‘Craftsmanship in a Changing World,’ by Barbara Tober

Barbara Tober, CODAworx Advisory Board.
Barbara Tober, CODAworx Advisory Board.

Barbara Tober is Chairman Emerita of the Museum of Arts and Design, Chairman of the Global Leadership Council, and sits on the CODAworx Advisory Board. Here, she outlines the intersection of craft and art. 

    [The title above] was used some 58 years ago by the museum now known as the Museum of Arts and Design for an exhibition of works by those innovative artists who were pioneers in the field, working in glass, ceramics, wood, metal and fiber.  Their sculptures became icons for others who entered the field, and as schools teaching the elements and expertise of craftsmanship proliferated, so did the agents of commerce that sold them to the public.  Craft shows originated by the American Craft Council and the George Little company organized booths where artists themselves as well as galleries could show a considerable number of artworks to a growing number of enthusiasts.  Responding to an increasing need, gallerists began to open their own spaces, offering these artworks throughout the year. Communications and newsletters sprung up, among them the American Craft Council magazine; Ceramics; Glass; Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot; Ornament Magazine, etc. So did collector’s clubs of likeminded aficionados who collected and corresponded with one another as to the best works to be seen around the nation.

In 1956, the Museum of Contemporary Craft, later named American Craft Museum, then MAD, was founded in a miniscule brownstone on 53rd Street.  Here exhibitions on a small scale were the public’s introduction to the concept of “craftsmanship”.  Aileen Osborn Webb not only founded the institution but funded it as well, and as it grew, the field evolved exponentially until the Museum needed a larger home.  The rest is a history of development… But this is not the only story to be told.

Now, after countless exhibitions that were often underestimated by the press and the art world in general, the field has been recognized as exciting in both imagination and execution.  Today a global movement for artists – whether they be artisans working in Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, Korea etc. – or artists fine tuned by the many educational institutions specializing in both the arts and design world — craftsmanship has grown to be accepted world wide as ART.  Savannah College of Arts and Design; UrbanGlass; Pilchuck; Penland; Anderson Ranch; Haystack; Alfred University are a few; and now with technology on the rise, the possibilities and products of 3-D and other digital fabrications are shaping the future wherever they are taught.

The Museum of Arts and Design has moved over the years into ever larger and more comprehensive quarters in order to be ready for this sea change in the world of craftsmanship and making. Our first exhibition concentrating on this new subject, Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital, brings the works of Frank Stella, Maya Lin, Daniel Libeskind, Ron Arad, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Richard Dupont, Barry X Ball and Marc Newson, etc. to the attention and fascination of all.  Among these artists are industrial designers and former traditional sculptors, all of whom have cleaved to this new and exciting form of making.

Our new Director, Glenn Adamson, whose career was begun as an intern at our Museum, moved to curatorial in Milwaukee, etc. and most recently did a 9-year stint as Research Director at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, fortuitously joined us on October 15th–just the same day as Out of Hand opened.  His focus is concentrated on making and in his scholarly way, he will examine the how’s, why’s, ways and means of explorations of the skills of craftsmanship and making, and our exhibitions will herald the results.

How this will affect the entire field will be monumental for the simple reason that artists in every corner of the world will be able to examine new ideas, methods, concepts and inspirations through guidance from so many sources.  Our MAD Museum is poised to herald these results.  Websites are another “conductor” of international information.

Already artists can make a decent living whether or not they live in a population hub because of the possibility of internet sales!  If one makes clothing or jewelry, creates tableware or furniture, carves wooden implements, prints hand made greeting cards, creates clocks etc. there are endless markets in … say: Abu Dhabi, Buenos Aires, Auckland, Sydney and the U.S.A coast to coast.  Industrial and Environmental designers are in great demand as are artists who can dramatize the inside and surroundings of the increasing number of contemporary buildings and other structures that cry for embellishment.  Note the rush of entries – from residential and commercial to liturgical – in the CODAawards competition for 2013; with many more expected in 2014.

This is a rich and rewarding time to be involved in the world of making and craftsmanship, in the skills and aesthetics that affect the way people live and work.  We at MAD are proud to be a beacon to the rest of the world as a model for the way these skills can be presented and showcased to their best advantage.  Just as our Tiffany & Co. Jewelry Gallery is a laboratory of jewelry art by artists for the inspiration of artists, so the entire Museum is positioned to teach and encourage artists from all over the globe who wish to excel in these disciplines.

–Barbara Tober, MAD Chairman Emerita; Chairman Global Leadership Council