21 Craft Happenings in 2021
Exhibitions, events, resources, and more to look forward to.
New year, new craft. We're excited to share a shortlist of not-to-be-missed happenings in 2021, including a glass-art Netflix series, major exhibition openings, and everything in between.
1. Blown Away Season 2 Starts January 22 on Netflix
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
January 2021–January 2022
In the second season of this art-glass reality show, a group of glassmakers from around the world race against time to create complex and sometimes whimsical works—season 1’s productions ranged from light fixtures to “robots” to glass flowers—while competing for $60,000 in prizes. Visitors to the Corning Museum, which collaborated on the show, can examine 10 of the actual season 2 works while learning about the artists, in an exhibition that opens January 22, the same day that the new season debuts on Netflix.
2. Black Craftspeople Digital Archive
February is Black History Month, a perfect time to explore this resource, which assembles historical material, such as newspaper articles and other notices, about African American carpenters, coopers, bricklayers, jewelers, needleworkers, and more—25 craft categories in all. Founded by historian Tiffany Momon as a way to honor a mostly invisible Black craft history, the Black Craftspeople Digital Archive is a work in progress: so far, its listings focus on the 18th century and the South Carolina Lowcountry, and most of the collected documents refer to sales of the enslaved or escapees from slavery. It’s a powerful reminder of a time when talented craftspeople were treated like commodities.
3. Indigenous Arts in Transition Seminar
Webinar hosted by the Bard Graduate Center, Bard College, New York
February 3, 2021, 6:00–7:30 p.m. ET
Two talks in the seminar will explore the curation of Indigenous art and other cultural production, from Indigenous standpoints. In “A Story in the Making: Creating Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists,” Jill Ahlberg Yohe, associate curator of Native American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, will discuss the recent traveling exhibition Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists and the innovative curatorial approaches that characterized it, which included assembling a large advisory group of Native artists and academics. In “Decolonizing the Museum: An Indigenous Curator’s Thoughts,” heather ahtone, senior curator at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, will explore the interactions she sees between Indigenous cultural practices and contemporary art. Register here.
4. Crafting America
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arizona
February 6–May 31, 2021
This survey exhibition of American craft from the 1940s to the present encompasses work in ceramics, wood, fiber, metal, glass, and other materials, and includes major names such as Ruth Asawa, Peter Voulkos, Jeffrey Gibson, and Sonya Clark. At the same time, the story it tells embodies the diversity of the contributions to craft: from the many Native American tribal traditions to practices and materials brought to these shores by immigrants from all over the world—all against the backdrop of the development of American art in general over the past 80 years.
5. Radical Tradition: American Quilts and Social Change
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
Through February 14, 2021
The iconic contemporary example of quilting as a way to express social and political concern is probably the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and a section of that huge project is on display in this show. But Radical Tradition was designed to show that quilting has had a public voice for a long time, and that committed artists have used the practice in all kinds of surprising ways. Ranging from a memorial quilt by Holocaust survivors made from suit fabric hoarded at Dachau, to a wildly colorful sewn portrait of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, to a lush installation of “Invasive Queer Kudzu” in printed fabric and felt, the exhibition reveals the power of an art form born of invisible, domestic labor to express solidarity with all who aren’t granted the freedom they deserve.
6. Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts
Through March 14, 2021
In 1675, some bold women broke into a formerly all-male profession by creating their own tailoring guilds. Since then, women have played key roles in designing and creating clothes that reflected changing female roles in society. This exhibition of 100 garments tells a story of evolving shapes, new materials, and rising and falling hemlines, while underlining the artistry of icons such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel, and the innovations of experimental labels like Chromat.
7. Bisa Butler: Portraits
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Through April 19, 2021
This is the first solo museum show of a painter who turned to the quilt medium to add vibrant and colorful new dimensions to her work, which centers on images of African Americans and references family photo albums, the photographic work of Gordon Parks, the paintings of Romare Bearden, and other important forms of Black expression. (The move to cloth also protected her baby daughter from the toxicity of oil paint and thinner.) The more than 20 portraits in the show depict profound Black self-awareness in a style that’s riotously colorful, intricately patterned, and celebratory.
8. Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design
SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film, Atlanta, Georgia
Through September 12, 2021
This show of Carter’s four decades of varied work for film encompasses 60 costumes worn by the likes of Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, and Lupita Nyong’o and other Black stars. Her meticulously researched, character-enhancing costumes transformed Oprah Winfrey into voting rights activist Annie Lee Cooper in the movie Selma, Denzel Washington into Malcolm X for Spike Lee’s biopic, and Chadwick Boseman into the King of Wakanda in Black Panther—for which she garnered the first Best Costume Design Oscar ever won by a Black woman.
9. Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective
BAMPFA (The University of California’s Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), Berkeley, California
Through July 18, 2021
The works of this northern Californian, who learned the craft from her mother and became one of the most lauded quilt artists in the world, not only employ dazzling colors in eye-popping patterns, but often include stitched words from Christian scripture, pre-printed images, and commentary on social and political issues. This online exhibition features not only many of Tompkins’ imaginative oversized quilts, but works of embroidery, pieced tops, decorated objects, and assemblages.
10. Sonya Clark: Tatter, Bristle, and Mend
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC
March 3–May 31, 2021
In a quarter-century of artistic practice, Sonya Clark has created a unique body of work by using fiber-art techniques to alter a range of objects that embody social-political identity and power. She asserts a Black presence where that presence has been denied or excluded: stitching, for example, cornrows into flags or stringing a violin bow with a dreadlock. She’s sewn an Afro in black thread onto the head of Abraham Lincoln on a five-dollar bill, evoking themes of money, freedom, and Black pride, and replaced one of the white tufts on a cotton plant with Black hair. The exhibition presents nearly 100 works in multiple media, along with installation and performance pieces.
11. Rivers, Reflections, Reinventions: 2021 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) Convention
March 17–21, 2021
This virtual and in-person gathering includes a series of online exhibitions and an online resource hall for vendors, schools, and organizations. At the same time, related ceramic exhibitions in physical space in Cincinnati, Ohio, will go forward: the 2021 NCECA Annual at the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery, the 2021 NCECA Juried Student Exhibition at DAAP Galleries of the University of Cincinnati, and the 2021 Multicultural Fellowship Exhibition. These venues will be open to visitors in accordance with guidelines, and NCECA will share the exhibitions virtually as well.
12. Saint Croix Valley Pottery Tour
Minnesota Potters of the Upper St. Croix River
May 7–9, 2021
The 29th yearly outing of this multi-maker event, in an area with well-established pottery traditions not far from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, is the first to be entirely virtual. There will be online studio visits to potters, as well as virtual demonstrations, and guest potters will work and display in many of the area’s established studios. Check site for updates.
13. Glass Art Society 2021 Virtual Conference
Glass Art Society (GAS)
May 20–22, 2021
The virtual 2021 version of this confab for glass artists and everyone else who loves art glass is still in the planning stages but will feature a range of exhibitions and activities geared to a global audience. It will be free and open to the public, with donations suggested. Check site for updates.
14. Counterparts: Glass + Art Elements
Tacoma Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington
Opening Summer 2021
“Today, glass art is countering the implicit hierarchies of the art world,” says the official announcement of this exhibition, and to illustrate how work in glass is finding a place within rather than below the traditional “fine” arts, the show presents glass and non-glass artworks side-by-side under the headings of seven important art elements: color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value.
15. SNAG 49th Annual Conference
June 24–26, 2021
The Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) is presenting its 2021 gathering virtually, offering three days of speakers, workshops, exhibitions, awards, and networking opportunities. The full schedule will be announced in March 2021.
16. Opening of the Art Preserve at the John Michael Kohler Art Center
June 26, 2021
The Kohler Art Center’s Art Preserve was established to house a special kind of art: artist-built environments. These are spaces that have been transformed by artists, trained or self-taught, to convey elements of their personal history, the place where the environment is located, or the culture to which the artist belongs. Sculpture, painting, found objects, and many other forms may go into the mix, and the experience of the installations is immersive. The Preserve was designed to meet the challenges of housing the more than 35 environments it owns and presenting them in all their variety. A scheduled August 2020 opening date was delayed by COVID-19.
17. With Eyes Opened: Cranbrook Academy of Art Since 1932
Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
June 18–September 19, 2021
Described in the press at its 1932 opening as “part laboratory, part atelier, and part artist’s colony,” Cranbrook Academy went on to become one of the most prestigious art, craft, and design schools in the country by emphasizing individual creativity and hands-on experience over academicism. This retrospective exhibition, which occupies all of the museum’s galleries, includes more than 250 works representing all the programs of study at the school—architecture, ceramics, design, fiber, metals, painting, photography, printmaking, and sculpture.
18. International Folk Art Market
Santa Fe, New Mexico
July 9–11, 2021
Billed as the world’s largest exhibition and sale of works by folk artists—artists working in traditions rooted in culture and community—this gathering welcomes more than 150 artists from 60 different countries. Lectures, films, artist workshops, and special sales round out the activities. Details about 2021 events to be announced.
19. Another Crossing: Artists Revisit the Mayflower Voyage
Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, Massachusetts
July 3–October 10, 2021
On the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ voyage from Plymouth, England, to what would become Plymouth, Massachusetts, the museum presents the work of 10 artists from the US, the UK, and the Netherlands commemorating the event in a unique way: curator Glenn Adamson specified that only 17th-century technology could be used in the creation of the objects. Research trips to both Plymouths gave the artists insight into the craft skills of the era and the historical background of an event that’s seen by some as a historical landmark to be treasured, and by others as a harbinger of ruin for Native people.
20. Mode Brut
Museum of Craft and Design, San Francisco, California
September 4, 2021–January 23, 2022
The San Francisco nonprofit Creativity Explored gives studio space and mentoring to artists with developmental disabilities. In this exhibition, the museum displays textile works by more than 50 Creativity Explored artists, who teamed up with queer advocate/model Yanni Brumfield and designers from the community art collective Bonanza and San Francisco-based haute-couture brand Tokyo Gamine. The goal: reexamining the concept of fashion via a fusion of fine art, couture, and outsider art concepts.
21. Food Justice: Growing a Healthier Community through Art
Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
This exhibition, created in partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and other nonprofit partners, will present art and craft works that foreground problems that can make high-quality food hard to come by in communities: economic inequality, structural racism, corporate agricultural practices, food waste, climate change, and political struggles at home and around the world.
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