Published: January 24, 2012
An economic downturn disrupted the American marketplace, and unemployment reached double digits. Urban dwellers retreated to the country, embracing a simple and moral work ethic, and sought a path to a better life by working on farms and making things by hand.
This may sound like today’s economy, but similar circumstances in the 1890s led artists to embrace the concept of integrating art into everyday life, using native craft traditions and indigenous materials to produce decorative objects that were simple in form and functional in design.
The Arts and Crafts and Modernist studio craft movements in southeastern Pennsylvania produced a diverse body of work, and makers of contemporary studio craft continue to explore fresh ideas and new designs. Whether a mosaic tile, an abstract form in wood, a wall sculpture or a ceramic vessel, these nonverbal forms of human expression not only reflect cultural values, but have the power to transform everyday lives.
The creative energy, broad technical repertoire and designs of these artists are subjects of the Michener Art Museum’s new installation of work by studio craft artists of the Delaware Valley. “Intelligent Design,” opening February 3, will highlight regional studio craft from its earliest beginnings to the diversity of expression today.
The exhibition features work from the studio shops of such makers and designers as Frederick W. Harer, Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, Mira Nakashima-Yarnell, Phillip Lloyd Powell, Paul Evans, David Ellsworth, Mark Sfirri, Robert Dodge, Toshiko Takaezu, Robert Winokur, and Matthias Pliessnig.
Over the last century, regional studio craft artists have been creating objects in which the work’s design flows out of its function, its power to elicit emotions and ideas, and its ability to reference a plurality of ideas and styles. Whether crafting for the functional, a sculptural and aesthetic effect, or to explore the possibilities of representation, these artists produced a rich body of work that bears the aesthetic imprint of its time.
“The creative energy, broad technical repertoire, and innovative designs of the artists represented here make them highly desirable candidates for the Michener’s permanent collection,” says curator of collections Constance Kimmerle. “The strong studio craft tradition of southeastern Pennsylvania represents a significant collecting opportunity for the Michener Art Museum, and it’s exciting to be doing this in the area in which the museum is actively building its permanent collection.”
The James A. Michener Art Museum is at 138 South Pine Street. For more information, www.michenerartmuseum.org or 215-340-9800.
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