Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cold Winter Nights


While DC was spared the blizzard that swept up the East Coast (I think the Beltway magically surrounded the region and protected us), it has still been quite cold and windy here. And when it is cold and windy, there is nothing better to do than curl up under a nice warm quilt with a cup of cocoa to watch a fire or movie. I don't have a fire place, so I settle for candles and a movie.

When curling up under that quilt, are you thinking about the design? At some point last year, my roommate discovered the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, which might sound incredibly boring, but is actually quite cool. They have a beautiful website with lots of resources and information about quilts. I think quilts tell the story of a family or culture's material culture more than other things. Using materials that had a previous life, you can create an amazing pictorial functional object that tells a story. You can learn about the Center's courses, collections, and exhibitions on their website, but the best part is their Quilt Explorer. Here, you can look at their quilts or make your own.

Geared toward teachers and those interested in learning about quiltmaking, the "make your own" teaches you about the patterns, stitches, and techniques for making a quilt. You start by choosing your quilt pattern. Then you select fabrics--and not just any fabrics, they provide you with patterns from different eras from the 1840s to today. Next, you have the most artistic part, where you choose where your fabric pieces will go in the pattern. It's much harder than you think, but you get to see how the one square you design transforms into a beautiful quilt on the whole rectangle. Then you select your border, because a quilt needs a visual resting place and a nice binding for all those small pieces. Finally, you choose your quilting stitch to finish your quilt! (Not sure what a quilting stitch is? The site will explain it to you.)

It's so much fun to digitally put the parts together, and while at the end you don't have a quilt you can curl up under, you can admire your own handiwork and post it for others to see online. You can see my quilt (above) in more detail here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Parties


I really wanted to write a Christmas post, but couldn't find something that I thought was good and decorative arts related to write about. I searched for ornaments that might be nice and convey the feeling of the season, but found nothing. Then I decided to go with fashion. Clothes never let me down, and I'm always happy to look at pretty things that I can never own or really wear.

I found the Christian Dior dress that is above on the Met Museum website under the heading "Classicism in Modern Dress." I love Dior, and think that his designs really epitomize what we now consider "classic" lines in women's clothing. Wouldn't this be lovely for your holiday parties? Not sure what holiday parties I have that I would wear this to, but I would love to sweep in and dance around with my full dance card dangling from my wrist. Maybe I've had too much eggnog.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Artist Crush


Last entry I talked about Lynda Watson and her amazing Landscape Neckpiece that I so deeply covet. Today, while doing some editing, I came across her again and had to stop to look her up online to learn more. Turns out, she's still making jewelry and has a great website. My favorite upon first glance was the Maui Birthdays bracelet (above) in her metal jewelry section. She also does felt jewelry now! While I'm not sure I'm old enough to wear felt jewelry or clothing, I might be able to wear some of her creations.

I'm also in love with her Prague Celebrations brooch. I love a good brooch, and this one looks like it would go perfectly with every single outfit I have. Her work is quite amazing, intricate, and highly skilled. I also like that she's kept up with trends in jewelry and her work, while retaining a classic feel, has moved from the bulky intricacies of the late 1960s to cleaner lines and imagery more fitting for today. Plus, it seems like she gets to do some good traveling, based on the names of her pieces.

Her resume is impressive, and she has work at the Renwick here in DC! Feel free to contact her and order something for me!

Photo credit: Lynda Watson Art

Friday, December 17, 2010

Finishing my thesis


I'm about three pages away from being done with the first full draft of my thesis. So naturally I'm going to write a blog post. No one can tell me I'm not a fantastic procrastinator.

This will be short because I do want to get back to that, but I just wanted to share this amazing necklace I found while looking for thesis images. It's a necklace by Lynda Watson. (Apparently she got married between the time of OBJECTS: USA and today because now she's Lynda Watson-Abbott.) It's called Landscape Neckpiece and I absolutely love it. I really like bold, funky, chunky, handmade jewelry and this just called to me. If it weren't in the Museum of Art and Design, I would seek it out and probably just stare at it since I could never afford it. If you go to its page on the museum website you can zoom in on different details and see all the amazing little intricacies in it. Just astounding. Wouldn't you want to wear it?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Global Africa Project

This past week I went to New York do do some thesis research at the Museum of Art and Design. Their mission, as stated on their website, is to "[collect, display, and interpret] objects that document contemporary and historic innovation in craft, art, and design." An early leader in the push to promote and preserve studio craft, the Museum of Art and Design remains a leader in sharing innovation in traditional methods and materials.

