50 Things about OBJECTS: USA at 50

Revisiting a groundbreaking exhibition from 1969 that still resonates today

Harvey K. Littleton, Four Seasons, 1977, glass, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Paul and Elmerina Parkman, 1991.172A-P, © 1977, Harvey K. Littleton

Fifty years ago, astronauts walked on the moon, the war raged in Vietnam, Richard Nixon took office, and not too far away from the White House, OBJECTS: USA opened at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibition was one of the most ambitious craft exhibitions to be mounted to date when it debuted in 1969. It featured more than 500 artworks by 308 artists and traveled to venues across the United States and Europe before the works found homes in permanent collections around the US, including right here at SAAM. In honor of its 50th anniversary, here are 50 of the most compelling things about this exhibition (in no particular order) and why you should consider coming to the symposium on July 19 to explore the impact it had at the time and how the issues raised by the exhibition still resonate today.

1. Is craft art? 

2. Harvey Littleton

3. Legit Macrame

4. Good Housekeeping write-ups

5. California Funk

6. Dale Chihuly before he was "Dale Chihuly"

7. Parental relationships

8. Zeitgeist

9. Richard Shaw

10. Conversations

Untitled - 2000.79 - 61036

Betty Spindler, Hot Dog, 2000, glazed clay, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Winfield Gallery, 2000.79

11. Dropout Generation

12. Housewives

13. Of its time

14. Timeless

15. Influential

16. Up-and-comers

17. Hot dogs

18. Meet Art

19. Post-modernism

Untitled - 2002.85.3 - 125877

June Schwarcz, Apollo's Pool, 1993, enameled electroformed copper foil, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Kenneth R. Trapp in honor of June Schwarcz, 2002.85.3

20. Compelling

21. Run, Don't Walk

22. Smithsonian opening

23. Clamoring

24. S C Johnson Wax

25. Enamel

26. Ceramic

27. Glass

28. Metal

29. Jewelry

30. Plastic

Untitled - 2006.34.4 - 66701

Carolyn Kriegman, Plastic Neckpiece (green and blue), 1969, plexiglas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Sam Kriegman, 2006.34.4

31. Mosaic

32. Wood

33. Fiber

34. Objects

35. Not Handicrafts

36. Provoking

37. Changing the national aesthetic

38. Playful

39. Heartbreaking

Untitled - 1993.73.1 - 62582

Art Smith, Necklace, 1948, brass, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Evelyn Lurie, 1993.73.1

40. Funny

41. Inventive

42. Original cliché

43. G.I. Bill

44. Art and Adornment

45. Wendell Castle

46. Jewelry that you could wear

47. American Craft Council

48. Traveling

49. Lenore Tawney

50. Craft is Art

Untitled - 1992.83 - 68598

Lenore Tawney, Box of Falling Stars, 1984, cotton canvas, linen thread, acrylic paint, and ink, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1992.83, © 1984, Lenore G. Tawney

Want to learn more?

Join us on Friday, July 19, from 3 to 6 p.m. for the symposium, OBJECTS: USA at 50. It features scholars, artists, and curators who will discuss the importance and legacy of the groundbreaking studio craft exhibition, OBJECTS: USA. If you cannot attend in person, tune in to the webcast.