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September 19th, 2006
Museum Celebrates Three Decades of Renowned Craft Show with Exhibition of Dazzling Decorative Arts

Celebrating American Craft: 30 Years of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show on view September 19, 2006 through Fall 2007 in the North Auditorium Gallery

This autumn marks the 30th Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, which debuted in November 1977 to great acclaim and has gone on to become one of the most highly anticipated art events of the season. Organized annually by the Women’s Committee of the Museum, the show has benefited the Museum since its inception, with a portion of its proceeds each year designated for the purchase of contemporary American crafts. Over the ensuing thirty years, the generous annual contribution from the Women’s Committee, as well as gifts of objects by individual Committee members, has transformed the Museum’s collection of American crafts into one of the finest in the nation. To commemorate this milestone, the Museum will present an exhibition of 33 masterworks from the craft collection, highlighting the remarkable contributions of the Women’s Committee to the Museum and the continued vitality of this field.

“The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show has become not only the single largest annual fundraising event for the Museum, but the preeminent event of its kind in the nation,” Museum Director Anne d’Harnoncourt said. “Its continued success is a testament to the dynamism and dedication of the Women’s Committee and Craft Show Committee and to the vitally important contributions both groups have made to the arts in this region.”

“This exhibition celebrates the marvelous range of works in the Museum’s collection of contemporary American decorative arts, so many of which have been gifts or purchases made possible by the Women’s Committee,” Curator of American Decorative Arts David Barquist noted. “It’s an opportunity to truly appreciate the impact the Committee has had in this area.”

Among the show’s highlights is artist Wendell Castle’s Table with Gloves and Keys (1980), which is inspired by Federal, neoclassical furniture, but contains its own original twist in the carefully carved, trompe l’oeil objects resting atop the surface. Joan Steiner’s whimsical, elaborately constructed Kitchen Vest (1977) is made of velvet, cotton, rayon, satin and found objects that have been stitched, appliquéd and quilted onto the front and back, depicting an entire working kitchen in miniature, complete with moveable oven and refrigerator doors.

The 33 works in the exhibition are arranged chronologically, and underscore the dramatic range of styles in postwar crafts, beginning in the east end of the gallery with examples of classic, functional postwar-era works like George Nakashima’s walnut Chair (1945) and Fred A. Miller’s sterling silver Tureen with Lid (1960). The emergence of large-scale decorative objects in the later 1960s is reflected in Sheila Hicks’s Grand Prayer Rug (1964). The 1960s also saw the birth of the studio glass movement, represented here by Dale Chihuly’s ‘Chief Pattern Blanket 1st Phase 1850 Ute’ Cylinder (1975) and Harvey K. Littleton’s pair of Blue Arcs (1983).

More recent works like Betty Woodman’s glazed earthenware triptych Spring Outing (2000) reflect contemporary artists’ interest in exploring themes of pattern and complication. Other artists have expressed political and environmental engagement through their choice of subject matter or materials, as seen in works like Philadelphia artist Jan Yager’s Invasive Species: American Tiara (2001). This eight-inch tiara is made of oxidized sterling silver and gold sculpted to resemble common weeds of North America, as part of the artist’s “City Flora” series celebrating the perseverance of nature in an urban setting.