While there, I went through their exhibition, The Global Africa Project. An amazing collection of work, it features artists exploring what it means to be African around the world. Some of the works are funny, some are quite somber, some are innovative, some are functional, and some just left me standing with my mouth open, staring at the concept and craftsmanship. The statement for the exhibition on the website states that it "actively challenges conventional notions of a singular African aesthetic or identity..." The website features selected works from the exhibition, but if you are in New York, or get the chance to go before May 15th, 2011, go see this.

One of the ones I found most intriguing was Kim Schmahmann's Apart-Hate: A People Divider. Through a variety of media, the artist interprets the growth of apartheid in South Africa and the laws and their years are represented in the boxes falling in the left corner. The back of the work (not pictured) is also an example of the brilliant technical work this artist is capable of with woods, veneers, and metals. I stared at this work for a long time, absorbing its message as well as its beauty.

Unfortunately, I was unable to take pictures, and I had trouble taking pictures from the museum's website, so please, go look for yourself and find your favorite piece.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dead or Alive?


My roommate and I play this "game" wherein we try and determine if people we're studying are Dead or Alive. It's not quite as morbid or strange as it might sound, but when you study and write about people born in the 1920s and '30s, its quite possible that they may no longer be with us on earth. The game really got started when we were without internet for two weeks in February because of the Great Snow of 2010. (I abhor the portmanteaus created to describe this massive meteorological event.) Fortunately, the internet in our apartment was restored and is very handy in helping us figure who is dead and who is alive.

Recently, I was happy to discover that Richard Shaw (a ceramicist I am researching for my thesis) is still alive and working! I love trompe l'oeil, and his is whimsical and fun. A Funk potter from California, Shaw always seems happy and like he is having fun with his work. As someone who was trained that functionality is the number one goal in making a ceramic work, I am excited when I see people using clay in fun and non-functional ways. His current work (above) is funny and technically amazing. The piece pictured is called "Rejected Lover Teapot" and while I feel a little bad for the guy on the edge of the plate, it also makes me laugh. See more of Shaw's great work here.

Photo from Shaw's website.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I can retain information!


One of my fears as I get older (yes, because I'm so old now...) is that I can't remember things. I've always been a little on the scatterbrained side--walking into rooms and not remembering why, being easily distracted by shiny objects--those sorts of things. Sometimes I worry about it more than others because I'm in a field where memory is incredibly important and being able to recall facts about who made what when is one of the cornerstones to the art history field. So, I was incredibly happy when I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts this past week and was able to rattle off names of makers as I wandered through the decorative arts galleries.

Hmmm... that looks like Knox silver (it was). That's a Royal Worcester plate. That's a Greene and Greene chair. That looks like Hannah Barlow. And it was Hannah Barlow! From Doulton Lambeth Art Pottery. I was pretty excited to remember this because I just learned about Hannah Barlow and her sisters this semester in my ceramics class. They were just decorators, not makers, because this was before the movement toward the potter being an all-in-one. Hannah, as you can see above, had a very sketch-book like style of decorating. She incised the clay, using it much more like a canvas than a vessel. The result are well-executed, warm, happy animals in a variety of scenes. Her work is friendly to me. Something I would like in my home to remind me of nature. And that's probably exactly why it was popular in its heyday.

And in case you were wondering, I was in Minneapolis to visit the new headquarters of the American Craft Council and their library to do research for my thesis. The new headquarters are quite lovely, in a fantastic old beer brewery building, and everyone was very friendly. I highly recommend a visit.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Collage Art


I've written a lot about ceramics lately, mainly because I was feeling guilty for writing about all that furniture I loved. (Furniture I've loved so much that I put the Panton Chair on my Amazon Wish List.) Often, when looking for inspiration about blog posts, or doing general research, I look at the V & A website and the Met's website. These two have some of the best online images and searchable databases for those doing research, or just interested in the visual arts.

Now that I cleared that up, I stumbled across this painting (above) by Romare Bearden when scanning through the Met's Timeline. I really enjoy the timeline because it shows you what was happening in the geo-political world when different works were being made. I've always really enjoyed Romare Bearden. I actually discovered him on a trip to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, when they had a small gallery with his works. He was from Charlotte, but later moved to Harlem where he became a part of the Harlem Renaissance.

He often uses bright colors and collage elements to form his compositions. According to the timeline, he was inspired by jazz and worked to include the same musical ideas in his work. This painting, "The Block," was done in 1971. He wanted to show the vibrancy and life of a Harlem city block. Many of his works focus on home, family, tradition, and daily life. Take a look at the page for the painting to read more about Bearden, his work, and to see details of this happy piece.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Heroes


I met a hero of mine yesterday. Someone I've long admired and known we have friends in common, but I actually got to shake his hand and talk to him. His name:
Mark Hewitt. He made the absolutely beautiful pots above, the photo of which I shamelessly borrowed from his phenomenal website.

