Remembering the Renwick’s Founding Director Lloyd Herman 

A tribute to the man whose name was synonymous with studio craft

A photograph of a woman with brown hair and a dress standing inside a building.
Mary Savig
Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft
January 17, 2023
A white man wearing a dark blazer stands leaning on a balustrade. He has a slight smile.
Lloyd Herman in the Renwick Gallery, ca. 1980

The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery would not exist as we know it today if not for Lloyd Herman’s imagination, curiosity, and guts. On January 5, 2023, we lost this champion for artists and an icon in the field of American studio craft. 

Lloyd began his Smithsonian career in 1966 at the Arts and Industries Building, where he coordinated traveling exhibitions and programs. In 1968, Lloyd learned of the Renwick Building Committee, a group tasked with establishing a purpose for the historic Renwick building. Lloyd typed up his own—unsolicited—proposal for the “Renwick Design Centre,” an art museum dedicated to craft, design, and decorative art. Around 1970, Lloyd’s proposal was accepted! He became the founding director of the Renwick Gallery and had just 11 months to implement all of his ideas. Lloyd, of course, pulled it off.  

Lloyd’s vision for the Renwick was encompassing and experimental. He created space for many forms of craft to shine and often surprise: For one of the inaugural exhibitions of 1972, he juxtaposed Kay Sekimachi’s exquisite monofilament weaving, Nagare VII, with the ablative ceramic Jupiter-C Nose Cone from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. His irrepressible enthusiasm for materials and methods shaped the Renwick in profound ways. Even more, his goal was to craft a museum that would be welcoming. Beyond showcasing virtuoso artworks, Lloyd endeavored to foster a “kind of grand public living room near the White House in downtown Washington.” This notion of a comfortable, social space in proximity to power inspires our work in this present moment.  

In a recent documentary about his life, Lloyd reflected that the Smithsonian opened more doors for him than one could possibly imagine. In turn, Lloyd held that door open for many others. Perhaps his greatest strength was his ability to connect people, building a community of craft as he established the Renwick’s legacy. May we all be as fearless and generous as Lloyd Herman. 

Lloyd was preceded in death by his life partner Dick Wilson who passed away in 2021.

Listen to an oral history from Lloyd Herman or read the transcript at the Archives of American Art.

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