Ghana and West Africa. The goal is to have our visitors understand how glass beads became almost essential items to early explorers throughout the world, as beads were often taken as tokens to initiate contact with indigenous cultures or to trade in regions such as Africa and North America. The exhibition will further explore how these beads became their own industry in the 19th century, with millions produced in a wide array of types that were at times made solely for the tastes of one specific culture. Lastly, the idea of the reverse trade of the 20th century will be examined, as many of the beads being collected today have found their way back to Europe and America from the African continent.

A final complement to this thematic area will be a reflection on how many of these beads were then taken on by various cultures and often imitated or used to create their own work, thus continuing the culture of exchange in new and meaningful ways.

How does the exhibition show beads as objects of ritual? Are cultural rituals featuring beads described or demonstrated as part of the show?

Both glass beads and beadwork related to ritual will be on display within that thematic area. For the beads there will be an emphasis on the ritualistic power that is held within the bead itself, power that is given to that bead through its production and ensuing cultural associations. There will be a focused element on the tradition of the eye bead, which spans the entire history of the production and use of glass beads and is a lovely narrative of how an object can become ritualized. These examples will show how beads have become both protective and traditional through their ritualistic associations.

Examples of beadwork will be shown with documentary imagery of the cultures that craft and use these works of art. The hope is to display how beads add to the power that is created in ceremonial and ritualistic costuming, while aiding in masking the humanity beneath and lift the wearer into an otherworldly realm. By linking these works to documentary photographs the viewer can observe how these objects put these ritualized goods in context and how beads are vital elements in these garments. 

In Western cultures, beads are often associated with feminine ornamentation, yet this is not the case across all cultures. What role does gender play in this exhibition?

Gender plays a part not only in the wearing of beads or beadwork, but also in the making of glass beads within this exhibition. There will be feminine accessories such as necklaces or beadwork bags throughout the exhibition, along with examples of beadwork created by women to signify stages of life, exemplified by works such as Ndebele aprons or a Kiowa cradle. These are artistic endeavors made by women, for women. They not only exhibit amazing creativity and artistry, but also the efforts of women to help their cultures survive in regions of grave oppression and poverty. 

The exhibition will also display how at times beads and beadwork are worn by only one gender, such as they elaborate beads and beadwork worn by Yoruba kings or the Krobo powder glass beads draped in numerous strands upon the bodies of young girls during the dipo ceremony. In some cultures beadworks are for men to wear, but made by woman or young girls, like some of those found with the Zulu people in South Africa. These examples explore the nature of how beads can be gendered in numerous ways throughout many cultures.

With the beads, there will be a discussion of the importance of women in the making of glass beads.  Women have long played a significant role in the production of glass beads. They were making, sorting and stringing a large amount of the beads produced in the 19th and 20th centuries.  This is especially apparent in Venice and the Casa G. Grilli bead fringe cards in the exhibition and it is a wonderful example of a company who employed women to do a large portion of the work associated with their products.

Life on a String also features beaded objects by contemporary makers. How do these pieces complement the older objects in the exhibition?

The contemporary beadworks are an invaluable aspect of this exhibition. They help to exhibit the new traditions in beadmaking and beadwork, which are often looking to the historical past or ideas of tradition in their inspiration. These objects also explore ideas of ritual as in David Chatt’s 101 Meditations in Saffron or Sherry Markovitz’s Big Bear. Kristina Logan’s Constellation necklace and Turquoise Cactus Bead both display the tour de force work being done in contemporary beadmaking and her modern take on the history of glass bead construction. These works help to explain that the long history of glass beadmaking and beadwork continues into the present and is a vital part of the craft and art world.

What do you hope viewers will take away from this show?

I have two hopes. Firstly, that the visitors will see the value and importance in objects so small that sometimes they are not seen. Glass beads have existed for hundreds of centuries and were often the first works produced at glassmaking sites that would later become famous to historians and collectors and thus can lead to their being overshadowed at times. The level of skill to create such detail and use of difficult techniques on a small scale should be valued and appreciated.

Secondly, I hope to show the visitor how beads have become universal. Their use throughout the world links extremely diverse cultures in ways not often considered. By using a thematic approach while exhibiting very different cultures in one space the exhibition will to demonstrate how many cultures throughout history have used glass beads to communicate their values, protect their worlds, and engage with the foreign.