Mark (I hope I can call him this now) works in Pittsboro, NC and comes from a long line of industrial potters in England. He traveled and learned the craft of pottery before finding his way to North Carolina. You can read his whole story here.

I was so excited to see him, and definitely had to work to keep myself from gushing. Yet, as we talked, he was down-to-earth, friendly, and seemed almost as excited to talk to me as I was to talk to him. He genuinely is interested in encouraging others in the arts and helping them learn and grow. We met because I was volunteering at Craft in America's "Crafting a Nation" conference in Washington, DC, where he was on a discussion panel. He shared a lovely essay he wrote about why he has apprentices and why encouraging younger students is important. It made me contemplate giving up this masters degree to go work in clay with him for two years. His excitement for clay and training the next generation is contagious and made me admire him even more.

I highly recommend if you are in NC, or will be, to attend one of his kiln openings. Or, if you're in DC, visit his piece in the Luce Center. Or find a gallery or other collection that has his work in your area.

Meeting Mark reminded me why I love potters so much. They are often humble, friendly people who want to know about you almost more than they want to sell their pots. And because they take that time, it just makes you want to buy their work and support them even more. So today, go out and support your local potter.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Discovery


While searching for an image of Eva Zeisel's "Smoo" salt and pepper shakers, also known as the Town and Country dinnerware service, I stumbled across the image above of an inkwell she designed ca. 1929-30. I love the bright orange color and the geometry of the design. I didn't know she had work like this since I'm used to her more organic and muted dinnerware of the 1940s and '50s.

I'm intrigued that she designed an inkwell like this in 1929. I'm not sure when pens moved from needing an inkwell to the contemporary fountain or ballpoint we know today, but this seems a bit late. In my quick research I found there are a few inkwells in the early 1920s, but with a much more Art Deco feel. Zeisel's inkwell is a bit more Modern with a lack of ornamentation and strict geometry. In many ways it reminds me of Japanese or Chinese inkwells for calligraphy. Unfortunately, the Met Museum website doesn't provide much more insight into this piece, but I hope to stumble across more things like this.

Photo from the Met Museum.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ohr you could look at this


I'm currently in a ceramics class that is probably my favorite class of all of my graduate school career. (And yes, I've been in long enough for this to qualify as a career.) Today, we discussed the Arts and Crafts movement in America and George Ohr got a small moment on the screen. I really enjoy the work of George Ohr. He was from Biloxi, MS, had a zany mustache, and really pushed the limits of clay. He also experimented extensively with glazes, searching for new colors, new textures, and moving away from the smooth artistic glazes of his contemporaries.

He was an arrogant man and believed no one could compete with his work. He would post signs in his shop and at exhibitions proclaiming his pottery the best in the world. He even made an umbrella stand and inscribed it to the Smithsonian, confident that the institution would want it. They have it in their collection now. He had a sexual element to many of his works, pushing boundaries of good taste for the late 19th century. Really, I think he was just Postmodern before there was such a thing. When compared to Howard Kottler's "Hole Grabber" there is a definite relationship. If you're in the Biloxi area, you should check out the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum to see more of his works.

Photo Credit: Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fool the Eye


Should you wonder why I've suddenly upped my blog writing in the last few weeks, it's because I'm simultaneously avoiding writing my thesis and helping myself write my thesis. I'm avoiding, well, because that's just what I do. But I'm helping because somehow, these posts get my brain in the right place to crank out 4,000 words or so about a man, an exhibition, and a country on the verge of being wowed by studio craft.

Fool the Eye is the literal translation of "trompe l'oeil." It's one of my favorite art techniques. I've always wanted to attempt it, but lack of skill and direction hindered it in the past. It's going on the list of things to do later in life.

Lest you think this post is about musing of no coherent nature, direct your eyes back to the top of the page. This is an amazing piece of trompe l'oeil. I discovered it in my roam through the Luce Center last week and was instantly struck by it. I noticed it must be a pretty recent acquisition as its accession number is 2009.45. It's all clay. The corrugated cardboard: clay. The books: clay. The wheels: clay. Amazing, isn't it?

Unfortunately, this piece, titled Bookmobile, is so new that the Luce Center site tells you that research is being done on this piece and you should return later to learn more. I dug a little to find out about the artist: Sylvia Hyman. She works in Nashville, TN, and her work is all trompe l'oeil. I could write more, but others have done a much better job as you can read here.

I'm very interested in the books featured in this piece. There are several clay books, including Bernard Leach's, a copy of The Cat in the Hat, Plato, and Julia Child's French Cooking. Sadly, the picture doesn't show you several of the other books, one of which I recall is about music. I'm excited to learn more about this piece and why she chose to include these works.

For now, though I'll just be mesmerized by her skill.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Plates


Yesterday, after what constitutes a marathon session of reading at the Library of Congress (for me, that's about 4 hours), I decided I need to to go to a museum and actually see objects rather than reading about them. After skimming furniture books, exhibition catalogs and reacquainting myself with Mark Del Vecchio's Postmodern Ceramics, I knew I needed to go to the Luce Center.

The Luce Center, located in the Reynolds Center (which also houses the entirety of SAAM and the National Portrait Gallery), is open storage for both fine art and craft. Honestly, I've spent very little time in the fine art section because that doesn't appeal to me on the same level. So, I wandered up to the third level to look for "my plates."

These aren't plates I made. These are the plates that pretty much changed my life and the whole trajectory of my graduate school career. I spent a semester learning about these plates, about their maker, Howard Kottler, and discovering the whole world of Postmodernism. I read Fredric Jameson--and for anyone who's ever read him, you understand exactly how hard that was. But that's beside the point.

These plates are clever. Incredibly so. Kottler takes porcelain blanks, like you would find at a production factory, and applies decals to them. When he originally began his work, he used both porcelain blanks and commercially available decals. (My favorite part is that this process is called decalcomania.) These particular plates, as you can see above, take Thomas Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" and do humorous, if not dark, things to him. The one above is probably one of my favorites called "The Ambitious Resident." The repetition of the carriage, which came from a standard catalog of decals is combined with the special-ordered Blue Boy decal. The boy is chopped up in perfect pieces, but his expression doesn't change and he doesn't seem phased at all by this change. He also isn't going anywhere. What are his ambitions if he has no horses and can't even seem to pull himself together to have his entire body at least in one carriage? Kottler's other pieces probe in the same ways. "Would Blue Boy" is probably my second favorite from the set, but I encourage you to check out the pieces for yourself.

Photo credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum

Monday, September 13, 2010

I continue to eat my words


I decided to take a risk this final semester of graduate school and take a furniture course. I figured that if it was 20th century furniture I would be okay, since I do love some good design and my good friends, Charles and Ray Eames were 20th century designers. For my course, we took a field trip to the Knoll factory in East Greenville, PA, this past Friday and I was completely wowed.

Their museum, while small, contains their iconic pieces from the Knoll Studio collection, as you can see above. You walk in and are immediately greeted by a number of chairs and a handful of tables that speak volumes about mid-century Modern design. As you move through the room, you see more pieces that tell the story of how it progressed and how Knoll worked to be at the forefront of design and innovation. But the best part: you can sit in almost every single one of these pieces. Please name another museum where you can do that.

We then were given a tour of the factory, and while factory work is usually not at the top of my list of jobs I'd like to have, this one could be a contender. The factory is well-lit, open, comfortable, and every single person we talked to seemed excited and happy to be there. They were more than glad to tell us what they were doing and show us how they make their furniture. We were even allowed to touch the fabric that goes on the Life chair! Other employees from the engineering and marketing sides talked to us, and I got the overwhelming impression that Knoll works incredibly hard to be at the forefront of good design.

The most amazing thing they've come up with in the last year is the Generation Chair. It's a chair that borders on being intuitive, and as soon as I sat in it and realized the potential, I was sold. You can sit in it like a normal chair at your computer. Sit in it sideways. Sit backwards. Lean on it. Push it around. Basically, it does everything I've ever wanted a chair to do. Visit this site to learn all about how amazing it is.

Now, if only I could afford it...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Did I say I hate furniture?


I did, didn't I. But I did give a brief mention to my love of Belter. I realized (as I pondered that I should blog a little more regularly) that I've never fully devoted an entry to the Belter tete-a-tete and why I find it such an amazing furniture form. The time has come.

I discovered this beautiful piece of furniture, lovingly housed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art while goofing off one day in undergrad. I'm not sure what I was researching, but I used to click through the pictures of the American Decorative Arts collection because there was a wedding dress that I thought was absolutely, breathtakingly, extraordinarily beautiful (that I can't find now). I also liked to look through the other decorative arts on the page. (This was a point in my life where I kind of wish someone had said, "Did you know there is a way you can study just these things without all the paintings and sculpture?) In this way, I stumbled across this sinuous form. It was amazing, and so perfectly named. "Tete-a-tete." I imagined my life wherein I would own a home large enough to house this piece of furniture. Couples and friends could sit, completely ensconced in the piece, shut off from the rest of the world, but able to focus solely on one another.

It is quite the Victorian piece of furniture. I want to use the word "delicious" here in imagining a woman in her hoop skirt, laced up bodice, leaning back and exchanging words with her dashing young man in his long coat and sideburns, with a bit of a rakish look in his eye.

