Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design explores the rich interplay of art and design in all craft media (clay, fiber, wood, metal, glass, and alternative materials) that exploded across the United States during the postwar era. The exhibition and catalogue focus on the protagonists of this period, its rapid growth and development within a changing American culture, and its international context.
Crafting Modernism covers a 25-year period that begins with the craftsman-designers of the 1940s and 1950s, and concludes in 1969 with innovative works that upended traditional concepts of craft, and included humor, psychological content, and social commentary in provocative and unique works of art.
In the period immediately after World War II, characterized by mass production, the handmade object offered a humanizing counterpoint to the machine aesthetic. The exhibition looks at the connections between craft and the design world, through the work of textile designer Dorothy Liebes, furniture maker George Nakashima, silversmith Jack Prip, sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, among others. Also examined are designers who incorporated craft techniques or aesthetics into more wide-scale production, such as Edith Heath and Ray and Charles Eames.
Crafting Modernism follows the growth and transformation of American life through the turbulent period of the 1960s. As craft programs developed and expanded in university art departments across the United States, artists such as Peter Voulkos and Lenore Tawney increasingly began to consider the sculptural and aesthetic qualities of their materials, previously reserved for functional objects. This development paralleled an increasing openness in the art world to new expressions and alternative media demonstrated in the works of artists such as Claire Falkenstein and Alexander Calder.
As craft entered the public realm through museum exhibitions and publications, it added to the ongoing political and social dialogue in American art and life, serving as a representative of a counter-culture lifestyle. Artists in the exhibition include iconic figures such as Wendell Castle, Jack Lenor Larsen, and Sheila Hicks, as well as lesser-known artists from around the country now recognized as highly influential within their fields, including furniture-maker John Kapel, jeweler Ernest Ziegfeld, Asian Americans Ka Kwong Hui and Margaret Choy, and Native Americans Ron Senungetuk and Lloyd Kiva New.