Contemporary Craft in Focus: The Weight of Deferred Gratification

Metalsmith David Harper Clemons creates art that gives new meanings to everyday objects 

February 8, 2023
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David Harper Clemons, The Weight of Deferred Gratification, 2019, sterling silver, stainless steel, brass, glass, and mahogany with corn, wild rice, and wheat, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the James Renwick Alliance in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Renwick Gallery and the 40th anniversary of the Alliance, 2022.22A-M, © 2022, David Harper Clemons

Artist David Harper Clemons creates work that explores identity and gives meaning to objects that extend beyond their expected uses. Born in El Paso and raised in Austin, Texas, Clemons currently resides in North Carolina where he creates metal and multimedia artworks. He focuses on embracing the craft, material, and process of metalsmithing, while also incorporating his formal training in drawing and painting.

A black case that is open to reveal smaller compartments. Boxes wrapped in brown paper are stacked on the side.
Display of The Weight of Deferred Gratification for SAAM's exhibition This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World. Photo by Albert Ting.

In The Weight of Deferred Gratification, Clemons stretches the expected use of utensils. While imagining a better future in the artwork, he looked to the problems of the past. He created this functional knife, fork, and spoon to critique unsustainable agricultural production and consumerism. The artwork is displayed as a black case, open to reveal small, square compartments and utensils mounted in the lid. To the side are stacked boxes of grains wrapped in brown paper. The handles of the utensils contain corn, wild rice, and grains, as well as soil pods for planting the grains and water flasks for nourishing the sprouts. 

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Detail of The Weight of Deferred Gratification
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Detail of The Weight of Deferred Gratification

“The tools become vehicles to convey the extended relationship between germination, production, cultivation, preparation, consumption, and even sharing and distribution,” the artist explains. To use the utensils, from seed to table, requires a commitment to nurturing the present; Clemons encourages the user to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. 

This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World marks the 50th anniversary of SAAM’s Renwick Gallery by celebrating the dynamic landscape of American craft. The exhibition explores how artists—especially women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and Native artists—have crafted spaces for daydreaming, stories of persistence, models of resilience, and methods of activism that resonate today. In order to craft a better world, it must first be imagined. This story is part of a series that takes a closer look at selected artists and artworks with material drawn from exhibition texts and the catalogue

Take a virtual studio tour with artist David Harper Clemons on Thursday, February 16, at 7 p.m. Register today.


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