To this day, I'm not sure what it is about this piece. But I think it is the form, I love all tete-a-tetes. And in the Rococo revival that was the mid-19th century, the form works well. There are a few additional decorative elements on the top that I could live without, but I actually like the deep blue and gold upholstery. (I doubt it is original.) The Belter piece I had to learn for my survey class just makes me feel repulsed and a little embarrassed by just how much I love the other piece. Which, again, leads to the conclusion that it's the form. If anyone knows of a modern take--like Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe--on the tete-a-tete, please send it my way!

Photo courtesy metmuseum.org

Monday, August 2, 2010

My true feelings about furniture


I've been at "furniture camp" for the last month. Otherwise known as the MESDA Summer Institute at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, NC. I was incredibly excited to come and learn more and see what this would have in store for me. I interned at MESDA as an undergraduate during my Salem College Jan Term, 2005. Going in, I didn't consider that I've never really a) studied colonial American and b) don't really like furniture as a subject of study. These were probably considerations to take before I signed up.

But I did all of my pre-course reading. And I found it interesting. Sure probate inventories and ads for runaway slaves aren't the most scintillating reading, but I managed to get through them and get excited about the course. And I got to look at nice pictures of furniture. And I was okay.

Then I got here. I learned a lot about material culture--lots more than I'd ever learned before. Pulling together inventories, court records, archaeological information, decorative arts, anthropology, and history to create a new course of study was exciting and interesting. So many things to see and look at. Then came my object for study. A blanket chest. From eastern North Carolina. (pictured above) From the turn of the eighteenth century. I was not thrilled.

I tried to examine this piece and why it would be interesting. I couldn't come up with anything. I just wanted a nice coffee mug, plate, punch bowl--anything made of clay!--to study. No such luck. I was going to learn all I could about this chest and it was going to kill me, I was pretty sure. Then I started to ponder how someone could get a degree in decorative arts and not care about furniture at all. My thesis has furniture aspects, and I'm not recoiling at the thought of that. Why don't I find furniture interesting? I can't tell you that, any more than I can tell you why I love ceramics. After 4 long weeks of wondering and fretting, I have one conclusion:

I don't like furniture until the 19th century. And even then it's touch-and-go. I like it to sit on, to lie upon, to eat at, but I don't know that I want to study it forever. Fortunately, there are lots of people who do. I'll look at all the plates and you can take the table and chairs. For now though, I'm just happy to return to the 20th century and studio craft.

Photo courtesy MESDA object photograph files. For amazing information, photographs, and research materials about Southern decorative arts and culture prior to the Civil War, MESDA is one of the best resources you could have. I am very grateful to the people of MESDA and Old Salem for this experience and highly recommend it to those interested in this time period, decorative arts, and material culture.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Who wants machine made?

I walked in to my kitchen this morning to discover this lovely collection of cups from last night sitting on our counter, bathed in sunlight. I will admit to taking some license in moving an actual glass out of the way for the photo, but I loved seeing our collection of handmade objects along the counter. The tallest tumbler in the back was made by the man who taught me pottery for two years at Montgomery Community College, Mike Ferree. He's a phenomenal craftsman, and this shot totally blocks the beautiful salt-glazed texture, the use of gold slip and green celadon, and the slight carving Mike added to keep the cup from getting to slippery when condensation formed on the outside. The two yellow and ones with black stripes (really, they're green) are from my dinnerware set. The back left tumbler is a wood-fired one I purchased at the American Craft Council Baltimore craft show last year. I used to have trouble buying pottery, since I figured I could make it myself. But, the longer it's been since I've turned or fired anything, I've decided supporting other artists (craftsmen) is more important than my pride. The tumbler closest is my lovely roomie's--a fellow potter! Her's is wood fired and has some awesome zig-zags running down the side for a fantastic visual and tactile texture. The coffee mug is my coffee mug. My constant morning companion. The little piece that gets me going in the morning. It probably should be washed, but that can wait.

Bonus pottery: There is a utensil holder behind all of this, made by my great friends at Whynot Pottery. I spent 2 (or 3?) lovely summers working for them in their fantastic shop. If you're headed to NC and near Seagrove, pop by and visit them. They have beautiful stuff. And the drive up to their shop is one of the most beautiful vistas you'll get.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Summer is Upon Me


Since I moved to DC in August of 2008, people here consistently ask me about the humidity in NC, my home state. I always laugh and tell them it's humid in NC and I'm pretty sure DC has nothing on it. I lied. The people here know what they are talking about. Maybe it's because I walk more here than I ever did in NC, or that my apartment isn't air conditioned, but I'm pretty sure the humidity here is way worse than any of the 23 summers I spent in NC.

But all of this heat and summery weather has me thinking about last summer. I didn't experience much of the DC summer as I hopped from Newport, RI to Limoges, France, to Anchorage, AK. As I walked down 2nd st. SE here in DC the other day I was reminded of Paris. The humidity, the houses, the leafy trees, they all reminded me of walking down leafy streets with amazing houses. To be clear, Paris apartments are much cooler than DC rowhouses. In being transported back and dreaming of one day going to Paris where my trip isn't a huge whirlwind of visiting every tourist hot-spot in 3 days, I thought of my favorite painting.

Olympia by Edouard Manet. It's in the Musee D'Orsay and, sadly, I didn't get to see it when I was there. It's on the list of reasons why I need to go back. This is such a risque painting. It was introduced to me in my senior year of high school by my very hyper-sexualized AP English teacher. Oh, the things I learned that year that probably didn't need to. I finished an assignment early and Mrs. Graham (aforementioned teacher) had a book of 100 important paintings or some such thing and gave it to me to entertain myself while everyone else finished what they were doing. She told me I would have to tell her what my favorite painting was at the end. It was Olympia. It was sexy, amazing, and I found it incredibly intriguing.

Fast forward 4 years to my senior year of college as an art history major. We're studying Impressionism and Manet gets a nice mention. We learn all about Olympia and her basis in historic paintings of women. The great thing about Olympia is that Manet acknowledges that history, but throws it away at the same time. (Is he a Postmodernist?) Olympia is based on a variety of paintings featuring reclining nudes, but is most often associated with Titian's Venus of Urbino. Sure, they're both nude, but the Venus is much more demure than Olympia.

Venus is blonde (angelic!); Olympia is brunette (earthy, base, evil!). Venus has handmaids in the background, preparing her clothes; Olympia's maid brings flowers (presumably from a customer/suitor) rather than clothes, further suggesting to us that she has no intention of getting dressed any time soon. Venus casts her gaze to the side; Olympia looks straight into our eyes. But my favorite changed symbol telling us that Olympia is no demure, virginal Venus: Venus has a small dog, Olympia has a black cat. Much like the blonde/brunette symbolism, dogs represent kindness and friendliness. Having a small dog is the sign of a well-bred lady. A black cat matches the dark hair as cats are associated with evil, darkness, and ill-breeding.

Maybe it's because I'm a brunette. Or maybe because I just like how forthright Olympia is. But whatever the reason, this painting still intrigues, excites, and amazes me. Even the Nocturne Radio doesn't amaze me like this does. Here's hoping for a return to Paris to see it in person!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wherein I solve Art v. Craft


I can't solve Art v. Craft. I'll be honest. I'll admit defeat. This debate is older than I am and probably will not be resolved in my lifetime. I recently saw a button on Etsy that caused me to throw up my hands with the realization that no matter how much I write, I can't ever solve this debate single-handedly. The button in question features a pregnant woman and the text read "I'm SO crafty, I make people." Cute. But not helping my cause. When "craft" is now creeping into reproduction, I think I've lost all footing for serious study.

And that makes me sad. I want to argue so passionately for craft. For fine craftsmanship. For people who want to knit in their spare time. For those who occasionally dabble in the line between fine art and craft. Decorative arts tries to walk that line. Decorative arts is very easily defined as "the arts concerned with the production of high-quality objects that are both useful and beautiful." (According to my handy Mac dictionary widget.) But let's dig a little deeper in to that. What counts here?

- clothing: dresses, shirts, boots
- sliver: muffineers, vases
- jewelry: brooches, necklaces
- wood: furniture in a variety of forms

There are many other things that count, but I think by now you're getting the idea. So, where do Etsy sellers or this strange object fit in that? Well, Etsy sellers run the gamut from traditionally trained craftspeople to Do-It-Yourself folks who hope to make a small income from their hobby. The object linked to above (a memory jug) is a type of folk art. Both of these are subsets of craft. The best way I can explain this is the very, very simple chart above. I hope this provides some help in the Art v. Craft debate as I'm pretty sure I'll never solve it.



Apologies for the lack of posts in the last few months. Thesis is officially approved and it's now summer break, so hopefully I'll get back to posting more regularly!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nocturne Radio


Now that the thesis proposal is turned in, I have nothing to do but wait. Okay, that's not really true, I have lots of other work to attend to, but when reading
this today, I was reminded of seeing a version at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Which in turn reminded me of the Nocturne Radio, also at the MIA. (If you give a girl a Bauhaus designer...)

I know that as you're looking at the incredibly blue picture above, you're not overwhelmed. To be honest, neither was I as I memorized facts about it in Survey of Dec Arts 2 at this time last year. Made by Walter Dorwin Teague in 1937, manufactured by the Sparton Corporation, made of glass. Yeah, sure. It's a radio. And I was told it was a giant radio. The measurements on the MIA website list it as "H. 46 x W. 43 1/4 x D. 12 in." But that still doesn't really give you any idea as to how imposing, startling, and life-changing this radio is.

