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History in the Making: Renwick Craft Invitational 2011

March 25, 2011 – July 31, 2011


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History in the Making: Renwick Craft Invitational 2011 presents the work of silversmith Ubaldo Vitali, ceramic artist Cliff Lee, glass artist Judith Schaechter, and furnituremaker Matthias Pliessnig. These four extraordinary artists create works of superior craftsmanship that that combine historical techniques with contemporary forms.

The artists were chosen by Nicholas R. Bell, curator at the museum’s Renwick Gallery; Ulysses Dietz, senior curator and curator of decorative arts at The Newark Museum; and Andrew Wagner, editor-in-chief of ReadyMade magazine. Bell is the curator of the exhibition. It is the fifth in the museum's biennial series, intended to celebrate artists deserving of wider national recognition.

Ubaldo Vitali (b. 1944, works in Maplewood, New Jersey) is considered one the greatest living silversmiths in the United States. He is a fourth-generation silversmith, trained in the guild system of Rome, which ties him to the practices of previous generations. He also is a master conservator of antique silver and draws on his grasp of historical techniques to shape the contemporary pieces for which he is best known.

Cliff Lee (b. 1951, works in Stevens, Pennsylvania) was raised in Taiwan, surrounded by China's rich ceramic past through porcelain collected by his parents and frequent visits to the National Palace Museum. Although trained as a neurosurgeon, his medical career was eventually overshadowed by his passion for clay. The knowledge and skills he developed as a doctor inform his work. His technical knowledge and understanding of chemistry have proven invaluable in re-creating previously lost Chinese glazes, such as the imperial yellow glaze that took seventeen years to replicate.

Judith Schaechter (b. 1961, works in Philadelphia) finds inspiration for her stained glass windows from disparate sources, including allegorical paintings, medieval tapestries, comic books, church windows, the American Civil War, and punk rock. She almost single-handedly resurrected the art of stained glass in American studio craft by mastering the technical skills of a medium not previously used for personal narratives. Schaechter is known nationally and internationally as an innovator in the field.

Matthias Pliessnig (b. 1978, works in Philadelphia) uses traditional boat-building techniques to construct extraordinary furniture. His work blurs the lines between design, craft, sculpture and engineering. His organic forms are designed with 3-D modeling software and then assembled from steam-bent strips of white oak, melding ancient and futuristic technologies in the pursuit of comfort. Pliessnig has reinvigorated contemporary American furniture practice through his unexpected approach to design and dedication to craftsmanship.

The exhibition catalogue, published by the museum and Scala Publishers Ltd., includes essays by Nicholas Bell, Ulysses Dietz, and Andrew Wagner, as well as biographies for each artist. The book is available in the museum's store and online for $24.95 (softcover).

In the News
Smithsonian magazine, April 19, 2011, Around the Mall, "On View at the Renwick: Cliff Lee Creates One-of-a-Kind Porcelain Ceramics " by Arcynta Ali Childs
Smithsonian magazine, April 13, 2011, Around the Mall, "On View at the Renwick: Judith Schaechter’s Stained Glass Works Shatter Convention" by Arcynta Ali Childs
Voice of America, April 11, 2011, "Brain Surgeon Finds Inspiration in Ceramic Art: Cliff Lee's porcelain creations are on display at the Smithsonian" by Julie Taboh
The Washington Post, April 8, 2011, "Craft show mixes past and future" by Michael O'Sullivan
Smithsonian magazine, March 29, 2011, Around the Mall, "On View at the Renwick: Artist Ubaldo Vitali Has Silver in the Blood" by Jeff Campagna
Home & Design magazine, March/April 2011, "Contemporary Craft: The Renwick Gallery honors four artists in a special invitational exhibition" by Tina Coplan

Eye Level
June 29, 2011, We've Got Something for You at the Renwick This Holiday Weekend
June 16, 2011, Cliff Lee and the Emperor's Old Glaze
April 20, 2011, One Artist/One Object: Ubaldo Vitali's Silver Lining
April 7, 2011, History In the Making: Getting Crafty at the Renwick
March 24, 2011, Picture This: The Arrival of an Artwork

Free Public Programs
March 26, 2011 at 10:30 a.m.; Roundtable, Everything Old is New Again
April 15, 2011 at noon; Book Talk, Makers
April 17, 2011 at 1:30 p.m.; Artist Talk, Ubaldo Vitali
May 12, 2011 at noon; Historic Techniques
May 22, 2011 at 2 p.m.; Artist Talk, Judith Schaechter
June 4, 2011 at 11 a.m.; History in the Making FamilyDay
June 15, 2011 at noon; American Craft Masterpieces, Ubaldo Vitali’s Tureen
June 19, 2011 at 2 p.m.; Artist Talk, Cliff and Holly Lee
July 20, 2011 at noon; American Craft Masterpieces, Matthias Pliessnig’s Drift
July 30, 2011 at 2 p.m.; Artist Talk, Matthias Pliessnig

Credit and Dedication
The Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation Endowment provides generous support for History in the Making: Renwick Craft Invitational 2011. The Cohen Family's generosity in creating this endowment makes possible this biennial series highlighting outstanding craft artists who are deserving of wider national recognition.

The 2011 Renwick Craft Invitational is dedicated to the memory of Melvin S. Cohen, who died January 19, 2011, in recognition of his commitment to the arts, American craft, and his community.