For centuries Philadelphia has been home to artists working in wood, glass, fiber, ceramics, and metal, and upon the Museum’s founding in 1876 contemporary crafts were among the first objects to enter its collections. In the years after World War II, artists reacting to the wave of mass-produced consumer goods in the U.S. increasingly turned to using traditional techniques and philosophies in new and original ways, emphasizing the individual, handmade character of their work. These artists formed what became known as the contemporary crafts movement. By the mid-1960s, Philadelphia had become a major center for the movement, inspired in part by local innovators such as the woodworker Wharton Esherick (whose extraordinary library, fireplace and music room of 1936–37 from the Curtis Bok house is preserved at the Museum through the help of the Women’s Committee), and augmented by the presence of such distinguished area art schools as Drexel University, Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia University, Tyler School of Art at Temple University, and The University of the Arts.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, major exhibitions of contemporary crafts that further promoted the movement were held in Philadelphia. Today that role is filled in large part by the annual Craft Show, which continues to grow and to support the Museum’s acquisitions as it does.
The Museum will honor the Women’s Committee and the chairs of past Craft Show Committees with a private reception in the Great Stair Hall on the evening of September 19th, at which two of the country’s leading figures in the field of contemporary crafts, metal sculptor Albert Paley and Helen Drutt English, formerly Executive Director of the Philadelphia Council of Professional Craftsmen, will be recognized with the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show Award for Distinguished Achievement in American Craft. Paley received his B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. His Sectional Brooch (1969) is included in the 30th anniversary exhibition. Drutt English is the founder and director of the Helen Drutt Gallery in Philadelphia, one of the first galleries in the United States to make a commitment to the Modern Craft Movement. She was appointed a Cultural Ambassador for the City of Philadelphia by the Office of Arts and Culture in 1995.

About the Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Women's Committee encourages and increases public interest in the Museum, as well as organizing receptions, dinners, special events and other fundraisers to promote and support the Museum's exhibitions and programs. The Committee operates the Art Works gift shop, showcasing the work of local and regional artists. In addition to supporting the purchase of works of art and craft for the permanent collections, money raised through the Committee’s annual Craft Show has also funded conservation and publication projects, and supported exhibitions and education programs for the Museum, among other needs. Known as the nation's finest retail craft exhibition and sale, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show presents the work of approximately 200 of the finest and most dynamic craft artists in the United States and abroad. This year’s show will be held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center November 2nd through 5th.

Past Chairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show

1977Mrs. Thomas T. Fleming
Mrs. William C. Lowry III
1978Mrs. Thomas T. Fleming
Mrs. William C. Lowry III
1979Mrs. Robert L. McNeil, Jr.
Mrs. William C. Lowry III
Mrs. William C. Lowry IV
1980Mrs. Robert L. McNeil, Jr.
1981Mrs. Robert L. McNeil, Jr.
1982Mrs. C. Marshall Lamason
Mrs. William C. Lowry IV
Mrs. Collin F. McNeil
1983Mrs. I. Wistar Morris III
1984Mrs. I. Wistar Morris III
1985Mrs. Donelson R. Manley
1986Mrs. Donelson R. Manley
1987 Mrs. John J. F. Sherrerd
1988Mrs. Leonard Klorfine
1989Mrs. Stephen R. Jacobs
1990Mrs. Edward S. Madara, Jr.
1991Mrs. Christopher H. Gadsden
1992Mrs. Alfred W. Putnam, Jr.
1993Mrs. Harold W. Pote
1994Mrs. John A. Affleck
1995Mrs. Harold B. Montgomery, Jr.
1996Mrs. Morgan R. Jones
1997Mrs. Robert W. Connor
1998Mrs. Mahlon B. Simon, Jr.
1999Mrs. Richard Rothman
2000Mrs. Robert A. Fox
2001Elissa G. Topol
2002Katharine A.S. Padulo
2003Linda G. Fuller
2004Joan R. Momjian
2005Sally Sharkey

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the largest museums in the United States, with a collection of more than 227,000 works of art and more than 200 galleries presenting painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, decorative arts, textiles, and architectural settings from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Its facilities include its landmark Main Building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Perelman Building, located nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Rodin Museum on the 2200 block of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and two 18th-century houses in Fairmount Park, Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove. The Museum offers a wide variety of activities for public audiences, including special exhibitions, programs for children and families, lectures, concerts and films.

For additional information, contact the Communications Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art phone at 215-684-7860, by fax at 215-235-0050, or by e-mail at pressroom@philamuseum.org. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For general information, call (215) 763-8100.

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