This radio is part of the Northwest Modernism Collection, which is tucked nicely away on the third floor of the institute. I was visiting this fall and looked forward to seeing iconic works by designers I'd come to love over the previous year. But none of this prepared me for what would happen when I would turn the corner into the exhibit space and find myself confronted with this marvel of design. I was speechless. The radio was breathtaking. It was huge, but not imposing. The reflective glass front was inviting, not repelling. I wanted to touch it and absorb all its perfect design glory through my skin. This sounds disturbing, doesn't it? But I was enthralled. It was a religious experience. Sadly, it was against a wall, so I could not fully appreciate it in the round, but I leaned as close as possible to absorb every aspect of it. From the sides and the front--I couldn't pull myself away. But for my deep abiding respect for the rules of "no touching!" in museums, I would have hugged this radio. There are other iconic modern pieces in this collection, and it covers a range of things from American to European to Arts and Crafts to Art Deco. But none struck me or affected me so deeply or so powerfully as the Nocturne Radio.

According to the entry about this radio, it was "intended to appeal to men, who supposedly would be enthralled by its futuristic form and space-age technology." Perhaps I have the same taste of a man of the 1930s, but that's fine by me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Brief History of Art v. Craft: Part 2

Secession Style in Austria

After Ruskininan ideals permeated England, they hopped across the Channel and filtered through Europe. In the late 19th century, society underwent great changes and this was reflected in art. Art Nouveau is the name given to the movement that grew out of this desire for change, most closely associated with France and Belgium's "whiplash" lines, like we saw here with Guimard.

But it was Austria and the Secessionists who best embraced the ideas of the artisan-craftsmen. After pulling away from the state-sponsored fine art program (thus the name "Secession") Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Otto Wagner and others created the Wiener Werkstatte to give students of the Secession a place to practice their craft, much like Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft. The leaders of the movement overlapped from fine arts--such as Klimt--and the decorative arts--like Moser--and worked together to created gesamtkunstwerks. Their building in Vienna is imposing, yet with a sense of forward-thinking classicism. With it they combined architecture, fine art, and decorative arts and promoted the ideals of new art that would elevate society. Unlike Morris, the Secessionists realized the expense of handcrafted objects was a limiting factor. Rather than elevate all of society, they specifically targeted the middle class and promoted their quality works to elevating this sector to a greater plane of well-decorated existence. The goal was to "produce good, simple domestic requisites" that would "redeem middle class taste" while simultaneously "proclaiming the nature of the material." (Greenhalgh, Art Nouveau, 305-306)

They were able to do much of their work as a group through the Wiener Werkstatte. As a group, they were given commissions to create homes, furniture, and art that embraced their specific style. The Purkersdorf Sanatorium, built 1904-1905, was designed by Josef Hoffmann, but the furniture (pictured above) and interior decoration were designed by other members of the Werkstatte. They also worked as individuals, each with a unique decorative style that embraced not the ideas of art or craft, but the idea of being artisans. There is no line between the two for the Viennese Secession, they are equal parts of a whole that must work in tandem to produce beautiful and functional objects.

Image from here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Brief History of Art v. Craft: Part 1

William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement

This is much more difficult than I originally thought it would be when I decided to tackle this prickly subject. There is just so much history at play in the early part, and then so many feelings as we move into the 20th century. But, we'll start with Morris and his beliefs about elevating handicraft to the same level as fine art. He believed there wasn't a difference, and that all art, be it of the "fine" category or "craft" category should be used to elevate people.

The Industrial Revolution allowed mechanization to play a role in the creation of furniture, metal, glass, and other previously only-made-by-hand works in ways that changed the relationship of craft-maker and object. Some people embraced this idea, seeing that more pieces could be produced more quickly and at a lower cost. William Morris, and others, like C.R. Ashbee, wanted to keep the production costs low, while simultaneously re-connecting the maker and the object. Morris, connected to a variety of other artists who were part of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, designed furniture, wallpaper, textiles (above), and other decorative arts for craftsmen to create in workshops. His goal was to bring the maker back to the forefront of the object and to reject the machine, while keeping things at a low cost for everyone to afford. If he could bring together the craftsman and object, he could also make good design available for everyone and thus change society's inequalities.

Sadly, this model did not make money for Morris, nor did it change social inequality, and he was forced to change his ideas. But the idea of bringing the object and the maker together on a deeper level struck a chord with a number of people, not just in England, but across Europe and into the United States. A new paradigm was created for the role of craftsmen in society.


