Welcome to the White House Collection of American Crafts
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Introduction by Elizabeth Broun, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Michael Monroe
"We've tried to elevate the role and visibility of American artisans, because there is some very fine work being done. We look at some of the [decorative arts] that were given to the White House as gifts or were purchased during the nineteenth century--and they were crafts of their time, so I think it's important that we appreciate the artistry of crafts of our time."


--Hillary Rodham Clinton, quoted in ARTnews, September 1994

Assembled in 1993, the White House collection of American crafts features seventy-two works by seventy-seven of America's leading craft artists of today. The support, encouragement, and visibility given to contemporary American crafts in the White House by President William Jefferson Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton serve as recognition of our country's longstanding tradition of craftmaking and a tribute to the richness and diversity of this important aspect of our heritage.

The pieces within the collection illustrate the skill, imagination, and vitality characteristic of craft in the 1990s. Using glass, wood, clay, fiber, and metal, these artists reveal their ability to manipulate materials in inventive ways, expressing their creative vision in objects of startling beauty. As the most industrialized century of our history draws to a close, this collection stands as testimony to a belief in the value of works of the hand. Despite our increasing reliance on computer technology, the intimate and physical qualities of the handmade object have never had more appeal.

The seventy-two objects in the craft collection were installed in various locations throughout the White House, including the Ground Floor Corridor, the Library, the Vermeil Room, the China Room, the Diplomatic Reception Room, the North Entrance, the Cross Hall, the Green Room, the Blue Room, and the Red Room. This collection of objects does not pretend to be a broad, exhaustive survey of all facets of contemporary craftmaking practiced today. A curator organizing such a collection for a museum exhibition customarily would have the opportunity to exercise latitude in selecting the pieces, without regard for the architecture or decor of the museum environment. In contrast, the rationale and the parameters for selecting objects in the White House collection were narrowly defined.

The criteria for inclusion were determined by the architecture, the historical settings, and the furnishings, with careful consideration given to the color, texture, and scale of the period rooms. It was important that all of the craft mediums be represented: ceramic, wood, glass, metal, and fiber. There was little wall or floor space for textile hangings and furniture; wearable fiber pieces were deemed inappropriate. The most desirable settings for the objects were most often the antique pier tables, cabinets, bookcase-desks, fireplace mantels, work tables, and sofa tables that help to give the grand White House interiors their character. The selected craft pieces respond, each in its own way, to the preexisting style and ambience of these historical spaces. The most appropriate type of object for the majority of these settings proved to be the vessel form. Among the richest areas of current craft expression, vessels and objects relating to the vessel form have been fashioned from all craft mediums. A number of the vessels were chosen because they relate directly to classical and traditional shapes of the past and responded eloquently to the aesthetic of their period settings.

Excerpted from an essay first published in "The White House Collection of American Crafts," by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers. Essay Copyright 1995 Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved