Remembering: Lloyd Herman

Remembering: Lloyd Herman

Portrait of Lloyd Herman

Independent curator, museum director, and American Craft Council Honorary Fellow Lloyd Herman died on January 5, 2023. He was one of the foremost authorities on the contemporary craft movement in America and traveled the world lecturing on the topic of American craft.

Lloyd Herman was born in Oregon in 1936. He began his education in Oregon but interrupted his university studies to serve in the US Naval Reserve from 1956-1958. He later completed his bachelor’s degree at the American University in Washington, DC, majoring in Speech and Drama. He began his career working for the National Housing Center, organizing trade exhibitions for the housing industry. At times he would book traveling Smithsonian decorative arts exhibitions to entice visitors to the center. From there he moved to an administrative position with the office of the director of what was then known as the National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

Herman was aware that the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, an historic building designed by James Renwick Jr. for banker and art collector William Corcoran, was in need of repurposing. Inspired by the British Design Center, Herman wrote a proposal to the National Museum director at the time for the Renwick Gallery to become a similar design center which would feature changing exhibits on design, decorative arts, craft, and folk art. His proposal was dismissed and forgotten until the subsequent director Joshua C. Taylor discovered it and appointed Herman to start the program. Herman served as the inaugural director of the Renwick Gallery from 1972 until 1986, during which time he oversaw 113 exhibitions, many of which he personally curated and that traveled nationally and internationally.

Following his retirement from the Renwick Gallery, Herman worked as an independent curator and lecturer. In the 1990s he and his life partner Dick Wilson returned to the west coast to settle in Seattle, where he also served as an advisor to the Tacoma Art Museum. In the late 2000s Herman created an $800,000 challenge grant with his own funds to establish an endowment for a second curator position for the Renwick Gallery, which became known as the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft. In 2009 Herman stated to Ornament magazine “I know no one else was going to do this, and I wanted to solidify the fact that there is a curator for the collection. . . . the Renwick is the national craft collection, and that’s important.”

Portrait of Lloyd Herman

Lloyd Herman. Photo courtesy James Renwick Alliance for Craft

Herman was named an Honorary Fellow by the American Craft Council in 1988 and One-of-a-Kind awardee by JRACraft (James Renwick Alliance) in 2009. He was also an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Northwest Designer Craftartists, which produced the documentary “Lloyd Herman: The Accidental Curator” as part of their NWDC Living Treasures video series.

Learn More About Lloyd Herman

Visit the the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art website to listen to an oral history interview with Lloyd Herman and Paul J. Smith.

Read Lloyd Herman’s article “The Folk Masterpiece of Juan Felix Sanchez” from the December 1980 issue of American Craft in our digital collection.