I'll be honest: I don't feel like I discussed this well at all--I didn't even mention Ruskin! But its hard to explain this in so small a space. So here's a brief bibliography to learn more about the Arts and Crafts movement.


Image from here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Brief History of Art v. Craft: Introduction


As requested, the next series will cover the differences between art and craft. Or arts and crafts. Or just what is craft? Aren't crafts those things you made at summer camp with yarn, Elmer's glue, and popsicle sticks? Yes, that's one definition of craft. But the craft I'll explore over the next few posts is the idea behind the contemporary artistic movement, what craftspeople do, who they are, and why I care. I consider myself a craftsperson, as in "one who makes crafts." The more common term would be "potter" but I am like those who work in wood, clay, fiber, metal, plastic, found objects, and other forms in that I work with my hands to create an object.


I plan to write my thesis (should all the stars align properly) on the beginnings of the contemporary craft era. In the post-World War II period in the United States, craft-making changed drastically for a variety of reasons. But this is only one part of the story. I will explore those reasons as we move forward, but I will go chronologically, starting with William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement in England in the late 19th century. Granted, handmade objects of beauty and fine workmanship were on the scene much earlier, but it was in this time that people began to seek to align such objects with fine art. The Industrial Revolution and mechanization changed attitudes and feelings toward object-making. There is much more to this, but I'll discuss that in my next post. But for now, I'm going to glue some popsicle sticks together.

Up next: William Morris and How Craft Can Save the World.
Image from here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Top 4 Designers: Part 4

Ceramics:

I saved this one for the last post so I could savor the process of narrowing it down. As a potter (or ceramicist, if you will) I feel most intimately connected to designers and creators in this medium. And yet, I spent almost no time at all deciding on my favorite designer for ceramics. But before I reveal it (if you can't tell by the photo), I want to note the artists and designers that provide me with inspiration for my own work. While I posted "honorable mentions" with my other posts, I can't narrow it down to just one when it comes to ceramics. Knowing the process of working clay as intimately as I do, I'm always searching for designs that speak to me, awe me, and make me want to sit at the wheel and turn something out. The following designers and artists inspire me to do just that.

Russell Wright: Wright's greatest work is often cited as his American Modern Dinnerware. Designed in the 1950s with a decidedly Post-War aesthetic, the smooth lines and muted colors re-create the falsely glossy images we have of the era following World War II.
Eva Zeisel: Best known for her Town and Country dinnerware service, Zeisel's cuddly pieces evoke warmth and a sense of home. Not only is she a great designer, her life story is pretty amazing!
Viktor Schreckengost: I love the Jazz Bowl series. An industrial designer of all types, Schreckengost's Jazz Bowl captures the movement, line, tone, and color of jazz in ceramic.
David Pier: I actually just learned about Pier from last month's Ceramics Monthly where he discussed the development of his Ultimate Coffee Cup. A contemporary designer working to solve contemporary problems, I'm inspired by his work and what he seeks to do.

Now, onto my favorite designer in ceramics: Shoji Hamada.
A Japanese potter who moved to England to work with the renown Bernard Leach in the 1920s, Hamada's work combines the Japanese aesthetic and understanding of clay with Leach's studio approach to pottery. Leach is often considered the grandfather of the studio clay movement, but I believe it is Hamada's works with their simplicity of line, simple brushstrokes in glazing, and attention to detail that make him more of an influence in ceramic design today. The Japanese tradition of ceramics goes back much farther than any of us of European descent can imagine, and that tradition carries through Hamada's designs. Credited with bringing back the ideas of the folk potter to Japan, Hamada returned from his time in England with Leach in 1923 and opened the studio where he would spend the rest of his life working.

I don't know as much about Hamada as I would like. I was fortunate enough to handle one of his pieces when on a "behind the scenes" object-handling tour at the Freer Gallery last spring. My ceramics class was allowed into storage and each of us chose a piece we wanted to to handle as part of the lesson. Everyone walked around choosing what they thought would be interesting to see and touch, but I was instantly drawn to the case of 20th century works. When I pointed out my piece to the curator, he looked at me and said, "That's a Hamada, good choice" in a very surprised, yet approving tone. I wasn't sure how I knew it was a Hamada as it was unlabeled, but I knew I liked and and wanted the chance to touch it. I'm a tactile learner, after all. It was a deep iron-red glazed bowl with ink-black lines in a linear pattern. I was enamored. Those are the moments that make me want to stay in the museum world. Being close to a hero through the power of an object, being connected to the past, and looking forward to what as a potter I can create from that connection. Photo from here.



As an additional note: I've very much enjoyed these entries, so please feel free to suggest ideas for more series you'd like to see me write. Be it museums, more specific designers, or other things you'd like to know my thoughts on, I'm happy to write if I'm inspired!