“It is the creative spirit of man, expressed in a thousand different ways, that pushes him forward. And this is what makes craftsmanship so important in the present industrial sweep of our society.” Aileen Osborn Webb, founder of the American Craft Council, 1968
I was reminded, recently, of the profound impact of craftsmen on design. I attended the Structural Objects and Functional Art (SOFA) Expo at the Park Avenue Armory here in New York. This event showcases contemporary decorative art and design. Each item is individually designed and crafted using specialized techniques to create one of a kind hand crafts from glass, wood, ceramic, paper and other materials. It is amazing for me to attend this show each year, as it reminds me of days gone by, when an individual’s craftmanship was highly regarded and sought after. While we accept the homogenization of product and the immediacy brought about by technology,
these pieces of art (and they are art) represent hours of creation, in both thought and action.
In fact, this year’s show included a lecture by Jack Lenor Larsen, who is synonymous with 20th century textiles and the owner of Longhouse Reserve in East Hampton. Longhouse Reserve is a public exhibition space, arboretum and sculpture garden. Larsen lent his name to two awards this year – the first time awards have been presented in the 14 year history of the event in New York. In his lecture, Mr. Larsen commented on journalists minimizing the value of craftsmen through their over use of the word craft. He stated that the
crafts represented at SOFA are truly remarkable and created with hands guided by intellectual minds. I couldn’t agree more!
Like Larsen, I am inspired by use of different materials (Japanese safety pins vs. jeweler’s wire), texture (containers that looked like baskets yet were turned wood) and style (Asian ceramics reflecting both the organic and rustic). It is fascinating to see art emerge from the separating of individual bamboo fibers so that they can be woven into a vessel. Or, to be reminded that clay (earth) is the foundation for all ceramics and to see it transformed into a functional piece of art (vessels, plates, or decorative such as figures, faces, etc.. ) If you are a collector of fine art, this show is for you. It educates and informs the collector through the unique perspectives of each of the artisans present. These types of hand crafts have strong personalities and will be the center of attention in any room.
You may wonder which pieces interest me. I have long been collecting unique glass pieces. The piece (picture at left) fascinates mebecause of its use of color and the feeling of movement. On the other hand, while your eye is drawn to the wall hanging made entirely of Japanese safety pins, I am fascinated the piece on the shelf (picture at right). The shape and flow of it, invite investigation! What materials appeal to you? Are you, like me, fascinated by unique glass objects? Or do you prefer edgier ceramics or metallic sculptures? Whatever it is, do not be afraid to incorporate it into your favorite space!
I strongly recommend that you take time out to enjoy SOFA when it returns to New York next spring. I am very grateful to the friend who first introduced me to this event. It opens our eyes to new design, innovative use of materials and the output of the creative thought process.