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What's the Best Handmade Gift You've Ever Received?

What's the Best Handmade Gift You've Ever Received?

What's the Best Handmade Gift You've Ever Received?

December/January 2012 issue of American Craft magazine

Mo Dickens got this hefty Rah Booty Birthday Bowl by Johanna Keefe for his 50th birthday. Emblazoned with cheerleaders, elephants, and guns, it weighs in at more than 20 pounds. Photo: Stephanie Kantor

In each issue, we ask members of the craft community to answer a question...

One of the best handmade gifts I've received was a Haida Native American basket.
~Dale Chihuly, glass artist, Seattle


There is a special gift we received many years ago, after meeting Judy [Kensley] McKie. Garry had sent her a little bench that, in her first visit to Garry's studio, she remarked on and seemed to like very much. Perhaps a year or so later, a large box arrived at the studio. It was a carved wood coffee table, by Judy, called Dog Eat Dog. We were blown away. It was a wonderful gift and totally unexpected.

Garry was so enchanted with the carvings that he picked up one of the dogs and took it out to the Artworks Foundry in Berkeley. He wanted the owner, Piero Mussi, to see one of the dogs because he felt it would translate to bronze beautifully. Piero agreed, and that was the beginning of Judy's bronze work. This gift led to a wonderful gift to the public: Judy McKie's incredible works in bronze!
~Garry Knox Bennett and Sylvia Bennett, artists, Oakland, CA


My wife, Cary Esser, has been chair of ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute for 15 years. We have received many wonderful artworks from students over the years. One of my favorites is a 20-plus-pound Rah Booty Birthday Bowl. It was made by Johanna Keefe (class of 2005) and is more than 2 feet wide. It depicts KCAI's Rah Booty cheerleading squad, elephants, and guns.

I got it for my 50th birthday along with a cheer that began "Fifty years and nine months ago your parents had sex / Ooooo, that's nasty / Ooooo, that's gross!" Turning 50 was a lot more fun than I thought it would be.
~Mo Dickens, gallery assistant, Belger Arts Center / Red Star Studios, Kansas City, MO


A quilt and cards made by students at Willow Park Primary, in East London, South Africa. Nine children worked with Bonnie Potgieter, a creative, thoughtful teacher, to make a quilt for me (Auntie Carol). Each child designed and painted a square. On a visit to the school, they surprised me with the quilt and a card of each square. The framed quilt and cards hang in a prominent place in my home.
~Carol Gorelick, executive director, ABC Connects, New York


My favorite handmade gift is a repurposed necklace made especially for me by a local artist. I inherited a pearl necklace from my great grandmother to wear on my wedding day. However, age weakened the thread suspending the beads in their delicate pattern. On the inevitable day that the beads went bouncing across the bathroom floor, I was distraught. The pearls were collected and delivered to a local craftsperson for restoration and renewal, and I received the renewed necklace as a gift from my mother. The new piece is just as lovely as the original, and I don it every chance I have.

Handmade gifts are not just about the object but the narrative that inspired its creation. Carefully crafted gifts cast aside feelings of obligatory gifting to convey a sense of distinction and appreciation. I always treasure the handmade gifts I receive.
~Rachel Allen, arts education director, Kentucky Arts Council, Frankfort, KY


This walnut bowl is one of my favorite handcrafted gifts. My friend and woodworking mentor, Ura, gave it to me a couple of years ago. Although Ura crafts beautiful furniture in many styles, his personal preference is clearly the historic Amish designs that were good enough for his forefathers. I had shared photos of work from [George] Naka­shima and Frank Lloyd Wright with him, discussing how they drew attention to the beauty of nature's imperfections, and he seemed confused. A few years later when I stopped by to visit, he pulled out this walnut bowl, turned with no electricity, incorporating a design element straight out of Nakashima's playbook - wonderful butterfly keys - stabilizing the bowl's cracks. Much more surprising than the beautiful walnut bowl was a clear and undeniable meeting of the minds, even if only through a design aesthetic, between friends from two completely different cultures.
~Robin Wade, furniture maker, Florence, AL